The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 19

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Nineteen
News Comes to the King
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Willing himself into a deep state of torpor, the Morgul Lord began to dream. Whether it was the vain imaginings of his own mind, or some test from his Master, he knew not.

In his dream, the Morgul Lord was in his cell, just as he was in the waking world. The door slowly swung open, creaking upon its hinges. A great urge came over him to walk down the hall and leave his chamber for a little while. As he walked down the corridor, he began to wonder where he was going and why. Then he knew. He stood at the great arched doorway that led to the Great Hall of Barad-dûr. And there it was... the Throne of the Dark Lord.

As he looked at the towering chair of black adamant, he placed a foot on the first step and then took another step, and another, until he had climbed to the very top of the raised dais where the throne itself rested. As he gazed at the symbol of majesty, he realized that he was almost the – no, he was exactly the same – huge shape as Sauron Himself. He smiled at the dramatic figure he must be making, his robes swirling around him, as he seated himself upon the thick black velvet cushions which adorned the great chair. As he lay his hands upon armrests cushioned with the same rich material, he saw upon his hand both his own Ring and the Ruling Ring. He gazed over the massive hall which stretched before him, and his mind was quick to set about devising the first words he would say after he was crowned Ruler of the World.

"Long have the peoples of the South and East suffered under the yoke of a cruel and unjust Master! They have suffered for Him, bled for Him, died for Him, and what have they received in return? Few rewards, and ever greater demands for tribute! That day is over at last." The Morgul Lord looked out over the sea of faces, and read nothing but adoration. "Those who are with me, come forward now, and I will lead you into victory over the Tyrant!" The deafening cheers that went up from hundreds of throats echoed and reechoed through the hall until they seemed to fill all of Barad-dûr with jubilation. He stood before the chair and raised his arms in benediction before dismissing them to go forth and put down the last shreds of opposition to his rule.

The Morgul Lord awoke from his death-like slumber with both a sense of satisfaction and a crushing feeling of guilt. Had Sauron sent him this dream as a trial meant to test his loyalties, or was the dream merely a creation of his sleeping mind, a fancy born of boredom and resentment? The very thought of supplanting his Master was abhorrent to him, and he felt shame lash his soul like a thousand whips. However, if his will were his own and he was free to choose, would he willingly serve Sauron, or would he strive to be a dark lord in his own right?

In his heart of hearts, the Morgul Lord knew which choice he would make.

The almost indiscernible sound of tiny claws scratching against the floor distracted the wraith from his reflections. He tossed a crumb of uneaten bread from the table by the bed and observed as a small gray shape emerged from the shadows. Reaching his hand down, the Morgul Lord watched with amusement as Murg the rat furtively sniffed his glove before climbing into his palm. Sitting on his elevated perch, the little creature greedily nibbled upon the crumb, and when he had devoured that piece, the wraith gave him another one.

"What tidings do you bring, my friend?"

For the past few days, the Morgul Lord had employed the clever little rat to gather information from around the Tower. Though Murg was easily distracted, and the reports he brought were often filled more with gossip than they were with useful information, still the wraith found himself looking forward to visits from his small companion.

The Morgul Lord listened intently as Murg squeaked out an account of all that he had overheard in the Tower that day. Had the Morgul Lord not mastered Rattish, he might have missed a good bit of what Murg said, for the rodent communicated in an excited jumble of high-pitched squeaks. Most of Murg's news concerned the mundane doings of the Tower, but there was one bit of information which piqued the Nazgûl's interest. An emissary from the King of Khand had arrived that early morning, seeking an audience with the Lord of Mordor. The Khandian ambassador had traveled for many long days to discuss the matter of the king's son, who had been taken captive by the Rohirrim at the Second Battle of Helm's Deep. Back in June, the Morgul Lord had advised his Master that it would be wise to negotiate an exchange of prisoners so that the Khandian prince would be returned to his people, but Sauron had refused, claiming that such an exchange would make Mordor appear weak before the enemy.

"You have done well, Murg." The Morgul Lord gave the rat another crumb of bread when he had finished his report. "A reward for your services."

"I might be small, but nothing much escapes my notice," Murg boasted proudly. "Keen ears, Your Majesty, keen ears, and quick wits! You have to keep right on your toes when you are in my line of work, or you just might wake up dead!"

