The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Twenty-nine
Midnight Flight
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Had it not been for the cloud of gloom which rose over the Mountain, the night would have been one filled with beauty, touched with the velvety caress of darkness. Far above the dismal miasma, there still existed loveliness and tranquility, untouched by the Dark Lord's malice. The stars which scintillated in the heavens above proclaimed that magic time meant for lovers, romance and tender emotions. However, neither the gentle cooings and sighings of lovers in the first flush of love, nor the furtive trystings and ardent love battles of adultery's elicit liaisons had been on Skri's mind when he had set out upon his journey to Barad-dûr. The Eighth Nazgûl had been entrusted with the routine delivery of mail from Barad-dûr to Nurn, and his mind was solely upon that obligation. Loikhâl, his fell beast, a large male, was a reliable mount, and so Skri rode leisurely in the saddle, one leg draped over the pommel as he carried out his monotonous duty.

The silence of the star-studded night was broken only by the sounds of Loikhâl's steadily beating wings, snorts, and the noisy rumblings of his extensive digestive tract. The solitude was not oppressive to Skri, for he preferred to be alone. His absence from the hustle and excitement of Barad-dûr gave him the opportunity to contemplate. As the beast carried him on his way ever closer to the garden lands of Nurn, Skri brought his silver flute out of its leather case and serenaded the memory of his dead love, a dark-haired, ivory skinned Gondorian lady who had long ago slipped away into the hands of Eru. He took in a deep breath and blew through the flute's chamber, drawing from the instrument a melody of deep, soulful longing. The flute sang joyfully as Skri recalled his lover's beautiful heart-shaped face, her long, lustrous hair which hung to her hips, her plump, desirable body, the loving glow of her eyes when she saw him coming towards her, and the graceful way she moved.

As Skri relived the nights when he had held his dead love close to his heart and tenderly pressed his cool lips against hers, his flute gave voice to his bittersweet reflections. The melody was filled with magic, and should there be any listener, he would have heard what he wanted to hear – the mournful wind wailing through the trees, the song of a lonely night bird, the gurgling of a pristine stream. Skri sighed deeply, tempted to sing a mournful dirge of his deep yearning for her. He dared not do that, though, lest someone hear his anguished keening from the ground and know of his presence above the cloud.

He remembered his despair as day by day he perceived that her soul was slipping away from him. Though he devised one sustaining spell after another, his great magic could not transfuse her dying body and give her eternal life... at least not without a terrible price which she did not wish to pay. Then when at last he could no longer hold her to the earth, she had died in his arms, gasping out her undying love for him in her last breaths. After she had closed her eyes for the last time, Skri laid down his flute, refusing to look at it. He had even forsaken his great pipe organ, which took up a whole chamber in his quarters.

As she lay in final repose upon the marble bier, Skri had picked her up, embracing her, holding her in his arms and kissing her lips. Stripping the diamond drenched shroud from her beautiful body, his long fingers had caressed her closed eyelids, her pallid lips, the pale ruby tips of her nipples, her white breasts, the contour of her blanched stomach, the dark sepulcher between her thighs, and the ivory columns of her legs. Choking out an anguished groan, he fell into silence and climbed onto the bier beside her. He willed himself to fall into a death-mimicking state of rigid torpor. Not until the Morgul Lord had finally commanded him with a harsh spell some years later did Skri awaken from his self-imposed death trance.

At moments like this, the flute became his anguished soul. As his mind filled with pain and bitterness, the song plummeted to the depths of sorrow, wailing in a dirge of mourning. One drop after another of his argent tears splashed upon the surface of the flute. His fingers resting immobile on the instrument, he softly sang,

Thy silent lips, pale rubies in an ivory setting,
No longer sigh and murmur thy love in my ear
As when the blood flowed living through thy veins
But you, oh my adored one, in death are just as dear

I draw away the silver cloth bedewed with diamonds
And behold the beauty of thy form preserved from strife
I marvel at the bewitchment that denies the worm
And lie with thee upon thy bier in death as I did in life

As Skri composed one poem after another about the joys of necrophilia with his dead lover, he recited his verses to Loikhâl. The creature listened complacently, never commenting as together they journeyed through the night over the ashen plain of Gorgoroth and the sandy desert of Lithlad.

