The Circles - Book One - Chapter Thirty-nine - And He Gathered Them Unto Himself

The Circles - Book One - The Triumph of the Shadow
Chapter Thirty-nine
And He Gathered Them Unto Himself
Written by Angmar

No seer had ever predicted the strange coincidences that were set in motion when three men and their followers launched ships to escape the calamity that had befallen their land. As they returned, so did Another, but His form was unseen. Strange it was that when Sauron fled to Middle-earth after the sinking of Númenor in the Second Age, He and the Númenórean refugees landed at approximately the same time.

The Sea-kings, obviously as greedy for spoil and gain as they had ever been, found Gorthaur's lands quite fair, and Isildur set out to build his capital on some prime land which he named Ithilien, the Land of the Moon. The Númenóreans crowed over what they perceived as a fallen foe, but the Dark Lord, though weakened and no longer able to assume a fair form, had hardly been rendered impotent. It was one hundred and ten years later that Gorthaur finished mustering His forces and sought out to regain His lost territories. The dark armies were successful in conquering Minas Ithil, and the anger of the Gondorians at the loss of their ill-gotten city prompted the War of the Last Alliance.

When Sauron had been toppled, His Ring wrested from Him at the end of the war, many had believed that at last Middle-earth was rid of the Great Evil. Isildur had cut the Ring from Gorthaur's hand, but later he was killed near the Gladden Fields, and knowledge of the Ring was gradually lost. To most people, the tale had become only a half-remembered legend and the truth was known by just a few learned lore masters.

There were Nine who had rejoiced in Sauron's defeat, for at last, they thought, they were free of His tyranny. After the downfall of their Master, some of their number journeyed to deserts of the South; others to the broad river plains of the East; and a few went to the steppes of the North. Many returned to the lands which they had ruled when they were great lords of the earth. There were three, though, who had no land to which they could ever return, for that land had perished beneath the waves. Númenor lived only in flickering visions which filled them with longing, though they could remember only faded images of a vague land.

The one who held the Ring of greatest power - he who would become known in later years as the Witch-king of Angmar - eventually made his way to the north of Eriador. There he founded a kingdom, and was its ruler for hundreds of years. None would ever know his identity until near the end of his reign, for he had his Ring and his powers of disguise were great. He was regarded as a mortal king by the kingdoms of his close enemies - Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur, the latter finally allying itself with the king of Angmar.

At last, his foes had crumbled from the stress of their own petty wars among themselves and the wars with Angmar. Fornost, the capital of Arthedain, fell to the Witch-king's host, and King Arvedui fled for his life. The triumph was not to last long, though, for the next year, Eärnur, Prince of Gondor, brought a fleet from the South Kingdom. Then allied with Elves and others, they overcame the Angmarian army and forced its king to flee.

Though denied his kingdom in the North, the Witch-king was still strong. He gathered up the survivors of Angmar - the remnants of his defeated army and the civilians who would go - and traveled east on a long and arduous route north of the Grey Mountains, going due east until they passed the Iron Hills. Then they traveled south through Rhûn, and at last five years later, those who had been strong and brave enough to endure the journey entered Mordor through the eastern passages by way of Nurn.

The Witch-king was not the first Nazgûl to come to Mordor, however. Over a century before, Khamûl had returned to the land which had once been the realm of his Master. Much had changed over the long years since the War of the Last Alliance. Most of the Gondorian watch towers which had once surrounded Mordor had fallen into ruin after the devastation of the Great Plague, and only Minas Ithil remained as the last great bulwark of the West. In the regions of Lithlad and Nurn, tribal warlords battled each other for dominance, waging violent campaigns which streaked the countryside with blood. This period of turmoil swiftly came to an end, however, with the arrival of the Shadow of the East. Soon Khamûl became the Lord of Nurn, with Zagbolg serving as his grand vizier, and all of the tribal chieftains bowed before his throne.