"Yes, I would imagine so," the wraith remarked thoughtfully. "Sometimes I neglect to consider the many perilous dangers which face mortals, for no man may harm me."

"Why is that, my lord?" The rat tried to peer through the shadows to discern a face, but he could see nothing, only two tiny orbs of pale light below the crown. "All of us can die, some easier than others."

"An ancient magic protects me from most evils." The Morgul Lord smiled wryly as a slight throb began to beat in his left temple, and his right leg twinged in pain. "But not all." He had the urge to laugh wildly, but suppressed it.

"I wish I had some magic which protected me!" Murg squeaked, his whiskers quivering wildly. "A terrible thing happened to me today!"

The hooded head tipped down inquisitively. "Tell me what calamity has befallen you."

"Your Majesty," Murg inclined his head, "it was an unholy, terrible thing that happened! I am surprised that I am still alive!" The rat was certain now that he and the King had forged a bond of shared suffering and disappointment. It was a relief to know that the King somehow understood his problems and would not laugh to hear them.

"I can see that you are distraught, my friend. Did you run afoul of one of the cats who slink up and down the corridors and steal into the chambers?" The Morgul Lord glanced at one of the candles. Slowly the tip of the wick began to glow, becoming steadily brighter, until it burst into a tiny flame. Enormous shadows reared up and moved ominously across the walls, and Murg remembered the tales he had heard of spirits and phantoms who lurked in this cell. The rat put his paws over his eyes and trembled until another candlewick sprang into flame, softening the darkness with a pleasant amber glow.

"Oh, no, my lord," Murg shook his head rapidly from side to side. "My folk can usually escape those demons if we are clever and fast enough. This was much worse." Just thinking about what had happened made Murg's heart pound in his chest, and he could not remember what he was about to say.

"Do not be afraid, Murg," the King encouraged him. "No danger can follow you here."

"Thank you, Your Majesty, for giving me sanctuary!" The rat looked into the faintly glowing eyes of the wraith. "There are not many places in this pit of sorrows where anyone can feel safe." When the King had granted him his first audience, Murg was terrified. "Well," he thought, "it was not exactly an audience." The wraith lord had caught him trespassing in his cell, and snatched him up before he could get away. Murg had been sure that the Nazgûl would hurl him across the room and dash his brains against the wall. When the wraith had shown him mercy, the rat had quivered in gratitude and felt himself in the Morgul Lord's debt. The Nazgûl could just as easily have slain him. Except for a few of Murg's own kind – and many of them were petty, vicious, jealous, greedy, conniving and untrustworthy – the wraith had been the only one who had shown the slightest bit of kindness to him. Murg attributed this kindness to the overwhelming loneliness he sensed about the Nazgûl.

"Just settle your nerves, my little friend." The wraith stroked a finger over the rat's short fur. "Tell me what befell you."

"Your Majesty, when I woke up this morning, I was exceedingly hungry and decided to see what was being served in one of the orcs' mess halls." Murg took a deep breath and twitched his whiskers nervously. "You might know that the halls are dangerous places – as is any place where uruks gather – but I was half starved and faint with hunger! One of the rascals had dropped a succulent piece of meat by his foot, and though I realized the peril, I simply could not resist the temptation." Murg shut his eyes in memory of the rich, greasy morsel oozing with fat. Just thinking of it made his mouth water. "As the uruks sat there making merry, I was under the table, gorging myself on that delectable fare. I ate and ate until there was no room left in my belly." He touched his swollen stomach before continuing.

"When one of the brutes saw me, he tried to stomp me, but I dodged out of the way." Murg was so excited that he did not realize that he was ferociously digging at a flea on his belly. "Then the orc shouted an alarm, drawing the attention of all of them to me! The big, ugly monsters peered under the table, their wicked eyes gleaming menacingly, their breath as stale and fetid as a dog's. There was murder in their hearts; I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their bellowing voices! I thought I was soon to say my farewells to this world." Unable to go on, Murg nervously cleaned his mouth, his paw stroking over his sensitive whiskers. When he had once again found his voice, he blinked and looked up at the Morgul Lord. "Let me tell you, Your Majesty, that I was terrified! They drove me out from under the table into the open, and some of them were hot to catch me. I outran them all, and as I was scurrying for a hole in the corner, they pelted me with garbage!" Chattering irritably, Murg paced about in the wraith's outstretched hand, confident that he would not be dropped.

