The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Twenty-eight
The Black Stallion
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

A terrible thunderstorm passed through northern Nurn in the night, but the bright sun burnt away the mists that lingered over the land. Esarhaddon decided to go out for a ride early that morning and explore the countryside around the city of Rul. There was a crisp freshness in the air after the recent rains, and everything seemed greener and more alive. Far in the distance towards the east, he espied a small party of riders guiding a herd of black horses towards the city. The majestic beasts swept over the grassland like an ink spill spreading out over parchment, and Esarhaddon felt his breath catch at the wonderous sight. The herd possessed an unnatural beauty, and an air of mystery surrounded them, whispering faintly of shadows and sorcery. Even from afar, Esarhaddon knew that these were the Morrûk, the renowned black steeds of Mordor.

The Morrûk were famous for many things – intelligence, loyalty, an intuitive knowledge of what their riders expected of them, and speed which surpassed that of most horses in Middle-earth. These were no ordinary horses, for they were descended from the best bloodlines that could be found in all of the lands that pledged their allegiance to Mordor. According to legend, some of these animals came from ancient bloodlines dating back to the First Age, when Melkor the Great liberated the poor, suffering beasts from the herds of the False Gods and gifted them to the first Men. Whether these legends were true or not remained a matter for scholars to debate, but it was a matter of truth that some of the Morrûk did indeed have ancestry from the Uttermost West. Certain bloodlines were directly descended from the mearas of Rohan, in whose veins ran the blood of Nahar, the steed of Oromë, Huntsman of the Valar. The sires and dams of these horses were taken by force or secret contract from the best bloodlines of Rohan, and selective breeding over the years had produced a horse far superior to ordinary animals.

The caretakers of the famous black horses of Mordor were herdsmen from the Shatrogar tribe of northeastern Nurn. Esarhaddon had first encountered the Shatrogar people back in the spring while on the northward journey to Gondor. While most of the tribe's major settlements were located far to the northeast, riders often traveled to the city of Rul when they had dealings with the lords of Mordor. During his brief sojourn near their encampment, Esarhaddon had the fortune of making the acquaintance of the Shatrogar chieftain, a fierce warlord named Dahâmab. He also learned a little about the ways and customs of the nomads of northern Nurn. The Shatrogar were intensely loyal to Sauron, their allegiance going back for untold generations. Even though their sires had all pledged their honor, swords and lives to the Dark Lord, each young man had to swear a blood oath to Sauron, and if he did not – through stupidity or some misguided sense of independence – he paid for his mistakes with his very life. True, it was a harsh existence, but the tribesmen counted it a great honor to be one of Sauron's own, and each man bore the blood mark of his high station upon his forehead and cheeks.

Though they tended the fabled steeds with the greatest care, not a single man of the Shatogtar would ever sit upon one of the Morrûk. Only a madman would ever let such a thought enter his head, for only those chosen by the Great Eye were permitted to ride them. None were exempt from this sacred law, and some tribesmen would even go so far as to hack an innocent child to pieces for committing such a grave transgression. Though the privilege of riding these magnificent beasts was denied to them, the elite horse masters of the Shatrogar were permitted to gentle the young animals and train them to be led and stand quietly while being groomed. When a horse attained the age of a year or so, it was taken away from the rest of the herd, and then only returned years later for breeding purposes. The actual training of these legendary horses was done only by their rightful masters, the high lords of Mordor.

Urging his mare into a canter, Esarhaddon rode out to meet the tribesmen, hailing them from afar. The Shatrogar zealously guarded the horses in their charge, and it was known that if a man not of their tribe approached too closely to one of the sacred Morrûk herds, he could very likely be the victim of an arrow through the heart. Esarhaddon wished the tribesmen to know that he came in friendship and posed no threat to either them or their horses. Recognizing the slave trader, Chief Dahâmab, the tallest and most richly dressed of the men, raised his hand in greeting and rode forward to welcome him.

