The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 24

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Twenty-four
The Battle of Sudden Flame
Written by Angmar

"Onward to victory!" King Gjak screamed as he led his endless hordes in pursuit of the loathsome cats. He had never believed it possible, but victory was now within his reach, and the years of cat tyranny were about to end! Leaping onto the back of one of the hated enemies, he sank his teeth into the cat's ear while more of his cohorts clambered over the cat's body. As the cat was dragged hissing and screaming to the stones, King Gjak ripped a bloody chunk out of its ear and bounded away with the trophy, the battle lust gleaming in his beady black eyes. Though he had always been a warrior, nothing could compare to the heady excitement of leading a massive force against the foe.

In his onward rush to triumph, there was only one small matter which robbed the Rat King of his joy, and that was that mangy little runt Murg with his haughty ways. As soon as the battle was over, Murg would be whining for a reward, boasting that his Grand Undertaking had been the key to their success. King Gjak grinned menacingly. "Filthy little blighter won't whine long, for as soon as things are settled, I'll give the order for his execution." Now he would let nothing dampen the thrill of triumph. The scent of blood was heavy in the corridor, and King Gjak was drunk upon it, intoxicated by the taste and smell. "Kill them! Kill them all!" he shrieked again and again until his voice was hoarse.

Behind him lay the mangled carcasses of numberless cats, crushed under the weight of the rats and mutilated by their sharp teeth. Slipping on the blood which ran in torrents down the hall, he almost fell but quickly righted himself. He lost all sense of time and where he was, but he knew that they must be high in the fortress. There were far more orc guards in this corridor than in the ones below, and they stabbed and slashed wildly at the rodents. However, there were far more rats than there were guards. The orcs either went down under the swelling hordes or stepped aside, pressing themselves against the walls as their disbelieving eyes watched while the cats and rodents raced by.


The alarm bells were pealing wildly as the tall uruk looked up and down the hall, fear and confusion showing in his brutish features. He gripped his spear tightly and glanced at his counterpart across the hall. Even though they were uncertain, all the guards in the corridor would not leave their positions until they were given the order by their officers. To shirk their duty meant death. Their indecision vanished when a uruk guard raced up the stairway and ran screaming into the hall. "The wizards!" he gasped. "They have attacked the fortress and driven the animals mad! Flee, lads, while you still can!"

"Nonsense!" a tall, solemn faced guard spat out the word. "Soldier, you have been swilling the draught!"

"Don't believe me, eh?" the uruk panted, his eyes darting about wildly. "Well, you'll find out soon enough! Now get out of my way!" He pushed the other guards aside and barreled down the corridor as fast as his feet would take him.

There were a few moments of silence before they heard hideous screaming, hissing and shrieking, the sounds magnified by the stone corridors. The sound grew ever nearer, confusing and deafening the orcs. "Steady now, lads!" their captain yelled. "We don't know what's coming, but let us show ourselves to be brave and loyal!"

Their eyes bulged wide when they saw the seething mass of living creatures plunging up the stairs and into the hall. In the lead was an agile yellow tom who barely managed to keep ahead of the torrent of rodents. The cat was in a sorry state, its fur soaked with blood and one ear almost torn off. With the rats behind and the uruks ahead, the cat ran in terror as the uruks cursed and slashed at it with their spears and swords. Springing on one of the uruks which blocked its path, the cat dug sharp claws into the guard's tunic.

"Get off me, you accursed beast!" the orc batted at him with the butt of his spear, but the cat held on. Clinging to the orc in terror, the cat screamed as a wave of rodents bowled them over, knocking both to the floor. As the mass rolled over the uruk, the cat sprang free and leapt through the open door, diving under the huge ebony bed.

Swept off His feet by the flood of rats, the Dark Lord scrambled ungracefully to right Himself, spitting out vile invectives and proclaiming the darkest of curses. He stood there panting in rage, naked, His body covered with a multitude of tiny scratches. The sheet which had covered His loins lay crumpled upon the floor, having been torn from His waist when several shrieking rodents had gotten stuck in the folds of the material.