When the Witch-king and his host of homeless refugees arrived at the eastern border of Nurn, Khamûl was less than pleased. He had served no master other than himself since the fall of Sauron, and he was not about to let this beggar king from the Sunken Isle command him. Leading a great force of men, he rode out to greet the arrival of the Angmarim with sword and spear. The peace of over a hundred years came to an abrupt end, and Nurn was torn apart once more by the ensuing Nurniag-Angmarim Conflict. War swept over the land, with the forces of the Witch-king driving those of Khamûl ever westward until at last they reached the City of Rul. Holing himself up in that ancient settlement, Khamûl attempted to wait out the forces of the Angmarim, but the Witch-king used his sorcery to blight the city with a terrible storm of ice and snow. The people of Nurn, being unfamiliar with such strange weather, were so terrified that they begged Khamûl to surrender, and so ended the Siege of Rul. The Witch-king showed great mercy to his defeated foe and allowed Khamûl to continue ruling Nurn as his vassal. He needed the Black Easterling as his ally, not his enemy.

The Witch-king lingered in Mordor for twenty more years, making plans and preparations for a campaign against Gondor. He sent summons out to his brothers and invited them to join him in gaining revenge upon his old enemy. If he were successful, and he was confident that he would be, the Nazgûl would gain a realm of their own.

After gathering his forces, the Black Captain besieged Minas Ithil for two years until at last the fortress fell. Establishing the place as a bastion, he spread his influence even unto the land across the River. The Nazgûl acknowledged him as their lord and listened to his counsel, for they both feared him and thought him wise.

He sent out emissaries to the East and the South and the North offering gold in pay for the services of those who would ally themselves with him. Thus he was able to gain a force of men to man his fortress. As it became known in these lands that the Morgul Lord was generous with his gold and silver, many came to serve under his banner. Adventurers, vagabonds, those who had fallen into disfavor in their own lands, those who sought fortune, and even slaves who had escaped from their masters - all found a safe harbor in Minas Morgul.

Bewitched by the stories that they had heard of the charm and fabled romantic prowess of the Nazgûl - as well as the promise of plentiful gold and silver in the splendid city - some women came willingly to his land. Maids blushed and giggled as they talked of what it would be like to lie with a sorcerer as a lover. Their prosaic lives were left behind, for they desired the sensual magic that only the dark knights could create.

Bravery seemed to have died in Gondor, the people falling into sloth and corruption. The Western watch on boundaries of Mordor had been virtually abandoned since the Great Plague in 1640, and one by one the guard towers fell - Carchost, Narchost, Durthang, and Cirith Ungol. After the conquest of Minas Ithil, none of the men of Gondor dared try to take Isildur's city back. Never was so much as an expeditionary force ever launched to free the fortress, so the two cities sat facing each other with only fifty miles and the Anduin to separate them.

In forty-eight years, only one man and his escort dared to cross the River and confront the Nazgûl, and that was only to answer a personal challenge. He was the foolhardy and ill-fated King Eärnur, and he was swiftly dealt with in the only fashion in which he could be. To Minas Tirith he never returned. No great army was sent to retrieve their king in valiant battles. No great ransoms were offered for his safe return. None vowed to avenge his memory, and some wondered if anyone ever missed the vanished king. But there was peace, and that was all that mattered.

Yet the Nazgûl were not wholly trustful of this peace, for the Númenóreans had always proven themselves lustful in their thirst for world colonization and domination. It was for this reason that the Nine took special care in guarding their valley in the Third Age. In case the Gondorians did regain the famed reckless valor of the past, the Nine Lords made sure that they were prepared to fend off any attack from the Gondorians... and maybe even defeat their own Master should He ever attack. Great defenses of magic, power dread and dark, they set about their tower and its environs to guard against intruders. They cast enchantments upon the River Morgulduin downstream from their castle, and laid deceptive mists and fogs upon the sweet waters to the north.

The Nazgûl did not willingly seek war, but sometimes it was necessary when the Gondorians were lax in delivering the tribute coffers required by the secret peace treaties. Such was the case in the Morgul War of 2475 when a force of Black Uruks - prime specimens of the selected breeding programs of Minas Morgul - were unleashed upon Ithilien. Osgiliath was taken and the bridge was broken.

Boromir I, the son of the Steward, thought he might hazard to do great deeds which would earn him a place in the books of lore for the rest of history, and so he came out against the Morgul Lord. He paid for that folly with a wound from the Morgul-blade, which shortened his life considerably. The Steward decided that it was best to hold to the long-honored secret treaties, and so the force of Minas Morgul feigned retreat, taking the long overdue tribute coffers with them. There were other incidents in which the Gondorians were niggardly in their payments, and once again the Black Uruks of Minas Morgul poured out from the city and assailed Ithilien.

