2. PROLOGUE--The Ruins
PROLOGUE The Ruins
During the reign of King Elessar Telcontar, expeditions were sent to the North to see which, if any, of the ancient lands of Arnor could be reclaimed. While exploring the lands around Fornost, a handful of hardy individuals decided to brave the ruins of Angmar, and to see what remained of the citadel at Carn Dum.
The land itself was unpromising, even inhospitable; they wondered among themselves just what sort of man would choose to carve a kingdom out of this wasteland. They knew, of course, that Angmar had been built by the Lord of the Nazgul; but even so, they found the amount of work needed to do so daunting.
From a distance the red rock city of Carn Dum seemed a complete ruin. As they drew closer they realized that the city itself was beyond hope; roofs had long since collapsed, walls eroded away, roads crumbled. The great foundries that had manufactured the steel and weapons of Angmar lay silent. Heaps of slag and cinder left from the mining and smelting still scarred the land. The men were careful to avoid the cavernous openings of the mines and forges, well aware that orcs and trolls had once inhabited them, and might still lurk below.
But the great red castle itself was relatively intact. The main gates had been forced by the alliance that brought down the Witch-king, and no one had ever tried to replace them; with the Nazgul gone, the castle and its city was soon abandoned.
Cautiously they explored the halls nearest the entrance. Most of the walls in the ground floor were still stained from the fires set by the victors, the only remnants of the battle for Carn Dum.
Where once ferocious fighting had taken place, now was heard only wind and bird. Small animals had long since made their nests in halls that had once held soldiers and guards. Finding nothing, the men climbed over some loose rock and entered the courtyard.
Without human intervention, the courtyard gardens had long since overgrown, the delicate imported plants replaced by the hardier local scrub. The great fountain in the center still held water, though its jets were long silenced. They marveled at the ruined mosaics, both on the ground and on the walls, and the remains of a great clock set high on the wall. They searched in vain for a flash of gold, a bit of jewelry or coin from a body long since decayed; but nothing caught their eye. Everything had long since disappeared.
An arcade ran around the courtyard, sheltering a flight of stairs. Upstairs they found the main chambers to be in reasonably good condition. With a few exceptions the windows were gone; those pieces that remained hinted at the brilliance of what had been. Everything even remotely portable had been taken by the victors. But the inlaid floors, though dirty and cracked, survived, along with faded murals and elegant coffered ceilings.
On another floor they discovered a pair of suites. Here the main rooms were octagonal, and the floors were inlaid with elaborate runes and symbols which even the dullest of them recognized as magical. The inlays themselves were of precious metals, but no one had dared pry them loose in the past, and no one was about to do so now. In the sizable rooms beyond they found antechambers, baths, balconies. In one of the baths they discovered that the taps still worked. They wondered at the hydraulics, still functioning after all these millennia; such marvels were unheard of in most towns. Yet it existed, here at the ends of Middle-earth.
One room's door was still sealed, its outer edges covered with faded symbols. This must have been the Witch-king's lair, where he created new terrors to unleash on the world. Had not Glorfindel explored these very rooms? He had been unwilling, or unable, to open this door. If the great and wise were reluctant to do so, then surely, they reasoned, this small band of mercenaries could not be blamed for leaving it in peace.
Nearby they entered a huge chamber, its lofty, elegant windows and shelves carved from the rich red stone. This was all that remained of the glorious library of Carn Dum, fabled as one of the finest in Middle Earth. Its contents were spirited away by the Witch-king and reinstalled at Minas Morgul. Even now their southern compatriots were delving into the treasures hidden in that fortress. They wondered if Minas Morgul was as magnificent inside as Carn Dum had been. Whatever else could be said of him, the Lord of the Nazgul had had splendid taste.
After wresting aside some debris, they found a balcony overlooking a walled garden. The balcony itself was delicately carved from the living rock of the mountain, so that it was sheltered from the ceaseless winds. While idly kicking aside some of the foliage and debris that had drifted onto the floor, they uncovered a mosaic surrounding a slab of red granite.
Legend held that the Witch-king had assembled a hoard of jewels greater than that of any dragon; it was said that he had kept much of the regalia from drowned Numenor, and that he freely added the gold and treasures of others whenever he conquered a city. The alliance that had hunted him down searched in vain for this treasure. King Earnur was keen to retrieve it, but his enemy had been too clever. Nor had the elves done any better; they too had been unable to discover the location of the fabulous hoard.
Had they been able to find that which eluded all others? Excited, they scraped away the last of the dirt to reveal the entirety of the red slab. It was engraved; the letters were eroded, but after some work they were able to decipher the bulk of the inscription.
DAUGHTER of RHUDAUR
QUEEN of ANGMAR
Now they were mystified. None of them had ever even heard of a Queen in Carn Dum. Granted, King Earnur and his allies had burned most of the records of Angmar, destroying the kingdom's history. Probably all records of its queens had perished in that conflagration.
But why would the Nazgul want, or even need, a queen? Were they not immortal, so long as their rings held power? Yes, once they had been men, but were they not now inhuman? Granted, the decoration here at Carn Dum showed that the Witch-king--or whoever advised him--had impeccable taste. Still, he raised trolls and orcs, rode bizarre, flying things, and wielded unholy magic. What woman of Rhudaur would willingly ally herself with such a creature?
Perhaps, one of them reasoned, this was not a tomb at all, but the hoard. Perhaps the name referred to a fabulous gem, or to the trove as a whole. If they could open it they would know. If the treasure was one hundredth of what the rumors said, they would be helping repay Gondor for the horrific costs of the war. And if they kept some baubles for themselves, King Elessar would not complain.
They unpacked their tools and set to work. One of them noticed more of the magic runes, but the others, too inflamed with lust for jewels, paid him no mind. Chisel was set against polished granite, and hammer let fly.
Suddenly the men who held the tools cried out in pain, toppling onto the ground. A thick black cloud, so black that it seemed to draw the very light out of the sun, welled from the tomb. With it came a high-pitched screech, a sound that carried before it cold, and dread; and above all a terror that held no reason, only the mindless urge to flee.
Desperate, terrified, they fled the balcony and the castle. The men who had attempted to breach the tomb staggered after the others, their arms numbed by the deadly cold. Whatever the Witch-king had buried there, he had wanted kept safe.
Fleeing the dead city, the men crossed the wide roads and ruined houses until they found a breach in the wall. They scrambled through to the open lands, abandoning the city to wolves and ghosts. They could report that Carn Dum was reclaimable, and whoever reclaimed it would have the privilege of exploring the secrets of its magically-sealed rooms. None of them had the expertise needed to counter such spells, and without it trying to open the tomb was sheer folly. Best to leave it unmolested.
High on her balcony, shielded from the winds, secure in the magic of the Witch-king, the Queen of Angmar slept.
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