As the cat cringed under the bed, an ominous silence fell over the chamber, and a radiant light filled the room, pulsing and ebbing. The very air began to hum with gathering energy. A violent burst of light suddenly filled the chamber, its glow blinding all in the corridor outside. As a tremendous explosion rocked the upper level of the fortress, the whole tower shook from the top to the bottom. The fire storm surged through the corridor, the intensity of the heat shattering the windows, the shards blowing out through the twisted lead frames. As the hideous stench of burning flesh filled his nostrils, the cat emptied its bowels under the elegant ebony bed. The world must have ended.

Sauron was in a ravaging black fury, and though His blast of dark energy had left a burning trail of destruction radiating outward from His bedchamber, His anger was unappeased. The Ring glowed on His finger, the intense energy swirling and changing form as His anger rose higher. Then another great searing flame sprang from His hand and rolled down the hall, a devastating ball of fire that glimmered and hissed, turning the charred bodies of the rats into dust.

Sauron picked up King Gjak by the scruff of the neck, looking at him with disgust. The rat yelped as the Dark Lord squeezed the back of his neck and stared into the rodent's dazed eyes. King Gjak felt his mind being probed and violated, with the most intimate details studied and measured. Every secret, even the most trivial, was laid bare to the Dark Lord's gaze. Being in the presence of Sauron was too much for a creature as weak as the rat, and his brain exploded inside his skull, a tiny trickle of blood oozing out his eyes and nostrils. "This is useless!" Sauron cursed, throwing the lifeless rat out the window. "What could I ever expect to learn from a rat?"

The Dark Lord sat down on His bed before screaming for His guards to clean up the mess left by the incinerated rats. Nothing but silence, deep and gloomy, met His ears. He called again, but His voice only echoed back to Him. He grumbled as He rose to His feet and dressed Himself in ebony shadow. Passing through the doorway, He walked out into the softly glowing corridor, where He found twisted lumps of metal, all that now remained of spears, swords and daggers. Smoke boiled from the burning remains of tapestries, drapes, furniture, and wooden spear and axe hafts. He passed the fire-blackened remains of several orcs, guards who had stayed at their posts. Possibly some of the guards had escaped the devastation by hiding in adjoining rooms and barricading the doors, but there was nothing alive in the main corridor. "At least they were brave," He thought, wondering briefly what their names had been.

As Sauron strode down the deserted corridor, He congratulated Himself that there was not a single living rat in sight. He regretted the loss of the cats, however, and prayed that He had not accidently slain one of His favorites in His fury, but at least there were fewer rats now. He would send His servants out to procure more cats to replace those that had been lost, offering rewards for the best mousers in Mordor, and hopefully never again would the rats multiply to such great numbers.

As the Dark Lord's fiery rage slowly dissipated, guards cautiously began opening doors, peering out, their eyes gaping wide with fear. When they saw their Master, they dropped to their knees, bowing before Him.

"I want every officer to report to My throne room," Sauron bellowed. "I want to know who was responsible for this debacle!" He would discover every last one of the incompetent fools, and when He did, He would impale them upon the walls of Barad-dûr, where they would hang until they rotted.

Save for King Gjak and the yellow tom who had defecated under Sauron's bed, none of the cats and rats that had breached Sauron's bedchambers survived the searing flames and heat. Those who had lived through the initial blast were killed when the second gleaming fireball reduced them all to dust. King Gjak's chief henchmen, Cobalt and Biscuit, were among the many who had perished. A few, though, were lucky, for they had been wounded and fallen far behind the main force. Silver and Beacon were two of the fortunate ones who escaped the raging devastation.

