When Iluvatar made the world it was as a candle in the dark. For chaos is infinite, and Arda is but one small region in the primordial darkness where swim predators as grand as stars. Iluvatar was able to shield his creation from most of these, but a little scuttling mouth crept in from the outer darkness to make a home in his warmth and light. This mouth we call Ungoliant.
She is a spider, and she spun her webs in the high mountains of the early world when the Valar still fought one another with hammers and swords that cleaved lakes and valleys into the land. They gave little thought to Ungoliant, who was but one monster among many in those days, but Morgoth in his need for allies came to her. This was after his first great defeat at the hands of Tulkas and Orome and the other Valar, and his binding and release. His bitterness had grown into an crucible he carried on his back and could not put down. The light of the Twin Trees of Valinor mocked him and his failure to become Lord over the gods though he had been greatest among them. He hated the children, both Elves and Men, who so cherished their precious treelight, and he resolved to plunge the earth into darkness. But for that he needed Ungoliant.
While the Valar took part in a ritual celebration, Morgoth and the spider trespassed in Valinor and attacked the trees, Laurelin and Telperion. He stabbed them with his terrible spear, and she drank their bleeding quintessence so that they would never recover. This was also when Morgoth stole the Silmarils from the house of Feanor along with other treasures. But a change had come over Ungoliant, no longer a mere familiar, the light of the trees had ignited a fire in her belly and made her vast and strong, and Morgoth feared her. She took all his stolen treasures from him and devoured them, all save the Silmarils, for he kept them concealed. Then fat and quiescant she headed south and was not heard from again.
Ungoliant slept, and because she did not align herself with Morgoth after this event, she was not caught and destroyed in the War of Wrath, nor was she ever punished for her part in draining the trees of their light. A sun and moon were afterward fashioned for the world, and sleeping, she was forgotten.
An Age came and went, and Ungoliant stirred. The light was a fire in her that could never be satisfied, and it drove her to madness. No longer sated by the prey that wandered into her webs, she demanded tribute of the villages and peoples near her lair. When that was not enough, she became a Queen, and sent her kingdom to war to pillage and enslave. Ungoliant's kingdom grew along with her hunger, becoming an empire, so that all of the South, a continent as large or larger than Middle Earth, was her demense. Vast trains of livestock and slaves were herded to their deaths in her gullet, and it was not enough. She would not stop until all of Arda was her larder and she had drained it dry.
Some of the story I knew, for the Silmarils were at the core of Elven histories, but we had never concerned ourselves with Ungoliant after her role in the death of the Trees. She was the mother of the speaking spiders of Mirkwood, and ancestor to Shelob, but I had always assumed she died in the War of Wrath even if her name had not been listed among the rolls of the dead. Sauron spoke with Frodo's voice, but he also showed me in visions, carrying me with him as if we both soared over the South in his infernal machine. I saw and I believed.
"The Valar will stop her," I said.
"The Valar have not taken active part in the affairs of the world since the War of Wrath. They are old and weak and afraid, and because Iluvatar sequestered them outside of the world they are themselves in no direct danger from Ungoliant. No, they will rely on the likes of Mithrandir to stop her, and he will fail, just as he has failed to stop me."
"Iluvatar will not allow it." I was arguing from a faith I did not feel. The visions of that terrible maw fresh in my mind.
"One cannot say what the One will do." Sauron was thoughtful. "It was a shock to me when he intervened as he did in the case of Numenor. Then the world changed. Did you know it used to be flat, not round? You have never been outside of Middle Earth, but there is much for you yet to see and learn. Uncharted lands replaced the Undying Lands, and I would like one day to explore them, if Ungoliant can be killed. No, I don't think Iluvatar will take direct part again, though there may be more emissaries from beyond, lesser or greater than Gandalf and Saruman. Perhaps Radagast the Brown has a particular talent for managing spiders, his true purpose reserved for this task all these years. We can but hope it is so. Consider this, the plans of Gandalf so far do not even take Ungoliant into account. To him I am the Enemy, as if there were no others, or I was behind all others, feeding them lines. It is a narrow view. I think the Valar are blind to the true danger, as they have been all this time, and if the Valar are blind then so is their creator, for he has always relied on their perspective of his creation."
In truth, I could not say what the gods would do or do not, and all his arguments could well have been fabrications. But in my heart I did not trust the gods, for they and Iluvatar had made the world and all its troubles. It was possible that just as they expected Elves to go gently into that good night that all the dead enjoyed, they saw Arda itself as a temporary thing, and Ungoliant as its natural end.
