Harrowdale was not the type of place Khamul had ever dreamed she would visit, and she didn't like it when she saw it in person either. It was a valley, and in it was another valley, more like a crack, through one of the White Mountains. According to Metima, it led to the great hall of the king under the mountain.
"Can a horse even fit through there?" she asked when they stood at the entrance to the valley.
"This is a barren wasteland," Sauron said. "It's almost as bad as Mordor."
An isolated, weather-beaten bush huddled by the entrance to the valley, shaking and shivering in the wind. The ground was nothing more than gravel and dry soil.
"The people are wise," Metima said. "I'm sure of it. The visitor seemed very sophisticated."
"Doubtful," Khamul muttered, looking into the crack. She glanced up at the top of the valley, wondering if there were snipers there, and if the ring would protect her from getting skewered by arrows.
"We don't have anything to lose," Sauron said, nudging his horse towards the valley.
"It looks cursed to me," Khamul said, looking at the bleached white valley walls. "Nothing grows here. It's worse than the desert."
A twig snapped somewhere and Khamul's hand went to her sword, while Metima knocked an arrow.
"You say they are wise and praise them," Sauron said, "yet you jump at the slightest noise? Is there something you forgot to mention?"
"Um," Metima began, "well, not exactly. I mean, there was one small thing, but it didn't seem important at the time."
"What was it?"
"They don't really like visitors," Metima said.
"Ah," Sauron said. "And how much 'don't they like visitors'?"
"They kill them on sight."
"I see. And this small detail just failed to escape your notice?"
"I thought they might leap up and join you," Metima said. "I mean, you're a Maia. They can't kill you."
"No," Sauron said. "But they can annoy me. And it would be a shame to bring this mountain down on their miserable heads. Besides, it might alert the Valar to my presence."
"They don't know you're here?" Khamul asked.
"No. While I don't know where they think I am, they don't suspect I'm planning to bring Numenor crashing down."
"The Valar are powerful," Khamul said with a sigh.
"Melkor was more powerful, in Arda at least," Sauron said. "But he is gone now, into the Void, so we must make do without him."
"Oh, there's the entrance!" Metima exclaimed, gesturing at a low stone doorway in the mountain side where the narrow valley ended.
"I sense a trap," Khamul muttered, drawing her sword.
"What does it matter?" Sauron asked. "They cannot harm any of us."
They left the horses at the entrance to the mountain, as the beasts would not enter into the dark.
"It's cursed, I tell you," Khamul hissed as they walked into the darkness. It was cold, and rather damp as well. Moss grew on the ceiling, and small plants lined the ground.
"It was just a year ago the visitor came," Metima said. "Surely a kingdom cannot fall so quickly."
"It can fall quicker," Sauron said. "Angband fell in a month."
"Ah! I hear voices!" Metima said, grinning. "There, up ahead. And lights."
"Quiet!" Khamul hissed.
A band of four humans sat around a fire where meat roasted on a spit. They were pale creatures, with fair hair and brown eyes. Surely they cannot be guards, Khamul thought. We're practically upon them and they haven't noticed us. And these are the people Metima thought we should recruit! Ha!
"Weren't there four a moment ago?" Metima whispered, looking at the figures around the fire.
"Yes, there were," Khamul muttered. She tried to pierce the shadows, but couldn't see into the darkness. They're there somewhere, she thought.
"Why don't you tell me who you are and what you're doing here," a voice suggested as a blade was pressed to Khamul's throat. A glance at Metima confirmed that she was in a similar predicament as well.
"Why don't we walk away from the fire and I will make you an offer you can't refuse," Sauron suggested.
"And who are you?" the missing figure from around the fire asked.
"I'll explain everything if you just walk this way."
The woman – Khamul was fairly certain it was a woman – snarled something in a foreign tongue, but complied, poking Khamul and Metima in the throat with her daggers to make sure they moved as well.
"What do you want?" the woman asked when the light of the fire was little more than a glow in the distance. "You're the unarmed one, that's the only reason you're still breathing."
