43. The Prophecy
"Congratulations! You didn't destroy the place!" Khamul yelled as she and Morion walked into the eerie green throne room of Minas Morgul. The place looked in reasonably good order. Surprising.
Morion and Khamul froze as if their bodies had turned to stone.
"I'm hearing things," Khamul hissed.
"Then so am I," Morion whispered.
"You seem surprised," Sauron said, standing up from the throne and walking over to his two ringbearers.
"What are you doing here?" Khamul asked.
"I might ask you that same question."
"You told us to be here!"
"Yes, and you have not been here for quite some time. Where have you been?"
"You came all the way to Minas Morgul just to find out that we weren't here?"
"Yes. Imagine my displeasure that my two strongest ringbearers were off gallivanting around Arda while Dol Guldur was threatened."
"Erk." Khamul suddenly had a very good idea of what Gandalf had been up to when he'd sped away, leaving the dwarves alone. And no wonder Mirkwood had been so pleasant; Sauron had been gone.
"They drove you from Dol Guldur?" Morion asked.
"They approached," Sauron said. "I had no desire to be injured, unlikely though it was. I also had no desire to show my true power. Therefore, I came to Minas Morgul, expecting to find Morion presiding over the plans for war with Gondor, and Khamul sharpening her sword on the bones of Ithilien Rangers. Do I find that?" Silence. "I said, do I find that?"
"No," Morion muttered.
"Correct. I find no central leadership whatsoever. The only other marginally competent person is off rooting out the Rangers and trying to forge alliances with the Haradrim and Easterlings – not Vorea's forte. So who is in charge? Why, it appears no one is. Metima is growing an orchard, Yanta appears to have started a gambling ring with what seems to be all the orcs in the city, Ancalime is breeding long-haired cats, Aica has barricaded herself in her room, and Ringe is wandering about looking lost. Are these the people I gave rings to?"
"Again, correct. I am disappointed. Very disappointed indeed." Sauron paused, expecting a response. "What exactly is the excuse for this inexcusable behavior?"
"I was heading back to Minas Morgul when I saw some goblins fighting with some elves," Khamul lied. "Turned out Morion was there, all crazy and possessed. Anyway…the elves won and we had to run from them. Took us a while to get back."
"Where was this?"
Sauron's eyebrows shot into his hair. "Caradhras? Are you certain?"
"Pretty sure, yeah. Haven't been on any other mountains that talk to me."
"Is this true?" Sauron asked Morion.
"I just told you," Khamul said.
"My trust in you is not exactly strong."
"It's true," Morion said.
"Melkor possessed you again?"
"And the elves won?"
Morion steeled himself. "Yes, they did."
Sauron shrugged and began to pace. "I suppose I expected no less. Still…there was something important there."
Khamul tensed. Had he sensed the Ring? But the Ring had been nowhere near Caradhras.
"I do not know exactly what it was. Caradhras only hinted at it."
"Hinted at what?"
"Hinted that whatever Gandalf's greatest weapon was, it would show its face on Caradhras when the elf rescue party arrived for Elrond's wife. I expected them to win, but I do hope Gandalf's weapon was killed. The mountain implied it was very, very weak."
Isildur's heir, Khamul thought. Yes, that would be him. That would be Gandalf's secret weapon. And I saved him.
"Many were killed," Morion said. "I don't know how many, but most of the goblins and several elves as well. It was chaos there."
"I will consult with the mountain," Sauron said. "Perhaps it can illuminate matters." He shot Khamul a dark glance, already suspecting that it had been a disaster, and already suspecting that she had had something to do with it.
"Well, we scraped by on that one," Khamul muttered as Sauron left the room.
"Barely," Morion agreed. He frowned. "This weapon of Gandalf's…you didn't see it, did you?"
"Are you sure?"
"All right," Morion muttered. He rubbed his head. "I've got a splitting headache."
"Probably. I'll be in my office, getting things worked out, though I figure Sauron's already done that."
"Sounds like things took a bad turn for a while."
"I'm glad we don't know how bad."
