The Circles - Book One - Chapter Thirty-seven - Those Doomed to Live

The Circles - Book One - The Triumph of the Shadow
Chapter Thirty-seven
Those Doomed to Live
Written by Angmar

Long had the Eighth searched that day for the Ninth, whose beast had been the first to go down that day, felled by an Elvish arrow. Far from the battle, in the fields of the Westfold, Skri had espied the crumpled body of Krith's beast lying sprawled, stretched like a crushed winged lizard in a great wrack of legs tangled and wings askew. Alighting on the ground, his beast looked at its dead brother and for a moment took thought of their bond. Then after a touch of approval from its master, the creature dipped its head to its mangled fellow and tore off a mouthful of foul-smelling flesh.

Chuckling at the joyous feeding sounds of the beast, Skri dismounted and walked towards Krith. He skirted the feeding reptilian, avoiding the bloody juices that dripped down from the corners of the odorous creature's mouth as it exuberantly feasted.

"Fine animal," Skri commented.

Krith, who had been sitting upon the ground, rose to his feet at the appearance of Skri. "As good as any, I suppose," he said, not too pleasantly. "At least it is still alive; not like mine."

"You do not seem overly glad to see me, Lord Krith, and I did spend quite a bit of time looking for you. You were quite difficult to find."

"Perhaps the search was challenging only because you did not wish to find me," Krith growled belligerently.

"You are in a foul mood today, my lord Krith! You have had poor fortune, but do not be so churlish and vent your wrath upon me. Now, salvage anything that you need from your saddlebags and let us be away," Skri said good-naturedly.

"Perhaps I should have walked back," he muttered as he strode past Skri's beast. After unfastening the saddle bags on his dead mount, Krith retrieved a throwing dagger and pushed it under his belt. Removing two wineskins hanging down from his saddle pommel, he threw them over his shoulder and turned back to Skri.

"Perhaps you should have hazarded the journey on foot, but since I have gone to all this trouble to find you, you might as well ride back with me. Now get on," Skri said, becoming slightly irritated, as he walked over to his beast and mounted the saddle.

Growling, Krith climbed up behind him. "None of you - that clever group who fancies themselves so close to the King - would ever on your own volition spend one second in time searching for me when I needed help."

"Life is full of surprises," Skri said with a slight smirk. "I can relish your erudite observations as we enjoy the ride."

"I would enjoy nothing with you," Krith hissed contemptuously. "Not even a good kill! You know how I enjoy slaying, but I consider you no brother of mine with whom I will hunt! Should you offer me a draught of blood from the skull of an enemy, which had been lined in gold and crafted for a cup, I would decline it! All I want is to be as far away from you as I can be!"

"Friendly today, are you not? Tell your troubles to Khamûl." Skri knew that Krith would take this as an insult, a taunt. The Eighth felt justified. "I am sure he would understand. You two are so... close. But why do you waste time today bringing up old grudges?"

"When you are by yourself as I most usually am, that is all there is of which to think!"

"You have your friends. You always preferred them anyway," Skri said, riding easily in the saddle.

"I do not keep company willingly with malcontents!"

"So eager you were," Skri thought bitterly, "to betray us all. But ever do you court the Morgul Lord's favor now, hypocrite!"

"I doubt they hold you in any higher esteem than we do, Krith, no matter what they make you believe. But since you prefer to be used by anyone, I assume that you are satisfied in being what you are."

"You bastard," Krith muttered. "Skri the Righteous," he thought to himself with a silent sarcastic laugh. "Ever fawning upon the Captain instead of our rightful Master, I enjoy seeing you brought low and forced to submit... like the others."

"Settle your nerves, my lord," Skri said politely. "The beast has a way of rapidly soaring into the air, and then diving in a twisting, dizzying descent. And sometimes--"

The beast suddenly rose almost straight up into the air and Krith shrieked as he felt himself sliding backwards along the flying reptile's knobby spine. Frantically he grabbed the cantle of the saddle and held on tightly. Before he could curse again, the beast had twisted in the air and was plunging downward, the ground coming up at an alarming rate. Krith slid forwards, his head hitting Skri in the back.

"Sometimes the beast does this when it is least expected," Skri chortled as the creature almost crashed into the ground but then caught itself, gliding, and then swooped up again. Krith was taken by surprise at the sudden change in direction, and momentarily distracted, he shrieked and cursed.

"Stop this!" cried Krith, desperately holding onto the back of the saddle and cautiously looking sideways down at the ground.

"You have to be most careful then, my lord, lest you have a rude tumble," Skri smirked after he had brought the beast up and set it upon a smooth, even course.

"That was deliberate!" Krith hissed after he had righted himself behind the saddle. "You calculated that to make me look foolish!"

