Barad-dûr, July 16, year 3019 of the Third Age under the Sun
Silence. Deafening silence.
"What dost thou fear most of all, Morgul Lord?"
"Thy disapproval, my Lord," the Witch-King of Angmar quietly replied.
The great Figure on the Dark Throne said nothing for a time. Then Sauron spoke again. "Then thy fears have come to pass."
"My Lord, I know we have failed Thee once again."
"Thou, Morgul Lord, hast failed Me most of all. Thy Ring was upon thy finger; victory was in thy grasp; and thou cast this opportunity away and let it shatter like some trifling bauble of blemished glass. All of Rohan and the lands to the North were lost because of the vast ineptitude of both thy Second and thee." The dark Figure on the throne bowed His head. "Thou rendest My heart, My errant son. How couldst thou do thy Father this way?" He asked sorrowfully.
"Thy forgiveness, Lord, I entreat Thee! Show mercy to all Thy blundering sons!"
To the core of his being, Angmar hated Him, but even his hatred brought him no solace. His Master knew that he despised Him but considered that a trifling matter, for the Witch-king could do naught about his loathing. The Dark Captain would do Sauron's will, would strive to do anything that was asked of him, for he had no choice. His Ring rendered him powerless to do anything other than his Master's bidding.
Many times the Black Captain had dared to challenge his Master, declaring his independence, but not today. He could still think, though, could still feel something, and sometimes even dared to hope. It was true that his Master allowed him a great deal of discretion in his actions, and sometimes if the Nine had pleased Him, His generosity could be magnanimous. But generosity in this guise was a falsehood, for often the gift was given and then just as quickly snatched away. Angmar had his hate, though it did him little good. At least that was left to him.
"Mercy, My son?" Sauron looked down at him with an expression that was wracked with both grief and injured love. "Have I not always shown mercy?"
"As my Lord sayeth."
Angmar hated Him most at these times, when the Master was patronizing, even loving, willing to take back the son who had displeased Him so much. The Witch-king knew it was all false, nothing but another ploy to show his Lord's superiority and control.
"But thy actions have pained My heart. Though it is full of love for ye all, My Nine sons, still I would indeed be a poor Father if I did not use the rod of chastisement upon them when they fall into error."
"Then let justice be done."
"Not yet, My little king. Do not be so impatient... thou knowest that I do not truly wish to do this, but thou also knowest that I do it only for thy own correction," Sauron said compassionately.
"I have learned to endure this 'correction' over the years."
"Thou art very brave to face Me with thy head still held high." His Master's tone was condescendingly spiteful. Though it still held affection, there was malice interwoven among the fair words. Angmar had foreseen this, for the Dark Lord's meaning was always the same, though His speech might be phrased differently.
"Wouldst Thou have me appear before Thee as a felon? If I stand before Thee in vanity, it is because I face my doom as a king, not a criminal."
"The kingdom thou once ruled is no more, but with all thy remaining pomp and arrogance, thou art quite an impressive little kinglet. Despite thy vain imaginings, still thou art only a minor lord who enjoys the blessings of a benevolent Father who cares deeply for His sons." Closing His eyes, the Master brought His black hand to His black heart, as though clenching it in grief. "Thou suffer My judgment because thou canst no longer escape it. Yet like any unrighteous son when he has transgressed against his Father, thou wishest to be free of My paternal authority. That hath been thy way in the past, My foolish child," Sauron said darkly, a mocking smile upon His face.
"Then uncrown me, my Lord. Strip me of all my vainglory!" Angmar's eyes met the fiery gaze of the Dark Lord and his own glowing orbs flashed anger and hatred.
"That would be a task too great even for Me... but I will attempt it." Venom dripped from Sauron's every word like poison from the teeth of an adder. "When I am finished, My most rebellious son, thou wilt face thy Father with penitence and humility!"
The Black Captain knew that he had said too much, had baited his Lord too far. The Dark Master would tolerate his thoughts and his words... to a point. The Witch-king had passed the limit of his Master's tolerance.
"Perhaps Thou wilt slay me this time," he said sarcastically, summoning the strength for what he knew must face him.
"How could a loving Father do that to His most beloved son?" the Dark Lord hissed malevolently.
The first wave of chastisement was gentle, disarmingly mild in fact. Angmar's heart felt the pangs of guilt, of disappointment, of disapproval, of failure, and he winced inwardly. He felt vile, obscene, filthy, like an impure thing that by its very foul nature should be cast from its Master's holy sight. He felt overcome by the Divinity's righteousness, His purity outshining, overcoming the worthless, rebellious creature who stood before Him. The Witch-king's mind and will were befuddled, shattered, almost unmade. He felt the grasp upon his strength and power yielding, wavering, under the fierce intensity of the Master's gaze.
