"I thought he was your..." the groom trailed off and began to shiver. "Please don't.... please don't put me in the pit."
"I will not harm you, child," I said. "Tell me everything that happened."
The day before, while Gimli and I had been exploring Orthanc, an Elf had come and stolen my horse. Glower accepted him as a rider, and they left with Aeglos as a prize. The Elf had worn a green patch over his face.
Beren. Again, Beren. He was haunting me. I thanked the child and went on my way, I couldn't concern myself with hauntings while the taint of Saruman's designs lingered in Isengard.
The rifts were organized by function, so I sought out the "pens." There were no forges here, and fewer fires. The sides of the pit had been cored like a honeycomb, and wooden scaffolding allowed access.
As I descended, I refused to look inside the cells, or hear the cries of those that they contained. There were Orcs living in a makeshift camp at the center of the pit, but they were prisoners as well. Standing watch was a different breed, a warrior caste that made the natural Orcs appear an amusing parody.
These were not like Graz'zt, who had been closer to the purity of Elves, these had been bred with men. The Uruk-Hai.
"Who is foremost here?" I called, reaching the floor of the pit.
One of the Uruk-Hai guffawed when he saw me. "Elf whore. I will put you in a cage." He swaggered to where I waited, waving a crude falchion in my face.
"Did Saruman send you as a present?" He leered, so like a human man, sharing their vices but with none of their potential for nobility.
He tried to touch me and I broke his hand. Howling, he swung the falchion and I caught it between my palms, snapped the blade and jabbed the point in his stomach. Before he could recover, I struck his nose at an angle, transforming it into a cartilage missile that thrust upward into his brain. He was no longer in my way.
"Now who is foremost?" I asked.
"Who are you?" Asked another of their number. He wisely did not raise his blade.
"Undomiel," I said, "the new master of Orthanc. You may call me Lady, or Mistress, for if you live beyond this hour it will because you serve a purpose for me."
I had to kill three more of them, but these encounters were decisive enough to make my point. Even more so than normal Orcs, the Uruk-Hai respected strength, and after these displays they liked me better than they had the wizard.
Something in their gruff admiration pleased me, though I wanted to feel nothing toward them. They were bastards and abominations.
The Uruk-Hai, like the Uruks of Mordor, were a mixed breed. The Uruks had come about naturally, or as naturally as they could, under the selective pressures of Sauron in years past. The Uruk-Hai were new, the prime achievement of Saruman the Bold. Instead of a strain of humanity slowly transformed into servants of the Shadow, these were true hybrids.
The Orcs in their pen were captive fathers, laughed at, belittled, but necessary. Uruk-Hai matured swiftly, but they were sterile and all male. In the cells that lined the pit were human women, many of them with child.
"If you would serve me," I said, "fall upon your fathers. I have no use for them."
Orcish screams followed. It was the least I could do for what had occured in this living hell, but the children, however abominable, were not to blame.
The women I freed and sent into the tower until I could decide what to do about them in the long term. Half of them had been driven mad by their torments, or seemed so, and Narya alone could not ease so many agonies. Not on my hand.
Once they were safely ensconced in Orthanc I took my new followers from rift to rift to play out much the same petty displays of power. Each group had its champion who assayed a claim to leadership now that Saruman was done, sometimes more than one. The Uruk-Hai were warriors bred, and not without ambition, but they came to revere the bearer of two rings.
All told, there were well over four hundred Uruk-Hai in Isengard, and hundreds more on errands for Saruman who would have to be apprised of the new arrangement once they returned. There were more Orcs as well, but I would suffer none of them to live after what I had seen, the pity I had felt in Moria was forgotten.
After a great deal of strutting and single combat, the Uruk-Hai elected new Captains for me to command directly. The first of their number was Grummpsh, a hulking, one eyed brute who seemed to accept me as a kind of equal despite the differences in our breeding.
"You have been preparing for war," I said, "and for now you will continue to do so."
"We will kill many men for you, Mistress," Grummpsh promised.
"That you will not do, unless they are men who have aligned themselves with the Dark Lord. It is Orcs and trolls you will kill, and as to that, I have some thoughts."
Grummpsh listened, for he did not care who he fought, as long as there would
be fighting. There would be no more unions of Orc and human woman as long as I lived, but those Uruk-Hai that already existed would serve a purpose.
With the Balrog gone, Moria was held by a gang of Orcs, formidable in their own right, but nothing compared to the new strain. I intended to send a message of peace to Graz'zt and see how he responded, but in the end, I would cleanse Moria myself if I had to. Gimli would certainly be pleased by the prospect.
