51. Cerin Amroth
"I knew Lord Sauron would send a mighty warrior, but I did not think it would be one of the Nine," the Captain of the Haven – a fat, sycophantic man – said, sipping a glass of wine.
"Shows how much he values you," Khamul said. Or how much Aica wanted me out of her way.
"They caused a lot of destruction, those fifty," the Captain said. "So good that they're all dead."
"Except for one."
"Yes, that one. I think I'll have a nice little public execution." The Captain frowned. "What do you think, drawing and quartering? Or maybe burning at the stake. I'm not sure…"
"Why not just cut off his head and be done with it?" Khamul snapped. She wasn't about to save the Heir of Isildur again, but she wasn't going to sit by and watch him be tortured either.
"Oh, no, that would never do. I need a spectacle! These men terrorized Umbar! It will take a century for us to recover! No, no, I need something spectacular!"
Disgusted, Khamul stormed out of the room. The home – no, palace – of the Captain was as ostentatious as he was. The tiles were finest marble, the walls were embedded with gems in stunning patterns, the curtains were the most delicate silks. Rather than looking wealthy and cultured, the Captain only managed to look gaudy and tasteless. Too much gold. Gold everywhere. On the ceiling, on the walls…and were those gold flecks in the marble? Probably.
"You!" Khamul snapped, spotting a guard.
The guard jumped to attention, shaking slightly. It wasn't everyday one of the Nine talked to you. "Yes, sir!"
"Where's the prisoner?"
"The prisoner, sir?"
"The one from Gondor! The one who slaughtered your countrymen!"
"Oh, that one, sir. In the dungeons, sir."
"Where are the dungeons?"
"Down the stairs, sir."
"And the stairs are…?" Khamul hissed, rapidly losing patience.
"Right over here, sir." The guard hurried across the hall and opened a gilded door. "Down these, sir. There are more guards down below."
The stairs to the dungeons were plain stone, the way lit by simple torches in even simpler brackets nailed to the wall. It was a relieving departure from the gold and jewel display above.
There were, rather surprisingly, not very many cells. Only three, unless there were other dungeons. Perhaps the Captain preferred to execute his prisoners as soon as he got them.
Two guards were sitting at a small table near the cells, playing dice.
"Which one's the Gondorian in?" Khamul demanded.
"First cell, sir," a guard said. "Why?"
"I want to talk to him."
"Oh, you don't need to bother. He won't say anything. We already tried."
"I am Sauron's lieutenant. I think I can get him to say something!"
"Yes, sir, sorry, sir." The guard jumped up and hurriedly opened the cell door. "There you go, sir. Do what you want, sir."
Khamul slammed the door behind her as she walked in.
"I'm beginning to wonder why you're on his side," Estel gasped. He was chained to the wall and looked like he'd just got done with a little 'questioning'. He was covered in whiplashes, bruises were beginning to blossom all over his body, and it looked to Khamul like there was a broken rib or two.
"What are you talking about?" she snapped.
"First you killed all those goblins, and now you're treating Corsairs like you'd like to stick a knife in them."
"So why are you on his side?"
"Because I don't like the other side much either. Besides, I can live forever this way."
"Is that so great?"
No, it wasn't. Not when Morion was nothing but a shell with Morgoth working the controls. Honestly, Khamul would rather be a mortal with Morion rather than live forever and ever without him. And she'd rather be dead than live in a world where Sauron or Morgoth ruled supreme.
"Yes, it's fantastic," Khamul snapped. "Now what in the names of the Valar are you doing here?"
"I seem to have been captured by yourself," Estel said. "They're going to put me to death, and that will be the end of Isildur's heirs."
"Ah, you know who you are now?"
"Yes. Elrond told me a while ago."
"And then you decided to go off and get yourself killed? You don't care much for your lineage?"
"I'm fighting Sauron."
"By dying a pointless, painful death."
"I'm not afraid of pain."
"You will be."
"Why are you here?" Estel asked.
"I'm here because the Captain wanted me to sort out a little problem. Apparently that was you and your friends."
"Are they all dead?"
Estel sighed and closed his eyes. "I thought they must be, but I hoped…"
"And you're going to join them." Khamul shook her head. "What a pointless death! What a wasted life! You could've been great! Caradhras thought so, I'm sure of it. Why else would it have worked so hard to save you?"
"It tried to kill me!"
"No, it tried to almost kill you. It meant for me to find and save you. It wanted you alive. And now you're going to die."
"You don't want me to die," Estel said with a faint smile. "All this talk… I thought you were just another servant of Sauron, gloating over my death. But you care. You don't want me to die."
"Shut up!" Khamul snapped. "I'm upset that I went to all that trouble to save your life before, and now you've wasted it!"
