The Circles - Book Six - Chapter 29

The Circles - Book Six - Across the Wide Hamada
Chapter Twenty-nine
All Hail the Lord of the Rings
Written by Elfhild

With a gasp of horror, Sam clutched Sting in his trembling hands, although he knew that he had no chance whatsoever of saving his master from these fiends. Much to his astonishment, however, the wraiths bowed before Frodo and laid their swords at his feet.

"O Great One," their hissing voices were filled with reverence and awe, "we bow before Thee, O Lord of the Rings. No longer are we Thine enemies, but Thy slaves! Have mercy upon us for our past misdeeds!"

Frodo marveled at the worshipful devotion of the Nazgûl and benevolently nodded at the three kneeling wraiths, who all gleamed with a soft luminescence like a corpse-candle in the dark. No sweeter victory was there than to behold one's defeated enemy groveling for mercy at his feet! These fearsome warriors were now his to command; they would protect him, and love him, and worship him as their Master.

"I am Khamûl, Second of the Nazgûl and Lord of Dol Guldur… and Thy humble servant." Khamûl grated the words out, as though they tasted foul to his mouth. The Second Nazgûl was a man of middle years, with deep tawny skin, black hair, and a neatly trimmed beard that was peppered with gray. A turban rested atop his head, and he wore a brocaded caftan wrapped around the waist with a wide sash and topped with a long fur-trimmed vest. Though Khamûl's manner was quite obsequious, Frodo could sense that the man despised him, for the hobbits had led the wraith a merry chase all over the Shire and across the wilds of Eriador. The fact that he had been outmaneuvered by a group of Shire rats was a sore blow to his pride, and if it were not for the fact that Frodo was wearing the One Ring, Khamûl would have killed him on the spot.

The man beside Khamûl pressed his hand against his heart. "I am Zagbolg, Fourth of the Nazgûl, and I submit myself before the Lord of the Rings." He was of light brown complexion, and his long hair and beard, black in color during his youth but now heavily salted with silver, had been styled in tightly coiled ringlets. A tall, bejeweled headdress rested atop his head, and he wore long robes adorned with rich embroidery, fine gemstones, and long fringes. Amulets glittered brightly upon his chest, a belt of interlinked medallions encircled his waist, and from his earlobes hung two gleaming rings.

"I am Krithkrovûrz, the Ninth Nazgûl – last but in no way the least – and I have come to swear my allegiance to the One Who Wears the Ring." With a dramatic flourish, the auburn-haired man with fair skin and hazel-green eyes, the youngest of the three companions, knelt before his tiny master. Frodo noted that Krith's dress was in the same fashion as that worn by Skri, but far more ostentatious: a richly embroidered and bejeweled fur-trimmed cap was upon his head, and he wore a magnificent robe which was adorned with embroidered trim and a heavily brocaded mantle. Besides having a love for fine raiment and kingly robes, Krith also took more pride in his physical appearance than did Skri, sporting a well-manicured mustache and a short, neatly trimmed beard. Frodo sensed that the three men were close friends, and they all shared an intense dislike of hobbits.

Two more Nazgûl stepped into the Sammath Naur, which was becoming quite crowded at that point. As Sam helplessly watched the proceedings with slack-jawed astonishment, he was reminded of the stories he had heard Bilbo tell of that fateful day when the dwarves of Thorin's Company invaded his home. Just when the thoroughly flustered Bilbo had adjusted to the arrival of the first unexpected guest, another one would show up on his doorstop, until he found himself entertaining thirteen dwarves and one wizard. But this was not the cozy parlor of Bag End, but rather the very heart of the Black Land, and the invaders at this unexpected party were undead monstrosities, not a company of boisterous dwarves with poor table manners and an appalling lack of respect for their host's glasses and plates.

A tall, muscular man strode forward in a flourish of flowing robes and knelt before Frodo. "I am Gothmog, Third of the Nazgûl and Lieutenant of Minas Morgul, and I have come to pay homage to the Lord of the Rings." The man had deep brown skin, long black hair which he wore in many braids, and a thick, curly beard. He was clad in a caftan which was heavily embroidered with raised needlework depicting sprays of stylized flowers surrounded by vining leaves; a wide sash was looped around his waist, the fringed ends dangling down the front of his kingly vestments. Upon his head was a large turban festooned with an enormous jewel and a spray of egret feathers.