"Greetings, Esarhaddon uHuzziya. Blessings of the Eye be upon you!" Bowing his head, the chieftain pressed his hand to his heart in salutation. "What brings you to Rul?"

"The same purpose that brought me here back in the spring, my friend," Esarhaddon remarked cordially. "I am transporting another caravan of slaves to Nurn, this time spoils of war from Rohan."

"The power of the Eye grows ever greater," Dahâmab intoned sagely. "Soon Rohan shall be under the rule of the Lord of Middle-earth, as all lands should be." He paused for a moment, and then inquired, "How long will you be staying in the city?"

"The caravan will be leaving in the morrow," Esarhaddon replied. "The journey has been long and fraught with troubles, and I am eager to return to Turkûrzgoi."

Dahâmab's brow furrowed with concern when he saw an expression of great weariness come over the slaver's face. "My friend, what has happened? You must tell me all."

As Esarhaddon related the ill-fated journey from Gondor to Gorgoroth, the two men watched the Morrûk herd grazing peacefully in the tall grass nearby. The herd was comprised of a stallion, four mares, and several foals, all distinguished looking beasts. While the mares were content to graze, the regal black stallion stayed constantly on the alert for enemies. His ears pricked back and forth as he winded the breeze, and he pawed the ground restlessly.

"You are fortunate to be alive after all the woes that befell you," Dahâmab remarked in sympathetic awe.

"After all the hardships of the trail, I will be glad to be back in my own villa once again. But enough about past misfortunes. These are some of the most majestic horses that I have ever beheld in all my days." Esarhaddon's voice was filled with awestruck tones as he gazed upon the herd. He dared not venture any nearer, though, both out of respect for the Shatrogar, and also because he had heard tales that the horses could be aggressive, killing strangers who came too close. Lovely beyond description with their long, flowing manes and tails and their feathery fetlocks, their beauty was perilous.

"It is a supreme honor for our tribe to have been chosen by the Great One," Chief Dahâmab replied, reverently touching the amulet of the Great Eye which hung upon his breast. "The love that we have for the Morrûk is the same as that we feel for our children; nay, perhaps it is even greater."

"The adoration of the Shatrogar for the Morrûk is almost as famous as the splendid horses themselves," Esarhaddon chuckled. "It is astonishing to consider how the ignorant, backward people of Rohan believe that the horses of Mordor are the victims of heinous abuse."

"Such rumors are an affront to the Shatrogar," the chieftain proclaimed dourly, his face darkening with anger. "In the past, there were those among King Théoden's household who were willing to treat with Mordor, albeit in secret, however, for the kings of that land are bound by a dreadful oath to the treacherous Gondorians. It is these foul men of the West who spread lies about the Great One, attempting to poison the minds of the people against the true Lord of Middle-earth."

"Many in the West are all too eager to believe falsehoods concerning Mordor and its allies." Esarhaddon shook his head in disgust, enjoying the rapport he was building with the Shatrogar chieftain.

"They would prefer to stay in darkness rather than bask in the glow of the Eye." The passion of the zealot blazed in Dahâmab's dark eyes.

Esarhaddon's gaze returned to the handsome black stallion and his mares. "How amusing it would be to see the expressions upon the faces of the strawheads when they realize how well the animals are treated!"

Suddenly the scowl upon the chieftain's face was replaced by a wily grin. "Perhaps later this morning, the drovers could bring the herd nigh to the caravan encampment, so that these poor, deluded Rohirrim can see the respect that Mordor accords its mighty steeds."

Esarhaddon stroked his beard reflectively. "That is a good idea, my friend. It would do the slaves good to learn more about the land in which they find themselves." The gears in the slaver's mind began to turn as he contemplated what he could gain from this demonstration. While the captives gazed in awe upon the Morrûk herd, the Shatrogar herdsmen would be gazing upon them. There was always a chance that the men might be so impressed by what they saw that they would attend the slave auction in Turkûrzgoi. A shrewd and avaricious merchant, Esarhaddon would take any opportunity he could to enrich his coffers.