"But what could you do, even if you wanted to?" Estel muttered. "You'd have to kill the guards…fight your way out of Umbar with an injured man in tow… A tall order, even for a ringbearer."
"If I wanted to, I could do it," Khamul said.
"And what would Sauron say? He wouldn't be pleased that his lieutenant saved Isildur's heir from certain death."
"He doesn't even know who you are! You're just some Gondorian bastard!"
"Actually, I'm Thorongil," Estel said. "It was something Caradhras said. I thought it would make a good name."
"You remember all that?"
"Every bit of it."
"Huh," Khamul muttered.
The cell door opened and a burly man with a scar across his face walked in. Behind him the two guards stumbled in, lugging a brazier full of hot coals.
"Are you the torturer?" Khamul asked.
"Yes," the man grunted. He pulled out a long spike and stuck it in the coals. "Want to watch?"
"Not really." Khamul kicked over the coals, knocking them onto the guards, who shrieked in agony. Then she grabbed the spike and plunged it into the torturer's eye. It came out the other side with a spray of blood and brains.
"How strange that the greatest asset in the war against Sauron is Sauron's own lieutenant," Estel commented.
"Oh shut up," Khamul muttered, yanking out the spike and attacking Estel's manacles with it. "This isn't going to become a pattern."
"I believe the guards might have the key."
Seconds later they were running up the stairs, Estel leaning heavily on Khamul. Not wanting to face guards unarmed, Estel had snatched a dagger from one of the dead guards.
"Wait, wait! Where are you going?" The blubbery Captain of Haven was running down the hallway, shouting and waving his arms.
"And here come the guards," Khamul muttered, spotting half a dozen guards sprinting toward them.
"I'll take care of the Captain."
"What are you talking about? You can hardly stand!"
"I'll be fine," Estel promised.
Khamul only had to kill two guards before the rest ran off. They were not thrilled about fighting a Nazgul, especially one who had just turned on her own side.
"How are you doing?" she asked Estel.
"Just fine, though we should leave before a more competent commander appears," Estel said.
Khamul glanced over at the Captain of Haven. Estel's dagger was protruding from his throat. "Nice throw," she commented.
The two made it to the stables without incident, where Khamul's horse was waiting for them almost impatiently.
"Should I drop you off in Gondor?" Khamul asked as they raced through the streets. People scrambled to get out of their way, knocking over stalls and stands in their haste.
News had not yet reached the other guards of Khamul's treason, and so the gates were open and the guards even waved.
"What a bunch of idiots," Khamul muttered.
"Not Gondor, no," Estel said at last. "It's time to leave Gondor. I've served King Thengel in Rohan, Steward Ecthelion in Gondor. I've even been to Harad, Khamul. You're right, it's a beautiful place."
"How far did you go?"
"Nearly all the way to Khand. Through the sands, and then into the jungles."
"Spot any mumakil?"
"A few actually. They're majestic beasts, but I wouldn't want to get near their tusks."
Khamul chuckled. "Neither would I. So, if not Gondor, then where?"
Khamul nearly fell off her horse. "Lorien? As in Lothlorien? Home of Galadriel and Celeborn?"
"You do realize that I'm a Nazgul?"
"Yes, I do. You could just drop me off at the border."
"What do you want to go to Lorien for? I thought you hated your family!"
Estel looked shocked. "I love my family!"
"Oh, yes, I forgot. They just hate you. Did they ever bother you after the Caradhras incident?"
"Actually, no. My brothers were quite upset, but Elrond quieted them down."
Khamul grinned. "Glad to hear it. So what do you want to go to Lorien for?"
"You just want me to risk life and limb for it."
"Well, there's this woman…"
Khamul sighed. "There always is. What's her name?"
Khamul almost fell off her horse again. "You're in love with Elrond's daughter?!"
"Yes, I am!" Estel exclaimed. "No one believes me! Not even her! She laughed when I told her I was in love with her! I was only twenty then though. She'll love me now…I know it."
Khamul shook her head. "You're mad. Elrond's daughter! If he hated you when you were his foster son, then what'll he think about you now?"
"He never hated me."
"I beg to differ."
Estel sighed. "Just let me off at the closest to Lorien you can go."
"Oh no, I want to see this."
"You'll go there then?"
"Certainly. Which part?"
"Uhh…the heart of Lorien."
Khamul sighed. "I'll see what I can do."
They rode night and day until the golden trees of Lorien came into view. "This is going to be tricky," Khamul muttered, surveying the guarded realm.
"Take the path by the river," Estel advised. "It's the least well-guarded."
"You know this place?"
"You really need to consider this carefully," Khamul said as they rode alongside the stream. "Even if Arwen does agree to marry you, Elrond's not going to like that one bit."