The second man was shorter than the first, but he possessed a chest as wide as a barrel and bulging biceps as thick as the trunks of small trees. "Krakfhatal, Fifth of the Nazgûl, at Thy service," he announced proudly, revealing his broad teeth in a roguish grin. He had a thick mane of brassy blond hair, a long beard which hung in two tapering braids, bright blue eyes, and ruddy skin. A metal circlet was bound about his brow, and around his neck was a wide torc of twisted metal capped off on either end by stylized wolf heads. Wolf pelts were wrapped around his broad shoulders and fastened with a penannular brooch, and his short-sleeved tunic was girded by a thick studded belt. He wore loose breeches made of a checkered material, which were cross-gartered from knee to ankle.

Frodo sensed that both men had come straight from the battlefield, and try to hide it though they might, they still burned with the savage lust of war, and reeked with the blood of their enemies. Krak had just hewn a man in twain with his axe, and Gothmog's simitar still dripped with the blood of countless brave Gondorian soldiers. Well, now that he would be ruling Middle-earth, Frodo would put a quick stop to Sauron's wars, so these two would have to find more peaceful pursuits with which to occupy their time.

Yet another pair of Nazgûl entered the chamber to pay their respects to their new master. Fair of skin and dark of hair, they resembled the men of Faramir's company, and their eyes were silvery gray, as were those of many Gondorians. No beards did they wear upon their faces, giving them a slight elven appearance. A silvery aura radiated from deep within them, a light which was somehow different from the ghostly luminescence which surrounded the other wraiths. The taller one was called Udukhatûrz, the Seventh Nazgûl, while the shorter, stockier man was named Rutfîmûrz, the Sixth Nazgûl. The two men were so similar in appearance that Frodo surmised that they must be related. Udu wore a long robe with geometric needlework upon the sleeves and hem, and a brocaded mantle was secured about his shoulders by two star-shaped brooches linked together by a glittering chain. Rut was clad in similar fashion, although his garments were much more elaborately adorned, giving him the look of a dandy. About their brows were silver fillets which were studded with small gems.

"My Lord, we are sorry for our tardiness," exclaimed Rut, a note of embarrassment in his voice. He hastily smoothed down the black surcoat he wore over his mail in the physical realm and readjusted his sword belt.

"We were busy with the war," added Udu. His voice was slurred, and he stifled a hiccup. He reeked of stale wine; to Frodo's nose, his sense of smell heightened by the Ring, the stench was unbearable.

Frodo sensed that the two men were lying. When they had received the Dark Lord's urgent summons, Udu had been drunkenly singing a sailing song whilst lying under a cart, besotted out of his wits upon purloined Gondorian wine. Rut had been busy sporting with three whores in one of the finest pleasure houses in the occupied city of Minas Tirith. The soiled lilies of the night, who cared not if the coin they received came from friend or foe, had all begged Rut to stay a while longer, but reluctantly he left their clinging embraces to answer the call of duty. Frodo's cheeks flamed at the salacious images which came unbidden to his mind of the Sixth Nazgûl's amorous conquests, and he quickly blocked out the unwanted thoughts. He had no desire to learn about the sordid love lives of the Undead!

Pushing all thoughts of the two misbehaving Nazgûl from his mind, Frodo looked out over the undead assembly before him. With a magnanimous gesture, he bade them rise and stand before him… at a distance, for these Big Folk were so very tall, and it hurt his neck to have to look up at them. These men hailed from different regions spread over the vast expanses of Middle-earth, and in ancient days, they had been kings, princes, and lords in their own kingdoms. A thought came to Frodo that ere all was over, kings would travel from near and far to see him, desiring to form alliances with the Great Lord of Middle-earth.

Suddenly, as though hearing some barely imperceivable sound, all eight Nazgûl turned their heads towards the entrance of the Sammath Naur. The wraiths silently parted in two rows of four each and stood as still as statues, their heads bowed in respect, their fists pressed against their chests in salute. Into the chamber strode the Lord of the Nazgûl. He favored his right leg and walked with a slight limp, but he carried himself proudly, his back straight and his head held high.

