The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 21

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Twenty-one
The Hunters and the Hunted
Written by Angmar

My Wife's Lovers, Carl Kahler

While the subjects of King Gjak waited for the court to convene, another king, far more regal and majestic than ever the Black Rat could aspire to be, lounged languorously upon the bed of a visiting Easterling ambassador. While the dignitary was attending on Sauron, the king had stolen through the slightly open doorway and into the chamber, where he had appropriated one of the many silken cushions that were scattered over the bed.

He looked down at his long, elegant legs and flexed his claws, kneading them in and out of the velvet covering, as he softly purred. His name was Maganhard the Great, King of the Cats of the Third Level of Barad-dûr, tolerated and even feared by the orcs. Beside this regal, black-furred beast lay his lady, a lithesome female named Aplomb with fur like ebony silk.

"I suppose we should get to the business of hunting, my love," he told her as he rose to his feet, stretching and yawning. "Although I would rather enjoy this Easterling's fine cushions, there is hunting to be done."

"Hunting, my lord?" Aplomb replied with distaste. "We do enough of that as it is. A bowl of rich cream would suit me much better, but since there is little of that here, I take what I can get. Perhaps the servants will bring something extraordinarily delightful today." She licked her lips. "A caravan of tribute arrived just this morning from Nurn, and who knows what succulent victuals they might have brought? Beef! Mutton! I will consider anything, even goat!" A thin, clear trail of drool oozed out the corner of her mouth.

"Lap cat fare, the food of weaklings!" Maganhard hissed, giving his tail a sharp flick. "I have been a hunter all my life, and never will I take food without doing my fair share of work to obtain it!"

"Oh, darling, the servants must give us our due. It is the will of the Master that we be rewarded for keeping down the vermin." Aplomb yawned, revealing a set of sharp, gleaming fangs. "You merely should consider it as tribute, a generous one, no doubt, but tribute none the less."

"Tribute, you say?" He cocked his head to one side and looked at her before he began grooming his fur. "Aplomb, sometimes I think you are far too naïve. No one wants to do anything for us. For all we know, the food is only the bait in a trap."

"Oh, do not be silly!" She batted him gently with one of her silky paws. "I have been dining on sumptuous dishes provided by the Lord of the Fortress for the past six months, and no ill has yet befallen me."

Raising his head from grooming his fur on his side, he stared at her, his yellow eyes uncertain. "I admit that I took little prey yesterday, and my hunger is a bit on the edge. Hmmmm..." He paused to consider. "Maybe a little food; just this one time will make no difference."

"Ah, my love, I thought you might reconsider. Hunger is very persuasive." Rising to her feet, she licked the side of his face, and Maganhard purred with pleasure. "Yesterday was a terrible day; the little devils were nowhere to be seen." She paused in her licking, her dainty pink tongue barely showing between her lips. "Come and dine with me this morning. Breakfast is awaiting us, and remember, my darling, if you do not find pleasure with the fare, you never have to sup there again."

"I suppose," Maganhard muttered, not quite convinced. "I will do it this one time, but never again." He should not have let her talk him into this, but when he looked at her beauty, how could there be any denying her?

"Then let us be off, my lord," Aplomb purred.

Giving the luxurious room one last look, the two cats smiled at each other, for there, like evidence of their blessing, their ebony fur dusted the Easterling's fine cushions. Then, shoulder to shoulder, the majestic King and Queen of the Cats walked gracefully through the entrance to the Easterling's bedroom and out into the hall.

Sauron considered the cats of Barad-dûr as necessary to the well-being of the mortals who dwelt in the Tower. The Master well knew that the vermin which lurked in the rodents' fur often carried deadly plagues. He had found the plague to be a useful weapon under certain circumstances, and He often employed rats to spread disease in selected cities whose rulers had angered Him. The rodents could not be allowed to flourish around Barad-dûr, however, for they would rob His extensive granaries and food supply. He also did not want disease to spread to His soldiers or the warriors of His allies, who were so vital to His plans.

In a way, He felt a certain kinship with the gleaming eyed cats. Long ago, in the First Age, He had often assumed the shape of a cat when it suited His designs. Even now, His fiery eyes retained the feline influence, with vertical pupils that were sharp and straight as dagger blades.

To ensure the well-being of the horde of cats which dwelt in His fortress, Sauron had ordered that his servants augment their diet of rat and mice flesh with beef and mutton, and even milk when it was available from His extensive farms in Nurn. Allowed only enough to supplement their diet, the cats would never grow too fat or lazy to hunt their prey.

Sauron knew that there was a delicate balance which had to be maintained in the natural order. If one kind grew too numerous, it would jeopardize the welfare of another. If only Middle-earth would recognize His superior knowledge and allow Him to rule as He should, there would be peace and plenty for all. Of course, neither the cats nor the rats were aware of the workings of the Dark Lord's great mind; the only thing that mattered to either group was survival.


Before any of the other rats had a chance to speak, Murg hastily squeaked out that he had important business with the King. His voice sounded tiny and shrill to his ears, and he trembled with dread as King Gjak turned to look in his direction.