"Your Majesty, as you can suppose, I was both frightened and angry." The rodent looked up at the dark figure above him. "But worse than that, I was sick, so very sick!" The little rat was panting rapidly, the mere act of telling his tale bringing back horrifying scenes to his mind. As his body convulsed in shudders, Murg closed his eyes and ground his teeth together, a nervous mannerism shared by all his folk.

"Murg," the King sounded sympathetic. "The weakness will soon pass away from you." He touched a finger to the rat's stomach, and Murg felt the grating pain in his belly subside. The King heard a distinct "chirping" sound, which momentarily puzzled him. A quick probing of the rat's mind brought up images of Murg when he was a pup back in the nest. The young rats were on a wild spree of playing, racing and roughhousing. As they rolled and tumbled, one of his sisters, a fat, mischievous ball of gray fur, held Murg down and tickled him. Murg chirped happily, enjoying the sensation of his sister's pink nose and claws as they found his every ticklish spot. "Even these simple beasts have the capacity to laugh," the King realized, adding that information to his extensive collection of knowledge. Every bit, no matter how inconsequential, always had some use.

"Your Majesty," Murg's lips peeled back in a Rattish smile, "the pain is gone, and my belly no longer burns with fire. I thought the orcs had poisoned me! They have a new kind of poison, invented, they say, by the Khandian alchemists in their unholy laboratories!"

"No, my little friend. You merely ate too much; even your stomach has its limits," the King told him, his amusement hidden within the impenetrable darkness of his hood. "It would be well if you managed to control your gluttony."

"My lord, it is a weakness of my family, and none of us can help it," Murg replied humbly. "How well I remember the death of my grandfather, Old Broadbelly! One day when the poor old fellow was making his rounds in search of food, he found a grain barrel which the orcs had forgotten to cover with a lid. He couldn't help himself, my lord." His voice trembled with remembered sadness. "He ventured inside and ate until his stomach would hold no more. In his hunger for the grain, he had not noticed that the sides were too steep to climb back up. Trapped in there with mounds of grain all about him, he ate himself to death. Maybe he died happy; I do not know. Still, it was awful when they found him, with his belly all swollen and him as stiff as a board. My father said that Old Broadbelly was a fool, but my mother mourned him for a fortnight at least!" The rat gave a little sob. "Food will be the death of us. Mark my words! The very death of us!" He shook his head sadly and gave a few moments' thought to that inevitability.

"Greed is the curse of many, not just of your folk." The Morgul Lord stifled the urge to laugh madly. His gazed dropped down to his naked finger, and he felt his hand twitch of its own accord. "What happened after you escaped from the orcs?"

"Your Majesty, it was the closest call of my life!" Choking back another sob, Murg wiped a thick clot of snivel from his nose. "I sneaked into the Great Hall, where I listened to the proceedings of the court for a while. Then one of the fortress' demon cats spotted me. He tried to nab me but miscalculated, and I was lucky to escape with only a small loss of fur." Murg looked doubtfully at his side, where a large patch of hair was missing. The wound still stung, but at least it had stopped bleeding.

"But you are here now and safe, Murg," the Nazgûl replied quietly.

"Safe, aye, my lord." Murg swallowed hard. "But I did not get as much information for you as I would have liked. By the time I escaped the cat, the Lord of the Tower was through with seeing visitors for the day."

"It is useless to bemoan a missed opportunity. Oft times you have one chance, and one chance only, and then the moment is past." An image flashed through the wraith's mind of a dark night on a lonely hill, and a blade that went awry and did not find its mark. Such a small distraction – the Halfling's desperate prayer to the hated Varda – and failure tasted bitter in his mouth. He pushed the vision from his mind and turned his attention back to Murg.

"If only I were braver!" the rodent groaned. "But I am afraid of my very own shadow! Maybe if I wielded some weapon and stood my ground, I would have taught that cat a lesson!"

