38. Down the River
"Any particularly good smells?" Morion asked dryly as he noticed Khamul sniffing the air.
Khamul shrugged. "It smells nice."
"It smells like vinegar."
Now…where was the thing? It was invisible with the Ring, but in bright sunlight it cast a shadow. Unfortunately, there was no bright light around here. Which meant Khamul had to follow her nose, which was bound to raise questions from Morion.
"Don't ask questions," Khamul snapped, moving forward, sniffing the air.
"So you can sniff out elves now?" Morion asked. "You should've told me that a while ago; I'd have made you a scout."
They passed an elf that had collapsed on a table, dead drunk. Khamul would have made him just dead, but Morion stayed her hand, insisting on the need for secrecy.
"This way," Khamul hissed, slipping out of the wine cellar and into the hallway.
"Where are we going?" Morion whispered.
"Follow your nose, you mean."
The metallic smell grew stronger as Khamul moved down the hallway. She passed a door and it began to fade. "In there!" she hissed, pointing at the door.
Morion creaked it open. "It's a storage room," he said.
"It's hiding in there!"
Footsteps and voices came from the other end of the hallway.
"Get inside! Quick!" Khamul hissed, grabbing Morion and pulling him into the storeroom.
There were barrels all around them.
"I wonder what's in these," Morion muttered. He started to open one but Khamul slapped his hand.
"We need to find a place to hide!" she hissed. All thoughts of the Ring had flown out of her head. The elves were at the door…they were going to come in.
"There! We'll hide behind those crates!" Morion exclaimed, pointing to a large stack of crates by the wall.
Khamul nodded and dived behind them just in time. The door opened and several elves walked in.
"Time to send these off, eh?" one said.
"Laketown needs its food too," another agreed.
Khamul and Morion watched as the elves pushed the barrels into a fast-flowing river, raising a portcullis to allow the barrels to flow down the water.
"Laketown is near the Lonely Mountain," Morion hissed.
"The place where Smaug is!"
"Right." Khamul sniffed the air. The metallic smell was fading. The thing couldn't have left when the elves came in, so it must've gone out when the portcullis was raised. It was heading down the river along with those barrels…barrels that could hold a dwarf if it was squeezed in.
"The dwarves are going down the river!" Khamul hissed.
"You could tell all that just by smell?" Morion asked.
"We've got to follow them!"
"Just do it! Look, the elves are distracted. We can dive into the water and follow the barrels."
"You know how to swim?"
"I learned," Khamul snapped. "Besides, how hard could it be?"
Morion gave her a skeptical look but then glanced at the elves and dived into the water. Khamul followed him and they swam out into the river.
Born and raised on Numenor, and having spent most of his mortal life on the sea, Morion could swim quite well. Khamul…less so. She had learned a few basic strokes while on the island, but she'd never bothered to practice since then. Still, one of the good things about the ring was that she didn't need air.
"I think we'll be able to walk on the riverbed soon if you swallow anymore water," Morion said.
"Oh shut up," Khamul muttered, spitting out a lungful of water. She coughed, not because she needed to get rid of the water, but because it was a strange sensation to have liquid filling her lungs.
"Can you smell anything?"
"No," Khamul snapped. She had been more concerned with staying above water.
"Are we going the right way?"
"But you can't smell anything."
"I'm not really worrying about that right now!"
"I want to make sure we're going the right way! I don't exactly enjoy swimming down rivers!"
"Oh shut up," Khamul grumbled. She sniffed the air…there was that tinge of Mt. Doom. The smell of the Ring. "Yeah, we're going the right way."
"I still don't understand how you can tell. I don't smell anything."
"Maybe Morgoth's dulling your senses." He can't smell the Ring? Or maybe he doesn't know what he's looking for. Am I the only one who can do it?
"Do dwarves give off a particularly pungent smell?" Morion asked. "Or is it something else? Perhaps one of them has a magical artifact?"
"Don't be an idiot," Khamul snapped. "How far is it to this Laketown?"
"A while," Morion said. "Besides, I doubt they're just going to let the barrels float freely down the river. They'll be rounded up soon, and we'll be noticed.We should get out and find our horses," he said. "They should be around here somewhere."
"If they even understood us," Khamul said.
"They haven't failed us before."
"There's always a first time."
"Might those be our horses walking by the river?" Morion asked, noticing two black horses keeping pace with the ringbearers.
"What do you know?" Khamul muttered. "They are pretty smart."
"The barrels will move faster than we can ride, but they must be going to Laketown. The dwarves will wish to battle Smaug."
"They're going to die," Khamul said. Can the Ring defeat the dragon? she wondered. Can the Ring do anything for anyone other than Sauron?
"We've been through this before," Morion said.
"They're still going to die." Khamul swam over to the edge of the river and hauled herself out. Her horse came over to her and waited expectantly for her to mount it. Morion's horse kept its distance while the Witch-King pulled himself out of the river.
"I will not tell Sauron," Morion promised.
"About what?" Khamul asked, frowning at him.
"About whatever we're following the dwarves for. Just, please, tell me."
"I'm interested in why they think they can kill the dragon."
"That's not it."
"I want the treasure. You see, if they kill the dragon, we can kill the dwarves and take the treasure."
"If they can kill the dragon, then there is a good chance they could hurt us as well."
"Except we can't die. And we'll catch them by surprise."
"Perhaps they have a palantir," Morion mused, watching Khamul's expression. "In that case, they would see us coming."
"They don't have a palantir," Khamul said.
"Are you sure?"
"Sauron's got one, one only looks on the Undying Lands, two were lost with Arvedui, Saruman's got one, so does the steward of Gondor, and the last one was lost when Osgiliath was burned."
"Perhaps one of the lost ones was found?"
Khamul tried to snort derisively, but the noise stuck in her throat. "Two are lost at the bottom of a bitterly cold sea that's regularly covered with a foot-thick sheet of ice and snow."
"And the Osgiliath stone? It only fell into the Anduin, I heard. That's easy enough to find."
"Until it rolls out to sea. It's long gone by now. Probably found its way back to Numenor."
"Like the Ring," Morion agreed.
Khamul twitched. Just barely. But Morion must've noticed. He was watching her like a hawk. He'd seen that twitch, realized what it meant. He knew what they were after now. Or perhaps he didn't. He might not've been paying attention, he could have simply been making a comment.
"I'm anxious to see what priceless treasure the dwarves have," Morion said. His lips twitched slightly. He knew.
"Whatever it is," Khamul said, "I think we deserve it for ourselves, wouldn't you agree?"
Morion raised an eyebrow. "And keep from Sauron what's his?" He knew it was the Ring. There were no secrets anymore.
"It's not his if we find it first," Khamul hissed.
"When we have it in our hands we'll decide what to do with it," Morion said.
If you try to give it back to him, I'll kill you, Khamul thought. I don't care that you can't die, I'll rip your heart out, I'll tear your legs off. I will not let you give the Ring back to Sauron.
"There's a road over there," Morion said, nodding at the faint path a distance away from the river. "We'll make good time to Laketown if we take it."
Khamul was reluctant to abandon the river and potentially lose the Ring, but if they beat the dwarves to Laketown, then there was a very good chance they could lay a trap. Thirteen dwarves and a short thing against the Witch-King and his lieutenant. They didn't stand a chance.
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