"While the slaves are gazing in wonder at the Morrûk, I invite you to accompany me on a tour of the city," Dahâmab suggested amicably. "There is a tea house of which I am quite fond, and whenever my travels take me to Rul, I make sure to pay the establishment a visit."

"I accept your invitation, my friend," Esarhaddon replied, eager for the chance to impress and influence the chieftain.


The entirety of the great caravan – guards, laborers, and captives – assembled upon a field outside the city of Rul to await the arrival of the Morrûk herd. The children looked around, chattering excitedly about the grand spectacle which was about to occur. Their mothers desperately tried to keep order, lest the guards step in and subdue their unruly offspring with the whip. However, the guards were just as excited as the children, and they paid little attention to the childish shenanigans going on around them. It was not every day that one had the honor of seeing Mordor's celebrated black horses.

When the drovers guided the herd towards the caravan encampment, a collective gasp rose up from the crowd as they all fell under the enchantment of the Morrûk. Black horses were a rare sight in Rohan, for beasts of this hue tended to get stolen by orc raiding parties. These thefts were not just isolated to the Wold, where Rohan bordered upon the wild lands of Rhovanion. Even far to the west, black horses had a tendency to disappear, and villagers would often wake up to find that their animals had mysteriously vanished from the fields during the night. Because of all these incidents, some had begun to believe that black horses were bad luck, and whenever a mare bore a foal of shadowy coat, the peasants would mutter under their breaths and claim it was an ill omen.

The Shatrogar herdsmen allowed the caravanners and captives to approach the horse herd, although they were forbidden from touching the animals. Caravan guards maintained the line between the curious onlookers and the horses, keeping order as best they could. One of the herdsmen discussed the history of the Morrûk and extolled upon the virtues of the noble beasts. "Many of these fine steeds share ancestry with the best bloodlines of Rohan, for their sires and dams were given to Mordor as gestures of friendship by forward-thinking members of King Théoden's household…" The Rohirric women scowled and muttered under their breaths about the Mordorian version of the story, which they considered naught but the falsehoods of the enemy. Rohan had never paid any tribute of horses to Mordor, and there most certainly had never been any secret dealings between the royal household and the agents of Sauron! Yet some dared to wonder if there might not be a hint of truth to the Shatrogar's claims. Was it not said that Gríma, the King's advisor, had cast his lot in with the traitor Saruman? Perhaps in addition to filling Théoden's ears with poisonous words, the Wormtongue had also been selling off Rohan's horses to agents of Mordor…

Such somber matters of treachery and intrigue were not upon the minds of the twins, however. In fact, they had barely paid any attention to the words of the Shatrogar tribesman, for they were both excited beyond measure to see the ebony herd. Never since they had lived in Rohan had Elfhild and Elffled seen any horses which could compare with the Morrûk. The horses of the Haradrim, fleet and nimble, were a smaller breed, and though they were beautiful in their own way, they did not have the weight and might of the Mordorian horses. Elffled wished she could see a race between the Mordorian horses and the Haradric horses, but she doubted that she would ever see such an exhibition. The horses of Mordor seemed somehow unlike other horses anyway, but she could not quite decide what the difference could be. There was a certain spark and fire in their eyes which made her feel uncomfortable. It was as though they could see beyond the person's body and into their soul. She could swear that one of the mares was looking at her curiously, as though she were somehow reading her thoughts. When the mare nickered to her foal and it trotted up to her to nurse, Elffled dismissed the idea as foolish.