There's nothing quite like coming to Minas Morgul to find a ringbearer pruning an apple tree while another runs after an ugly cat.
Sauron shook his head to rid his mind of the ghastly visions. Whatever Khamul and Morion had been doing had been important. Morion was no fool and wouldn't have left Minas Morgul without a strong leader unless Morgoth had been in control of his mind. And as for Khamul…well, who knew what she was up to?
Retreating to an abandoned portion of the fortress, Sauron took out the palantir of Minas Ithil. Out of its depths swirled the snowy, red-stained slopes of Caradhras.
So the prophecy has come to pass, he thought. Khamul, or perhaps it was Morion, walked your road. Did the other as well?
He did, came the response of the mountain.
And who will be ridding you of the troublesome balrog? I find myself with time on my hands, so I can stop by anytime.
You would be wise to keep Lungorthin here. Or perhaps not.
Sauron ground his teeth. The mountain was talking in riddles again. What do you mean? he demanded.
The balrog will prove a mighty deterrent for all travelers. When the time comes, if there is no guardian then perhaps certain defenses will fail that otherwise would have worked. Perhaps a goal will be accomplished that would hurt you greatly.
So I should leave him there?
Yet if you do, then when the time comes, it may happen that one will have to fight him.
Any who fight a balrog die.
So there is no threat there. What happens if this fool fights the balrog?
He will defeat it, but die in the attempt.
Sauron smiled. So there is no reason to be concerned.
Things will come to pass that otherwise would not have.
Good things or bad?
Things. Men will die who otherwise would not have. A king will be killed who would not have died in that place.
A dead king. A fine thing, for there are no kings who are my servants. A king of the enemy. Do you mean king, as in lineage of kings? Do you, perhaps, mean the heir of Isildur?
I may, Caradhras conceded.
Then he will die at the end of the Third Age, for we both know that is to what you refer?
And all this hinges on whether or not Lungorthin guards Moria?
Ah, such a weighty decision. If I kill him, rid you of this pest you despise, what then? The die has been cast by the events of the elves, goblins, and my own Nazgul. We must now play with the hands dealt us.
If the balrog is killed, two Maiar will die, two kings will die, and a tower will fall.
And if I let him live?
Two Maiar will die, two kings will die, and a tower will fall.
The exact same thing!
Caradhras laughed. It was like an avalanche, but more terrifying. Sauron pitied any travelers on the treacherous mountain.
Not the same thing, the mountain said. Two Maiar will die, but there are many Maiar in these lands. You, for one. Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and those in the east.
We both know to whom you refer. Myself, Gandalf, or Saruman.
There are many combinations of two that can be made with three.
Do not speak in riddles!
Perhaps I speak plainly. Perhaps you hear in riddles.
What of the kings then? Sauron demanded.
There are hundreds of kings in Arda.
But you refer to the mighty!
Do I? I may refer to a simple king of some small group of Easterlings. Or you may be right and I refer to the heir of Isildur, who still lives, if it interests you.
Sauron cursed. Gandalf's weapon lived! He was sure of it! His Nazgul had failed him once again!
And the tower? Caradhras asked eagerly. What think you of that?
I think it is the Barad-dur. I think you have damned me either way.
There are many towers in this world.
But not as many as there are kings. Or Maiar for that matter.
Indeed? There is the Barad-dur. There is your tower in Dol Guldur. There is Orthanc. There is Cirith Ungol.
No one cares about Cirith Ungol.
Caradhras laughed again, softer this time. There shall come a time when folk shall care about Cirith Ungol.
Sauron jotted that down in his mental notes.
There are the Towers of Teeth. There is the Tower of Ecthelion.
Sauron hissed. It is the Tower of Ecthelion and the Barad-dur!
In one, Ecthelion's tower falls. In the other, it is mine!
Which one do I choose?
Do not be paralyzed by doubt. Even if you choose what may be wrong, the future is not set in stone. Many, many things can happen. And that sword cuts both ways.
"I will leave Lungorthin where he is," Sauron said.
You will gain by that decision.
For some reason, Caradhras's assurance did not ease Sauron's mind.