"Nay," Skri said innocently, "perhaps the beast perceived some foe upon the ground who meant us ill, and he was merely attempting to evade an arrow."

"Skri, do not try to mock me!"

"Perhaps then, Krith, silence would be better."

A snarl was Krith's only response.

Long had Skri and Krith been enemies, harboring personal grudges against the other. These old enmities dated back to their days in Rhûn, even before they had been given their Rings. Their hatred for each other had never been resolved, and the hostility had only worsened once they had been given their Gifts.

In all ways they despised each other, both personal and political. Sometimes their fury would be kindled savagely against the other, and if allowed, they would try to destroy the other with magickal spells, thunderings and wrath. The Morgul Lord kept them in check, and there was always the threat of being sent to the Punishment Chambers of the Nazgûl, where they could reflect for long days upon their misdeeds. Then, too, the Dark Lord, while enjoying their internal strife, never would allow them to get too far out of control, and the menace of that, more than anything, kept them manageable.

Krith and Skri did not speak as their beasts flew back to join the others. Skri thought it was foul luck indeed that he had been the one sent to search for the Ninth.

"Pompous petty overlord, who thought his family was so high, though his grandfather was little more than a cow herder!" the Ninth fumed silently. "Your family aspired too high, claiming that their growing power equated them with nobility, and looked down upon my family because we were still only lowly herdsmen! When your sire and I at last parted ways, I set off on my own. You did not think yourselves so great when you found that my men and I had raided your herds and pillaged your tents!"

The two rival warlords, Skri and Krith - though they had names in those days, not mere numbers to denote their existence - warred with each other for years, fighting each other's men back and forth across the steppes of northern Rhûn. Each one's forces had raided the other lord's cities, dwellings and tents, horse and cattle herds, and wains.

"The Battle Between the Slavs and the Scythians" by Victor Vasnetsov

Once Krith's men had attacked one of Skri's small villages, filled the wells with rocks and sand, and polluted their waters with the dung of both themselves and their horses. Skri had retaliated against Krith's main city, destroyed their wells, stolen his enemy's wife and her female bodyguards, and made them all his concubines. Krith had gotten his revenge the next year by raiding Skri's tent settlement, stealing the women back and taking some of Skri's female warriors and giving them to his lords.

"Then years later when my men and I bested yours in battle, you and your family did not think yourselves so mighty and royal then. Though it was in my rights to do so by the custom of the land, I did not disgrace you publicly by wresting you down to the ground and placing my foot upon the back of your wretched neck! You did not show me the same courtesy, though, when you took me prisoner the next year! That is what comes from showing mercy. Always a fool's choice!" Krith railed on, seething in silence at old grievances best forgotten.

Time passed and there was constant war and raiding between the people of the Lords Krith and Skri. Then there arose to the east of them across the mountains a mighty people, strange and alien, whose overlord was vicious and savage. In this mighty lord's unceasing march to the west, he threatened the lands of both Krith and Skri.

Neither Krith nor Skri was strong enough to defeat this great lord's forces alone, and each brooded upon the best course of action. It was Skri who proposed a meeting between the two rival lords to judge how they might best unite against the common enemy. At the council, Skri, Krith and their lords decided to forget all past animosity and join together to drive their foe back across the Eastern Mountains from whence they came. In this they were successful. It would be long years before the enemy forgot their disastrous defeat, and the vanquished foe was too fearful to cross the mountains for many years.

The victory of the united troops of Skri and Krith was so brilliantly decisive and executed with such perfect military precision, that the word of the fame of Krith and Skri spread out over the lands, until at last other ears heard of their deeds.

"Two mighty kings have arisen in the North and have defeated the Golden Lord?" the elflike Being asked speculatively as He reached down to a table and with long, tapering fingers picked up a grape and placed it in His mouth.

"Aye, Sublimity. These particular agents and spies are quite noted for reliability."

"I shall look into this matter... you are dismissed to receive your reward," the handsome auburn-manéd figure calculated as He irritably tossed a lock of His golden-red hair over His well-muscled shoulder. He scowled petulantly as the rapturously beautiful creature beside Him on the couch reached out to stroke a wayward lock of hair that had strayed over one of His eyes.

Her feelings hurt, she moved her voluptuous body slightly away from His. "Oh, Annatar," the glorious creature whimpered, "even one sour look from You will crush me to the soul."

"Leave Me," He snarled as He flung her off the couch, sending her sprawling to her knees. "You have waxed tedious. I must plan, and I do not wish to hear your simpering gasps of love tonight."