A shiver of fear raced down Frodo's spine as he beheld once again the Pale King who had stabbed him with the sorcerous blade, and he felt his shoulder throb in pain. He could see him clearly now, gleaming with that same strange aura which surrounded Udu and Rut, only the light which emanated from the King shone much brighter, like the twinkling rays of a distant star. The King's hair was raven black, and his eyes were as gray as the sea. Upon his head gleamed a crown of silver, its band bedecked with pearls and studded with glittering diamonds. Running from his temple up the side of his head to disappear beneath the crown was a gruesome scar that had not been there before, and vaguely Frodo wondered who had dealt this wound to his fearsome foe. The King wore a long robe which was trimmed at its hem and sleeves with rows of pearls, and atop the robe was a shorter dalmatica adorned with wide bands of swirling embroidery around the hem, sleeves, and neck, a design which called to mind the waves of the sea. Around his shoulders, clasped by a bejeweled brooch which resembled a star, was an exquisitely wrought mantel woven with intricate medallions, a subtle floral design reminiscent of elven heraldry.

With some difficulty, the Lord of the Nazgûl slowly lowered himself before Frodo, swearing his undying fealty to the Lord of the Rings. Frodo's mind took him back to the stairs of Cirith Ungol, when he had beheld from afar the Dead City and the army which came forth from its gates. He had been powerless to face the Morgul King then, but now his dread enemy was groveling at his feet.

"You are the one who attacked me on Weathertop," Frodo stated coldly.

"Yes, my Lord," the wraith nodded, his face expressionless. "If Thou hadst claimed the Ring then, I would have knelt before Thee and called Thee Lord. But Thou didst not know the great Power that Thou held, nor how easily Thou couldst have had the mastery."

"And now you are at my mercy."

"Ever am I at the mercy of the Lord of the Rings." A sardonic chuckle escaped the lips of the Morgul Lord, and Frodo felt himself shiver at the mirthless sound. "Thou couldst command me to jump into the fire, and I would have no choice but jump; but I perceive that Thou wishest to be a just ruler, and wouldst not commit murder upon the first day of Thy rule. Indeed, the fact that my brethren and I still stand is proof of Thy abundant mercy. A king of less compassion would surely execute us, for all the grief and hurts that we caused Thee when Thou wert our enemy."

"I wish to be a good ruler," Frodo admitted proudly, puffed up with a newfound sense of self-righteous nobility. "I would grant mercy to my enemies, and ensure that all are treated justly."

"Thy rightful place is upon the throne of Barad-dûr, my Lord," the King told him. "Wilt Thou not go now and claim the seat of power for Thyself? Only Thou canst save Middle-earth from the Tyrant. For thousands of long and weary years, my brethren and I have suffered under His yoke, toiling in eternal slavery with no hope of release. But now one has arisen who would challenge His power. I sense that Thou wilt prove to be a much kinder master, Frodo of the Shire."

Frodo looked up into the Nazgûl King's steely gray eyes, and perceived that there was no guile there, only the sorrow and bitterness of long, unending ages. Although the wraith was the Dark Lord's most powerful servant, he deeply resented his thralldom, hating his Master for all of the broken promises and unjust punishments he had endured over the years, and ever desiring freedom and release from his bondage. For a moment, the Pale King reminded Frodo of Aragorn, both in nobility and appearance. The hobbit's heart swelled with pity, and pride -- for he, Emperor Frodo, would liberate these nine tormented men from their evil Overlord.

As the Lord of the Nazgûl led him out of the Sammath Naur, Frodo cast a look back over his shoulder at the pulsing glow emanating from the seething fire wells that churned and bubbled within the Cracks of Doom. For a moment, he felt a deep, crushing sense of guilt and failure, and an urgent desire to turn back and fling the One Ring into the fire, but these feelings were there for only an instant, and then were gone. He had a world to rule, after all.

His heart heavy with fear, Sam dutifully trudged along behind his master back down the road they had worked so hard to climb. Behind them followed the unholy procession of wraiths, with the one called Khamûl making up the rear of the column. The man seemed to be in no hurry to catch up with the others, and Sam thought he had a sneaking look about him, for his hooded head darted to and fro, as though he were contemplating some mischief. He did not trust that scoundrel one bit, but there was naught he could do about it. His worried gaze turned back to the Dread King, for he assumed that Frodo must be walking somewhere near him.

Sam wondered if somehow he could wrest the Ring away from Frodo, and carry It back to the Cracks of Doom. Of course, he would have to run uphill past all those Nazgûl, and then most likely he would fall victim to the same madness that had claimed Frodo. He knew full well that the Ring was treacherous and filled the mind of its wearer with false promises; he had experienced that firsthand when he had a vision of himself as Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, waging war against Barad-dûr with a flaming sword and great armies at his command. But if it were impossible to throw the Ring into the fire, maybe it was up to the Ringbearer to solve that problem by jumping into the abyss with the Ring upon his finger. Sam did not like that solution one bit, but if that were the only way, then he would do it. For Frodo. And for Middle-earth.