The Dwarves of Lonely Mountain could be made into allies as well. A Moria occupied by the Enemy was a risk to all the West. Retaking it would be a boon to the light in dark times.
Back in the tower, I found Goldberry helping the women in ways that I could not. Whatever special quality she possessed was greater in its manner than any ring, and I was no longer surprised that Saruman had gone to such lengths to try to possess her. She was wary of me, but no longer considered me a demon. At least we could speak.
She had been singing.
"There is a land, that once I knew
where nightingales, sing all day long
where rivers run with honeydew
and every word, reminds of song
and in that place, our pain is gone
our hunger and our suffering
across the amaranthine lawn
I see those friends, but once I knew
Este and Lorien, a wooded isle they call their home
the homely house of Lorellin
Este and Lorien
one day I too shall call it home"
This song stirred in me a memory of Celebrian, my mother, and the tales of the Valar she had shared when I was young. Chairs and blankets and pillows had been brought to the entrance hall, as most of the women did not desire to be separated from each other and most were in no shape to contend with the egregious staircase of Orthanc, no doubt a defensive measure in and of itself.
They reached for me as I passed as if I were a holy relic. Their thanks and praise rang strangely in my ears, filling me with uneasiness.
When Goldberry finished singing there were tears all over the hall, but my eyes were quiet. She nodded at me, and motioned that we proceed to an adjoining chamber to speak.
"You are still wearing the ring," she said.
For a moment, I thought she meant Narya, but of course it was the Ring of Angmar that held her gaze. The icy sensations were gone, leaving behind them a comforting numbness.
"I am," I said, making no move to take it off. It was mine. I had won it, and in any case, I had Narya to counterbalance its more deleterious influences.
She did not pursue the issue.
"I need to help these women," she said.
"Allow me the resources of the tower, and when they are well enough, I will take them home with me to Bombadil. If there is any place in this world that can heal the hurts they have suffered, it is with my husband."
"What about you?" I asked.
She touched her stomach, barely showing, but I had sensed thenchild as soon as I saw her on the pinnacle.
"Why did he..."
"Rape me?" There was a mix of emotions in her eyes, sadness, and resignation, but also brighter shares of defiance and joy I could not understand. "He felt our union was made true by consummation, which was plainly wrong, for in the eyes of the High I am bound forever with my Tom.”
“But he also wanted to create something new, as he was doing in the pits. Saruman saw that all the old things in the world were dying and he raged against it, he hated the thought that one day Middle Earth would be a place of Men only, and all their transient dreams. He imagined that if he and I had a child together, if I gave birth to a new immortal, that would be a way to wind the clock again. For his mind was full of clocks."
It unsettled me to hear how similar some of my own thoughts had been to Saruman's, but I had read as much in his journal.
"What do you think?" I asked. "Will your child be like you, or like him?"
"Neither," she smiled an impossible smile, "I hope." And then her face went somewhere far away. "Tom and I had wanted a child, but we were not able to conceive. I will never call what has been done to me a blessing, but maybe some good will come of it, and not just for me." She touched my arm.
"It's not too late for you."
I pulled away, not sure what she meant, and unwelcoming of any possible interpretation. Did she mean that I might still have a child?
"I am going to be leaving soon," I said. "I will trust you to help look after this place until I return."
"For as long as I can," she agreed.
Sam was playing host as best he could, and chef. Tark was helping him, and I informed Sam in the manservant's presence that if Tark bothered any of the women Sam was to kill him and serve him as the next meal. Neither of them took that very well.
I was glad the Hobbit had something to keep him busy other than worrying over Frodo, as I intended to leave him behind when I went.
Apart from managing the Uruk-Hai, I wanted the next days to be absorbed with mastering the palantir stone. They were far from perfect instruments, for though they could see all that was not concealed they didn't make any object in particular easier to find.
I knew the general direction that Aragorn and his companions would be found in, and I was forced to search it region by region, beginning with a broad swath and focusing in on movement wherever it appeared. In doing this, I learned the movements of Orcs and Uruk-Hai as well, who travelled in packs large enough that they were easy to spot. I saw also the wild horses of Rohirrim, and beasts of various kinds.
For the first time I cursed Aragorn's skill as a ranger in not being observed. It seemed a wonder Saruman had followed us as well as he had.
The task was galling, but the stone began to communicate with me, murmuring hints and advice as to its fuller use. These I questioned at first, but there was no sense of an invasion, and it was no more unusual that the stone should have some form of intelligence than a ring should.
But it was not the stone.
