5. Aica and Ringe
"What is this stuff?" Khamul asked as they left the plains and forests of Enedwaith behind and entered into the hills of lower Eriador.
"It's snow," Yanta said. "Don't you know what that is?"
"I lived in the desert," Khamul said. "Though I would be surprised if you knew what sand was."
"It's extremely cold," Metima said. "Can we get frostbitten?" she asked Sauron.
"No," he said. "Consider yourselves above such things."
"I don't like this land," Khamul grumbled. "This cold may not hurt me, but I can feel it all the same, and it is unpleasant!"
"We will be gone soon enough," Sauron said. "We need only find two more, and then we can return to Mordor, where it is warmer."
"Can't be soon enough for me," Khamul said. "These lands are deserted," she muttered. "There can't be a person within twenty leagues!"
"There are probably trolls around here," Vorea said, fingering her spear. "We should be on our guard."
"No troll would dare attack you," Sauron said. "They serve me, and as you are my allies, they serve you as well."
"I still do not trust them," Vorea muttered. "They are treacherous creatures and given to sudden changes of heart."
"They don't have mind enough for complicated stuff like betrayal," Yanta said. "We have nothing to fear from them."
"Will we be traveling as far as the Ice Bay of Forochel?" Vorea asked.
"Oh Valar!" Khamul groaned. "Not that! It's hundreds of leagues from here! Ring or no ring, we would all be blocks of ice by then!"
"I don't think so," Sauron said. He looked around at the scraggly trees that were starting to pop up. "I think we shall be finding our next ringbearers very soon."
"Yes, but then we have to find the sixth," Khamul said with a sigh. "Wait…what did you say? Ringbearers? They're together?"
"I do believe so," Sauron said.
Khamul's eyes narrowed. "How do you know this?" she asked. "Do you know who all of us were before you met us? Have you done some kind of divination?"
"I am a Maia and a wizard, but divination is not my specialty," Sauron said. "I would need to the palantri of Feanor to spy on you. But I am one of the divine, and so I can tell that north is the way to travel, and that the last two ringbearers are together."
I wonder if they will fight like Vorea, Khamul thought, looking around. I hope so. That was an enjoyable duel.
"Is that a town?" Metima asked, standing up in the stirrups to get a better look. "I think it is. Over that hill, do you see?"
"I didn't think anyone would live in this land," Khamul said. "But that is a town. I can see the houses."
The town – and it was a town; none of those pathetic collections of huts they had passed in upper Enedwaith – was protected by a high wall topped with spikes. There was only one entrance, which was closed and barred during all hours of the day and night, save when travelers came and the gatewarden was sure they meant no harm.
"That wouldn't keep out an army of ogres," Sauron muttered, looking at the walls. "But the beasts are too busy fighting amongst themselves to organize and take what should be theirs."
"Are we going in?" Yanta asked. "I think I caught a glimpse of a tavern when we were up on that hill."
"Yes, we are," Sauron said, riding up to the gate.
"Do you sense something?" Khamul asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do," Sauron said with a grin.
"What is your business in these lands?" the gatewarden asked as he opened a small window and stared out at the riders.
"We are travelers," Sauron said, "and are seeking shelter for the approaching night."
"Fair enough, fair enough," the gatewarden muttered. "I'll open the gate." He shut the window and soon the large wooden gate opened with a creak and a groan.
"Tell me," Sauron said as he rode through the gate, "what is this town called?"
"Oh, Bree," the gatewarden said. "Biggest town in all of Eriador."
Yanta snorted. "Pathetic," she muttered.
The roads of Bree were paved with flagstones and were reasonably clean. The streets were mostly empty, but a few merchants looked up as the riders passed.
"I'm getting myself a horse here," Yanta said. "I'm tired of nearly falling off this one."
"Try to find a black horse," Sauron suggested.
"Eh? And why's that?"
Sauron shrugged and didn't answer.
"Sense anything?" Khamul asked.
"No," Sauron said. "There is promise here though, I can feel that much. Yes, our ringbearers are here. I'm sure of it."
Khamul snorted and looked around. "Nothing here but weak merchants," she said.
"And pickpockets," Metima pointed out, nodding at a few unscrupulous fellows who were following the riders while trying to seem like they weren't.
"There's an inn over there," Sauron said. "The Prancing Pony," he read. "Strange name for an inn."
"I never want to come back here," Khamul grumbled. "It's cold, it's wet, and it's muddy."
"I'm sure you can lead the Haradrim to victory after victory in the south when we are done here," Sauron said.
Khamul shrugged and jumped off her horse right into a pool of water. "Ugh!" she snarled, shaking mud and water off her boots.
"Where do we leave the horses?" Metima asked. "Those men are still following us. I think they're after the horses."
"And whatever money we have," Yanta added.
"We should challenge them to an honorable duel and slay them where they stand," Vorea suggested.
"Or we could pay the stableboy to care for the horses," Sauron said. "And pay him well enough that they're still there when we leave."
"Protection money," Vorea grumbled.
They ended up taking Sauron's suggestion and paid the stableboy a handsome sum to keep the horses safe.
"I will, good sirs," the boy said, grinning inanely. "I'll keep 'em real safe, I will! Nothing'll happen to them, don't you worry, good sirs!"
"Do you trust him?" Khamul asked as they walked into the inn.
