33. The Grey Pilgrim
"Where's Aica?" Morion asked after Khamul had reported the success of the ghost box mission.
"I don't know," Khamul said. "Probably in Arthedain. Why?"
"One of my spies survived the plague and has returned. He would've seen Aica, I think. She's rather distinct, particularly her personality. He didn't recall seeing her."
"Maybe she's learned the art of subterfuge."
"I sincerely doubt it."
So did Khamul, but she didn't know where else Aica would be. "She's only been gone a month or so. Why worry?"
"Because she might do something reckless," Morion said. "As you may recall, she was rather agitated when she left."
Khamul snorted. "That's putting it mildly."
"Just keep a lookout, will you? I don't want a ringbearer running wild across the land."
"Will do. Got any plans against Arthedain yet?"
"No," Morion said. "We're still not strong enough." He smiled. "But we're getting there, and they've relaxed their guard."
Aica took the stone with her when she left, Khamul thought as she left Morion's office. She didn't want me to steal it, I suppose. Of course, she'd have need of it if she was going to make a run for it. But why would she do that?
"Hello, Khamul," Ringe said with a smile as they passed in the hallway. He'd become a different person since Aica left. Smiling, cheerful, Khamul couldn't stand it.
"Hey, wait a second," she said.
"Sure. What is it?"
Grabbing Ringe by the shirt, Khamul slammed him into the wall. "Changed, haven't you?" she hissed.
"What are you doing?" Ringe demanded.
"You are a cowardly, pathetic, weakling. You're the eighth ringbearer, but I wouldn't use you as arrow fodder! So what makes Morion think you're so great, huh? Does he like men as malleable as cheese?"
"I don't know," Ringe said. "Really! I just…we…it…something happened. It's hard to describe."
"He's like Aica only he doesn't hurt me. And he needs someone to…love, I guess, who doesn't hurt him like Morgoth does."
"Someone he can have power over," Khamul said. "And that's you? You like that? You disgusting little bastard!"
"Why are you so mad?" Ringe asked, squirming in Khamul's grip. "It's not like you love him." His eyes widened in astonishment. "You do!"
"I don't! I don't!" Khamul yelled, shaking Ringe. "It's just disgusting! Disgusting how such a great general could fall for a pathetic worm like you!"
"I'm not impacting his work!"
"You better hope not! Or else I will personally tear your head off with my bare hands!"
"I'm sorry," Ringe said quietly as Khamul let him go.
"You have nothing to be sorry about!" Khamul snapped. "Because there is nothing to be sorry for! I don't love Morion, and I never have! He's a good general, all right? That's it! That's all!"
Ringe nodded slowly, but he certainly didn't believe it.
No! This wasn't possible! He couldn't know! Khamul wasn't even sure herself how she felt about Morion, but having Ringe believe she was in love with him was terrible! An absolute disaster! He'd probably look at her with pity now.
Khamul clenched her fists and ground her teeth. Well, what was said was said. Hopefully Ringe would have the wisdom not to say anything to Morion.
Glancing out the window at the scene of devastated fields, Khamul did a double take as she realized who was standing there, handing out bread to orphans and the ill.
"This is not the right time!" Khamul snarled, hurrying out of the castle and through Carn Dum. The streets were deserted, a testament to how badly the illness had swept through Angmar, but by the time Khamul reached the road only the man was left, those he'd helped having gone their own ways.
"I suspected someone saw me," Gandalf said. "So I thought it best to hurry the unfortunates along. I wouldn't want you taking out your anger on them."
"What are you doing here?" Khamul yelled. "Giving food to people! People of Angmar! They're your enemies, you idiot!"
"They are sick and ill women and children."
"What if there was a soldier? If he was sick, would you give him food?"
"What kind of answer is that! He'll only kill you or those on your side!"
"Side?" Gandalf asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, your side! Arthedain, Gondor, your side!"
"I was not aware that it was sides."
"It is! You, Elrond, Galadriel, you're the people in charge on your side! Me, Morion, we're on the other side! Your enemies! You don't just go around giving out bread to your enemies!"
