The ride was a swift moving dream, with bright and dark rushing by in trailing streams and the sound of the wind mingling with the heartbeat of hooves and my own breath loud in an inner space of silence. I let my reckoning of time fade and my sense of the horses and their limits guide their rests and mine.
For the most part I cycled the three in a steady run made endless by the gentle proddings of Narya which kept their legs strong and their hearts tireless. At one point we did come to a stop in an empty town and an empty house on a hill. The people had been driven out or killed, and there were signs of Orcs who returned in the darkness for the scent of my horses but fled when I revealed myself.
There was nothing I could do for the people of that place, wherever they had gone, but it reminded me that war was spreading farther and faster than ever I would have guessed in Rivendell. It was not so long since we set out from my father's house, and already it seemed the world had changed.
Light kindled in the sky, and when the horses were watered we set out headlong again. Heavy in the bags was the Palantir, for Sauron already had the knowledge from me he needed but I still lacked familiarity with this land. If I had been flying atop a Hell-Hawk, or wearing the skin of an eagle, I may not have needed it.
So during every rest I would set the stone on the ground with a compass to fix its direction and seek them out. I could not always find them, but my skill was increasing and I knew I was travelling on a path that would meet with theirs. The sooner the better.
It was the third day when I saw them. They were easy to pick out, two Men and an Elf and a Hobbit with no mounts. One of mine had been lamed and I'd left it behind. The other two were well lathered when Legolas turned and pointed to me riding down on them from a hill.
They did not see the shapes in the sky, broad wings too large even for the great eagles of stories. I suddenly wished I had thought to ask Goldberry to call Eagles for me with her song as she had done for Mithrandir.
"Arwen!" It was Frodo who called out to me. No doubt he wanted to know why I wasn't with Sam. He had not seen the horrors yet.
I came among them in a rush, shouting and pointing at the sky. They followed my gesticulations and at first did not comprehend my consternation. The Hell-Hawks were not much like any other beast, but the wraiths screamed from their high perches, and their voices were unmistakeable, so like the nightmares they usually road.
Legolas raised his bow and began to fire as soon as they were in range, but the reptilian mounts were at home in the air, and twisted to avoid being pinged. Aragorn and Boromoi readied other swords, having no other means of resisting. I grabbed Frodo under his arms and flung him atop one of the horses.
"If they come too near, you run." I told him. "Ride to Gondor if you must, but if that way is blocked you can turn back to Isengard, for Saruman is no more and Sam and Gimli await you there."
"My Sam's alright?" Frodo's wide eyes became liquid.
"Yes, he's fine. He's cooking for dozens now."
"Saruman is gone?" Aragorn regarded me with astonishment. "How can this be?"
There was no opportunity for explanations, for the Ring Wraiths were fast upon us. Legolas's arrows struck true as the beasts approached, but their scaly hides resisted all but the most fortunate shot. I opened wide my second sight, so that the mortal realm became more like fog, and spirits shone all the starker.
Khamul was obvious, the darkest and most bright of the eight remaining wraiths, with his curved dagger ready to throw. The others were interchangeable to me.
One dove low to snatch Frodo from the saddle and I moved to stop him. Throwing up both my arms, I called out my mother's name, and with it the love and the sorrow of her fate and mine was brought forth in a barrier before me.
The Hell-Hawk crashed as if it had struck a wall in truth, instead of only in the mind, its talons dug into the earth and one of its long wings cracked when it failed to catch itself. The Rider was flung free and came at me with a Nazgul blade.
"Back!" I cried in the tongue of the High Elves, "back into the pit from whence you came!"
Narya flashed, for its essence was anathema to the wraiths, and this one retreated while is mount flailed in anguish. Aragorn slipped between us and with a single cut from Narsil severed the long neck of the beast. Its beak continued to clack after it was beheaded, but it saw and understood nothing.
The others circled, playing as cats do with their prey, long claws flashing but not committing to a kill. Legolas continued to fire his bow to keep them from becoming complacent, and his strikes had the effect of making their mounts restive and unmanageable.
The blade of Khamul made a peculiar sound as it commenced a deadly spiral, I stepped in front of Aragorn and plucked it from the air. The knife vibrated when its hilt slapped my palm.
"Much appreciated," Aragorn said, then ran to challenge another Rider who approached too close to the Ringbearer.
Boromir was making much sound and fury where he stood, accomplishing little. He had blown the Horn of Gondor once at the approach of the Riders and he wound it now again, for their was little he could do if they would not face him blade to blade. The Horn did seem to have an effect on the wraiths, for the second time he sounded it they broke their circle and rose high again.
"Look there!" Boromir exclaimed. "Look how these raspy poltroons fade before the might of Gondor!"
