The shadows were deep in the meeting chambers of Dol Guldur. Seldom was a glimmer of light allowed to penetrate the heavily draped coverings over the windows. Two days after the skirmish in the camp, Lord Khamul and Lord Zagbolg sat at Khamul's long conference table, their silent servants ever at the readiness at the sides of the room.
Lord Zagbolg's attention from his goblet of wine was momentarily diverted by the sight of the two rings that Khamul withdrew from a piece of dirty, bloodstained cloth.
"They are worthless now," Lord Zagbolg commented.
"Their use ended at the death of the bearers," Khamul said. "One was taken from the finger of the corpse of the slave woman Finduilas, whom our troops found slain at the site of the camp. The other was found in a hastily dropped pack of one of the accursed rebels."
"I wonder that Vartang left her alive as long as he did," Lord Zagbolg mused after he took a drink from his goblet of wine.
"I would, too, if I were he," Khamul said. "They say she was quite fair."
"It has not ended well," Zagbolg frowned. "The Master will not be pleased and perhaps He will find fault with us!"
"I think not totally displeased, my Lord Zagbolg," Khamul said. "The Halfling still lives but would have perished had not our troops reached him in time. His life was the most important matter. The Master will have His revenge upon him, for did not He learn well from His Lord Melkor? Never display before the enemy all the forces at your disposal. Nay, save them until last, when they will be surprised at your might!"
"Aye, true enough," Lord Zagbolg reflected. "That little beauty will be upon the Halfling's finger until the moment that he dies, and that shall be torment enough!"
"The mithril necklaces, my lord, what about them?" Lord Zagbolg questioned. "The ones of true mithril silver shaped like seagulls that the Morgul Lord once presented the three slave wenches of Gondor, Lilandra, Finduilas and Rian? Were the two found?"
"As you know, it is said that the woman Lilandra, wife of Aldir, has hers, and I think this must be sooth. The other two necklaces, those worn by Rian and Finduilas?" he said as his brow wrinkled. "They were not upon either of the bodies, nor upon any of the dead Variags or among their possessions."
"Then Vartang?" Shakh Zagbolg queried.
"I doubt it could be any other," Khamul replied. "Doubtless he has sent them on to his father, Varin, the king of Khand, under an armed escort as a trophy beyond measure!" He stroked his beard, deep in thought. "The Master will be most displeased at this!"
"And for that we will pay!" Zagbolg hissed, a look of alarm upon his face.
"We have paid dearly before," Khamul said with resignation, "but let us be concerned about the penalty once we know it."
Zagbolg looked down at his wine goblet, but his downcast eyes did not hide the look of fear in his face. "And I am to be the bearer of this news!" he exclaimed.
"He must be aware of all that has transpired by now. He has his own ways of knowing; if not by the Ithil stone, then those other ways He has. Your beast awaits you, my lord. You are to take the dispatch that I have already prepared and these two Rings to the Tower. I am sure that with your return here that what our fate is to be will be readily apparent!"
"I do not look forward to this!" Lord Zagbolg hissed as he pushed his chair back and stood to his feet.
"Neither do I," said Khamul, "neither do I."
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