"No," Sauron said. "But I'll have you or Yanta kill him if the horses are gone. I think he knows that."
The Prancing Pony was full of sullen men sitting around smoking and drinking in silence. There was a quiet poker game going on in the far corner, but the players were careful not to make too much noise.
"I hardly think we're going to find anyone here," Khamul said, looking around with distaste.
"That's intriguing," Sauron commented, glancing over at an ogre skull that had been mounted on the wall. "I wonder how they managed to kill that. It looks like a bull."
"Luck," Khamul muttered. She was about to suggest they leave Bree altogether, when she felt a hand grab her purse.
Metima was right about the pickpockets, she thought, spinning around and kicking an unfortunate man in the chest, sending him flying across the room.
"We have stumbled into a den of thieves!" Vorea snarled, drawing her sword.
"No," Sauron said, holding up a hand to stop her. "No killing."
"I would only teach them a lesson in hospitality," Vorea said.
"All the same, fists only."
"You little bastard!" Khamul snarled at the fallen thief. "In my lands we hang thieves like you!"
"You're not in your lands anymore, Haradrim," the thief snarled, jumping up. He threw a punch at Khamul, who dodged it and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and threw him into the bar.
"Don't you dare strike my brother!" a weather-beaten woman yelled, leaping out of her chair and dropping her pipe. She drew a knife and ran at Khamul.
"I cannot let such a brave warrior be slain by trash like this!" Vorea exclaimed, rushing forwards to help Khamul. She seized the woman by the shoulder and threw towards the back of the room, where she crashed into a table.
"If you're going to stay here, Haradrim, you need to learn a lesson in respect," the thief snarled from behind Khamul.
"And you need to learn a lesson in stealth!" she snarled, whipping around and dodging the glass bottle he was about to break over her skull. She grabbed a nearby chair and broke it over his head and shoulders.
"Bar fight," Yanta muttered with a grin, looking around for any other patrons who appeared to be causing trouble.
"My lord," Vorea said, dragging the unconscious woman behind her as she walked over to Sauron, "what shall I do with this?"
"Take her outside," Sauron said. "And bring yours as well, Khamul."
Seizing the unconscious thief by his shirt, Khamul dragged the man out of the inn, following Sauron and the others.
"I think we may have outstayed our welcome in Bree already," Sauron said. "The looks we received as we left were anything but pleasant."
"Unnnh," the woman as she slowly came to consciousness. "What hit me?"
"I," Vorea growled, glaring down at her.
"Who the Hell are you people?" the woman asked, staggering to her feet. "And what do you want here?"
"We are looking for two people," Sauron said, staring intently at her.
"We ain't had nothing to do with it, understand?" the woman growled. "I don't care what it was. We didn't do it!"
"I'm sure not," Sauron said. "Tell me, have you heard of Mordor?"
The woman nodded. "Yeah, Dark Lord's kingdom. What about it?"
"What loyalty to you have to your fellow man?"
"I don't care about that," the woman said. "Money, that's what I want."
"How about power?"
"Well, sure, that'd be nice…but I'm not going to get any of that. Neither of us are. It's not like anyone's gonna make us mayor."
"I can offer you all that and more," Sauron said.
Khamul groaned. Not these two. Yanta was bad enough, but even she had some redeeming values. She couldn't think what these two could bring to the ringbearers.
"Really?" the woman asked, licking her lips.
"Yes, really. Here is a ring," Sauron said, holding out an identical gold ring, set with a topaz. "It will make you immortal."
"Now how about that?" the woman muttered, turning the gold band over in her hand. "That's pretty neat." She glanced up. "And my brother?" she asked.
"What about me?" the man mumbled, looking up and rubbing his head. "Ohhh Valar. They're going to kill us."
"No, they're giving us rings," the woman said.
"Shut up and take the Valar-damned ring, you idiot!" Aica snarled, glaring fiercely at her brother. "Ain't polite to make a gentleman wait."
"Yes, ma'am," the man muttered, stumbling to his feet. "Thank you, sir," he said, accepting a ring with a stone of turquoise from Sauron. "My apologies about trying to steal from you and yours, sir."
"Think nothing of it," Sauron said. "Although I would not do it again. Particularly from Khamul. She is, after all, your superior."
"What now?" Aica asked, glancing up from admiring the ring.
"Yes," Sauron said. He looked from face to face. "You are my ringbearers. Six chosen out of all the world to bear these magic rings."
"Now that's special," Aica muttered. "Hear that, Ringe? Just us six outta all of them."
Her brother nodded. "Must've done something right."
"There will be three more in time," Sauron said. "For a grand total of nine ringbearers, nine Black Riders."
"Ah," Yanta said, nudging Metima in the ribs. "That's why he wanted me to get a black horse."
"Who's in charge?" Aica asked suspiciously, glancing at Khamul.
"That will be one of the other three," Sauron said. "Khamul is the lieutenant, the second ringbearer. Vorea is third, Yanta fourth, Metima sixth, Aica seventh, and Ringe eighth. The final three ringbearers shall be your chief, the fifth, and the ninth. Do you understand?"
"We do," Vorea said, nodding. "And now where do we go? To Mordor?"
"Exactly," Sauron said. "We travel to Mordor and my tower, the Barad-dur."
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.