At that moment, the ground beneath them was seized by a violent tremor. Frodo was knocked forward and fell hard upon the pavement, his hands and knees skidding on the stone. Dirt and rocks from further up the mountain cascaded down the slope, sending up clouds of choking dust. "It is not safe to stay here, my Lord," the Nazgûl King told him, helping him to his feet. "The Mountain's moods are unpredictable."

Thanking his undead servant for his help, Frodo looked back up the mountain the way they had come. To his horror, he discovered that the door to the Sammath Naur was buried beneath a heap of rubble. Now he could not destroy the Ring, even if he were able to master his will and overcome the wicked spell of the Wheel of Fire! Desperation and terror surged through his body in painful shocks, and his stomach knotted up as though he were about to retch. His breath coming in heavy gasps, he clutched his head in his hands and sank to his knees in despair. He never should have listened to these treacherous Nazgûl, who, with their fair words and slavish groveling, had appealed to his pride and desire to be the savior of Middle-earth. He was not really their Master, and never had been. Now he was far from the Cracks of Doom, with no easy way of getting back there again. Oh, what had he done? What had he done?

"Indeed, Great One, the Mountain can be treacherous. It is no place for halflings." Khamûl's voice, though solicitous, sent a chill down Frodo's spine, and Frodo perceived that he had been the one responsible for the landslide. "The safety of our Master is our only concern. We shall take Thee to Barad-dûr, where Thou wilt defeat the Lord of the Tower and take Thy rightful place among the splendored halls of Thy bejeweled palace."

Defeat the Lord of the Tower? There was no way that he, a mere hobbit, could ever hope to prevail against the Dark Lord! "But was that not your intention when you claimed the Ring?" asked a mocking voice inside his mind. "You wanted to be Emperor Frodo, Lord of Hobbits and Men and Master of All. How could you do that without defeating the Dark Lord?"

Guilt lashed Frodo like an orc slavedriver laying on the whip. He cursed himself for ever giving in to such vain delusions, but the torment had become unbearable, and the Ring had tried to twist and sway his mind so that he would deliver It to the Dark Lord in exchange for great rewards and treaties of peace. He had clarity of thought enough to realize that would be a grievous folly, but the vision of giving Sauron the Ring had filled him with a blind rage which burnt away all logical thought and destroyed the last remnants of his tremulous hold upon sanity. In that awful fit of madness, he had claimed the power of the One Ring for himself and sought to supplant the Dark Lord as would-be ruler of Middle-earth. No, he had not forgotten that the Ring could not be used against Its Master, nor that the only hope in defeating Sauron lay in the destruction of the Ring. But in that one perilous moment, he had cared naught, and upon an impulse made a terrible choice which he now deeply regretted.

"Art Thou coming, my Lord?" Khamûl's simpering voice seemed to slither through Frodo's ears. "To Barad-dûr we shall take Thee."

"To Barad-dûr," Zagbolg and Krith echoed, their eyes gleaming with a pale light. "To Barad-dûr!"

These words sent chills of terror down Frodo's spine. He tore his gaze away from the leering wraiths and looked back up the mountainside. Did his eyes play tricks upon him, or was there a crack at the top of the heap of rubble which blocked the door to the Sammath Naur? Yes, there most definitely was. Hope leapt up in his breast. The opening looked large enough for him to squeeze through… perhaps all was not lost after all. Even though he had failed to destroy the Ring the first time, he would try again… he would keep trying until his mind shattered and his strength utterly failed!

At that moment, a breeze began to stir, swirling the dust and ash into tiny cyclones which danced along the barren ground. Silently, moving as one, the nine wraiths turned their heads towards the east, the direction from which the breeze came. A black horror gripped Frodo's heart, and the sharp intake of breath he had inhaled did not want to push itself from his lungs. They all knew what was about to occur, even Sam, who looked around fearfully, his eyes desperately searching for those of his master. The Dark Lord was coming to claim what was rightfully His. A silence which hummed and pulsed with frightful intensity settled over the plateau, ringing in Frodo's head until he was sure that his skull would explode from the pressure.

