2. The White Council
"I have gathered you here today to inform you of a grievous event." Gandalf looked from face to face in the circle. They were all grim and serious. "The Watchful Peace is at an end. The evil in Dol Guldor has returned."
"Alas for this," Saruman said, shaking his head. "For so long we have dwelt in peace and prosperity. Yet, we all knew this would come, I think."
There were general nods of agreement, mostly from the elves. Galadriel cast Saruman what could only be described as a suspicious glance. The lone Man seemed to look grimmer.
"What dwells in those black halls?" Cirdan asked. "Gandalf?"
"I have not been able to discern it," Gandalf admitted. Saruman smirked, though he hid it well. "I can only guess that it is the Witch-King of Angmar, returned from Minas Morgul."
"He was last seen riding east," Glorfindel pointed out.
"It could be any of the Nazgul," Celeborn said. "But the Witch-King is the most likely suspect."
"How strange," Galadriel commented, "that they still exist. Should they not have perished with their Master? Or do they live while the One Ring exists?"
Her words caused the room to fall silent. "Are you suggesting something?" Saruman asked. "Perhaps that there is a new Dark Lord to command them?"
"I suggest no such thing," Galadriel said. "There are two Dark Lords. One has been imprisoned by the Valar. And the second…"
"Then you are suggesting that it is Sauron himself in Dol Guldor?"
"The power that rots Thranduil's forest is mightier than the Witch-King."
"He could've grown stronger over the years. The Nazgul took Minas Ithil after all," Glorfindel said.
"And why would they do that?" Galadriel asked. "Unless they had need of it."
"Need of it?" Elrond asked, raising an eyebrow. "You mean to suggest that they are preparing the way for Sauron's return?"
"As long as the One Ring exists, a door is open for Sauron's return," Galadriel said. "We must find the Ring, and destroy it."
Saruman snorted. "It cannot be done. The One Ring was forged in the fires of Orodruin. It is impossible to destroy!"
"It's probably in the depths of the ocean by now," Glorfindel said. "Saruon – if he exists – will never be able to find it."
Galadriel's face fell and her eyes hardened.
"I think we should hear what our lone Man has to say about this," Saruman said, turning to the human. "What does the Chieftain of the Dunedain say?"
"I…er…" Arahad began. "I think…well…"
"Why did you come in the first place if you have nothing to say?" Saruman asked, shaking his head.
"I came because a dark shadow is stalking my people!" Arahad snapped. "I think it is one of the Nazgul! Specifically, the one that stirred up the Wainriders and Haradrim against Gondor!"
Gandalf's face grew grim. Saruman laughed. "Blaming some assassin on the Nazgul! Yes, very plausible. Why would they care about you?"
"I am the heir of Isildur!"
"Heir of a broken, ruined house. They wouldn't care if you lived or died."
"One would," Gandalf muttered, but he was too quiet for anyone to hear.
"The Nazgul want all heirs of Isildur dead," Galadriel said. "Arahad is the heir of both Isildur and Anarion, the last in Arda. He could lay claim to the throne of Gondor."
Both Arahad and Saruman snorted. "They wouldn't even let me pass through the gates," Arahad said.
"Nevertheless, someday a Chieftain may arise who would wish to unite the kingdoms," Galadriel said. "The Nazgul do not want this to happen, so they will hunt you until you and all your kin are dead."
"I figured as much," Arahad muttered.
"It is a shame about the Chieftain and his people," Saruman said. "But we have the more pressing matter of Dol Guldor. I propose that we establish a council made up of those who are here. Obviously when the Chieftain dies, his son will take his place."
Arahad shot Saruman a glare for the jibe at his mortality.
"That seems wise," Elrond said. "Who will lead us?" He looked at Gandalf.
"The offer is kind," the wizard said, "but I will be bound by none but Valinor. I decline."
"Then perhaps the other Maia should lead us?" Elrond asked, looking to Saruman.
"Your offer is most gracious, and accepted," the White Wizard said. "I will be honored to lead this council through what will undoubtedly be a troubled time."
Galadriel sighed. "We are fighting the Long Defeat," she said quietly. "Victory now seems even further away."
"You were very quiet, Arahad," Gandalf commented as they left the council room in Rivendell.
"What could I say in front of so many lords?" the Chieftain asked. "Galadriel, the queen of Lorien. Celeborn, the wisest elf in all Arda. And Master Elrond himself! What could I say?"
"It is good you were there though," Gandalf said. "The evil of Dol Guldor will not stay within the confines of Mirkwood. It will soon venture out, across the Misty Mountains even. I suspect you will see some of it soon enough."
"My Rangers can deal with goblins and orcs," Arahad said. "What we can't deal with is this Black Easterling."
Gandalf sighed. "Yes, the Haradrim. That is what she is, in fact."
"You know her? It's a her?"
"Yes to both. Her name is Khamul, and you are right Arahad, she is a Nazgul."
Arahad frowned. "Why do you not destroy her then? She is but a wraith while you are a Maia."
Gandalf chuckled. "If only things were so simple," he said. "The Valar made me swear an oath not to challenge Sauron directly, and I believe that would include his servants. Unless she comes after me, I won't go after her."
"She's killing my people!"
Gandalf lay a hand on Arahad's shoulder. "If she were not here, it would be another. There is no point in killing her, if such a thing can be accomplished by might less than that of an Ainu. Besides, I have a feeling that her part in this world's tale is not yet done."
"Your foresight? Can you see something?" Arahad asked.
"She has a destiny," Gandalf said. "And if I or any other were to take that from her, then I cannot foresee the consequences."
"Would not another come to take her place?" Arahad asked wryly.
"Perhaps, and perhaps not. This is a destiny that Caradhras itself told me of, and I do not think Khamul's death fits into its plans."
"Caradhras? The mountain?" Arahad gasped.
"Yes, the mountain. It's a very peculiar one. You should visit it sometime, though it may not let you cross. It has very definite ideas about who crosses and who doesn't."
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