"He will cast me away," the Lord of the Nazgûl thought, "into total darkness and oblivion," and his shoulders sagged under the impact of the Eyes of the divine Power before him, Who now appeared as a glowing flame.
Great rolling waves of guilt and shame poured down upon the Witch-King like millions of leaden weights, dragging him down, down into dark remorse. He felt suffocated under the dismal waters of his own disgrace, a wastrel who had squandered his many gifts and blessings given to him by the omniscient Being whose wisdom was incomprehensible, whose Eye saw to the soul, heart and mind. It would be far better to endure another whipping than those Eyes.
Angmar sank to his knees, humiliated, disgraced by his own worthlessness.
"Dost thou know now, Morgul Lord, how thou hast wounded Me, how thou hast brought anguish to the very essence of My Being? Dost thou feel the pain that I have borne as I have watched thee struggle against Me and wander aimlessly across the fruitless plain of thy mind? It does not have to be this way, My son, but thou art always stiff-necked and stubborn, froward of mind and heart. I love thee and never do I wish to hurt thee, but ever dost thou force Me to use strong measures to bring about thy improvement!"
The pain of Angmar’s guilt drove him into corridors of sadness, yearning, wanting, melancholy, and he groped as a blind man, searching for a landmark to guide him to ease of conscience.
"My little king..." The tone of the Voice from the Dark Throne now sounded hurt unbearably to the depths of His soul. Angmar's shame intensified, until his only desire was that his essence fade slowly like a mist and creep somewhere far into shadows, out of sight. The guilt was unendurable; the shame, the humiliation unbearable. Yes, he had failed again. How many times over the years had he done so?
"Why didst thou bring Me pain?" the Dark Lord asked, His tone agonized as He wiped a tear from His Eye. The Witch-King's fëa seemed to fragment into splinters of ice that glowed a dark light in the reflection of the power of the Maia's spiritual aura.
"My King..." the Morgul Lord shook under the weight of his transgression and he fell upon his face. "Forgive me. Forgive me, O Mighty One!"
Sauron rose to his feet and towered above the Witch-king. He looked down, seeming now a being of light and beneficence. "Always thy Lord forgives thee, although thou art not deserving of it, for thy Lord loves thee as a Father loves His favorite son. Always wilt thy Father forgive thee and never cast thee into uttermost darkness... though it is in His power. Rise now and kiss the Ring of thy Master."
Angmar rose slowly to his feet, his legs trembling, his head now bowed, all the rebelliousness gone from him for the time, and kissed the Ring on the extended hand offered to him.
"My gratitude, Great One, for Thy graciousness Thou bestowest upon Thy servant," the Morgul Lord whispered in a quavering, subservient, humble voice.
"Angmar, though all is forgiven, thy Ring... perhaps I should hold it once again."
"So soon, Lord?" his tongue trembled in his mouth. "But it has been such a short time..." Angmar felt that his heart, his soul, his mind, his will were being crushed, crippled... so soon to lose his Ring again. He had held it for such a little while.
"So much power, My son... thou wilt not need here, for thou wilt stay under My tutelage and care for such a time as thou hast shown total repentance. Each of thy brethren wilt abide with Me for the time that I allot and then shall be returned to their duties."
The Figure on the dark throne sighed and then smiled. "I have missed thee and thou hast suffered greatly from want of My Presence. Thou needest much time to reflect upon thy miscalculations... and then perhaps after that time... thy Ring will come back to thee... but perhaps not. Witch-king, although thou hast failed Me yet again, I still have work for thee to do, and thou art, as ever, My most favored son."
Although Sauron could humiliate him, degrade him, tear his will, his mind, the essence of his soul into shreds, still, the Witch-king was bound to the Dark Lord for all eternity, and his will was bent to that of his Master. He felt his Lord's acceptance once again, as the disapproval and the disappointment were banished in the tears of repentance.
Basking in the warmth of his Master's renewed love, Angmar wept in gratitude and all animosity left him as he felt his worth restored, the fragmented shreds of his fëa once again intact. It would be a while ere rebellion stirred once more in his mind.
"As Thou wishest, Lord," the Witch-king said in reverence and awe. "Always Thou honorest me."
"Morgul Lord, cease thy weeping and attempt to regain some semblance of dignity." The words were soft ones of exaggerated frustration. "I do not like to see thee this way, fawning like a frightened cur who lies upon its back and pisseth upon itself!"
The Morgul Lord had no strength left to challenge the taunts. Sauron would break him again and again, strip his mind of all self-worth and importance, only to let him stagger to his feet and recover in time for the next bout of torment. Then when his Master had tired of that and gone to more interesting game, He would send him back to his brethren and then there would be the token gifts and treasures, the shallow assurances of approval.