I could see the end of the world reflected in eight burning suns set above an all devouring maw. If I took up the Ring, and bent all of Middle Earth toward this singular foe, it was still no more than a chance that we would attain anything resembling victory.
"If I take the Ring," I said, "what is to prevent me from punishing you for your crimes? Why should I not take mastery of all this for myself alone, and cast you into the fires below by will and word?"
It was strange to see that eyes of blazing topaz could express sympathy. "Nothing would prevent it," he said, "but your new perspective, and the knowledge of what it would truly mean to be yourself alone, without me."
"I don't need you."
"Not now, not when you are still small enough to return to the kings of the West and apologize for your temerity. But if you accept this Ring, you and I will become alike in ways that they can never understand. What do you think will happen when you are Queen of Mordor, and I am gone? Do you think Aragorn will consent to be your husband when you are so much greater than he? Aragorn wanted you to remain behind in Rivendell and sew him a banner to wave when he rode valiantly into war. He never asked for you to be his partner, his equal. His lover, yes, but not to share his power. That is exactly what I am offering you, to be the most glorious Arwen of all possible Arwens, instead of a prop to someone else's glory."
"What your offering doesn't make any sense. You are the Dark Lord, there is no reason to give me the Ring except to destroy me, because I threaten you."
"Threaten me?" The stone shook beneath our feet as Orodruin groaned and a river of smoke and ash and sparks erupted directly behind Sauron's altar. He ignored it, merely waiting for the bedlam to pass.
"You do not threaten me, Arwen Nightstar. I already faced the dilemma you do now, the prospect of ruling alone. Indeed, it was what I desired after being made a servant by Morgoth, and my rejection by the former Luthien. I wore my own Ring. But one does not become greater by marrying oneself, and that is ultimately the purpose of any partnership, to make both parties greater by gestalt. When you wear this Ring, you will be exposed to solitude such as you have never felt. You will be above all the things of this earth, all Men and Elves, as high as the absent gods. I am the only one who understands. I am the only one who has followed you all the way, who has been singing your name since before you left Rivendell, since your mother spoke to me of you."
"Yes, I spoke to Celebrian often after her wounding. Her pain allowed her to hear my voice, and to respond. For a time, I thought she might come to me willingly, but she chose to fade instead. Still, it was through her that I learned of
you, the Jewel of Rivendell, more precious and more well protected than even that other jewel he wears but thinks he has kept hidden from me."
Through the fog my mind had become a single fact penetrated.
"You killed my mother."
"I offered her relief, and she chose death."
"You drove her to it." And by driving her to the ships that sailed to the West, he had sealed my father's doom as well. Elrond had begun to truly fade only after the loss of Celebrian. Anger rose like a wave, and my will with it. I felt myself becoming huge, my spirit as deep as the mountain, so that I could almost challenge him without the Ring.
"You want to destroy me?" He asked mildly.
The Hobbit with burning yellow eyes closed the distance between us, and wordlessly proffered the Ring.
I took it.
My left hand was prickling and stinging from the heat of the volcanic chamber, but when the plain gold band slid over my finger beside the others it was like dipping my arm into a running stream. The relief was so sudden I almost forgot where I was. This wasn't like then first time I had worn it to heal Frodo on Weathertop. That had been confusion and distorted glass, this was clarity. I saw everything.
The Wraith Rings were killing me. Each of them was like a hook in my soul, gradually tugging it to shreds as the wraiths used me to anchor their own existence. The Nine Rings of Men had always been traps of a kind, a means of binding Mortals to Sauron's will in exchange for the double edged privilege of ethereality. They were cruel in the manner that bargains are always cruel when one party has a significant advantage.
But the One Ring was something else entirely. It was a gift, a gesture of good faith made by a spirit that could afford to be generous, or else one so desperate they were willing to risk their soul in the seeking of something more. It offered ethereality as well, the connection to the spiritual that makes sorcery possible, but it did not come at the price of servitude or diminishment. It was a gift meant for a queen, for Luthien in particular, to tempt her to the Shadow. After all, the last assault any of us were prepared for from the Shadow was a gesture of unrequited love. The Ring was so powerful, so rich with essence, that it immediately began to seal the tears in my soul made by the other rings, to fill them with itself. It was as if they had been preparing me to be filled by it all the while.
"You sent the wraiths to me," I said. "You wanted me to take them from you."
"I wanted you to become what you are," Sauron said, gazing up at me. "The image of Luthien, but so much more."