For almost a thousand years, Minas Morgul was regarded as a place of great fear, and the city became a source of dark rumor and tale which both chilled the blood and intrigued the curious. Not even the rangers and spies who still lurked in the woods dared cross east of the road or wander into the dark hollows and ravines of the Mountains of Shadow. There were a few, though, rebellious dissidents and those of the gentler sex, who dared to brave the enchantments which hung about the valley and the City of the Dead. When these fair ones, lured by the hopes of love and gold, were granted safe passage, they found the visions beautiful, and like with many other places of the Dark Lands, the dreamy realm was far too blissful to leave.

Some, though, discovered that they had been tricked and found themselves not in the arms of a handsome, mysterious lover, but in the orc breeding pits, listening to the bellows of those beasts who fought for a chance to mate them. These unfortunates were the women who had displeased the Nine, and they are forgotten in all of the tales.

The reign of peace had come to an end for both Gondor and Minas Morgul when at last Gorthaur the Cruel had increased in strength and left Dol Guldur in the spring of 2942. He returned to Barad-dûr, bringing with Him a great force of orcs and men.

Skri was lord of the two towers of Carchost and Narchost and watched over Morannon and Cirith Gorgor, the Haunted Pass. While patrolling Dagorlad, Skri and his escort found to their dismay the first show of the manifestation of the Dark Lord Himself. Caught by surprise, Skri and his forces were not quick enough and their path of retreat back to the Morannon had been sealed off by the leering bodyguards of the Dark Lord. Though they had striven against them, Skri and his men could not hope to prevail against such ancient spirits of might and dread, and so the Eighth was taken. His escort had been quickly slain as they were of no importance to Sauron, and once again the defenses of the Towers of Carchost and Narchost crumbled. Like the spiders of His woodland realm, Gorthaur had caught what He wanted.

Chained in a web of spells, Skri had been dragged to the ruins of the Dark Tower, and the Quiet One's screams mingled with the sound of the lash of the fiery whip of Sauron Himself. His body flailed into searing flesh, he next knew more tortures, punishments terrible beyond any that mortal men could withstand. Torments that rent the soul, stripped the mind of all will, and subjected the body to unbelievable agonies.

In times to come, the visions, the fantasies he saw in his mind, of all that he had endured, would ever haunt him, oft times rendering him senseless. Under the power of the Dark Lord, Skri had been forced to yield his Ring and serve his first Master against his will. He had asked to die rather than betray the Lord of Morgul, but Sauron had only ridiculed him, mocking him, claiming him and his Ring as prizes, and held him prisoner.

Shame and self-loathing burned within Skri, and he cursed his weakness. Years later, he would turn, as he had once in life, to the music that only he could play. For long hours, he would sit, his fingers pounding out his tormented soul on the keyboard of a Númenórean water organ. When somber, wistful moods were upon him and he thought of the lady who lay in bewitched beauty on a slab in the tombs, he would play woeful songs upon his flute. The slight solace he would know in years to come would be the strange, haunting melodies which came from a heart and soul that had been consumed with regret.

The Third and Fifth Nazgûl commanded a small force which had been set to guard Cirith Ungol. They were the next to feel the rising might of Gorthaur. It was upon the night of the spring feast, a celebration that had been observed since the ancient days of men, that a drunken haze lay heavily upon the two cities. The Nazgûl and their guards, besotted upon too much wine, were blissfully oblivious to the presence of the unseen ones, the lesser spirits under the command of Sauron. These beings of great power and dread passed invisible through the eastern end of the Morgul Vale and drifted up the Straight Stair and Winding Stair and then through the spider's pass, striking all in their path dead from terror.

The underground escape from Cirith Ungol sealed, Sauron laid siege upon the fortress. Great was the host that surrounded Cirith Ungol, with the Dark Lord and His bodyguard at its head, and at the first declaration of war, all springtime revelry ceased. Below the ramparts of the tower through the darkness, Gothmog and Krakfakhthal could see the waiting host and the Dark Flame before the three tiers of the tower.