"I do not believe I've offered you any bread."
"But you gave it to Angmar's citizens!"
"Perhaps they will defect."
Khamul groaned. "Just don't give out bread, okay?"
"Why not? As you pointed out, it only helps your side."
"Just don't. It doesn't feel…right."
"Very well," Gandalf said.
"You're just going to wait until I'm gone, aren't you?"
"Why are you here anyway?" Khamul asked. "I know what you are now, by the way."
"What am I?"
"An Istari. A wizard. There're five of you. Two went into the east, even though there's nothing there. Saruman's in charge, then there's you, and finally Radagast."
"You're remarkably well-informed," Gandalf said. "And as for why I am here," He shrugged, "I wanted to see how the Great Plague has affected the north. It has stricken Gondor and all surrounding lands."
"I heard," Khamul said. "And it's pretty much wiped Angmar out. You can see that for yourself. So go on, leave."
"It seems to be rebuilding itself quite well," Gandalf said.
"No, it isn't. Go away."
Gandalf smiled. "Yes, very well," he said. "It looks utterly devastated beyond the point of resurrection."
Khamul scowled at him. "Just leave," she said. Her hand went to her sword. "Or maybe I should cut your head off?"
"I would advise against that. But perhaps in exchange for keeping my head, I could offer you some news?"
"One of your number."
"Which one?" Khamul asked, although she had a very good idea who it was.
"I only felt their aura, and they sped by me so fast I could not get a good look. Besides, I am not familiar with the names of all the ringbearers. Only yourself, the Witch-King, and the one-eyed warrior I know."
Khamul smiled. Vorea had made a mark in the war against Arnor, terrorizing the soldiers. "Did they have yellow hair?" she asked.
"I believe I saw something to the effect, yes."
Khamul groaned. "Brown horse?"
"I see I was not mistaken," Gandalf said.
"Where'd you see her?"
"In the south, not in Arnor, which was why I was alarmed."
"Don't be," Khamul said. "We're not going south. We're staying here for a long time."
"I see. So the ringbearer was acting on her own?"
"Oh yes," Khamul said.
Gandalf nodded, as if commiserating with a friend. "Has there been a falling out?" he asked.
"You wish. We just aren't seeing quite eye-to-eye right now. How south was this?"
"Bree or so. She was heading toward the Misty Mountains."
"Why?" Khamul asked. "What could possibly interest Aica there?"
"The Mines of Moria, perhaps?"
"No, she hates Dwarves. She hates everything."
"Lorien is on the other side of the Mountains."
"She hates elves more, and besides, they're bigger, meaner, and there're more of them than there are of her. She wouldn't go there."
Gandalf seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
"You thought we were planning an invasion of Lorien?" Khamul asked, chuckling. "No. Not for a while at least."
"I confess I'm relieved to hear it."
"Don't get comfortable though," Khamul said. "By the way, have you ever seen the Elendilmir?"
Gandalf frowned in confusion. "Elendil's crown? No, I have not. It went missing with Isildur's body."
"Oh, I see," Khamul said. So Saruman hadn't revealed his discovery to his comrades. Very interesting.
"Has it turned up?" Gandalf asked.
"Maybe," Khamul said. "Don't look at me though. Perhaps you should look…closer to home."
Leaving Gandalf to puzzle over this and finally feeling like she'd won a round with him, Khamul walked back to the castle.
"Aica's out of Arnor," she announced, walking into Morion's office.
"What?" he gasped.
"Yes. A reliable source saw her riding toward the Misty Mountains from Bree."
"What would she be doing there?" Morion asked, frowning.
"I haven't faintest idea, but I don't think it's spying on Arthedain."
Morion sighed. "Go get her, will you?" he asked. "And try to mitigate any damage she's caused."
Knowing Aica, that's going to be difficult, Khamul thought. "I'll do my best," she said. At least Ringe hasn't told him anything, she thought. At least, not yet.
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