While Elffled was intrigued by the mares, it was the great black stallion that captured Elfhild's imagination. He kept tossing his head and gazing at her. He stood at a distance from the rest of the herd, and she found herself compelled to leave the safety of the crowd and venture closer. His deep eyes of jet were mysterious and exotic, like nothing she had ever seen in any other horse. Somehow she knew that he could see through the darkest of nights, and no matter how bleak or thick the darkness, the horse would guide his master safely. But there was more. She had the most bizarre notion that the horse could see things that people could not, and could sense beyond the pale of night and into the dark unknown. Though the day was quite mild and sunny, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck tingle, and a shiver raced down her spine. When she looked back at the stallion again, his eyes met hers, and he seemed to be laughing at her.

Trying to break the spell of the stallion's gaze, Elfhild turned quickly to her sister, who had followed her. "They are... unique, are they not?"

"I do not know if unique is the word I would use," Elffled answered, a pensive expression on her face. "Strange might be a better word for them. I know it is silly, but they scare me, and you know how I love horses."

"I do not know what we have to fear from them." Elfhild gave her sister an uncertain look. "Their herdsmen seem to have them safely under control. At least I hope they do."

A mischievous twinkle flashed in Elffled's eyes. "I dare you to walk up to the stallion and touch him."

Elfhild's eyes widened in surprise. "But the guards told us to stay away from the horses!"

Lowering her voice, Elffled gestured back towards the way they had come. "If you will notice, they seem more interested in the herd than they are in keeping the crowd under control."

Indeed, Elffled's words were true. At first the guards had attempted to keep the captives and caravanners organized in orderly rows, but given the fact that the men were just as eager to see the horses, their minds were not really upon their task. Soon the crowd had stayed from its set boundaries and formed a loose, semi-circular mass around the mares. The Shatrogar herdsmen found themselves busy exchanging tidings with guards and caravan laborers, flirting with doe-eyed Rohirric maidens, and shooing curious children away from the herd.

Elfhild worried her lower lip. It seemed that they had been forgotten by both the guards and their fellow captives. Surely there would be no harm in just touching the stallion? If he showed the least sign of aggression, she could run away screaming and claim that he had tried to attack her. It was silly to be afraid – these animals seemed so placid and docile, munching peacefully upon the green grass. In fact, she had the strangest sensation that the horse wanted her to touch him...

Taking another cautious look around, Elfhild slowly approached the stallion. No one seemed to notice her. The nearest guards were engrossed in conversation with their friends or flirting with the Rohirric women. She glanced around the field again and then slowly approached the immense black stallion. The beast towered over her, his great height making her feel like a small child looking up at her father's draft horse. But this was no farm animal meant to plow fields and haul heavy loads; this was a war horse bred for strength and speed. She gazed with awe at the muscles which rippled beneath his glossy black coat, and trembled to think of the innate power which this magnificent beast possessed. How terrifying it would be to be the enemy of this horse's rider! She had no doubt at all that this animal would gladly kill for his master.

As though in a trance, Elfhild reached out a trembling hand, hoping that the horse would let her stroke his muzzle. The steed tossed his head up and down a few times and then walked forward. His dark eyes met Elfhild's, and suddenly the world about her faded into a gray mist where she and the ebony steed were the only inhabitants. She had the feeling that as long as she stayed near the animal that no one could ever hurt her, and that if only she could sit on his back, he would carry her to a place where pain and sorrow did not exist. Blinking, she touched her forehead, disbelieving that any of this could be happening. The haze around her only thickened, and she wondered, as she had so many times since she had left Rohan, if she were going mad. Tinnuroch was just a horse, like any other... Wait, how did she know his name? Just as she reached out to touch his silken muzzle, her sister's merry laughter cut through the shrouding mists, and the vision passed.

"He likes you!" Elffled giggled, and then she exclaimed in delight as the huge beast playfully poked his nose against her shoulder. "What a handsome fellow you are!"

"Yes, he is," Elfhild whispered dreamily.

The sisters' delight was short lived, for one of the herdsmen had spied them. He turned his horse away from the herd and cantered straight for them. "What are you doing?!" he demanded angrily as he glared down at them. "You have profaned this sacred animal with your filthy hands! I should implore the wrath of the Great Eye to rain down from the heavens upon you, but better still I should have your eyes gouged out and your hands chopped off!" He raised his whip menacingly. "Now begone! Get away from him and stay away!"