"Come down from your balconyéd height and embrace your true Master! My heart reaches out to you! Yield and know My generosity, My forgiving love! Deny Me and be damned!"

Krakfakhthal had clutched the edge of the parapet of the third level of the tower and dared to look down. His gaze chanced to fall directly upon the face of the Dark Lord, and he was caught in those dreadful eyes. Krak swayed, staggering back, and grasped the sleeve of Gothmog as he fell dumb to the floor.

Gothmog, impetuous, bold and foolhardy, had dared to spit over the parapet before he carried the body of his brother back into the safety of the tower. Then he heard the words that chilled him to the core, "Thou wilt drink thine own spit and thine own rankness when thou art suffering from thirst in My dungeons!" Still, Gothmog had ordered that the tower be defended.

Those men who were loyal to the Nazgûl were engulfed in the fires that streamed upward or died shrieking as they were driven mad and leapt to their deaths from the heights.

Torment awaited Gothmog and Krakfakhthal, and the pure rampaging fury of their Master fell upon them. There, broken after endless agonies of the spirit and the flesh, they fell to their knees, begging Him to take their Rings if only the pain would be lessened for but a mere moment. There was no will left to them when Sauron looked down to them and patronizingly said, "Long hast ye lived vainly and luxuriously in sloth. Your days of ease are ended. Ye shall labor for Me once again and aid in My designs for the rebuilding of Barad-dûr. All who serve ye will both hate and fear ye!"

The Dark Captain had in his possession the palantír of Isildur, and so he, from his high revolving tower, surveyed what had befallen Cirith Ungol and was about to befall his city. His first impulse had been to flee, but he felt compelled to stay. The tunnels that had been delved deep into the mountains and into the earth were sealed by spells which no mortal could ever hope to penetrate. Dooming all to his fate, the Nazgûl King would wait, and perhaps this time he would be victorious. Was he not - in his own mind, if not, perhaps, in reality - the Dark Lord of the Third Age? Was it his vanity and pride that spoke to him, or was it the yearnings of his Ring? Whatever the cause, he would wait for what was to happen, dark doom or freedom.

Strengthened now with three of the Seven Rings and three of the Nine Rings, Sauron felt empowered, terrible and potent. After bringing about the fall of Cirith Ungol, the Dark Lord's forces drove down the valley to Minas Morgul, where there they laid siege to the city. The fortress was ringed about by a vast company of orcs and men, sealing all inside so that none might escape through the iron-toothed gates in the city walls.

But the Morgul Lord had been wise and over the years had laid up vast stores of provisions. He had made certain that the water supply for Minas Morgul was secured, and that the men and orcs who garrisoned his fortress would be able to endure, even thrive, upon ample water supplies. There were already wells put in by the Númenóreans of long ago and that source had proved reliable all down the years. The engineers that the Witch-king brought from Carn Dûm made their own wells, sunk deep into the earth and delved into the sides of the mountains. There, finding great sources of fresh water deep underground and within the mountain itself, the Lord of the City had ensured that a siege of long duration could be withstood.

The ground about the fortress had been poorly situated for catapults to be employed to great use. Though rocks and projectiles could not break the walls, undoubtedly concentrated masses of orcish warriors could scale them, or so the Dark Lord thought.

The first onslaught of the siege had begun when the Dark Lord hurled a great force of orcs at the walls. The archers from their fortified positions on the walls tore gaping, bloody holes in the orc lines. Any who tried to gain the walls by scaling ladders were driven back with sword or spear, or were hurled screaming to their deaths when great cauldrons of scalding water had been overturned in their faces.

The Dark Lord was too impatient in the first days of the siege and sent many to their futile deaths. As the siege continued, He grew more cautious, though, and did not waste His orcs in useless charges against the indomitable walls. There were other means at His disposal.

In the autumn of 2942, Sauron sent out a herald, standard bearers, and envoys to ride to the gates of Minas Morgul under flag of truce and offer parley. The chief emissary was a young man of little ability, but he had been found to be gifted in speech by Sauron's Lieutenant, his mentor.

The herald had sounded the trumpet as the standards of the Great Eye had fluttered in a slight breeze and the emissaries sat their horses beneath the towering walls of Minas Morgul.