"I know. She's immortal, you know. If she marries me, a mortal, then she'll have to give up her immortality. I don't want to ask her to do that, but I love her. I love her so much…"
"Elrond's really not going to like that."
"What can he do? He can't stop us."
"Oh yes he can. He's her father, remember? He has to give his consent to the marriage."
"We could just sneak off and wed…"
Khamul rolled her eyes. "You think a proper elf like Arwen's going to do that? No way."
"What would Elrond ask me for? Money, maybe? But he doesn't need it."
In her long years, Khamul had picked up a legend or two, though she certainly wasn't as well-read as Elrond or even Estel. "Beren and Luthien," she said. "Isn't that what this is? You're Beren, Elrond's Thingol, and Arwen's Luthien."
"Arwen has been compared to Luthien before."
"Exactly. Elrond hates you, so he sets you an impossible task. What would that be?"
"A palantir? There aren't any silmarils left."
Khamul could have bashed her brains out against a tree. Estel was smarter than she was, she knew it, so why was he being so dense? "You're Isildur's heir!" she hissed. "What do you think Elrond wants?"
Estel's eyes widened in horror. "No! Gondor would never accept me as king!"
"Yes, that's what he wants! He wants you to reclaim the thrones of Gondor and Arnor! He won't let you marry Arwen until you do!"
"I can't do that though! I'd be a terrible king!"
"You'd be a great king! What are you talking about?"
"That's what he's going to say," Khamul said. "If you want Arwen, you have to be king of both kingdoms. Just like Elendil was."
"No, no," Estel was muttering, shaking his head.
"Then again, maybe Arwen will just refuse. Hey, where are we now?"
"Right over there!" Estel said, gesturing to a mound near a tall mallorn tree. "Put the horse in the shadows and watch. She's always there at twilight!"
Khamul slunk into the shadows and watched as Estel jumped off the horse and sprinted for the mound. "Arwen!" he called.
A figure there spun around. "Aragorn?" she whispered.
How many names did this man have? Khamul wondered. Estel, Thorongil, and now Aragorn. That was an official sounding name though. It had the royal ar- in it at least.
Estel fell to his knees before Arwen and clasped her hands. "I've come from Umbar, or what's left of Umbar."
A little overdramatic, but it wasn't bad.
"What happened to your face?" Arwen gasped. "Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine. I need to ask you something."
"Will you marry me?"
There was a very long pause.
"What?" Arwen whispered.
"I love you. I love you like Beren loved Luthien. Will you marry me?"
"I…I… My father will never allow it."
"I'll do anything to marry you, Arwen! I'll steal Earendil's silmaril for you!"
"Aragorn…when you first saw me…I said I didn't love you."
"Y-yes?" Estel whispered. Khamul could hear his heart breaking.
"But I was lying. Father said you wouldn't be a good match for me. That I should marry another elf lord or just go to the Havens. But I won't! I love you, Aragorn! Yes, I will marry you!"
Grinning ear to ear, Estel stood up and kissed Arwen. They stood there for a while, holding each other's hands, kissing in the moonlight.
Arwen broke the kiss. "I need to leave," she said. "Galadriel will be wondering where I am." She kissed him again briefly and then ran off.
"She's going to marry me!" Estel exclaimed, running back to Khamul.
"You're going to stay here then?" Khamul asked.
"Yes, I suppose I have to. Maybe Elrond will be fine with it."
"I doubt it."
"But maybe he will. Oh, this is fantastic! She loves me!"
"Good luck to you. By the way, your real name's Aragorn?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, it is. Estel's what they called me when I was young, and then Thorongil. Caradhras guessed both of them."
"I'm not surprised," Khamul said. "What else did it say?"
Estel frowned. "One last thing. It doesn't really make sense, but Thorongil didn't make sense either for a long time."
"What was that?"
"It said 'Estel…Thorongil…Elessar'." Estel shrugged. "I don't suppose I'll see you again, Khamul."
"Not helping you, no," Khamul said. "Especially not if you try to reclaim the thrones. Good luck with that though. The stewards won't want to give up their power and they have claws of iron."
"You don't have to help Sauron."
"I do, because I want to. I'm going to leave before you try to persuade me again. And remember, next time I won't show any mercy."
"There won't be a next time," Estel said.
Khamul rode her horse out of Lorien and surprisingly encountered no elven archers nor sentinels. Perhaps Galadriel had seen her and realized she wasn't a threat. At least, not right now.
"What have I done this time?" Khamul muttered, shaking her head. Not only had she rescued Isildur's heir, again, but she had saved the man who would assume the name of Elessar, perhaps when he reclaimed the throne of Gondor. Of course, that was providing the vision came true. It seemed far more likely that Estel would die before he so much as got near Gondor again.