Gritting his teeth and clenching his fists, Frodo made a mad dash back up the road, his feet scrambling over rocks and debris. When he had claimed the Ring, a good portion of his strength had been restored, for the dreadful weight of his burden had been removed. With each step he took now, though, he felt the Ring grow heavier, and his body, weakened by starvation and dehydration, compelled him to halt. He heard the pounding footsteps of the Nazgûl behind him, heard their desperate pleas reverberating in his ears, begging him to come back.

"Wait, my Lord! Where art Thou going?"

"The Mountain is dangerous, and we would have no harm come to Thee."

"Come with us to the Tower!"

"Thy place is upon the Throne of Black Adamant."

Sensing that his master was attempting to return to the Cracks of Doom and that the Nazgûl were attempting to stop him, Sam raced up the road, shuddering with a deathly chill as he darted past the wraiths. The one called Khamûl hissed and grabbed at him as he passed, but the hobbit was too quick for him. The wraith's vile invectives burnt in his ears as he ran.

"Wait for me, Mr. Frodo!" Sam panted as he followed the sound of Frodo's heavy breathing up ahead of him. He cast a backward glance at the road, and his heart sank as he saw the nine hooded figures following them, their voices bleating out supplications and entreaties to Frodo even as their eyes gleamed red with anger and hatred. "They're still coming! Don't… these fiends... ever give up?"

Halting for a moment, his breath coming out in frantic gasps, Frodo held up the hand that bore the Ring and commanded the Nazgûl to halt.

"By the power of the Ring, I command you to stay back and follow me not!"

The Ring upon Frodo's finger blazed with light as though it were still hot from the forge, and he felt its fell power coursing through his body. In his desperation, he had called upon the Ring to compel the Nazgûl into obedience, and the Ring had answered. His enemies collapsed upon the ground as though felled by a mighty blow, for they no longer possessed the will to chase their quarry. Elation flooded through Frodo at his victory, and his weary feet felt as though they were dancing upon clouds. And once again he was Emperor Frodo, King of Kings and Master of All, the benevolent ruler of Middle-earth, who would ensure that all of his subjects were happy and well-fed.

And then Frodo felt the full fury of the Eye upon him, and heard the Dark Lord's laughter echoing in his mind, mocking him for his folly. Wreathed in flame, the fiery gaze of the Lidless Eye seared through flesh and bone, burning down the barriers of the mind and blazing a fiery path to the soul. With a shriek of agony, Frodo fell to his knees and clutched his head.

A massive shape came streaking out of the east, bringing with it clouds of shadow which spread across the heavens like billowing plumes of ink dropped in a vessel of water. As though a vast curtain had been drawn, the swiftly spreading darkness smothered out the dim light of the Mordorian day and plunged the plateau of Gorgoroth into a preternatural night. An enormous fell beast, almost as large as a lesser dragon, circled around the mountain, like a vulture swooping in to gorge itself upon the bloating flesh of the slain.

The Dark Lord had come at last.

Alighting from the massive fell beast, Sauron strode forward, sending tremors through the earth with each thunderous step of His heavy boots. To Frodo's horrified gaze, the Dark Lord appeared as the incarnation of the Flaming Lidless Eye itself. An aura of raging fire surrounded the dark column of His armor-clad body, and tendrils of black smoke twisted and coiled around the edges of the pulsing red and orange inferno. Upon the mighty head was a cunningly wrought helm adorned with intricate scrollwork; a crown of dark steel encircled the brow and rose up in spiked points resembling deadly thorns. Beneath the crown blazed eyes of flame, their abhorrent gaze burning away courage and hope and causing the heart to falter. His armor was sable unblazoned, black as a hopeless night with no dawn, forged in the fires of Mount Doom and protected by powerful spells. Beneath the mail hauberk was a padded black gambeson and over it was a surcoat of ebony, girded at the waist with a sword belt from which hung ensorcelled weapons of great might. Upon His arms He wore vambraces which had been augmented by sturdy strips of Mordorian steel, and greaves of a similar fashion protected His legs. No gauntlets did He wear upon His hands, and the Nine Rings gleamed brightly upon His nine fingers.

Sauron stopped and looked down at the two halflings who cowered at the base of the debris pile which blocked the door to the Sammath Naur. One of the halflings had fallen upon his face in abject terror, and lay shaking upon the ground, whimpering and moaning, his arms wrapped around his head as though protecting himself from a blow. The other halfling remained standing, the One Ring shining brightly upon his hand. Fear was in his eyes, but courage and desperation were in his heart – as well as an obsessive, all-encompassing desire for the most precious treasure in all of Middle-earth.