While Skri had been versing eloquent with his poems, unknown to him another dark winged beast was aloft in the skies and approaching him and his beast. Earlier that night, Rut, the Sixth Nazgûl, had turned his fell beast loose so that it might have the opportunity to hunt and feed before morning. The creature, a female, was in a state of aroused anxiety, and she ached to be sated, appeased of her urgent desires to mate. Her heat cycle was at its peak, and she was exuding all the fetid amatory odors common to her kind. Allowing her to have the freedom of the night was a relief to the Sixth Nazgûl. While her smell was an intoxicating one to the male of the species, Rut's sensitive nostrils found the stench nauseating.

The female screamed her need into the skies, and quivered as she caught the scent of a male beast. Her nostrils flared wide and red as she dipped her wings lower, adjusting her course as she followed his rank odor. Beating her wings at a furious pace, she called out a bleating moan for relief. Skri's male heard the sound and bellowed out a reply, telling the ripe female that he was randy and ready. Closing in on Skri and his beast, she flew down below them, trying to entice Loikhâl to follow her. As he caught her lusty mating scent, reeking of decaying flesh and the stench of a fetid swamp, he trumpeted frantically.

"Damn it, Loikhâl!" Skri growled. "We do not have time for such nonsense!" His beast groaned mournfully and then suddenly surged forward in a totally unexpected burst of energy. Unprepared for the rapid acceleration, Skri almost let his flute slip from his fingers. He must not lose this flute, for it was too dear to him! Tearing open the flap on one of his saddlebags, he thrust the flute inside. There was no time to secure it closed, however, for Loikhâl was almost completely out of control, and Skri needed to exert his will to bring him back under his power. Gurgling and desperately bleating out her mating call, the female flew under Skri's aroused beast. The sound must have had a great erotic appeal for Loikhâl, for with a strong jerk of his head, he yanked the reins out of Skri's hand.

Shocked by Loikhâl's swiftness and determination, Skri was unable to concentrate his will upon his mount. The Nazgûl was momentarily addled and disoriented, his mind disbelieving what was happening. Then as the female dropped in altitude, moving towards the earth, Loikhâl followed her, thundering out cries boasting of his potency. One hand clutching the pommel, Skri reached forward, grabbing for the reins, but they were hopelessly beyond his reach.

The creature was going far too fast, and Skri's position in the saddle was none too stable. When the beast gave a wicked twist to the right in pursuit of the female, Skri felt himself sliding sideways out of the saddle. "Damn! Damn! Damn!" Skri shouted. Clinging desperately with one hand, his legs dangling in the air, Skri watched as the ground drew ever closer. He must not let himself panic; he must direct his will towards getting back in the saddle, he told himself over and over. Finally he was able to claw his way up the saddle and toss his leg over the cantle.

Just in time, too, for at that moment, the female flopped over in midair, doing a slow circular twist, and Loikâl copied her movement in the aerial mating dance, flying as close to her as he could. As the two beasts cavorted in mid-air, the flap on the unsecured saddlebag flew open, and all of its contents plummeted to the ground below.

"My flute! My flute!" Skri shrieked as he watched his beloved flute disappear into the darkness.

The flute had not been the only item contained within the saddlebag. In addition to some other personal effects, the satchel containing all of the mail that Skri was supposed to deliver had been in there as well. Skri felt his heart sink along with his stomach.

Righting herself out of the somersault, the female soared skyward with Loikhâl right behind her. One bellowing roar after the other tore out of the randy male's mouth, and the female answered him with murmuring coos. Loikhâl stretched his neck forward, his huge maw opening as he tried to bite the female's rump. The she-beast twisted her body over suddenly, rolling into another somersault, before straightening her course and gliding towards the earth. Loikhâl gasped and panted, thundered and roared, as he swooped down after her.

"You think I am going to let you mate her right here in the air, do you not, my handsome, roguish Loikhâl? You foolish beast! Save your nuptial dance for another day!" Skri shrieked, sounding much like a beast himself. His lips curling back ghoulishly, the Nazgûl directed his will to the mind of his lusty beast and punished him with a bedeviling vision of torment. As Loikhâl screamed out his terror, dark illusions filled his mind – he was lying upon the ground wounded. Ringed about by other fell beasts who gathered around him like giant vultures, the creature whimpered piteously as his eyes were gouged out and great, ripping teeth tore his flesh to pieces.

Once again under Skri's power, Loikhâl became docile, bendable to his master's will. Skri tapped him on one shoulder, the signal for the beast to rise skyward. As the immense creature flapped his wings in great, powerful strokes, the female rose to fly side by side with him, grunting out an appeal to her lover to fly away with her, where they might copulate in peace away from the Nazgûl.