"I'm the one who's good with words," Sauron said. "I am called Sauron. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
"No," the woman said. "But we don't get much news down here."
"I am a Maia. Do you know what that is?"
The woman shook her head. "All I know is that you three are trespassing and should be brought before the king. Or I could just kill you right here."
"Do you want power…ma'am?" Sauron asked.
"It's Yanta, and I've already got it," the woman said. She grinned. "I've got plenty of money, too, and some very nice daggers as well. You can't offer me anything that'd make me spare your miserable lives. You know what? I think I'll just bring your heads back to the king."
"That would be most unwise," Khamul said.
"Eh? And why's that?"
"Because we can't die."
Yanta snickered. "I bet you can if I cut off your head," she said.
"Do you want to live forever, Yanta?" Sauron asked. "Do you want to roam the lands, spreading terror and fear? Or do you want to rot in this cave for the rest of your life? In a thousand years do you want to be everything you are now, or dust in a grave?"
"You can't offer me immortality," Yanta snorted. "Only the gods can do that."
"Then call me god," Sauron said. He took out another ring, this one set with an emerald.
"That's a very nice ring," Yanta said. "But I don't want it. I could get a hundred like that if I wanted to."
"They won't make you immortal. This one will."
"I don't believe you."
"I can't prove it," Sauron said. "But I can prove that I won't die."
"What are you talking about?" Yanta asked.
"Cut my throat with your knife," Sauron said. "I won't die."
"Everyone dies if you cut them there," Yanta said.
"Fine, I'll do it, but tell your dogs not to attack me."
"Let her do it," Sauron told Khamul and Metima.
"This is mad," Yanta muttered, walking over to Sauron. With a flick of her wrist she slit his throat, nearing severing his head. "See? He bleeds like any man. And soon he'll be dead, like any man."
The moment of truth, Khamul thought. Why didn't I think of this? Now I'll see if he was a liar, or if he's truly a Maia. And that should also prove whether these rings are the real things.
The blood gushed for nearly half a minute before slowing and finally stopping. The gaping wound began to close, and within a minute, it was gone, with not even a scar to show where the cut had been.
"You're the real thing," Yanta said, visibly shaken.
"I am," Sauron said. "And I offer you this ring. Take it, come with me."
"I will," Yanta said, accepting the ring and placing it on her ring finger.
"Do you need to get anything from the city?" Sauron asked.
"No," Yanta said. "I've got everything with me. Tell the truth, I'll be glad to get away from those idiots," she said, nodding in the direction of the fire.
"Do you have a horse?" Metima asked.
"No," Yanta said. "I've never rode before either."
This will be interesting, Khamul thought. "So, three down, six to go," she said as they emerged from the tunnel. The horses were waiting for them and appeared anxious to leave.
"The last three will be from Numenor," Sauron said, mounting his horse. "Harad, Rhun and Harrowdale are all in the south of Arda. The next three should be from the northern reaches."
"It's just a wasteland up there," Khamul said. Or so you said, she thought. "The dwarves in Khazad-Dum, the elves in Mirkwood and Lorien, there are hardly any men at all."
"They are scattered about in the lands west of the Misty Mountains," Sauron said. "And I think we shall pass a few settlements as we make our north."
"Be cautious of the sea," Yanta warned as Metima helped her up onto the horse behind her. "It is a legend among my people that to look on the sea too long means you will be among the ones the sea people capture."
"The what?" Metima asked. "Sea people? The people of Rhun?"
"Numenoreans," Sauron said. "The ocean people would be more correct. They do come and pillage the land occasionally."
"My uncle was killed by a Numenorean raider," Metima said. "It will be a pleasure to crush their country for that insult."
"We're going to destroy Numenor?" Yanta asked.
"Yes," Khamul said. "Do you have a problem with that?"
"Not in the slightest. Will this be before or after we've gathered three of their kind?"
"Before," Khamul said. "Definitely before." She glanced at Sauron.
"Third or fourth," he said. "She's talented."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.