The twins drew back, terrified by this threatening man. Giving them a disdainful look, he dug his spurs into his horse, and the beast leapt between the stallion and the girls. With his attention fully focused on the stallion, the change in the herdsman was remarkable. Speaking soothing and almost loving words, he attempted to coax the horse back to the herd. The stallion would have none of that, though, and flattening his ears, he pawed the ground menacingly, throwing up clods of dirt. Many other men would have fled in terror of the huge horse, but not this man, for he was Shatrogar, born to the service of the Dark Lord, and he did not quail. Quiet, calming words were again on his tongue, and he was able to meet the stallion's flashing eyes.

"Come, my beauty," the herdsman murmured comfortingly. "Return to your herd where you are the king."

And then the most bizarre thing happened. Elfhild was sure she could hear the stallion's thoughts: "Out of my way, you fool, for it is my desire to be near these girls!"

Elfhild's eyes went wide and she took a step backward in fear. Was she going mad? Had the woes of this terrible dark year been at last too much for her mind?

His eyes blazing with malice, the stallion bared his teeth and sank them into the thigh of the herdsman. The man screamed and grabbed his bleeding leg, and the whip dropped from his fingers. His spirit cowering with fear, he kicked his mount in the sides and galloped away to safety. Two more of the Shatrogar rode up, and since it was forbidden to harm one of the horses of Mordor, they only snapped their whips in the animal's direction. Fury boiled up in the stallion at this outrage, and he bolted forward. Rearing high on his hind legs, he lashed out at one man's horse with his front hooves. One steed, blood streaming from its wounded shoulder, nickered wildly in terror and bounded away.

Now only one Shatrogar remained to face the rage of the stallion. It was all he could do to control his own mount, for it was close to bolting. The horse sensed what the man could not, and knew that the stallion would kill any who challenged him. The man touched his spurs to his horse's sides and maneuvered it near the black stallion, trying to drive the unruly beast back to the herd. When his horse refused to get so close to the Mordorian horse, he kicked it harder, his spurs drawing blood. He drove his mount towards the stallion, but when the fiery steed bellowed at the other horse, the animal took the bit in its mouth and ran away, a far wiser creature than its rider.

All of the stallion's tormentors had been driven away, and for the time at least, the twins were alone with the magnificent animal. Elfhild was once again drawn to his dark eyes, and it seemed that she could understand what the proud stallion was thinking.

"Look at these fools!" He tossed his head in the herdsmen's direction. "They think they are my keepers, but in truth, I am theirs. All they have managed to do is terrify my mares and young ones, and I must go to them soon and assure them that all is well. But I have a bit of time for you."

"Elffled, the horse," Elfhild whispered, her throat dry. "Can – can you not hear him? He – he is talking to us!"

Elffled gave a quick, frightened nod. "Aye, I can hear him, too." She wondered if they should talk back to the horse. Perhaps it was not a good idea to encourage converse with a strange, talking animal. After all, they were in enough trouble as it was with these hostile tribesmen.

The stallion's expression seemed filled with sympathy, and both girls felt themselves being calmed by his presence. "I speak with you because you listen. Most of these fools are so absorbed with their rituals and traditions that their ears have become deaf to me, and so I deign not to speak with them." The majestic steed stepped closer to Elfhild and gently butted her in the chest, before turning to Elffled and nuzzling her hand. "Now let us show them who is the true master here!" He whinnied, a mirthful sound that made both girls smile.