As for Murg? When the host of rats was racing from the Third Level in glorious pursuit of the cats, he had gotten his toe caught in a crack in the floor, and in his struggles to free himself, had broken his toe. He had barely escaped being crushed to death when he had been knocked over and trampled on by the battle-crazed rats.

"If the Dark Lord ever discovers who instigated the Grand Undertaking, I'm doomed!" Murg shuddered as he limped to the nearest hole and ducked into it, trailing urine with every step. He was almost certain that King Gjak and all his followers had perished, and his eyes lit up with greed as he thought of the Rat King's unguarded treasure. Though his broken toe and other injuries ached with a fury, Murg was able to make his way to King Gjak's throne room, where he proceeded to loot the abandoned lair. Filling a sack with the king's treasures, he clutched it in his teeth and climbed up to the Rat King's throne. Just this once, he would imagine how it might feel to be king. He thrilled at the softness of the velvet which lined the inside of the broken goblet. If only he had some wine, he would celebrate the occasion with a toast.

"King Gjak lived well, that's for sure," Murg thought to himself as he surveyed the abandoned hall, "but I'm not so certain he died well." He knew that he should leave his comfortable position, but he was in so much pain that he first had to rest. His head nodded, and he was about to doze off when he heard a shuffling sound at the foot of the great throne.

"Are you the new king?" a young rat asked, looking up at him speculatively, his curious black eyes gleaming like dark jewels in the pale ray of moonlight that sliced through the darkness of the hall.

"No, I don't think so," Murg answered, secretly flattered that he had been mistaken for a king.

"If you are not the new king, why are you sitting on his throne?" The youth twitched his whiskers as he appraised Murg.

"Because it is comfortable, and I want to rest here a while before I leave. Besides, there is an excellent view from here."

"I see you have taken all the King's treasures." The young rat stood up on his hind legs and peered at Murg. "I guess you might as well, though. I suppose he's dead and won't be needing them anymore." The young rat squeaked softly as he hopped up on the throne and sat beside Murg. "Did you see my father fall in battle?" he asked sorrowfully. "He's not coming back, is he?" He choked back a sob.

"No, I don't think so, but I am sure he died honorably on the field of valor." The young rat moved closer to him, and Murg lay his paw on his shoulder sympathetically. Murg was weary and his wounds pained him, but he tried to make himself sound as comforting as possible. One never knew when a new friend might prove useful.

"Yes, he would; he was very brave. Do you even know who my father was?"

"I can't say I recognize you, little comrade," Murg replied. "There are so many young ones, and it is difficult to keep them all straight in my mind." The young rat's endless questions had begun to irritate Murg. He was in a bad mood anyway, for his broken toe was aching ferociously. He wished the little pest would cease his endless chattering and go away so he could nap before he had to leave.

"Are you sure you do not plan to claim the throne?" With the innocence of youth, the young rat stared into the older rat's eyes.

Murg took a while to ponder the question. What was there to prevent him from claiming the throne? he asked himself. The idea had never occurred to him before, but the more he thought about it, the more the concept appealed to him. He looked about the great hall, imagining his subjects cheering him at his coronation. The future could indeed be bright and rosy for him if he were king.

"Well?" the young rat demanded.

"Well what?" Murg asked, startled out of his reverie.

"Do you want to be king?"

"I might consider accepting the crown. After all," he puffed up his chest, "I am well suited for the position, and there are no other contenders."

"I suppose that is correct," the young one replied with a twitch of his whiskers. "You are one of the few adults who survived, save for the mothers who stayed behind to guard their babies." He jerked his head towards the pile of rubble across the hall, where a few rodent faces peered out sorrowfully. "Those are my mother and my brothers and sisters. Perhaps you heard their sobs. They are in mourning for my father. Their grief is heavy to bear."

"Yes, I see them," Murg acknowledged, nodding his head. "I promise you, my young friend, that if I become king, I will provide for all the widows and orphans. That includes you." He smiled sympathetically as he patted him on the shoulder.