"You cannot speak to the King, you fool!" the chamberlain sputtered. "This is outrageous! You have to wait your turn!" The elderly rat signaled for the guards. "Take this ruffian away!"

Grinning evilly, Cobalt and Biscuit advanced upon Murg, wrestling the much smaller rat to the floor. Fighting, Murg tried to protest, but Biscuit slammed a paw over his mouth. Cobalt bit a shrieking Murg on the scruff of the neck and began dragging him out of the great hall.

"Just a moment!" King Gjak raised a paw, and the guards halted in their tracks. "I think I know this subject. Is that you, Bloody Dung?" The Rat King leaned down, his beady eyes peering out from beneath his crown.

"Yes, Your Majesty, it is I," Murg whimpered, his body curling up.

"What possible business could you have with this court?" King Gjak demanded. He recalled the small gray rat who had once been filled with aspirations of power. "Are you back once again to challenge my authority?" His eyes blazing with malicious humor, the King looked out over the crowd of rats, who hissed and snickered. King Gjak lifted his sceptre and called for quiet. When at last the chirpings and squeakings were stilled, he looked down at the embarrassed Murg. "I asked you a question, you little runt! Now answer it!"

"No, Your Majesty," Murg bowed his head humbly, "I have learned my lesson. I am here on another matter. I think I might know a way that we can have our revenge on the devil cats who have killed so many of our number."

The other rats howled with laughter until King Gjak called for order once again. "Bloody Dung, one more preposterous remark such as that, and I will have the guards chew off your ears, nose and tail before throwing you out for the cats!"

A cautious and retiring creature, Murg was terrified by the king's threats. Perhaps he should simply leave the great hall, never to return again. It had been difficult enough facing the adversary who had trounced him so long ago. He knew, though, that there would never again be an opportunity like this one to teach the haughty cats a lesson they would not soon forget. If only the Nazgûl Lord had given him some potion which would make him courageous! Then he remembered the wraith's words coming back to him: "Courage is something you have to come by yourself." This was something he had to do without the help of anyone.

Murg closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath, trying to steady his fraying nerves. "Your Majesty, I have a poor tongue when it comes to speaking before a crowd." He struggled to speak through his chattering teeth. "If I – I could have a moment in private with you..."

"A private audience with a piece of riffraff like you?" King Gjak laughed derisively.

The crowd of rats tittered and squeaked, nudging each other as they pointed to the mad rat. "Make this fool your jester, Your Majesty!" one gruff-voiced rat yelled. "No! No!" cried a portly matron. "Take him to one of the hallways where the cats like to lie in wait, seal off the openings to all the holes, and let them have him!" The rats were almost equally divided as to which unfortunate fate should befall Murg, and several heated discussions broke out, with some rats grappling and pushing each other.

"Silence!" King Gjak commanded. "Or I will have my guards clear the hall!" In spite of the king's words, some of the arguments grew more heated, and a number of rats were bitten and jostled in the scuffling before the guards broke up the fighting. One wiry rat had managed to sidle up to Murg, kicking him in the stomach, the blow doubling him over. As Murg struggled to his feet, Cobalt grabbed him by the shoulders and sank his teeth once again into his neck. Murg froze, his body going limp.

"Your Majesty, do you want me to haul the scoundrel away and throw him into the orcs' latrines?" Cobalt asked, raising his eyes to the King. "It will be amusing to watch him struggle in the dung and piss!"

"Not yet, Guard Cobalt," King Gjak replied, leaning forward. "This braggart will meet his death soon enough." At these grim words, Murg's bladder failed him, the urine leaking down his legs and over the floor. Cobalt momentarily released his grip on Murg's neck, only to take a firmer hold and chew in deeper. The pain was unbearable, and though Murg tried to bear it, he fainted dead away.

"Your will, Majesty," the guard replied, bowing his head and eying a supine Murg with disgust. He motioned to Biscuit to help him pick up the unconscious Murg.

"Wait," the King called out. "I want to hear what he has to say before I have his ugly little head ripped from his shoulders." He turned to the chamberlain. "Have the hall cleared of everyone except my personal guards and this rat. We will resume court later today."


Celeg and Forgamon, Gondorian soldiers who had been taken prisoner during the war and brought to Barad-dûr to serve as thralls, waited respectfully in the Third Level butcher shop as the brawny uruk butcher chopped off another section of beef brisket. Celeg, the more stoic of the two men, dispassionately eyed the butcher as he worked. Forgamon, his belly rumbling, felt his mouth water as another piece of beef was cut away. Low-ranking slaves were often kept on the edge of starvation, given just enough to keep them alive and able to work, but not enough to put an extra ounce of meat on their lean frames.

"The damn cats eat better than the poor orcs do!" the butcher growled as he raised the cleaver and brought it down viciously, hewing off another chunk of bloody meat. "But it's the word from Above, and we just have to accept it." He shook his head. "The Master must have His little pets well fed." With one swift motion, he swept the chunks of meat into a pail. "It's all yours, Celeg. Now go out and feed the pussies." The uruk gave an obscene laugh and went back to chopping meat as Celeg walked out the door. "The poor uruks get little enough pussy as it is, but you poor beggars get none at all!" He chuckled at his play on words and then turned a shifty eye to Forgamon.