"Hail, Master Baggins, and well met!" The voice of the Dark Lord was friendly, jovial even, but it held an edge that cut through Frodo like the sharpest of blades, and it was all that he could do to keep from flinging himself upon the ground and cowering beside Sam. "Never, in all of the long ages of Arda, would I ever have dreamed that My lost Ring would return to Me upon the very threshold of the forge in which it was created! But so it has, by strange paths indeed, and with it the thief Baggins."

The Dark Lord towered over Frodo, and the little hobbit quailed in the shadow cast by that imposing figure. The auric flames which pulsed and swirled about His spirit could be felt even in the physical realm as a sweltering blaze, but even more terrible still were the fires of His eyes, which beheld both the Seen and the Unseen. Frodo tried not to look into those eyes, but they seemed to exert a hypnotic power over him, drawing his gaze like a lodestone draws iron. He tried to resist that pull, just as he had tried to resist the deadly allure of the Ring, but he found his gaze being drawn against his will into those fiery orbs. And then he was trapped, held captive by the eyes of the Dark Lord.

"So hast thou turned from thy thieving ways and come all this way to return My Ring?" Sauron asked mockingly, tilting His head to the side. "How most generous of thee!"

Anger surged up inside Frodo. "I came not to return the Ring, but to destroy it!" he proclaimed boldly, his fists clenched at his sides.

"But thou wert so captivated by My greatest creation that thou wouldst claim it for thyself."

Frodo winced at the Dark Lord's words, for he knew they were true. "I did all that I could do to fulfill my quest," he stated, far less boldly this time. "I wanted to save the Shire. To save Middle-earth. To protect all those whom I love."

"But yet thou failed utterly." Sauron's lips curled up in a calculating smile. "I wonder what thy friends would think of thee now, if they knew of thy failure, and thy desire to set thyself up as the Lord of Middle-earth."

Guilt and shame curled around Frodo's heart and squeezed it like an iron fist, and he felt himself faltering, withering away beneath the piercing scrutiny of the Eye. What would Gandalf and Aragorn and all of his other friends think of him? Would they curse him just as much as they did the Dark Lord when the armies of Mordor swept over all lands, and the entirety of Middle-earth was brought beneath the heel of Sauron's boot? His accursed weakness would bring about the victory of Mordor! The West would fall into slavery and darkness because of him!

"I took the Ring to the fire." Frodo's voice came as a quavering whisper. "I tried to throw It in."

"But then thou decidest at the end that thou wouldst rather use My Ring to usurp Me, to turn all of Middle-earth into a twisted facsimile of thy wretched homeland." Sauron's voice grew lower, deeper, like the velvety purr of a triumphant cat which had just devoured a succulent mouse. "Oh, yes, I know of thy delusional fantasies! When thou claimest My Ring, thy thoughts were betrayed to My mind, so I know all of thy plans and schemes. But now thy brief rule hast come to an end, Emperor Frodo."

With one swift motion, Sauron reached down and clasped Frodo by the throat, lifted him high into the air, and slammed his back against the doorpost of the Sammath Naur. The impact knocked the wind from Frodo’s lungs, and he gasped for air, frantically grabbing at the hand which held his throat in a grip of iron. The Dark Lord’s touch burnt with an unholy fire, the taloned fingers searing him like a brand. Spots swirled in front of his vision, and shadows clouded the edges. If he did not die from lack of air, then surely he would die from the blistering heat that radiated from the black hand!

"The Ring, Baggins," the Dark Lord hissed, His voice low and seductive. "Thou canst put an end to this torment if only thou givest It to Me."

"Never!" Frodo choked out. "Never would I willingly give It to you!"

"Willingly or no, I will have what is Mine!"

With those words, Sauron drew His arm back and then slammed Frodo harder against the doorpost. The halfling's head collided with the hard rock, and all went black for a moment. When he came back to his senses, Frodo was lying upon the ground. His head and body ached as though a troll had stomped upon him, his ears rang with the clamor of a thousand bells, and he felt bile and blood rising up into his mouth as waves of nausea washed over him. The Dark Lord knelt beside his mangled body, gazing down upon him with those eyes… those terrible, searing eyes! Frodo felt his spirit recoiling, and he longed to return to the empty peace of unconsciousness. But once again that daunting gaze held him in thrall, and he could not escape.