I tried to kill him. It was but a moment of concentration, a bending of wills unto destructive intent, and in that instant the truth of both of us was revealed. The Ring had been made to be worn by another, never by himself, for it forged a bond between us that was a rushing torrent turned upon itself. Power flowed in and out, mixed without division, a cycle endless because it fed of its own motion. My desire to end him poured into the stream, a song of vengeance for the lives that he had ruined, for my mother, yes, but also for all the Mortals that had fallen under his sway Age to Age. Uncounted deaths, unfathomable suffering, all for the designs of one being full of yellow light. I wanted to rip him out of Frodo's body and force him down into the fire, but I could not, for in doing so I would undo myself. Neither of us could ruin the other, no matter how mighty, for his power was my power, and mine was his.
"You begin to understand," he said. "And I applaud your anger, it is a genuine passion too often derided by the Wise. You should redirect it, however, to those more deserving. Remember, I conquer only to save. And yes, I make use of Orcs and other ugliness, they are but tools to me, the tools left behind by Morgoth. My desire is to unite the West such as it has never been united, and the East as well, for all of us will be needed in the coming battle. The Last Alliance of Elves and Man shall not be the last, for they will ride together again, and with Dwarves and Orcs as well, an Empire for all peoples, ruled by you and me. A place where Elves will be free to flourish once more, with you as an example, to build new cities instead of hiding in the old, to work and to dream and to forge and one day to be free, when the spider is dead and we can have peace at last, my peace, your peace. A final peace for all."
We shared an intimacy that was unlike anything I had experienced before. I felt his ambition as keenly as if it were mine, and I knew he felt my anger as well, but he did not fight it, rather he embraced my rage as if it were a joy . He had always been angry, but this was not the petty anger of Mortals, this was the eternal fulmination of Mount Doom, it was his nature. I had seen everything he said as he spoke it as if it were a premonition, and it was an effort to find my origin again.
"You said there is someone more deserving of my anger. Who?"
"The Valar, for leaving Ungoliant behind as a sickness that would inevitably end our world. But they are not here, so loathe their messenger instead. Gandalf. Without the Grey now White Wanderer the War for the West would.have long been over. He has thwarted me and thwarted me, but no more. Now that you have taken the Ring, I am free to lead my armies from the fore without fear of exorcism. The end will be quick, decisive. I will leave Rohan and the lesser kingdoms aside. One fell stroke to take Minas Tirith, and what is left of Men after that will simply bow."
"And what of Elves?"
"They will have a choice to make, all of them, but for you I think many will embrace new life over old death, for that is what we offer them. Those who don't will be allowed to take the Grey Havens, as they would have already done. It serves me not at all to slaughter wantonly, to waste my soldiers."
"And the dwarves?"
"See for yourself. The rings are all subject to the One."
I had been so focused on the contest between us that I had not extended my awareness beyond the smoking mountain. I had already been connected to the wraiths, but now I could see what they saw if I chose. Amras and Kurkar were both a wash, for they had not reconstituted, but I saw Orthanc from above as Celegorn soared on his Hawk. The Misty Mountains loomed before the trio I had sent on foot to Moria; flashes of Rohan from Maglor. I sensed that my father and Galadriel had removed both their rings, likely as soon as our conversation ended. But Narya could no longer resist me, it still rested on Beren's finger, and I felt him as if asleep. Two dwarven Lords in the Iron Hills had taken rings as gifts from Mordor, and they worked in secret to sway those houses to the will of Sauron, now my will as well.
"This is not what you wanted," Beren said. It was the most natural thing to hear his voice again.
"What do you mean?" I answered.
"This isn't who you are."
"Who am I then?"
"You can be a bit of a princess, but you are also courageous, and good. You would never accept Sauron as a partner, not for any prize."
"Beren, why are you still with me? Why haven't you gone on to the Halls of Mandos?"
"I felt that I was needed. And I didn't want to...I wasn't ready to leave you behind."
I felt warmth at his affection, but it was a small eddy compared to the oceans of emotion I shared with...I no longer wished to call him Sauron. That was a title, and and unkind one. I would call him Anar.
"Beren, I thank you for your kindness. You were a true friend, and if I could repair the harm that was done to you I would do so. But I am not the woman you imagine me to be. It is time for you to move on."
To this there was only silence, so I turned my awareness back to Anar.
Behind him, Sam was standing, half blinded by tears, holding Aeglos.
"I'm sorry, master." He wept, and stabbed Frodo in the back.
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.