"You talk to me of providing for us now that my father is dead and gone." The young rat looked thoughtful. "The whole undertaking was a stupid mistake, wasn't it? Only a fool could come up with such an impossible plan."

"Stupid? Of course it wasn't stupid! It was a glorious idea," Murg replied defensively. "By the way, in case you do not recognize me, I am the Great Murg, who devised the Grand Undertaking."

"I know you, Bloody Dung the Deceiver, and I know what you have done! Your idiotic plan has brought about the death of my father and all the rest of them." He glared at Murg for a while, and before Murg realized his intentions, the young rodent suddenly hurled himself on Murg's back, biting and digging in with his claws. Taken off guard, Murg was not quite sure what was happening. He struggled against the young fighter, but weakened from loss of blood, he was a poor match. Then he saw a movement in the rubble, and six or eight rats clambered out of their holes and made for the throne.

Murg's eyes darted around wildly as the young rat pinned him to the floor and chomped down on the back of his neck. "No, no! You do not understand!" Murg gasped. "We had almost destroyed the cats when the Great One baked them all like pies in the oven!"

"Yes, I understand very well. From the beginning, I knew the plan would not work. When I tried to tell the King that you were a conniving idiot, he would not listen to me," the youngster hissed as he tightened his hold. "You do not know me; that's plain to see. My name is Groth, son of King Gjak, and by the Great Rat, I vow to kill you and avenge my father!"

Murg was terrified. Although he was bigger and heavier, he was wounded, and the rat princeling was determined to murder him. "The young fellow is also unbelievably strong for his age," Murg reflected grimly.

"You will pay for this, you scoundrel!" Groth loosened his hold for a moment to curse him. In that split second, Murg jerked his head to the side, breaking Groth's grip on his neck. Murg looked around wildly and saw that Groth's brothers and sisters had gathered around the heap of rubble which led to the throne. He shuddered at the hatred he saw burning in their eyes. Forgetting all thought of his stolen treasures, Murg closed his eyes and leapt from the seat of power. Landing on his feet, he raced across the hall with the young rats nipping at his heels.

"Come back and fight like a king, you filthy coward!" he heard Groth exclaim with a curse. Murg had never been a hero, but he had always been quick. His heart pounding in his chest, he dived for the nearest passageway which led to a dizzying ascent up a shaft through the walls. He was certain that the climb would be far too steep and treacherous for the young rats.

"Ah, well," he thought as he looked down the steep ascent at the young rats who jumped at the sheer walls only to slide back down, "perhaps I was never meant to be king, but only a planner of great and monumental undertakings." But that would come later. At the present, he had to escape from the fortress before someone killed him. Perhaps the captive King might help him.


Whilst chaos reigned in Barad-dûr, the Morgul Lord slept… and dreamed.

As through a hazy, mist-enshrouded vision, he beheld the pandemonium that gripped the Tower. When the rats had first began to gather for their onslaught against the cats, he heard the faint scratching sounds in the walls, and he thought with amusement of the enchanted catnip which he had provided for his spy Murg. He watched as wave after wave of rodents boiled out of the dungeon, falling upon their enemies and all who stood in their way with savage brutality. Though he perceived the world of the living only as dim shadows in a colorless mist, the wraith saw clearly the spirits of the dead orcs and animals as they hovered near their ruined bodies. When the rats breached Sauron's quarters, the wraith could feel his Master's fury, growing, intensifying, until His great rage broke like a thousand volcanoes erupting at once. The thunderous roar of explosions brought the Morgul Lord back to wakefulness, and he smiled, knowing that his doing was the cause of all the mayhem.

Though he regretted that so much blood had been spilt, the Nazgûl delighted in the turmoil which had driven the Dark Lord almost mad with rage. His plan had been to cause a little mischief, a little bit of chaos which would throw the well-maintained order of the Tower out of rhythm and bring great annoyance to his Master, but he had never imagined just how much chaos would ensue. The brilliant thing about it all was that no one could ever blame him, and though he had set everything in motion, nothing that he had done was directly against his Master. He had planned well; the enchantments he had placed upon the catnip would wear off within a short time, and any remains of the bespelled herb would crumble into dust.