"I know how thou must suffer, little halfling, for I was once in thy same position," Sauron murmured as He gently lifted up Frodo’s hand and clasped it in His own. "I lay upon this very mountainside - felled by many wounds, My body racked with agony, My life bleeding out. And then Isildur, that base coward, took advantage of My weakened state and cut the Ring from My finger." Frodo felt a shudder of revulsion seize his body as his Enemy began stroking the Ring with His taloned thumb. "Since thou wouldst vie against me and name thyself Lord of Middle-earth, I think it only fitting that the Ring be taken from thee in the same fashion that it was so cruelly taken from Me."

Before Frodo’s pain-addled mind could fully comprehend the words of the Dark Lord, Sauron had drawn a dagger from His belt and slid the blade between the halfling’s fingers. In one deft stroke, Gorthaur the Cruel sliced through flesh and bone, severing the finger which bore the One Ring. Shrieking with agony, Frodo writhed and rolled upon the ground, clutching his wounded hand. Blood streamed forth from the wound, spewing out from between his fingers to puddle upon the dusty ground and stain his tattered garments crimson.

Braving his terror, Sam raised his head up off the ground and cast a furtive glance at his master. His heart cried out with sorrow and sympathy, and tears welled up in his eyes. Poor, poor Mr. Frodo! He longed to rush to his side and comfort him, but with the Evil One looming over them like a black thundercloud, he could not summon up the will to move more than an inch. All was truly lost now!

"Isildur claimed that he stole My Ring as a weregild," Sauron remarked as He slid the golden band from Frodo’s severed finger and then handed the bloody digit to the Morgul Lord. "I will send the halfling’s finger to his heir as a trophy of My victory. All shall know of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom!"

"As Thou commandest, my Lord." The Nazgûl bowed his head as he accepted the gristly token and wrapped it in a handkerchief.

"And now the Ring returns to its rightful place - upon My hand!"

Wiping the blood from the gleaming band, Sauron triumphantly slid the Ring upon His right middle finger, where it rested beside the severed stump which had borne it in ancient days. The earth shuddered and the Mountain of Doom spewed forth flames into the heavens as an invisible wave passed through the ethers, carrying with it tidings of the Dark Lord's victory. Far away in a peaceful mountain village, an elf lord blanched in terror; in the shadows of a distant forest, another elf cursed in vain; and in the Gondorian fiefdom of Lossanach, an old man leaned upon his staff and looked to the East in sorrow and dread. And all three hastily removed the Rings of Power from their hands, lest Sauron ensnare them and force them into thralldom.

Their minds already dominated by long years of servitude, the Nine Nazgûl fell to their knees, quivering with ecstasy and passion as they slipped into a trance-like state of exalted bliss. Filled with sublime joy, the Nine wept with adoration as they felt renewed power coursing through body and soul, augmenting their own might with terrible potency and imbuing them with even greater strength. In that moment, they all loved and worshiped the Giver of Gifts, even if they harbored hatred for Him in their hearts. His will was their will; He was their Master, and they were His slaves. Their arms outstretched, the Nazgûl prostrated themselves before the Dark Lord, bowing to Him again and again and crying out in loud voices.

"All hail the Lord of the Rings! All hail the Lord of the Rings!"

As Sauron extended His hand, each wraith in turn knelt before Him and kissed the One Ring in a gesture of fealty and devotion. The Dark Lord benevolently nodded to each of His servants, and then bade them all rise.

"Can I kill the halflings now, Great One?" Khamûl asked, his eyes gleaming red as he anticipated taking his vengeance. "These two wretched creatures have caused my brethren and me much trouble!"

"Stay thy hand, Khamûl," the Dark Lord replied indulgently. "I would have these two brought to the Tower, for I wish to find out all that they know."

"Yes, my Lord." Khamûl bowed his head. "Those who are brought to the Houses of Lamentation always have an abundance to say, and beg for the chance to reveal the innermost secrets of their hearts." A smirk upon his face, the Black Easterling menacingly pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand.


