The Circles - Book One - Chapter Forty-one - Ruins and Ashes

The Circles - Book One - The Triumph of the Shadow
Chapter Forty-one
Ruins and Ashes
Written by Angmar

The Nazgûl return to Minas Morgul.
(Artist unknown)

And so the Lord of Minas Morgul had capitulated, the fortress had been taken, the ramparts had been breached, and the walls had been crumpled by withering blasts of power. A heavy silence had fallen upon the ruined city and naught could be heard save the waxing and waning of the sad winds. Yet there in the midst of the supreme quietude, presences could be sensed, dim, lurking, rapacious maws for the unknowing, and no man made his way there. Sorrow and madness stalked the shattered confines where once there had been feasts and toasts and merry making, laughter and song.

In the chambers where the women had once lolled upon their silken cushions and listened with quickening heartbeats for the footsteps of their lords, there lay heaps of broken rubble upon the smoke-kissed marble floors. The fine rich carpets were soiled and rent, and not even a mouse dared use their scraps for nests. The gems that had once adorned the walls in lacy mosaics had long since been pried away by greedy hands, and now sightless caverns were the only memory of what once had been. The glorious statues that once had stood in the gardens and around the fountains were twisted and warped into graven foul shapes that were both fantastic and loathsome. The beauty was lost, the luster robbed, and the city held now only grim dread for any foolish enough to dare its ghastly chambers.

Such had been the sight nine years later when six silent shapes with their large contingent of men and uruks had come to encamp in the devastated city of Minas Morgul. The progress of rebuilding Barad-dûr was well underway, and the Master had seen fit in His own mercy to allow the captive kings to return to restore power and might to the wretched city. The only inhabitants of the abandoned streets were the green murk-covered bones of those who had been slain in the hideous battle that had raged nine years before... and the still reapers, who had never left, and perhaps never would.

All this would now change.

The six climbed up the stairs that led to a destroyed rampart and surveyed the task before them. Below they saw tents being set up and fires kindled. Somewhere far below, amidst the laughs, shouts and curses, the pleas of the bleeding lips of slaves - both man and elf - could be heard begging for mercy from the punishments which they were dealt for being too slow.

"And so we come back to our home, my lords, if such it can be called. Now it is our chore to restore it, to rebuild the fallen walls, the ruined towers, the broken ramparts," the tallest among them said as he leaned upon a still-intact parapet.

"No small task, my lord!" exclaimed the one beside him, tall in his own right, though less of stature when compared to the height of the other.

"We have the men, the resources and the power to make all possible. The city will rise again!"

"We lack our Rings, and that is no minor want," the other replied matter-of-factly.

"And without the presence of the Second, the Fourth, and the Ninth, our strength is lessened. The work will go slower--" another of the six pointed out.

"This work can be done without the Three or our Rings!" the tallest one interrupted. "They have received their rewards; they now control Dol Guldur in the Master's absence." The tall one fell to silent reverie, looking about his ruined domain, while the others drew away from him, talking among themselves.

"Who needs them?" the blond warrior snarled.

"Certainly the atmosphere is much cheered by their absence," one of the tall ones said.

"Gloomsayers and naysayers come like beggars to the banquet, whining and complaining, until all cheer leaves, and we have little enough good humor as it is."

"Like wan, pallid Mandos at the doorway," the Quiet One grinned morbidly, "but he would be far more pleasant than the doleful Three."

The tallest allowed a smile to flicker over his grim features. "We know well, Eighth, your fondness for Námo."

"We have much in common," the other laughed dryly, his dark eyes peering up at the King from under his cowl. "Perhaps someday we shall meet and make merry for eternity."

The High King put his hand on the Eighth's shoulder. "We should not lose you so soon, my friend. Mandos' gain would be our loss. What more do we have now except each other?"

"Naught and no one, save for the dead!"

They all fell quiet for a moment and listened to the wind as it blew mournfully about the fire-blasted battlements. They watched as the banner of the pale crescent moon was hoisted to the top of the tallest tower and flew there once more, proudly waving in the breeze.

"What is your next command, my Captain?"

"Give the dead a proper burial! I will order cairns prepared for their honored bones. Their spirits scream out for the respect due them!" A grim scowl of determination upon his face, the Captain clenched his fists until the bones of his powerful hands and arms stood out in rigid relief.

