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Aragorn brought Narsil up to his shoulder in a ready position. Its edge flaring in a shred of sunlight before a bank of drifting clouds, swollen with rain, expunged the dying day. It seemed that he prayed, for his eyes closed and his mouth moved silently as the ululation of the wraiths receded.

"I killed this one, I have earned the chance." The black robed prince who had felled Boromir broke away from the others to approach me.

"You cannot make a friend of the Shadow!" Aragorn cried.

"The enemy of the Enemy," I responded quietly, "may not be a friend, but he can serve in mutual benefit."

Aragorn lunged, Narsil flying in a gleaming arc that cleaved the wraith from shoulder to waist. A black cloak dropped to the ground in two pieces, empty of any occupant. The others whirled in anger.

"No!" Two swords failed to fall on Aragorn, caught in mid swing by my command, but it took all I had to hold them, and the Witch King, Kurkar, was moving as well. Aeglos stabbed down into Aragorn's calf as he spun to face the other two. He clenched his teeth, but did not fall, swinging wildly at the sorcerer in Beren's body.

There were too many.

"Spare him! Spare him and I am in your debt!"

Kurkar backed away and his brothers followed his example, it was Aragorn who would not stop fighting. I ran to him and he spun, Narsil severing a few dark hairs from beside my neck. The strands fell with aching slowness, and he regarded me with wildness in his eyes.

"You have to stop," I said.

"You cannot do this," his noble features were stretched by desperation. "You must not take their rings."

"Elessar..." I touched Narsil with my fingertips and guided it down. "Go with Frodo and Legolas, go away from here, and I will make this bargain alone."

"I won't let you."

"You are not king yet, my love, nor I your queen. You do not command me, nor my father, nor any man. This is the burden I have chosen, my path against Sauron. Can you not see what it would mean to deny him his deadliest weapons?"

"I won't lose you, " he said, nearer to a plea than an oath.

"The road goes ever on," I said, "and we will meet again before the ending of this journey." I willed that he would understand. It was not a matter of trying to impose my thoughts on his, but sharing what I felt, my own certainty. I felt my mind against his mind like water against a stone.

He looked about him, surrounded by Riders, betrayed by me, and he sheathed his sword. They let him take the horn from Boromir's hip and walk away. He did not limp, despite his injury.

"You would let the One Ring escape?" Kurkar asked. When I looked at him, I no longer saw Beren, but the ebony skinned man whose spirit resided there.

"I am not finished with it," I said quietly, "but let us have our business in peace.

He nodded, the wraiths faced me in a crescent. Their souls were visible beneath the cloaks and the wax, it was astounding that I had not always seen them. And upon each of their hands, a cursed ring.

"That needs to be treated," Kurkar said, gesturing to my still bleeding arm. It was so numb I had forgotten there was a wound.

"His cloak." Khamul didn't need it any longer. After a few minutes I was bandaged and the Fellowship had made their way around us, angling for Minis Tirith.

I flexed my fingers and let them go. I could see the Nazgul curse writhing in my arm, warring with my spirit, with Narya, with the Ring of Angmar. It made me want to laugh, or weep, or else be lost in madness, but there was work to be done.

"What about him?" I pointed at the weapons of the one Aragorn had killed, and another bent to retrieve his belongings, spare as they were, including the ring, which he handed to me. I supposed that it did not matter what finger I chose, but I placed it on the same hand as the first. The effect was immediate.

Narya and Kurkar's ring had achieved a sort of balance within me, but this new addition threw up a storm in my spirit. Ice yes, but more than ice, a wrenching in my gut, I dropped into a crouch and held myself.

The wraiths were silent, and after a time I stood.

"He is disincorporated," I said, "I can barely feel him, but he will return just as Kurkar did. We should keep the body near me if we are to help him inhabit it." My thoughts wandered. "How do you communicate with Sauron?"

"He speaks in our minds," Kurkar said, "but since you took up my ring I have not heard his voice."

(Can you hear mine?)

He inclined his head to me.

(Good.)

"Good." I said, breathing deeply, gathering my strength. Having another of the Nine upon my hand did not increase my power, it overlapped, rather than added to, the first. However, forging a connection with a Ring Wraith was its own kind of power, and more significantly, denied him as a tool of the Shadow.

But if Sauron could speak in their minds, it was likely he could share their thoughts, what they saw and did, and he would be able to watch me through them even if he did not command them to act against me thereby. There was only one way to make the separation certain.

I took Khamul's ring and tucked it in my sleeve, I would not wear a wraith who had not come to me willingly, but I had an idea of how I might otherwise prevent his return.