It was a temporary reprieve. The wraith who had lost his mount had retreated a hundred paces only to station itself there, waiting.
"What happened to Saruman?" Aragorn repeated.
"He had turned to the Shadow," I said, "and paid his blood debts with innocents. There is much I would tell you of Isengard, but let it be enough for now that Saruman is no more."
"There is a ring upon your finger," he said. It was not an accusation; he held his face carefully blank.
"There are two," I agreed.
Further answers were made impossible by the shrieking of the wraiths and their awful mounts, for they meant to fall upon us in a mass.
"Together!" Aragorn called, and stood side by side with Boromir before the horses. Legolas was out of arrows, so he stood with them as well, a long dagger in his hand. Frodo was frozen in his seat, and he held the Ring, though it was still upon the chain around his neck.
I had an impulse to snatch it from him, but grabbed the Hobbit and pulled him down instead. Even if he ran, the horses could never outpace the Hell-Hawks. As if on cue, the poor beasts lost their nerve and were off at a gallop. I wished them luck.
The wraiths fell upon us in two ranks, three and then four. Even if all three of our heroes killed their Hawks, the wraiths would be upon them, and four more besides. It did not matter if their mounts perished, or if they themselves were destroyed, because the great prize was here with us, worthy of any cost.
I looked at Frodo, frozen with his fist tight about the Ring. No doubt he thought of becoming invisible, but that was nothing to the wraiths. Again the urge to wrest it from him, and again I pressed it down.
I leapt over my companions, landing before them as the Hell-Hawks narrowed their dives, nearly upon us, and I called upon the rings, falling so deeply into my awareness of them that the world seized into a painted instant, and then the next, so that time was passing like the inner workings of a Numenorean machine.
Khamul's knife, a terrible weapon, a terrible curse, it jerked across my arm in the span of a single painted frame, carrying a trail of blood droplets, and I cast them up.
It had been my desire to use Narya to summon a barrier of fire, but that was not possible. She did not allow me to create flame out of nothing, but to speak with and guide flames that already existed. But fire is not all that burns in this world.
The curse of Khamul burned in my arm, and in my blood, even the droplets I had cast into the air. To them I gave a new name in the high tongue of Elves.
I called them stars.
Fire bloomed, silver and white, blinding for a frozen moment before time resumed its normal rhythm and all was chaos and screams.
The first rank balked at the wall of blood stars, but their momentum carried them through, and they too were alight with silver fire and run to ground. The other four banked to avoid the same fate, unscathed, yet their charge was broken.
From the three fallen Hawks three wraiths rose, their robes singed but they unharmed. Falls and scrapes meant nothing to them who had no bones to break or skin to tear, and the Hell-Hawks had absorbed the brunt of my power. They advanced with swords and daggers drawn.
Aragorn was there to meet them, Narsil singing of war. He met two together, playing back and forth between them, trying to press them back into the Hawks that still writhed in silver flames. The third wraith was met by Boromir, who sought to overcome it with broad swipes of his two handed sword. The Rider indulged him, drawing back from the others and the flames, while deflecting his blade with casual skill.
Legolas stood with Frodo, who had drawn sting. Alarmingly, the long dagger had a faint blue sheen to its edge, which meant that Orcs could not be far off.
The four remaining in flight were the greatest threat, and two of them were angling to come at us from opposite directions. I felt weakened by my display, but I was sure I could turn away the whichever came nearest to me at least.
"Take heart," I told Frodo, "fear is their greatest weapon."
That wasn't true at all.
On they came. The arm I had cut with Khamul's blade hung numb at my side, the Ring of Angmar with it. The Rider fell to my level and the Hawk's beak opened wide to shriek. I dropped below its open jaws and cut its neck, bending until I was near flat against the ground to narrowly avoid both its claws and the broadsword of its master.
Rather than trying to fight the terrible birds, Legolas had seized Frodo and leapt away from the strafe. It was well that he did so, for even wounded, mine had attempted to carry through and snap up the Hobbit. Straightening, I sent Khamul's knife spinning directly into the retreating back of a wraith, and it screamed as its own soul was poisoned by the Nazgul curse.
But it was not enough. Boromir had struck a mighty blow against his opponent, knocking it down, only to have his sword crumble to rust in his grasp, and the wraith rise again with a rasping laugh.
Narsil suffered no such failure, it was capable of doing them real harm, but they knew it, and fought only to delay. The pair he faced moved as if they had shared a hundred battlefields together, and perhaps they had.
They did not risk themselves overmuch, nor would they suffer Aragorn to disengage. The silver flames had burned away to nothing as my blood and the lives of the hawks were spent, more an inconvenience to these Riders then a danger.