"And what of the others?" a grieving voice asked softly.

"All of you will know your own, even if they are nothing more than piles of ashes! Take their remains to the mountains and entomb them in the unfinished crypts. Cast about them an aura of their former radiance so that we may behold them in their now vanquished beauty! Let flesh bedeck their forms once more! They will repose thus preserved in unnatural loveliness so that all who go there may behold what we have lost, and perhaps mourn. Faithful beyond death, some of them have been waiting for our return... though only we can perceive them. Find whatever comfort you can derive from that!"

"There is little enough there," the fair-haired one responded dismally.

"But some," murmured the quiet Eighth, "when they linger about us in the shadows of the night and touch us with their wispy hands, their lips sighing murmurs of undying love..."

"What will He say?" ventured another more cautious.

"He spoke naught upon the matter, so I conclude that if it is not expressly prohibited, we have tacit approval to do as we will. He cares not so long as we do not go against His word."

"And the city itself will remain as we see it, broken and mangled, with only the walls restored?"

"Aye, but should it be left to my design, I would restore all as it was before, and perhaps someday I shall. But now let us see about constructing a bastion of unrivaled strength, an impregnable fortress, and let any who are foolish enough to assail it be ground to dust upon its teeth!"

"My lord, look below! Your pavilion has been raised," one of the six pointed out a tent which had been erected far below.

"And so it has. Then let us go down and toast our renewed occupancy of this place once again while I show you my plans for its design."

After walking down the spiraling stairs, they entered between the posts of the great black and silver tent, paying little attention to the fawning lines of those who would do all obeisance and respect to them. Once inside, the King drew a phial from inside his cloak and freed the steaming contents. Chanting, he walked slowly about the perimeters of the circular tent as he poured the contents of the phial in a continuous circle. The others, their heads bowed, their lips murmuring, responded at the appropriate time with the words of the needed incantations.

Once every drop had seeped into the ground, the King closed his eyes and chanted in a soft, almost imperceptible tone. The others lifted their heads in unison and watched as the steam from the shadowy liquid coiled like a black serpent, hissing and spitting, writhing about the circle. Suddenly there was a crackling and popping as the manifestation of dark power exploded into green, foul-smelling flames. They kept their eyes upon the blaze until it burnt itself out until naught was left but a ring of white ash which soon disappeared with a little puff of smoke.

"My brothers," the King raised his hands high, proclaiming to their minds in thought-speech, "the tent is now enspelled. Any mortal who dares enter will die instantly, and spirits will be repelled far away into the thorny wilderness. We may now speak in peace."

"Much like old days, my lord," commented Udukhatûrz the Seventh as he first smelled a draught of wine and then tested it with the tip of one finger. "Exceptionally fine!" he exclaimed after bringing the droplet to his lips. It was not that he was unimpressed by his Captain's spell, but he had learned the formula and the rituals so well over the years that he could create circles of power of his own.

"Nine years! Nine years!" growled Krakfakhthal the Fifth who shook his long blond locks in agitation. "And we are brought back to this wreckage, this humiliation of defeat!"

"But there is always wine," smiled Udu. "You cannot say that does not help."

"Do not forget the joys of Barad-dûr so soon," Skrishau the Eighth reminded them in a macabrely cheerful voice.

"Your humor never varies, Eighth," Gothmog the Third grumbled.

"At least Krith is not with us!" Skri chortled. "I can take great joy in that fact. Let him haunt the woods of Mirkwood! I vow that his unending complaining would blight the whole forest and turn it into a festering canker! But that would not be such a bad idea." He opened his mouth wide in a laugh, bearing his grimly white teeth, turning his head around to smile at all of them.

"Traitors, all three! Let them rot in the stench of Mirkwood and stay far from these halls!" Rut exclaimed caustically.

"The purpose for our meeting this night is not to mull over past grievances, for what good can come of recounting ever and anon that which cannot be remedied and griefs that cannot be solaced?" spoke their King, now much more subdued and tempered than he had been once upon a time. "We make the best of the now, for that is all which we are assured."

"The powers toy with us like poppets upon strings, according to their fancy and their whim. If they deign to let us laugh, they will. If they see fit to have us cry, that they will do. But always it is they who pull the strings," Udu said with a grim smile, feeling morbidly cheered by the draughts of wine and on the verge of composing a eulogy.