Turning his eyes towards the female, Skri began to chant, the volume of his voice neither rising nor lowering, the pitch the same, monotonously intoning over and over the same arcane words. The female's mouth burst open in a horrifying wail as her body shuddered in pain. Loikhâl cried out in sympathy, but Skri once again filled his mind with a twisting, agonizing scene of his still living body skewered with a metal stake and roasting slowly over a fire. Orcs danced and sang around the gruesome spit as Loikhâl felt the fat running out from the pores in his body and sizzling in the flames.

When Skri had finished chanting, Loikhâl, his simple mind racked with pain and suffering, glanced at the female and saw her in a far different light. No longer did she seem a desirable lady, emitting the intoxicating fragrance of decaying intestines. Instead, she had turned into a huge, old monster of an amorous male who first roared at him, belching out flames which singed the first layer of his horny scales, and then tried to mount him. Revolted and terrified, Loikhâl hissed out a rebuke to her and then ignored her completely until finally she gave up and flew away in the opposite direction.

Skri chuckled softly. Of course, he had not transformed the female into a male. She suffered only from the Spell of Undesirability and Loathing. No male would near her until the spell wore off, and she would have to endure her urgent need to mate. Within the next few days, the bewitchment would pass, but by then, the female would no longer be in heat.

Smiling with gruesome perversity, Skri whispered ominously, "Do that again, Loikhâl, and I will send you to Mandos. You can entertain the elves in the Halls of Waiting with your antics and aerial acrobatics." Spurring Loikhâl in the sides, Skri felt him shudder as the beast groaned pathetically. "You have made me late, and, damn your recalcitrant hide, you caused me to lose both the mail and my flute! Now I must find them!"


Skri spent the rest of the night scouring the countryside for the lost mail satchel and the flute. Fortunately, none of the missives were urgent, mostly accusation orders for supplies and labor, but the smooth operation of the gears and cogs of Mordor required the timely delivery of such directives. The flute was precious to him, and he was loath to lose it. The rest of the contents of the saddlebag were immaterial – a stylus and a wax tablet for taking notes, and a small pocketknife – and it would cause him little grief if he could not recover them. Stopping every now and then to take a deep, long sniff of the air, he hoped to catch the elusive scent of his belongings, but it seemed that even the wind was against him. Another storm was brewing, and the breeze blew this way and that, rustling the tall grass of the steppe.

The Eighth Nazgûl was uncertain of his precise location, but he knew it to be somewhere in northern Nurn. On his right was the inky ribbon of the River Mormilom, its dark surface as smooth as a scrying mirror. He saw the lights of a city upon the eastern horizon, and estimated that he was close to Rul. Though the skies were still black as pitch, he sensed that morning was coming, and had it not been for the brooding clouds which filled the heavens, the eastern horizon would be growing lighter with the advent of dawn. After backtracking the path of his beast, he at last located the place where his flute had fallen. The instrument was in a sorry condition, damaged and bent out of shape. The skilled craftsman who had made the flute was long dead, but perhaps after studying the manufacturing of the instrument long enough, Skri might be able to come up with a spell that could mend it. Still, he was not certain that this feat could ever be accomplished, for the man who had made it had put part of his soul into the silver, and so the flute was almost a living entity.

With one of his objectives out of the way, Skri resumed his search for the mail satchel, his fell beast lumbering behind him. The wind began to whip around them, and he pulled his hood down lower on his head. A sudden flash of lightning transformed the blackness of the night into brilliant white, and he squinted his eyes against the searing glare. Then all was dark again, although the afterimage burnt into his vision, and in the corner of his left eye, a scintillating scotoma resembling an illuminated checkerboard pulsed and flickered. Hissing to himself, the wraith closed his left eye and pressed on through the driving wind as the crack of thunder shook the earth beneath him. The heavens opened up, sending down a great torrent of rain which pelted him with a fury and left his emaciated frame drenched to the bone.

And then he saw his mail satchel, the flash of lightning reflecting upon its silvery buckle: the strap was caught upon a piece of driftwood which had become lodged upon a rocky shoal in the River Mormilom.

"Challenges, Loikhâl, why must there always be challenges?" Skri mused out loud as he studied the dilemma he faced. At least the scroll tubes contained within the satchel would be safe, for they had been enchanted with many spells of protection, including a waterproofing spell. But how could he, a wraith who was greatly averse to water, retrieve the satchel from a river that was rapidly overflowing from its banks in the middle of a rainstorm? Even though this region of Nurn was fairly arid, the rivers and wadis were prone to flash floods which could be deadly for mortals, and terribly unpleasant for those who were neither living nor dead. Skri's temples were pounding as he put his hand to his forehead and wept. He could only imagine the punishments which lay in store for him…

He felt a delicate touch upon the back of his neck, where Loikhâl was licking him with his forked tongue. The beast burbled out in sympathy and would have laid his head upon his master's shoulder, would his weight not have crushed him.