"We claim the safety of the herald," the Mouth of the Mouth proclaimed.

"Who are you?" Angmar demanded.

"I am the fair-favored one. I am the chosen of Sauron's Mouth, the illustrious Lieutenant of Dol Guldur."

"Thy petition wilt be granted," boomed Angmar's voice from high atop the wall. "But why, pray thee, is a substitute sent for the Spokesman of the High Lord?"

Smugly, the young man had replied, "Sauron's Lieutenant does not treat with traitors!"

The archers behind the slits on the walls flexed their arms and waited for a signal to unleash their fury of barbs. None was forthcoming, and so they waited.

"What thou meanest, Spokesman of the Mouth, is that the Lieutenant is too afraid to appear himself," a cold voice said. "Why then dost thou waste my time? What dost thou want?"

"The complete and total surrender of this fortress and all those who garrison it. Mercy and forgiveness will be granted to all who accept these terms. The rest will be slain."

"The words of thy Master were ever false! Sauron has no mercy! This audience is at an end! Hasten away from my gates lest I slay thee!"

At the Witch-king's words, the arrows were unleashed, but they were calculated to fall harmlessly in front of the riders' horses. Betrayal of the white flag of parley was considered as a breach of protocol, and so the Mouth of the Mouth and his guards were allowed to leave unharmed. Still, a great fear came upon the envoy and he was sorely afraid. With a motion of his hand, they all turned and fled back to the safety of their own lines.

The young spokesman would soon be upon his knees, cringing and afraid, praying for his life. Perhaps it would have been far better for him had he found quick death from the bite of one of the arrows. He soon learned that there was no room for incompetency in the Dark Lands, and died slowly, screaming in pain.

The siege settled down into a tiresome monotony of waiting. Two months passed and another group of emissaries rode to the gates of the fortress of Minas Morgul and presented themselves. This time, the Lieutenant himself led them. Among the Mouth's party were Gothmog, Krakfakhthal and Skrishau, all forced into bondage once again.

Upon a snorting black stallion, the Mouth proclaimed, "I am the emissary of the Great Lord, and as is the time-honored custom, I am granted safety of the ambassador. Wilt thou hear me!" Though the air was chill that day, those on the walls could perceive that the man was perspiring heavily. "Thou canst see that with me are three of thy comrades, Lord of Morgul. As thou already knowest, thy position is untenable."

"State thy business," came the cold voice. "I will listen to thy terms."

"The Master of us all is forgiving and benevolent and has only thy best interests at heart. All who will repent of their unrighteousness will be granted His full pardon with no penalty to be extracted! He promises great rewards, treasures, cities, to those who will come pleading, begging Him with a contrite heart and an humbled spirit. His terms are generous with the kindness of a loving Father."

The icy voice from the top of the wall called down, "Is this proffered mercy extended to us all? Was it extended to my brethren who are in thy company?"

The Lieutenant's horse trembled uneasily beneath him, though it was Mordor-bred. "Aye, to all!" the Mouth proclaimed. "Let them speak for themselves!"

The three rode ahead and halted their horses before the ramparts of the Tower. "It is futile to strive. Thy cause is a hopeless one. Surrender now," they had said in dull monotones. Their faces, which Angmar could see, were shrouded in sorrow, their features tormented with shame and dark memories.

"Their fealty has been extracted by pain," Angmar had replied. "Lieutenant, thou liest as ever!"

"Then if thou hast seen and thou hast heard, surely thou canst see that the swale is deep and the slough is treacherous. Forsake thy folly and surrender now before the flood engulfs thee and sinks thee into mire!"

"Thy words are filth and thou spewest swill from thy mouth! Knowest thee that I have ruled this City for almost a thousand years! I have ruled it well! I will not willingly relinquish my reign here only to be reduced to the rank of mere poppet of Another!"

Angered, the Mouth countered, "Thy words are brash! Measure them carefully and consider the consequences of what thou sayest and what thou doest! Reconsider ere it is too late!"

"I have considered my words for almost a thousand years and there has been much time to ponder what I would say when the time came. Nay, nay, I reject all offers! Tell thy Master that no treasures, no cities, no empty promises will buy my allegiance! What He wants will not be given back, for that which He gave is mine alone!"