Later that night, the Morgul Lord had a visitor to his cell.

"Your Majesty," Murg hesitantly began as he bowed deeply, "forgive me for this intrusion, but I have come to say farewell and ask for your aid." He blinked, trying to see the wraith lord through the engulfing darkness. The little rodent was unable to pick out his form, but he was almost certain the king was there, for he had heard his heavy breathing. Sometimes the King was visible, but other times he was not; one never knew what to expect from the mysterious wraith.

"I take it things did not go according to your expectations," came the Morgul Lord's droll reply.

"Oh, you are here!" Murg peered through the darkness, turning his head in the direction of the voice. "Excuse me, Your Majesty, but you gave me quite a start." Murg tried to calm himself before answering the question. "No, my lord, things went terribly." He bowed his head in shame.

"Your folk bested the cats, did they not?"

"Yes, my lord, but we paid a terrible price." Murg was about to elaborate on what had happened when he felt himself slowly levitating through the air, ascending into the darkness. His bowels began to tremble, and he felt the sudden urge to urinate. He was certain that he had somehow offended the wraith lord, and he was about to snuff out his life. When Murg finally felt something solid beneath his feet, he tried to run, but his legs could only twitch spasmodically. "Help, help!" he squeaked frantically.

"Open your eyes, Murg. You are quite safe on the table. Perhaps you would feel calmer if there were some light." The Morgul Lord glanced at the candlesticks, which burst into life at his silent command.

"Yes, yes, Your Majesty, much better," Murg sputtered as he rose to his feet. "Although to be sure, a little wine might help even more."

"Not today, my little friend. You need all your wits to be keen," the wraith told him as he sat down at the table.

"A little wine might steady my paws," Murg wheedled. "It is just that I had a very trying time, what with the battle and all..."

The Morgul Lord cut him off in mid-sentence. "At least you will have something to tell your grandchildren if you survive."

"Survive!" Murg gasped.

"The possibility presents itself that you might not." The wraith bowed his head. "In this place, many do not."

"Your Majesty, can you tell the future?" Murg was so shaky that he could not control the impulse to groom his whiskers compulsively.

"Even though I am a Númenórean sorcerer, my foresight is sometimes limited." When he considered his past failures in the realm of prognostication, the back of his leg started to throb with a dull ache, the memory of the enchanted blade which had almost been his undoing. The rodent, of course, had no idea that the wraith was in pain. "However, no one has to be an adept in the art of prophesy to know that your chances for survival here are next to nothing. Many want your blood."

"What is to become of me then?" Murg squeaked, throwing himself on his face before the King.

"Quite simply, my little friend. You will do this: You will be ready at three o'clock this afternoon when a caravan bearing grain for the troops at Minas Tirith will arrive at the fortress," the King told him as he lifted Murg and set him on his feet. "When that caravan departs, you will be on it, hidden away in the barrels of wheat."

"Then this is farewell, Your Majesty?" Murg asked, looking up at the King's face.

The Nazgûl nodded his head. "I fear it is, my friend."

"I never did learn to be brave, did I?"

"Perhaps not," the wraith agreed. "But you learned to survive, and that is the only thing that matters in the final accounting. It is far better to be a living rat than a dead lion." He chuckled to himself.

"Farewell, Your Majesty. I will always remember you." Murg sniffled.

"And how could I ever forget you, Murg, deviser of great and monumental schemes?"

"I am not through yet, Your Majesty, far from it! Wherever I go, I will still be planning and dreaming."

"I am certain you will." The Nazgûl carefully picked up the small rodent and lowered him to the floor.

Murg turned and looked back at him. He rose to his back legs and bowed with a great flourish. Then he was gone.

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