As for the rest, I gave them an ultimatum.

"I do not trust you," I said, "but I believe that you are still creatures of the will and the word, it may be that is all you are. So you will give me your oath of service, and if you do, I will take up your burden.”

“From my immortal soul yours will take new substance, for yours have been drawn impossibly thin. If you refuse, then the Witch King and I will break your shells and take your rings and forge them into ingots of cold iron so that you will never walk with them again. You will be wraiths in truth, weak as shadows in the bright of day."

There were hisses and rattles in response, but Kurkar supported me, so there was no violence.

One came forward, and his features reminded me painfully of Aragorn's, suggesting he had been a Numenorean in life. He lowered himself, laying his sword and dagger crosswise at my feet, and answered me in the Black Speech of Mordor. I understood every word.

"Here do I swear fealty to Arwen Undomiel, called the Evenstar, Queen of the Rings. To speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my Lady releases me, or oblivion embraces me at last. So say I, though I do not know my name, I give you my ring in keeping."

He took the ring in question from a hand of death pale wax, and I received it.

"And this I do hear, Arwen Evenstar, Lady of Isengard and of Orthanc, daughter of Rivendell, who you have named your Queen, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given; fealty with love, valour with honor, oath-breaking with vengeance. And since there are seven of you, including the one who rests already on my finger, I shall give you seven names of Elves that have never been forgotten, though theirs was a history of spite and sorrows, until you remember your own."

And so one after the other I named them as the came to me. Maedhros and Maglor and Celegorn; Caranthir and Curufin and Amrod, and lastly the one I already held, I called him Amras.

Three more rings I took on my right hand, and each fit exactly to whichever finger it was given, and with each ring the pain of binding became more terrible. Finally I sat and Beren, no, Kurkar, held me still as I shook, wiping the tears from my face for they were pink with blood.

It was raining.

"Enough," he said, "enough for now. There are too many sutures in your spirit already."

So Khamul was kept in my sleeve, and the remaining three in the silk pouch that had held Narya. Narya, whose fire had been dampened to mere embers, smothered by the rings upon my other hand. The three I had not bonded were told to go on foot to Isengard and wait for me there until I was ready to take their oaths. Without their rings, and unbonded, they had little of will among them, and they drifted in the direction they were given.

That left me with Kurkar and Maedhros, Maglor and Celegorn. The very act on naming them seemed to have bound them more surely to me, but also to existence. They already spoke more clearly, and held themselves more like natural men.

Boromir they lifted atop one of the Hell-Hawks, because he had been promised to Amras, so Celegorn agreed to take the body to a high, cold place until I called for it, for I did not know when Amras would be ready to rise again.

My senses were unreliable, as if I had imbibed too many spirits, which was in its own way true, and after I had stood unmoving for some minutes Kurkar shook me gently.

"My Queen," he said. "There are Orcs about. They have circled the field, and if they catch the Hobbit, then they will have the One Ring, and all we have done here will be as naught."

He was right, of course. If any being of consequence took up the One now it would have stolen all I had gained, and likely ripped my soul into six unequal pieces in the bargain.

Why had I let them go? There had been a notion that I should not be too close to the One in this state, that it would be dangerous to me and more than me. More dangerous than what I had already done?

Was I not already a Ring Lord? Had I sent them away only because I had not wished for Aragorn to see me change? No, I had not changed. I had increased. All transitions are painful, and this one had been especially so, but I could not hide from him what I was, what I had become.

Why should I be shamed? Why should I fear his judgement, or that of anyone? In one night I had deprived the Enemy of his entire roster of generals. They would fete me in Gondor, and seat me at the right hand of kings. Above them, even.

The One Ring needed my protection. Indeed, no one could be trusted with it but me.

"Maedros. Maglor. Take to the air and spy the Orcs, spy my companions as well, but do not engage. I will use you as my compasses."

"Yesss..."

They flew, and there was nothing to mark what had occurred there but empty cloaks and the smoldering corpses of Hell-Hawks. I stooped to take up Khamul's curved dagger, but his sword I planted upright as a sign.

"This field should have a name," I said.

"Alcarondas," Kurkar offered, and I shivered, but did not deny it.

He and I mounted Glower together, the nightmare was delighted at our reunion, stamping and snuffling. I patted her neck fondly. Behind me, Kurkar was neither warm nor cold. He felt like emptiness.