"It is kismet, fate," Gothmog murmured, "and there is naught that we can do to prevail against it."

"This mood of despair will get us nowhere! We have each suffered and lost in our turn, but we cannot change what has been done to us." The High King inhaled deeply and then expelled his breath slowly. "There remains to us a great task... to rebuild what our Master in His righteous wrath took from us for our perniciousness." The words almost stuck in his throat. "Oh, sweet irony, sweet irony! Can we ever endure it?" he laughed to himself. "He forces us to undo that which He caused!"

The others turned to him when he spoke, and their mood grew even more grave. Though they had suffered in their nine-year sojourn in Barad-dûr, their leader had been wounded grievously, tortured, until his spirit had almost fled away, sighing in relief that the long agony was almost over. Then the Master, in His cruel mercy, had called him back ere fëa was severed from hröa.

"We shall continue with the discussions of our work," the King reminded them as he turned to the spell-protected map tubes which lay upon the table. Obedient only to his touch, the containers opened easily, and he drew forth maps and plans. As he passed them around the table, the others studied the architectural designs.

"The walls of the nine tiers of the city will be the first to be rebuilt. The great central tower will be stronger and more marvelous than ever before, and the lesser turrets will follow in suit. Then the halls for the garrisons will be constructed on the foundations of the old. Stables must be built to house our mounts. The wells will be thoroughly rid of the bones of men and animals. The ruined tunnels are to be sealed up and new ones will be delved. There are many things that must be done to have all in readiness so that the Master's plans might be implemented."

Not that the King cared a whit about the Master's plans, for he hated Sauron with an ever-burning zeal. There was no choice but to serve Him, however, since the Master now held their Rings in His possession. They were as much slave and thrall as any mortal who bore the iron collar of servitude locked around his neck. Still, though, Angmar was allowed a great amount of discretion in what he did, just as long as he did not exceed the limits placed upon him.

"And these towers along the crests of the mountains, my lord?" Udu questioned. "There have never been any there before."

"Aye, they will be placed there to guard us against any enemy." He emphasized the word "any," and they understood his meaning well. "These new watch towers will be linked to the city by a new road which I will soon survey. This road will curve through the mountains all the way to northern Nurn."

"And the Master? Does He approve this?" Gothmog asked uncertainly, a look of fear flickering deep in his eyes.

"He knows of it, yes. He seemed to look upon it with approval as an improvement in the defenses, provided by the western watch towers. The roads, of course, will facilitate the movement of troops."

What the King did not mention was the fact that in years past he had ridden through the mountains, scouting out every possible place where he could locate lairs and hidden shelters. He rued, though, his stupidity in never taking advantage of this knowledge and devising an escape route. Now he planned to remedy that error. Sauron, though, would never know, unless the Dark Lord forced Angmar into revealing the existence of these lairs. No, Sauron would see splendid towers, a well-built road, but what He would not see were where the secret sanctuaries lay. Now, if Angmar's plans did not go amiss, he could evacuate the city at almost a moment's notice, and have his people hide in the mountains where they would be protected until they could make their way to safer lands.

"My lord, ever do your skills at building amaze me!" Udukhatûrz commented. "How you came by them is beyond me."

What none of the others knew, not even the other two Númenóreans, Udukhatûrz and Rutîmûrz - for they had long been robbed of their full memories - was that their king had been schooled in Númenor, where the architects and builders had ever striven to bring the skill to its highest level of perfection.

The King smiled, pleased. "As you can see from the designs and sketches, each level of the city will have its own palace with its own tower. As it was before, there will be two aligning east, two facing west, two aligning north, two facing south, and the Great Tower resting in the center. Even the three absent brethren will have palaces and retain their jurisdiction should they visit Minas Morgul or take up residency and dwell with us once again."

The others studied the plans intently and marveled at the ornate and wondrous edifices which could hardly be considered as defenses. There, amidst the sketches of walls, towers, dungeons, chambers, storerooms, buildings, and structures, were depictions of new things even more splendid than those buildings which had stood before. There were drawings of gardens graced with beauteous kiosks, fountains, and pools, and one with a magnificent many-tiered fountain which would be built in a central courtyard. These would be the places where the Nazgûl would spend their idle hours, enjoying their leisure and playing with their lovely toys, both those among the living and those who had passed from life into the spectral world.