"Summon the others, King of the Nine. Then go to thy chambers and reflect upon all that has transpired and My words unto thee. Thou wilt come forth when next I call thee."
"As Thou willst, my King." Then Angmar bowed, turned and walked from the dark throne room, the hatred for his Master subdued.
The dimly lit hall was silent once again as the Eight entered and bowed before the Dark Lord. Slowly, as a rebuking father, Sauron spoke to them. "Why hast ye failed Me once again?" No reply was given and they stood with bowed heads.
"Khamûl, come forth," the Voice commanded. "Thy Brothers and I await to hear thy answer. Speak unto us."
Slowly in silence, Khamûl approached the Dark Lord's throne and again bowed deeply. "Great One, there is no excuse. My failure is great."
"Khamûl, second in power, second in choosing, thy transgressions art many. Too often hast thy mind dallied and failed in its reckoning. For thy own benefit, thou must be chastised."
"Though Thou lash me with the full fury of Thy wrath and flay my skin into bloodied shreds, still would I love and serve Thee, Master. I accept whatsoever Thou dealest unto me."
"Then, Khamûl, let thy just doom come upon thee."
"I thank Thee, Master," he said, bowing. Khamûl waited, his head bent, but the punishment seemed slow in arriving. The silence grew louder.
Then, like a worm boring into the bole of a great tree, a tiny pang of guilt slowly edged into his heart. As a vessel being filled with water drop by drop, regret poured into his soul. His heart swelled with the intense pressure of remorse and he silently wept.
When his heart was unable to bear any more, great spasms of shame and fear in rushing waves lashed Khamûl's fëa. Horrible, piercing claws seemed to tear into his flesh, first plowing fiery gashes and then separating sinew from bone, undoing the spell that bound them. He could feel blood bursting forth from a hundred different gouges.
"Thou hast displeased Me. Now learn from thy punishment," he heard the words come pounding into his mind.
Khamûl saw himself dying, falling into a pool of his own blood and lying there with his head in the gore, the metallic taste filling his mouth. He wiped the blood that dripped from his lips as he tried to crawl forward through the wrack, reaching, grasping, struggling to touch the steel-toed boot of his Master in a final gesture of devotion.
"Forgive me," he gasped.
"Khamûl, I forgive thee as I always have before, but never again recompense My blessings with sloth. Thou art no longer worthy to wear thy Ring. I wilt hold it once again in My keeping until thou art purified of all thy follies. A time must thou remain with Me, and then thou shalt return to Dol Guldur, but whether with or without thy Ring, I have not yet decided. Prove thyself to Me once again."
"Master, I will strive to show Thee that I still have worth," Khamûl implored as he lay kissing his Master's boots.
"Have I not always been good to thee and thy brethren? When thou wert but a herdsman, a petty chieftain, dwelling upon the border of Khand and Rhûn, I took notice of thee and bestowed upon thee a Gift of great worth. Though thou understoodst little then, nor comprehended any of My intricate designs, I could see to thy heart and knew of thy hidden value. I made of thee a great warlord who ruled over much and in whose hand came vast power, treasure and wisdom.
"At last all thy hungerings were satiated and thou wert paid great homage by the tribes which thou ruled. Many gifts they sent to thee, fine horses, herds of cattle, sheep and goats. They gave their most beauteous daughters to thee and thou took many wives, concubines and slave maidens to thy bed. Great numbers of sons and daughters were born unto thy women so that now, even unto this very day, many claim that thy blood flows in their veins, and they know Who raised thee up. Much have I done for thee, O Khamûl, My beloved second son, and much more shalt be given unto thee and thy brethren... great kingdoms, vast holdings, when thou hast conquered all of Middle-earth.
"Arise, Khamûl, and take thy place at the side of the wall, and never forget this chastisement nor My many blessings. Come now and kiss My Ring."
His mind and senses still dazed, Khamûl staggered to his feet and then kissed the Ring upon the proffered Hand. He bowed deeply and backed away. "My thanks to Thee, Great Lord, for Thy kindness and mercy to Thy servant. The lesson wilt be remembered and I shall never fail again," he said, and then stumbled to his place along the wall, disgraced and humiliated before his brothers.
"Thy discipline was mild, Khamûl, and so it will be for all of those who were ever loyal." Sauron looked out over the remaining Seven. "But for those others, and ye know who ye are, the retribution shall be more biting. Come before Me, Gothmog, My third son."
Then the remaining ones, each in his turn, was dealt his punishment, each meted out in the measure according to the offense.
And then once again, there was silence in the Dark Tower.
Here ends the first book of THE CIRCLES.
The story continues in the second book, JOURNEY OF SORROW.