Seeing what was about to occur, I took a step to go to Boromir's aid, but I could not reach him. Again the Hawks came one from each side while Khamul circled above. Legolas could evade one with Frodo, but not both, so I had to turn and face it down.
Without blade or bow I raised Narya before me and made it the focus of my will. The Rider dove, and I began to sing. It was not much, I had not the voice of Luthien, or Goldberry's charm, but I was not ready to surrender.
"Huan! Do you hear me?
Huan! Of the blessed,
is that not you howling
beyond hillock and crest?"
Huan, the hound of Valinor, was a name the Shadow remembered, and Sauron in particular hated. To invoke it was to invoke one of the few terrors known to creatures of utter darkness. Narya flashed like the sun just as it falls over the edge of the world, and the Rider turned aside once more.
Frodo and Legolas were forced to retreat farther from me, however, and the wraith I had banished at the outset of the battle was circling in to meet them. It seemed that we were fading faster than they, and that was before we lost Boromir.
He had drawn his dagger to fend off the wraith, but rather than duel him blade to blade, the black cloaked prince pressed bodily forward, accepting Boromir's cutting thrust and responding with one of his own. A cursed knife slid beneath Boromir's ribcage, angled up, piercing the heart of the heir of the steward of Gondor.
His grey eyes lost focus, and he reached for the Horn as if to blow one final round, then the wraith removed his knife to allow a glut of blood, followed by a swing of his broadsword that took the blonde warrior's head off at the neck.
Frodo cried out in denial, and Aragorn in fury as his opponents multiplied from two to three. Legolas made no response, focused entirely on protecting the Ringbearer from whatever the next assault would bring.
Khamul himself was lowering to meet us, having retrieved his favorite weapon from the back of his compatriot. I readied myself to draw upon the last of my strength. I had vanquished a wraith once before, perhaps I could try for a second.
Hoofbeats, and a chilling scream, but coming from the wrong direction. The newcomer was an Elf with a green patch covering a third of his face. He was riding a nightmare.
Aeglos, the spear of Gil-Galad, called Snow Point by some, was launched in the air like a javelin. It took Khamul in the chest and carried him from his steed, which soared gleefully away once it realized it was no longer under his sway. The fighting paused, even the three that had surrounded Aragorn dispersed in the sudden lull.
Beren, not Beren, brought Glower to a halt and uttered terse words in the Black Speech. Those that were in the air landed to listen. I could not understand much, though there was the word for Sauron and "slave" again and again. Some of them sheathed their weapons.
"What is this?" Khamul spoke from the ground, pinned by a spear whose art was greater than his destructive curse. "Has the Black Captain become the white? Do we consort with Elves now?"
"No," the Witch King said, for I had head enough of his voice to know him for the same even if he had lost his ghostly sibilance. "Not Elves or Dwarves or Men. We deal with none but each other and Ring Lords. And there has only ever been one true Ring Lord, who we were forced to obey. But now there are two."
The black cloaks, those waxen faces, they all turned to me.
I did not know what to say.
"You bear me on your finger," the Witch King said. "I thought such a thing would surely lead to my annihilation, and yet I am more alive than I have been since Sauron called my debt for that very ring. Never have I had love for Sauron, nor do I have love for you.”
“I would have killed you with your own spear if I thought it would bring about further improvement in my condition. But I know that your death would make me a forgetful shade again." He turned to the others, looking from one to the next.
"We were sorcerers and kings once, one and all, and now look, but squalling wraiths sent on errands by a Dark Lord who has long failed to rule. As a sorcerer, I would have many thoughts about the change coming upon me, my occupation of a body, and what made both possible. There is a body here upon this field that could soon belong to one of you. Which of you will give this Elf your ring, to see if I am right?"
"Traitor!" Khamul railed, "the Dark Lord will hear of this!"
The witch king moved faster than I had ever seen him move before, standing over his erstwhile partner and ripping Aeglos out of him before driving it down again through his face.
"Go tell him then," the Witch King said, and Khamul disintegrated.
"I know not what this is," Aragorn had grown deathly pale, "but we cannot agree to it. Take off that ring, Arwen. It is better we fight to the end here on this nameless field than make a pact such as this."
It hurt me to hear him speak that way. Why must Mortals always think only of death?
The wraiths were closing on us, a rough circle, but their weapons were put away, ignoring how Aragorn menaced them with Narsil. The Black Speech flowed among them brokenly. Some of the Riders could barely communicate, hissing and rattling like snakes.
"They wish to know if I have truly changed," the Withch King informed me, "or if it is only occupying a body that has brought improvements. I will make that clear." He spread his arms to embrace them all. "Brothers, Black Riders, what I have told you is the truth. Give this immortal your ring, and like me, you may remember your name. Hear me, for I am KURKAR, the King of Hor!"
At this, the wraiths began to scream.
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.