These two lords, now grown strong after their victory, could pose a great threat to Him. The increasing incursions of the Númenóreans to the land and their constant pushing of Sauron's forces inland away from the coasts was a sore dilemma. Still smarting from His defeat in Eregion, the Maia felt He could little afford any more strong enemies.

Even though the ancestors of many of these Northern people had fought under the banner of Melkor, their loyalty was as wavering as the shifting sands of the sea. Their hearts did not truly belong to Him. Instead, they worshiped many gods, some worshiping beasts, men and women, and the forces of nature. Others took to their adoration corruptions of the Valar, though they knew naught of the nature of the Powers. A few took to their hearts the ancient lore of the Avari, while others worshipped the Dark Elves themselves. There were those who believed in the cult of their ancestors, while others even developed zeal for Nahar, the steed of Oromë, and so they, while forgetting the source of their worship, began to worship the beast itself.

Though the peoples were as perfidious as a knife in the darkness, ways could, perhaps, be found to win the allegiance of their lords to Him... forever.

A kindly old man visited Krith a few months after his victory and bowed upon his knees before him. The venerable elder stated that he was a metalworker and had crafted a gift for the savior of the East - a golden ring set with a deep red garnet. As a token of deep respect and gratitude for saving the land from pillage and rape at the hands of the hordes to the Far East, the old man presented Krith with this symbol of his admiration. Krith had been delighted with the beauty of the gift.

Before the old sage left Krith, he gave him this advice: "You know in what high esteem I hold you. Pray indulge me as I offer you this piece of advice: Do not think to make a pact with your comrade-in-arms, nor engage with him in horse-trading, nor give him one of your daughters to wed, for he is altogether untrustworthy. He would bring bad days upon you and your house. You would do best to set him back upon his heels before he can do you mischief."

Krith pondered upon the words, and considering the past enmity between himself and Skri, he thought perhaps the old man was right. The only question now would be where would be the best place to launch his first strike against his enemy.

A few days after the wise old man had visited Krith, a youth with brave and steadfast mien visited the hall of Skri. He begged the lord to account him as one of his fighting men. Skri, moved by the young man's sincerity, accepted him as one of the knights of his house. As time passed, the young man impressed Skri with wisdom seldom seen in one so young.

Skri's men had been hunting when the news had come to them that new hostilities had broken out on the border between the two warring clans. Within a short time, Skri and his lords were back at his hall planning their counterattack against Krith's forces. The young man had fallen pensive in front of the fire. When questioned as to why his mood was so solemn, the young man looked at Skri with tears in his eyes.

"I have had a premonition," the youth said. "The hand of death is upon me, and I shall not come back from this raid."

Feeling that the young man was experiencing a case of battle nerves, often common before a man's first real fight, Skri did not take the youth's premonition seriously. Skri, though, being a kind man to a certain degree, humored him.

"My lord," the young man had said, "please take this ring into your safe keeping. This is a dear keepsake to me, a memento of my house, of which I am the last who yet lives. It was given to me by my dear grandmother when I reached my majority. Take it. I place it into your hands. Should I perish, I would like for you to have it and wear it. When you look at it, think of me."

The battle had gone poorly for Skri, and his men had been sorely bested in the fray. The fighting had been filled with countless mistakes of judgment, and many of Skri's men had been lost. Skri had wept great, hot tears when he looked down at the dead face of the youth, who had been pierced through the heart and was hanging, impaled upon the trunk of a great tree.

Sorrowfully, the dead were borne back to Skri's hall. As he rode to the small city that was named for him, Skri thought of the young man. When he reached his home, he took out the ring, a pale green cat's eye chrysoberyl set in gold, and looked at it with sadness. He vowed upon the band two oaths that day. The first was that he would wear the ring always in remembrance of the brave youth who had loved him so well, and the second was that he would have vengeance upon Krith for his unprovoked attacks.

With great alarm, Krith received word one day that Skri's men had fallen upon his outer territories and had destroyed all the villages there. Krith declared war on Skri, and both camps were in open combat.

When the two forces met across a vast stretch of steppes, the battle had raged on, but Skri's men proved victorious. As Krith made an attempt to escape with his guard, he was captured. Their hands bound behind their backs, ropes about their necks, Krith and his men were paraded through the streets of Skri's main city.

Then, in Skri's hall of wood, Krith had been untied, and Skri had wrestled him to the floor and placed his boot upon his neck, the symbol of a vanquished foe. Krith's face had blushed red with shame as he lay upon the floor and Skri's men had laughed at him. Upon pain of death, Krith had been forced to swear an oath of loyalty and subservience to Skri. Skri had felt that this humiliation was warranted because of the unprovoked attack that had led to the slaughter of the noble young man who had now been avenged.