There were even buildings designated as museums which would display the relics and weaponry and other paraphernalia of their fallen foes. There were libraries to hold records and archives, correspondence, maps, sketches, and drawings that would record the lore and history of the place, so that generations yet unborn might someday learn of the glories of the city. That the King had not wasted his years in prison but had spent them in planning was obvious to them all.

"Upon the morrow, work to clear the rubble will begin. I deem that there is much salvage which we can use." The King looked around the table, and the others nodded. "Now, those matters attended to, let us enjoy our homecoming and toast to our renewed occupancy."

"I would enjoy it more, Captain, if I had some comely female flesh to warm my couch," Udu grinned, a lusty twinkle in his eye. "The nights were long in prison..."

"I have forsaken all thoughts of women," Gothmog muttered bitterly. "What is the use of it? They can all be taken away as quickly as the others were."

"Do not be so morose and in your cups. A new wench in your bed will put new life in your loins!" Udu replied jovially as he slapped Gothmog on the back.

Weary of this discussion and Udu's continuing attempt to cheer him up, Krak was in the mood to challenge. "My friend, do you forget so quickly all that we lost and suffered?"

"New memories can lessen the sting of the old," Udu offered, bowing his head sympathetically.

"But never take them away entirely," Skri interjected with his usual morbidity. "Sweet oblivion can only be found in the welcoming arms of Mandos."

"I doubt any of us will ever receive that vaunted invitation," laughed Rut.

"We can always be hopeful," Skri said dryly. "Surely if anyone needs cheering, it is Námo, and who can do that better than I?"

"Then Mandos take you and let him be happy!" said Udu, not spitefully.

"Why must you always be talking about Mandos?" asked Krak. "I have no wish to see him!"

"We have much in common," replied Skri, raising his goblet in a toast. "Here is to the known and to the unknown, whatever that may be! And to sweet, endless slumbers and blessed oblivion!"

"Go lie with your corpse in her tomb upon the hill," muttered Krak.

"By the Captain's leave, I will, and depart from this dour company!"

"As you will have it," the Captain nodded.

Rising to his feet, Skri bowed and sauntered away, humming a strange little tune to himself. They all watched until he departed, then picked up their goblets again and fell to drinking.

And so the Nazgûl set to work and restored the city as much to the King's own wishes as they were to those of the Master. Sauron remained silent, content for the time that His sons had learned from their deserved punishment. The Great One cared little for the meaningless things which they did to amuse themselves. So when at last the walls and towers had been rebuilt to His satisfaction, He was of a mind to be more lenient. He had matters far more important to consider than the trivial doings of His sometimes wayward sons. There was war against His greedy neighbors to be considered.


The sound of the beast's wings as they rose and fell in flight beat a gentle rhythmic pattern in Skri's mind, almost lulling him into slumber. The waxing moon shone in the now clear skies of Rohan and turned the landscape below him into a writhing pattern of moving, crawling bodies, the scene lighted here and there by the torches of those that had been sent out to retrieve the wounded and dead. The shrieks of the dying and the moans of the injured did not disturb his reverie. Krith had long since stopped complaining and rode silently behind him. These were the times when it was good to think and reflect upon all that had passed in the years before.

"A new harvest for Mandos," Skri thought. "How eager they will be to see him! How lucky, how fortunate for them!"

He sensed - even before he saw them - his comrades, and circled his beast above them as they flew to meet him. The creature that he rode dropped in altitude and Skri guided him into what he considered a graceful dive. Krith, though, thought otherwise and let out a loud shriek of complaint.

"Fool!" the surly Ninth bellowed.

"O glad day!" Rut muttered ruefully under his breath. "Krith has returned to us! At least for a time we were free of his whining!"

Then after quiet consultations, the Nine flew quietly towards the east. There was little to be said. They had gained nothing for their troubles save sorrow. Far away in a tall, dark tower awaited their brooding, angry Master, and woefully dour would be the day when they met Him once again. Many would be those who would pay and pay dearly for the loss of the Second Battle of Helm's Deep, and the Nazgûl knew that it would be they who fell under the worst of Sauron's ire.