"Well… It is difficult."
"What's so difficult?" Yanta snapped. "We're giving you boatloads of gold, all you have to do is give us your allegiance."
The captain of the Corsairs of Umbar gave his lieutenant a skeptical glance as if to say, 'this is a ringbearer? Where did the Dark Lord find such creatures?'
"You already fight Gondor, so why not fight for us?" Yanta asked.
"We dislike having a lord rule over us."
"Hey, hey, I get it. You like being independent. What do you think, Sauron's going to be breathing down your neck the whole time? Of course not! He doesn't care about ships and raids and stuff. He'll tell you 'take that harbor' or something and you do it in whatever way you want. And you get more gold than you'll know what to do with."
The gold was a tempting offer. If there was one thing Corsairs could not resist, it was gold. But they prized their independence, their ability to do whatever they felt like whenever they felt like. To swear allegiance to the Dark Lord…
"Right, let me put it this way," Yanta said. "Swear allegiance to Sauron or I'll kill everyone in this camp right now."
Used to such threats by incompetent diplomats, the captain rolled his eyes. "Three thousand coins," he said.
"Don't be an idiot! One thousand!"
"You're supposed to come down."
The captain shrugged. "I feel that negotiations might be completed."
"Fine, three thousand gold coins. Do we have an alliance now?"
The captain grinned, exposing rotten teeth. "Oh yes." He glanced down at the roll of parchment and took out a knife. Slicing himself across the palm, he dipped a quill in the blood and scrawled his name.
"Thanks," Yanta said, glancing at the signature. Oh, Sauron was going to be pleased.
"We would like to demonstrate our excitement for this alliance," the captain said, standing up. "Please, follow me."
Curious, Yanta followed the captain of the Corsairs out to where the rest of his sailors were camped.
"There," the captain said, pointing to the rocky foothills of the Ash Mountains. "Do you see the ledge?"
"The what?" Yanta muttered, squinting. The day was bright and it pained her eyes. No…wait, there was something. There was a ledge that jutted out over the camp, casting a long shadow. There was something on the ledge as well.
"That has been here for more than three thousand years," the captain said, grinning. "The statue of Ar-Pharazon, last king of Numenor, to commemorate his subjugation of Sauron. Lord Sauron, I should say."
"That's an old statue," Yanta said.
The captain sighed. The gesture he was about to make was wasted on such an incompetent diplomat. If he hadn't known for certain she was one of the Nine, he'd have thought Sauron was deliberately insulting him.
"Take it down," the captain told his lieutenant, who nodded and held up a red flag and began to wave it around.
As they watched, sailors gathered far above them on the ledge attacked the statue with pick-axes and hammers. Stones hailed down, striking the ground and leaving large craters.
It took more than an hour to bring down the statue. It fell to fervent applause from most of the camp, but Yanta looked less impressed.
"That took a while," she said.
"It is a statue insulting to the Dark Lord," the captain said.
"I suppose so."
"We have done him a great honor by tearing it down."
"I'll mention it."
The captain gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, telling himself not to hit the infuriating Nazgul.
"How much did you pay them?!"
"Three thousand gold coins," Yanta said.
"And how much did I tell you to give them? As a maximum?"
"A thousand," Yanta admitted.
Sauron shook his head. Gondor was strengthening its borders. Poor Turgon's health had not been helped by the revelation that the Dark Lord was alive, well, and rebuilding his kingdom just across the river. Rohan was preparing for war as well, but Sauron had a secret weapon for that particular kingdom.
"They wouldn't do anything for less than three thousand," Yanta protested.
"They would have, if you were a better bargainer."
"I threatened them even!"
Sauron sighed and forced himself to stay calm. "Are you familiar with the Anduin River?"
"Yeah, of course."
"Good. Go up and down it and look for the Ring."
"Just do it."
"Fine," Yanta muttered. "Oh, they also smashed some statue or another. Told me to mention it to you."
"How nice of them," Sauron said. When he looked up and Yanta was still in the room, he raised an eyebrow.
"I'm leaving, I'm leaving!"