"No, Master, none," Forgamon replied, keeping his head bowed.

"There are other ways to keep a man happy, if you know where to get it." His blood-stained hand lightly brushing over his crotch, the uruk leered at the slave. "I can get you into my quarters tonight, and no one will say a word. I have a jug of draught and plenty of food. Interested?" He smiled a jagged toothed smile.

Forgamon nodded. It had been a long time since he had anything to eat except foul-smelling gruel and hard brown bread. Anything was better than starving.


Aplomb licked her lips as she detected the scent of fresh meat wafting its way from the kitchen. She smiled to herself, feeling a sense of triumph that she had been able to talk her mate into coming with her. If they hurried, they might be the first to arrive at the morning feeding. She could not contain the little chattering meow which escaped her mouth as she thought about finding some fresh blood in the feeding bowl. She had planned well, for the slaves had not yet distributed the morning's allocation of meat. There was only one other cat there, a quiet, submissive female whom she quickly drove away with a growl and a swat to her shoulder. Her tail twitching back and forth, Aplomb sat down beside Maganhard to wait until the wretched slaves arrived with the food.

The room where the cats were fed had once been a small pantry near the Third Level kitchens. When the kitchens had been enlarged a few years before, a small section of the old pantry had been partitioned off as a place where the Third Level's cat population could eat their meals in peace. Aplomb was pleased at the gleaming bowls which the slaves kept meticulously clean. She purred louder as Maganhard pushed his shoulder against her.

"Aplomb, I am still not certain about this. We ought to be out hunting rats and mice, not waiting here like beggars to be given their alms! Indeed, this sets a poor example for my subjects," Maganhard grumbled, holding his head up high and looking down his nose at the many feeding dishes.

"My love, who would dare challenge the King?" Aplomb rubbed her body against her mate, sliding her long ebony tail over his. "If you have to be afraid of what your subjects will say, they will soon consider you a weakling, unfit for rule. You fought long and hard for your position. Now rule, my beloved, rule!"

"Well, when you phrase it in those words," he muttered grudgingly. A battle-scarred veteran of many fights, Maganhard had come to rule the cats of the Third Level by defeating any who dared challenge him. He would never relinquish his crown to another.

The attention of the two cats was diverted by the sound of footsteps coming down the corridor. The smell of fresh meat tickled their nostrils and set the juices in their mouths flowing. Aplomb awaited with supreme dignity, but Maganhard felt like crouching and lying in wait for the bearer of that exciting scent before springing and shredding his leg. Instead, he watched from a safe distance, the tip of his tail swinging rhythmically back and forth, his eyes narrowed.

As Celeg walked in from the kitchen with a bucket of meat pieces and scraps, a horde of cats – black, gray, orange, peach, white, calico, tabby, tortoiseshell, spotted, and striped – followed him, curling and twisting around his legs, almost tripping him. Their voices an unpleasant cacophony of yowling and growling, the cats clustered around the slave, hoping he might drop one of the delectable pieces.

Celeg smiled as he reached down and ran his hand over the silky fur of a half-grown cat. "Hungry, puss?" he asked, chuckling. "I have something here in this bucket which I think will please you." He had exhausted his supply of raw meat and was listening to the subsequent growling and hissing over the food bowls when Forgamon arrived with a fresh supply. As the two men passed, they nodded. Celeg wondered what had taken the other slave so long in the butcher's shop.

Neither the slaves nor the cats who curled yowling and howling about their feet were aware that they were being observed. Hidden by shadows, two sets of bright, beady eyes peered down from a section of old shelving high above them.

"Do you think you and the others can do it?" Murg whispered to the rat beside him.

"At the feeding tonight?" As he considered the question, the small, gray rat nervously ran his paws over his whiskers.

"Yes, tonight, Silver. That should give us plenty of time to make the final preparations," Murg replied. He gave him a disapproving look, but the other rat just stared at him and continued his compulsive grooming.

"If they all stay in here long enough stuffing themselves, I don't see there being any problems... Boss." The smaller rat grinned at Murg. They had been friends in those long ago days before Murg had challenged the Black Rat and had been banished for his efforts. When Murg had returned, the two struck up their old friendship. The pair shared some similarities; both were small and had gray fur, but here the likeness ended. By anyone's standards, Murg was a rather handsome young rat full of youth and vitality, while Silver had weak, squinting eyes, mangy fur, and a foot which was partially lame from an old injury. Murg was still liked by some of his old acquaintances, while Silver was almost an outcast.

Some of the other rats had objected when Murg named Silver as his second-in-command on the project, but King Gjak had given Murg permission to name anyone he wanted to his crew. The Rat King was not particular about who did the job, just so long as it was done.

"Boss?" Murg had to think about that title. He moved closer to the edge of the shelf and peered down at the feasting cats. "Yes, I suppose I am the boss." The corners of Murg's lips curled back in an approximation of a smile. "Now we should be going back to the hall. We have quite a bit of work to do before tonight."

Quietly the two backed away from the shelf's edge and retreated into the hole in the wall.

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