Frodo did not like to think about all of the misfortunes that had befallen him in the Dark Tower since he was brought there over three months before. His tormentors had wanted to know all about his purpose for being in Mordor and demanded he tell them everything about the quest, or as they called it, "that treacherous plot to overthrow the rightful Lord of Middle-earth." Since he and Sam had been living in the wilderness for months, he had little useful information concerning the great armies of Gondor and Rohan, or the doings of the Elves. However, he had tried to tell them as little as possible, for he did not wish to harm his friends in any way. But in the Houses of Lamentation, they had ways of loosening a stubborn tongue. The inquisitors of Mordor were famed for their techniques and efficiency; to them, the suffering of others was an artform, and they were masters of their craft. Yes, in the Houses of Lamentation, you talked, and you kept talking, and when you ran out of things to say, you quickly found out that you had more things to say. But they would never tell you anything, except that which they wanted you to know.

He shuddered as he remembered the gruesome tortures which seemed to last forever, the pain that ripped through his body until he was sure he would die. Still, he had tried to remain defiant, but then they had whipped Sam in front of his eyes, beaten him with a vicious cat-o-nine until the blood flowed from his back in great torrents. And Frodo had told the inquisitors everything they wanted to know, so that they would not hurt Sam. Then they had taken Sam away, and Frodo had not seen him since. Whether his faithful servant yet lived, he knew not. That was one of the most agonizing tortures of all, the constant sense of helpless dread that came from not knowing the fate of a dear comrade, and the sickening feeling of being utterly powerless to prevent any harm from befalling him.

Now Frodo spent his days chained beneath the throne of the Dark Lord, and the nights in the gloomy cell which he now called home. Around his neck had been placed a golden collar which Sauron had created just for him, and he feared to think of what sort of ghastly spells had been laid upon the band. Sauron derived much enjoyment from keeping Frodo tethered at the foot of His throne like some sort of exotic pet, and He would often command the halfling to amuse Him with songs and tales, or by dancing a sprightly jig. If Sauron was pleased with the performance, He might throw Frodo a scrap of food and tell him how grateful he should be to the Giver of Gifts. If Sauron was not pleased, well… then it was back to the Houses of Lamentation again. Other pets did the Dark Lord keep in His halls besides Frodo, but these creatures had far more freedom. The cats were not so bad, but the wolves… they often stole from Frodo's bowl, and he dared not dissuade them.

Every moment of Frodo's miserable existence was filled with sorrow and pain, and it was often all he could do just to get through each dreary day. The sight of the Ring upon the Dark Lord's hand brought him even greater agony than the whip or the rack, or any other of the innumerable forms of punishment which were known to the torturers of the Tower. Ever did Sauron flaunt His precious prize before Frodo, reminding him of the consequences of his failure and mocking him for his weakness. The Dark Lord considered it great sport to goad him into begging to touch the Ring, and then denying him once he had thoroughly debased himself in his desperate need to possess that forbidden treasure. Frodo tried to be brave, to be strong, to endure, but in the end he was always reduced to groveling upon the floor in misery, tears streaming down his face as he reached out helplessly for the Wheel of Fire. Truly, he was an utterly wretched creature, a slave of the One Ring, which he both loved with every bit of his heart and hated with every fibre of his being.

As the feeble light of the Sun gave way to an ever-deepening gloom, the broken halfling looked out the barred window of his cell and wept. Here he would die, alone, forgotten, a failure.


The costumes of Nazgûl and Sauron are inspired by Anglo-saxon, Viking, Celtic, Kiev Rus', Varangian, Byzantine, Ottoman, Persian, and various early medieval and/or ancient clothing traditions. Plate armor does not seem to exist in Middle-earth, and the armor depicted here reflects this conception. Tolkien seems to have been inspired by Ancient History and the Early Medieval Period, before the invention of the heavy plate armor of the later Middle Ages. While plate armor is depicted in Middle-earth themed art, games, and film, Tolkien might not have envisioned the people of his world armored in such a fashion. Since Arda is meant to be an alternate version of our earth, and the stories set in the First through Third Ages represent a mythological ancient prehistory, Tolkien may have felt that plate armor was too modern.

Tolkien wrote that had the Nazgûl successfully lured Frodo away from the Cracks of Doom, they would have urged him to go to Barad-dur and claim the throne. If Frodo refused to go with them, they would have waited for Sauron to come. However, Tolkien never said HOW Sauron would get there. In the last years of the Third Age, Sauron was physically weaker than he had ever been, so he probably couldn't shapeshift into some fast-moving form. Therefore, the fastest way for him to travel would be by fell beast. In Letter #246, there seems to be the implied idea that it would take Sauron some time to get to Mount Doom, and that was why it was vitally important that the Nazgûl distract Frodo and stall for time.

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