Seven had been the Palantiri, until by war and treachery they were lost. I did not know the particular histories of each, for we did not think much on the wars of Numenor in Rivendell any longer. But I knew there had been a stone in Minis Tirith, and her sister Minas Ithil, and that Minis Ithil had fallen to the Shadow to become Minis Morgul.
These facts are obvious in retrospect, but the lore of the stones had never been my interest. When one stone was active, it was possible for another stone to communicate with it, even observe what it observed. With the High Stone gone, none of them were masters to the others, but there was a danger still.
It was in his use of the Palantir that Saruman had first opened himself to the Dark Lord and begun to be used by him. In my haste to find Aragorn, and my overconfidence in being a bearer of two rings, I was not as cautious as I should have been.
It was as if another hand guided my own, one with more knowledge and experience. My field of vision narrowed, and I began to follow barely perceptible cues, barely more than intuition as to the angle of the slanting sun or the placement of a tree branch, until I found them.
They still traveled on foot, and Legolas was fully with them again. Frodo, pale and serious, was examining the Ring in the glow of twilight rays. Boromir was gesturing, I could not hear them, but he seemed to be speaking of the homeland they approached. Making good time, they would be in Minas Tirith in a week, safe from bands of roving Orcs, and whatever else Sauron had sent to foul the road. Saruman had sent no one after them, my ruse to that extent had been a success. I allowed myself to hope.
"Arwen..." It came as a whisper in the back of my mind.
"Who is there?" I responded in kind.
"Arwen...we have had such a remarkable partnership. I do not wish it to end, but I fear you will be wroth with me."
"Who is this?" I asked again.
"You know who I am. Annatar, the Gift Giver."
"Sauron." The instincts of battle flooded my body, but I held fast. "I do not fear you."
"Fear me? Heavens forfend. I have never wanted you to fear me, Arwen. Rather, I have sought to show you my true self. To invite you to my home."
"The tower of brass. You sent me those dreams?"
"Sent, yes...but you could not have seen them if they had not been what you wanted to see. Curious Arwen. Life seeking. So unlike your kin, who dream sweet dreams of death. Would you like to see what we have wrought together?"
"What do you mean?"
My sight had faded as we conversed, and now I saw a mountain. Winged creatures set out from its smoking cap, not dragons or drakes, though surely of that fell family. Hell-Hawks, they had neither feather nor quill, and leathery skin stretched between the bony fingers of their flying hands.
Long necked, and sharp beaked, they carried their rider grudgingly, black cloaked figures to whom the harsh air of the skies over Mordor meant nothing. Eight of them set out from Orodruin, Mount Doom, and I knew the wraith that led them was Khamul.
"What have you done?"
"It is not what I have done, but we, together. Losing Gandalf in the mines, overthrowing a pretender to my power, sending the Ringbearer on the open road in the kingdom closest to mine. You have proven quite the ally, Undomiel."
"I am no friend to you."
"I will see you overthrown."
"Is that truly what you wish? I see greatness in you, Arwen. You are not as other Elves, looking only backward. You could be so much more."
"And you are so much less."
I broke contact with the Palantir, cursing my witless error. I had led Sauron to the Ring.
Down from the tower I all but sprinted, calling out to Sam and Gimli to stay and watch Isengard on my behalf. There was too much I had left undone. I found Goldberry on the bottom floor and pulled her up and to my side.
"I have to go," I said, "the Ring is in danger. But you cannot trust the Uruk-Hai when they are out of my sight. Keep the tower shut at all times, with one eye on Tark as well. I'm sorry, but there isn't any time."
"Funny, isn't it," Goldberry said. "That millennia should pass by for the likes of you and I, only to end so short of time?"
I didn't know what to say to that.
"Good luck," she said, and kissed my cheek. "You have the blessings of the River's daughter."
"Thank you," I don't know why, but it meant a great deal to me for her to give her blessing. I stepped away.
"And don't forget," she called after me, "you're still wearing the ring!"
In the stables I found the same dirty, terrified groom as before, and had him help ready three horses for me, which was all we had. The Uruk-Hai did not use them, these three were spares for messengers.
None of them was a substitute for Carfax or Glower, but together they would allow me to travel almost without pause. It was my best hope of overtaking Aragorn before the Ringwraiths fell upon them from the air.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to see those Hell-Hawks in the flesh, larger than any bird and fouler than any beast. Their talons would scoop up a Hobbit without difficulty, and take him with them into the broken skies of Mordor.
Both rings burned with my determination, though each in its own fashion, and the road was open wide before me.
Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.
I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.
While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.
I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.