Over the years, Skri and Krith provided Gorthaur with boundless mirth. Never would either of them know that Sauron had gone to both of them in disguise - once as an old man and then in the pelt of a young man whom Sauron had slain in the wastelands. The Dark Lord always remembered the day when they had both been called to Barad-dûr. The amazed expressions upon their faces had been sublimely humorous to Sauron.


Ultimately Sauron had deceived nine lords of Middle-earth, including three Númenóreans, who gave Him both their allegiance and that of their countries. Through their influence, they swayed many to Gorthaur's side.

The Ring of Power upon His finger, He controlled them all, but felt it unnecessary to pay much heed to them. Why should He bother? They were at His beck and call whenever He needed them and so He had held them with a not-too-tight rein. Sauron had been far more worried about the Númenóreans and their steady encroachment into His lands.

Finally, Ar-Pharazôn had come with a great force to Middle-earth, desiring to exploit the whole of the land, bring its riches to Númenor, and claim the earth for their own. Sauron's servants had fled in fear of this massive host. Where war failed, diplomacy prevailed. Sauron appealed to Ar-Pharazôn's clemency, and in all good faith He had been taken to Númenor as a vouchsafe for His lands and His forces. He went to Númenor as a captive, and later, by His guile and cunning words, became Ar-Pharazôn's chief advisor.

In the year 3319 of the Second Age, the isle of Númenor sank beneath the waves forever. The fury of Eru Ilúvatar had been kindled by the presumption of Ar-Pharazôn in thinking that he could overcome Valinor itself. After that unpleasantness, Sauron had been forced to return to Middle-earth, no longer able to take a fair form, His visage forever changed to that of a dark and ominous lord.

Unfortunately for Sauron, a number of the Númenóreans had escaped the final downfall of the island. They, in their petty arrogance, had the effrontery to make their way to Middle-earth, settling contemptuously quite near to Sauron's own lands, which they desired for their own.

Finally had come the seven-year Siege of Barad-dûr during the War of the Last Alliance. The siege had culminated in the fierce battle in which Sauron had fallen, rendered impotent, His Ring severed from His hand. Barad-dûr was destroyed by the enemy, and the Nazgûl retreated into the shadows, each going wherever he wished.


After the fall of the Dark Lord and His Tower, Skri had returned to the land of his birth, Rhûn. He was still of great power, for he was a sorcerer in his own right. There were riches, too, that he had laid up, which he felt he had earned for himself. He dwelt among the people who were his kin. Skri had gained steadily in power, and drew to him men who wished to serve him. He had dwelt among them, his identity hidden from others by spells or by disguises.

Krith had fled with Khamûl and Zagbolg to lands further South towards Ninwi, and Krith was no longer a threat. Still, Skri bought mercenaries to defend his territory. He was determined to gain back all he had lost when he had been first called to Barad-dûr. He was never certain that Krith might not come back and strive with him again to gain the territory that he once held. He feared that the powers of Khamûl and Zagbolg would join with those of Krith, and his old enemy would get his revenge.

After Skri had gained the aid of the mercenaries, he led them to conquer a rival chieftain. Still, Skri had held what he had gained by his own sword, his own might and his own will. He had always felt, though perhaps he did not hold so true those principles of justice and honor as he once had, that he had ruled wisely and well.

Krith, Zagbolg and Khamûl never came to challenge him, and sometimes Skri almost regretted that they did not. He felt his domain was strong enough to fend against even the three of them joined and all the forces they could summon. He so powerful that no one challenged him, and his territory became one of peace. He found himself becoming settled in a bucolic life and enjoying it.

Those were the days to which he liked to look back, those days after he had risen once again as chief of many tribes, and peace for a time ruled. He had caused a city with houses of wood and stone to be built. There he had resided with his council, his wife, his riches and his gardens, his acrobats, his jugglers, bards and minstrels, jesters and dwarves, and had been at peace as much as he could be with himself and the world.


The Witch-king had been safe in his own kingdom in the North. Then at last he had been bested, driven away by the invaders from the South and their allies, the damned Elves, and the little creatures, the halfling archers with their small but deadly bows, so well used at close range. None of the others had been able to come to his aid, though some had wished. The power of Dol Guldur was far too great for their forces to face, and Sauron had blocked all the passes into Eriador.

By year 1980 of the Third Age, Skri ruled most, if not all, of the lands he had once held when he was a mortal king. Skri's days in the East came to an end when his Captain invited him and the rest to Mordor. It was not too long after that when the Dark Captain laid siege on Minas Ithil. Two years later, the City was theirs, the palantír captured and in the hands of the Witch-king. At last, the wraiths had a city of their own.

Once in Minas Ithil, the Nine Lords did not come out of the city for almost a thousand years... at least not openly.