"Thou speakest in haste, Lord of Morgul!" the dark figure below admonished him. "Reconsider! I entreat thee!"

"Begone, pampered, fawning lap dog of thy Master, and do not come yapping at my doors again! Make haste, or I will slay thee myself!"

"We will be back!" the Mouth cried as he turned his horse and he and his escort rode hastily back to the safety of the Dark Lord. The three Nazgûl tarried, mournfully looking up at the battlements until they, too, turned their steeds away from the face of the Morgul Lord.

In the dark heart of the Lieutenant, the first seed of hatred had been sown. It would be fanned over the years with jealousy until it grew into a dark tree of monstrous proportions where the shrill voices of spite would call out for vengeance.

In the eighth month of the siege, a plague descended upon the mortal forces who garrisoned the Tower of the Moon. Suspecting that the Dark Lord had sent this plague, it was ordered that the buckets of the catapults be filled with the dead and hurled towards the forces of Sauron Himself. The faces and bodies of the bloated dead which crashed into the fleeing Mordorian ranks were found upon later inspection to be covered with black and purple splotches and putrid, oozing pustules.

The plague began to spread to the enemy forces. The Dark Lord was mystified at the appearance of this pestilence, for it was not of His creation. "The Morgul Lord has designed this malady, for I did not! I will have My revenge upon him!" Later in private, Sauron confided in the Lieutenant and His bodyguards, "Now he dares steal My plans and My designs! He has purloined the Great Plague from Me! He is a rebel in all his ways! He will pay and he will pay dearly for this treachery!"

It chanced to be that in the waning month of that year that courage left three of the Nine and they began to plot secretly amongst themselves. "We cannot endure against the Master," Khamûl said. "Both our Master and the Morgul Lord compound spells of great potency and unleash them against the other. Look at how the Plague has diminished the fortress of the Tower of the Moon. These troops cannot withstand much longer. Brothers, I say to you that it would be well for us to leave these halls in stealth and secrecy."

"You mean abandon the others to their fate?" asked Zagbolg.

"Would it be better if we stayed here and suffered the same doom as they did?" replied Khamûl. "Nay! I say it would be wise for us to renounce the Dark Captain now while there yet might be time. What say you to this?" he looked around.

"I say yea," bleated Krith jubilantly. "Let them drown in their own sorrows and let us disavow all association, denouncing them for their perfidies!"

"Pledge unto me your loyalty," Khamûl had demanded. "Give your oaths to me. Promise that you will not betray me."

And so it was agreed, for what could they really do? It was inevitable that the Tower should fall at last to the Dark Lord, and what fools would wish to stay when they could escape?

Silently, nine days into the ninth month of the siege, Khamûl, Zagbolg and Krith crept through a postern door and vanished into the darkness. Rich would be their reward, and the Master would smile upon them in favor... after they had been properly chastised, of course. And thus was the fellowship that had lasted almost a thousand years sundered forever.


Much thanks and gratitude to Aganuzîr for the invaluable assistance on Chapters 36 to 40. Many of the concepts in these chapters are based on ideas originally formulated by Aganuzîr. Thanks again for your help on this challenging project.

When Angmar and I wrote this chapter in 2005, we were basing our timeline on Tolkien's Tale of Years in Appendix B of The Return of the King. However, we missed a note found in "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion," Appendix A, Return of the King, which stated that eight Nazgûl may have returned to Mordor in T.A. 1856.

Angmar later played around with the idea of two Nazgûl already living in Mordor when the Witch-king arrived there in T.A. 1980, and the possibility that those Nazgûl might resent the sudden reappearance of the leader of their order, whom they might not have seen for almost 2,000 years. After all, Tolkien wrote that the Nazgûl "wandered homeless and masterless after [Sauron's] fall."

While having only two Nazgûl in Mordor instead of eight deviates from the Appendixes, Tolkien did include some weasel words in the statement, "At this time it is thought that the Ringwraiths re-entered Mordor." If it is "thought" that the Nazgûl reentered Mordor in 1856, then it can be assumed that this is not a definite fact, and that the scribe is making an assumption. So it is theoretically possible that the Nazgûl did not all return to Mordor at the exact same time.