"Go away, foolish beast!" Skri closed his eyes tightly and growled. "Leave me to my misery!" The tongue left his neck and Loikhâl burbled consolingly.


Elfhild and Elffled felt, rather than saw, the approach of the stranger who had quietly entered the camp.

His coming was as a sudden storm which sweeps in upon a fell wind and darkens the heavens with heavy black clouds. The irate tribesmen who had been so busy cursing the twins and screaming for their blood abruptly fell silent, as though they had been stricken dumb. The unexpected silence was deafening; even the flies and cicadas had ceased their incessant buzzing. Who had the power to command such reverence from even the creatures of nature?

Terrified to look but equally terrified to remain unknowing, the twins hesitantly lifted their faces from the ground. Their heads lowered in respect, the throng of tribesmen parted to allow the newcomer to approach. The Shatrogar may have regarded the stranger with the reverence reserved for a king, but the man's manner of dress was hardly what one would consider befitting royalty. His weather-beaten garments were quite simple and austere: a cloak with a tattered edge, a long tunic without adornment, loose-fitting trousers, plain leather gloves, and knee-high boots with pointed toes that turned up slightly. The only unusual thing about his appearance was that the hood of his cowl was pulled down low over his face to obscure his features. And he was dressed entirely in black, from his head to his toes. In fact, his raiment was so dark that he resembled a shadow that walked upon two legs, a silhouette come to life. Although most soldiers and officials in Mordor sported black livery, there was something disconcerting about this man, something sinister and inscrutable.

It was then that the twins realized that the unremitting terror which sapped their will and left them cowering on the ground came not from the shaman, but from this strange man who seemed to be formed out of darkness itself instead of flesh and blood…

Through a veil of fear, the girls were dimly aware of the words that were spoken between the tribesmen and the stranger. He said that his name was Lord Skrishau of the Nazgûl, and that he had overheard the commotion coming from the camp. Over the course of their travels, the twins had heard whispered rumors of the Nine Lords of Mordor. They were the highest-ranking men in the Land of Shadow, second only to the Dark Lord Himself, and they were greatly feared even by their own allies. It was said that they were sorcerers who had unlocked the secrets of immortality and now dwelt in the nebulous realm between the living and the dead. So terrible was their reputation that few men in the caravan even wished to speak of them. And now Elfhild and Elffled found themselves about to have a confrontation with one of these dread lords.

They were doomed.

"What is the cause of this uproar?" Lord Skrishau asked, glancing down at the cringing girls. By this time, they were mindlessly sobbing with their faces pressed into the dirt, their bodies quivering with paroxysms of terror.

"My lord, these impudent foreign women rode the sacred stallion," the Shatrogar shaman proclaimed with dire solemnity. "We were about to consign them to the Void, where they will atone for their sins by serving as the Great One's handmaidens." The men around him nodded their heads and murmured angrily.

"As noble an honor as serving the Great One may be, death is a gift, an end of suffering," the wraith remarked, a wistful tone to his voice. "If you really wished to punish them, you would keep them alive. Should these miscreants not suffer for the heinous crime which they have committed?"

The tribesmen looked uncertainly amongst themselves, but the shaman was adamant. "But, my lord, no man may ride the King's Steed, save for the King himself! The penalty is death!"

"Indeed, no man is permitted to ride the King's Steed, although from the looks of these two, I am not certain if that stipulation applies." There was a note of droll morbidity to Skri's voice, as though he were recalling some private jest. "Executing them would be a mercy, and their spirits would cry, 'O happy to be dead!' once their final breaths exited their bodies. Can you not think of a more fitting punishment for their transgressions?"

"My lord, state your command, and we shall obey." The shaman respectfully lowered his head.

Skri folded his left arm over his chest and used it to support his right elbow as he thoughtfully stroked his unseen chin with a gloved hand. "Every thrall has a use, and I currently have great need of a thrall to complete a task for me," he explained, gesturing with a nonchalant wave of his right hand. "I will take these two off your hands and they shall cause you no more annoyance. Once they have completed their quest, consider their debt to the Shatrogar paid in full."

"Very well. I place these insufferable women into your custody," the shaman proclaimed, having no desire to provoke a confrontation with one of the Nazgûl. "Let justice be done!"

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