"And perished in the attempt," the Morgul Lord interjected. "Murg, when your opponent is stronger and faster, you must use subterfuge to defeat him. Battles are not always won by the side which has the most forces. Sometimes surprise and deception can whittle down your enemy with far more devastating effect than swords and spears."

"Your Majesty, I am not a general. I have never seen an army in the field." The rat looked at him uncertainly. For a brief moment, Murg saw himself outfitted in mail with a bright, gleaming sword in his paw. A giant cat gathered its muscles to spring upon him, but Murg stood steadfast. The cat gave a mighty bound, and Murg slashed down with his sword, beheading the cat with one stroke. His fantasy was quickly interrupted, swept away when the King began to speak again.

"The same principle applies against any opponent, whether he is great or small." The Morgul Lord lifted Murg up so that he could look at him closer. "Before you face your enemies, you must know his strengths and weaknesses."

"Your Majesty, I know the enemy!" Murg replied emphatically. "How well I do! He is lithe and quick, with sharp claws and teeth that will tear me to pieces." His eyes grew large as he thought of one of the fortress' cats as it pounced on a hapless victim. "Their weaknesses?" He twitched his whiskers contemplatively. "I doubt they have any, Majesty. Their armor is without a chink, as I guess you would say it."

"That is where you are wrong, my little friend," the King chuckled. "From the Master of Empires to the lowliest soldier in the field, they all have their weaknesses. You just have to find out what they are."

"Your Majesty, I just do not know." Murg shook his head. The King was speaking of matters far too complex for him ever to understand. He was only a rat after all, one rather undersized for his kind, and neither strong nor brave.

"Then, Murg," the Morgul Lord told him as he lowered him to a spot on the desk, "refresh yourself while I give you a few suggestions." He gestured towards a tray of bread, meat and cheese, which had been left for his pleasure. While Murg filled his mouth with the delicious food, the wraith watched him, smiling to himself in amusement. "All strategy in war is based upon one simple thing, Murg – deceit. You must make your enemy believe that lies are truth and truths are lies; that you are far away when you are near and near when you are far away; that you are weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak. Always mislead, deceive, and confuse your enemy. Now do you understand?"

"No, my lord, no more than I did before. I am afraid I am not meant for this sort of thing," Murg told him as he tried not to become distracted by a piece of succulent ham.

"Murg, your problem is not unlike that of a hard-pressed general on the battlefield. Your enemy is great and many in number, while your people are few. You need a stratagem that will baffle and confound them."

"What, Your Majesty?" Murg blinked his beady black eyes. He could think of nothing that his folk could do that would ever defeat the fiendish cats of Barad-dûr. If only the sorcerer king would help him! He would never have to worry about finding enough food to stay alive – at least not while the King remained in the Tower. Even more than providing him with food, the King could be a powerful ally in devising a method to defeat the cats.

"Perhaps you need a little assistance; an advisor, shall we say," the Morgul Lord replied. "There are a number of ways you can deal with your difficulties, but you are lacking in resources. I doubt that you would know of them, but there are certain herbal compounds which, combined with simple spells, can bring amazing results."

"Your Majesty, do you mean a spell or potion which would make me brave?" The rat listened intently to the King's every word, and even to his food-dulled senses, they seemed very wise. He felt honored to have a military strategist as renowned as the King to give him advice.

"If I put a spell upon you which made you as brave as a lion, at best it would be nothing more than a farce, and at worst, it could get you killed that much more quickly. It certainly would not change you, for deep inside you would still be Murg, and when the spell was lifted, you would be Murg again, as cowardly as ever. No, courage is something you have to come by yourself."

"Then what do I do, Majesty?" Murg's voice was nothing more than a low, downhearted murmur. "Will I never have courage?"

"You have a certain degree of courage as it is, but you do not realize it. You are the only one of your kind who has been bold enough to come into my chambers." Murg could not see the grin on the Morgul Lord's face, but the pompous little rodent and his difficulties had been among the few diversions the wraith had enjoyed during his tedious imprisonment. "Listen closely while I explain your battle strategy. When you leave my cell, go to your folk and gather them together for a great conclave. After you have explained to them what they must do, come back to my chamber, and I will give you the necessary formula."

"What do you want me to tell them, Your Majesty?" Murg asked, his eyes full of curiosity.

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