Night had come down in its full strength, amd with the rain rose a mist, but night was as nothing to me. Day and night had become pale washes behind a world that was bright with souls. I could see by clouds of insects, by the ambient hum of grass and trees. There was not much of color in my new vision, but that was not so great a loss. All was shades of light and dark.

Kurkar and I rode ahead into the woods beyond Alcarondas. What remained of the Fellowship was not far ahead, nor were the Orcs. It was a troop of fifty or so, my aerial scouts had no trouble picking them out.

They were one of many such parties that had infiltrated Gondor and were wreaking havoc on the villages and hamlets which lacked the protection of city walls and guardsmen. Sauron was more than content to bring suffering to the people of the lands he invaded even if it served no direct military purpose. These Orcs were his instruments, and they would have to be quelled.

We rode down the stragglers, Kurkar lashing out with Aeglos while I sent Khamul's dagger whipping through the air and back again. It was a marvelous tool, made with such craft that its use was almost effortless. It needed a name, and a name was spoken to me out of silence.

Alfirin.

Aragorn and Legolas and Frodo were making a stand with their backs to the bole of a massive tree. Narsil shone with a terrible brilliance, so much so that I did not care to look upon it. The other two with their lesser blades held at his sides, which was well, because the wound to his leg was hampering him.

It was fortunate for them that the Orcs had not many archers. A handful were haphazardly loosing shots into the melee, as likely to strike their own as the company. Kurkar leapt down from Glower and we divided our attention amongst them.

The Orcs did not even look at me when I killed them. It occured to me that I was invisible. Narya's influence had been quieted, though if I called upon her I would likely appear as a creature of flame and shadow again.

While the Orcs still wildly outnumbered us, they were soon routed. They took Kurkar's arrival among them as a herald of the allies of Men, and the impression was only increased by the flying dagger that came from nowhere and disappeared into nothing, taking their lives with it.

A crescent of corpses surrounded the company, and Aragorn seemed worn beyond his years. The beauty of Legolas too was marred by weariness and gore.

Frodo pointed to Kurkar with his little sword.

"Greetings, Ringbearer," he said formally.

"You followed us?" Aragorn firmed his stance, preparing to attack.

"We saved you." I willed myself visible, tucking Alfirin at my waist.

Aragorn looked upon me with shock. "Saved us? It is your new allies who brought these Orcs down on us. I have seen them circling in the air above the trees."

"They were hunting the Orcs, as I asked them to. I did not want to see you overrun."

"We do not ask for the kindness of wraiths," Legolas said.

"And you will have none," Kurkar promised.

"You are not safe going this way," I said. "You should come back with me to Isengard. There we have a fortress, and high walls, and soldiers to ward off Sauron's advances. There is no need to bring the One nearer to him."

"The aim is to see it destroyed," Aragorn said. "Or have you forgotten?"

"That was my father's aim, and Mithrandir's, but they are not here with us, and they were wrong. The solution they seek is no solution at all, for it will end with the defeat of all that is rare in the world. My people will be ended by the ending of the Ring."

"What are you saying?" Aragorn wavered, confused.

"Our time is ending," Legolas said, "that is our rightful doom. Our sacrifice is what is called to free this world from the Shadow."

"I am saying that Sauron can be defeated, the Enemy and the Ring are not one. If they were one, then he would not be so desperate to find it, it would never have been lost. I don't believe the powers that he bound in the Rings of Power belonged to him, I believe they belonged to the world, and that is why our world is dying, for now it cannot live without the rings, and if we destroy the One then the powers that were meant to live as long as this earth will be no more."

"I do not pretend to understand all the Lore of the Rings," Aragorn said, "what I know is what the Wise gave to us in council, and without them here to debate it I am not willing to forget what was decided."

"Frodo," I looked to Hobbit," you who have held the Ring, surely you understand. You do not want to see it destroyed, do you? Come with me, and you will never have to see that happen. I have the strength to keep you safe now. You do not need to be afraid."

"Gandalf said..." He began.

"Gandalf is gone!" I raged, and Maedhros and Maglor shrieked above the canopy in mirror to my vexation. I advanced a step without thinking, and Frodo shrank behind Aragorn.

"Not gone!" The voice echoed among the trees, and a great light burgeoned in the near distance, so bright it blinded me, and the wraiths fled, except for Kurkar, who nevertheless covered his face and was driven to his knees. Out of that light strode an old man with a long white beard and snowy robes, even a hat like the one Frodo kept in his pack to remember the wizard by.

"Not gone!" Mithrandir said again, "but returned!"

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About the author

WilliamMyrl

Bio: 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.

Eat Fresh.

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