"There are few whom I will deign to allow upon my back, for I am the royal steed of a great and mighty King. These Shatrogar, fools that they are, deserve to be taught a lesson. How simple it would have been if they had not insisted upon getting in the way when I merely wanted to greet you! Let us see their envious eyes when you have the honor of riding upon my back. That, though, poses a bit of a problem." Irritably, as though pondering some dilemma, the stallion swished his long, flowing tail from side to side, and then he tossed his head high in the air. "I must kneel, but lest that you mistake my intentions, never believe that I bow to you in obeisance. There is but one who will ever have that honor. Since I am so tall, I must make concessions to your height."

"Thank you, Master Horse," Elfhild murmured, her mind still muddled by bewilderment and disbelief.

Elffled gave a polite nod of her head. "We are indeed honored by your kindness."

Taking a deep breath, Elfhild gracefully tossed her leg over the horse's back. Her sister scampered on behind her, and they laughed as the stallion rose to his feet. There was not a face among the Shatrogar or the caravan laborers and captives that was not turned towards the great stallion and the two young women. Many in the crowd shook their heads and murmured. Such a thing was impossible! Who would have ever thought that two maidens of an enemy land would be able to get near one of the most powerful horses in Mordor, let alone ride him!

His mane and tail streaming in the wind, the great black stallion cantered around the assembled crowd. When each great hoof struck the ground, it seemed the very earth trembled. "Look at those fools; how they fear me!" The horse nickered, and the twins could hear laughter in that sound. "I have humored them, letting them believe that they had the mastery. But look at them now! They are cowering in fear!" The horse gave a bound forward and moved into a gallop, and the girls were riding upon the wind. It seemed as though he were flying, and they were flying with him to a magical place where they had never been before. Elfhild thought for a certainty that she was going mad. None of this could be happening. Perhaps it was all a dream, but if it were, it was a dream she never wanted to end.

More herdsmen had gathered in the field to watch the spectacle, their eyes wide with shock. The stallion galloped in three great sweeping circles around the crowd before returning to the place where the girls had mounted him. He gave his tormentors a disdainful glance, and waited until the twins had alighted from his back. Elfhild and Elffled patted the stallion on his massive shoulder, and he turned to them, nudging them gently in the chest. Then with a great nicker, he looked towards his mares and bounded away to join them.

"This is fell witchcraft from the West!" screamed the closest herdsman, shaking his fist in the air.

"These infidels should die for this outrage!" another man cried, drawing his sword.

The spell of enchantment broken, Elfhild and Elffled found themselves surrounded by angry Shatrogar. The girls cowered in fear as they looked up at the faces of the scowling tribesmen. The most terrifying among them was the shaman, his bare chest cut and carved with ritualistic signs. His head was bare of any covering, and when he moved his head, his greasy waist-length hair swayed like the strings on an old dirty mop. There seemed to be endless amulets and charms about his neck, and he held high the horse-headed staff, the mark of his profession. Scowling, he muttered incantations that seemed to border between the obscene and the profane.

The shaman was the undisputed spiritual leader of the tribe, and all the Shatrogar deferred to him, keeping their eyes lowered respectfully when he spoke. "These heathens have committed unspeakable crimes against one of the lords of the Morrûk," he proclaimed dourly. "Such a heinous crime is punishable by death!"

"Kill the infidels!" one man cried out, and the other men took up his cry. "Kill them! Kill them! Kill them!" The fervor of their rage blazed as hot as the fire of Arien when, in her tedium, she sends flames of fire into the Void to frighten Melkor.

The shaman looked at the twins, his eyes gleaming with a feral light. "With their great beauty, these two would make suitable sacrifices for the Great One. Seize them!" he shrieked, raising up his staff.

Screaming, Elfhild and Elffled clutched each other. Terror filled their minds and swirled about their bodies like the winds of a fell storm. They were falling into a chasm of dread, down, down, into fear as dark as night. They struggled to breathe, they struggled to see, struggled to think. Was this the shaman's doing? Was he using some sort of fell sorcery to curse them? But how could any mortal man wield such power? They were powerless to withstand the darkness which crept into their minds, seeping up like black water. Falling to their knees, the girls cowered upon the ground, their hands clawing at their hair.

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