Sorry it's been such a long time since I posted the first chapter. I finished this story some time ago, but just never got around posting it. You might want to go back to the previous chapter to brush up the plot though.
Thanks to ziggy3 and WatsonandMary4ever for reviewing!
The Lord of the Nazgûl wished that his master's will had extended to keeping his emotions in check as well as his thoughts.
He took over the responsibility of maintaining the land of Mordor as Lord Sauron had decreed. But even though he had immersed himself in the tasks of overseeing the trade of merchant goods, training the army and keeping the diplomatic relations between Mordor and its allied countries well, he was still unable to forget his disturbance.
There was no reason to. Lord Sauron was finally going to take action against one of his longtime enemies, and what he set his mind to do usually succeeded. In addition, his master was currently at the height of his powers. Though he had left the One Ring in the deepest treasury of Barad-dur, he was more than capable of bringing terrible destruction upon the people of Númenor.
And there was the source of the wraith-lord's disturbance. He knew that by surrendering himself Sauron was going to bring down the island country subtly, by cleverly whispered rumors and false news until perhaps the people were incited to rebel against their king, plunging Númenor into civil unrest until it was torn apart by infighting. It was none of his concern; he had been impressed that his master, alone and unaided, was going to achieve this. All he could do was to maintain Mordor the best he could and look forward to Lord Sauron's triumphant return. It was all he should do.
Yet the sense of dread refused to go away.
The Lord of the Nazgûl was currently pacing restlessly on the topmost level of Barad-dur, where he could see the entirety of the Black Land and feel the acrid hot wind from the Oroduin blowing relentlessly against his black cloak. Any mortal would have suffered to find shelter from the scorching current, but the wraith-lord had lost such vulnerability a long time ago.
He had gone through the rest of the book of records he apparently had written in one of his confused moments. In addition to reading about the current king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, he had learned much about its culture. The legendary Valar had supposedly raised an island out of the sea for men to dwell upon, and there they prospered, worshipping a deity known as Eru Ilúvatar and befriending Elves and Men from Middle-earth alike. The Númenóreans were known for their mastery of shipbuilding and navigation of the sea, as well as their strong naval forces. Though the progressing generation of the ruling family had declined much from their early glory, Númenor remained as one of the fairest kingdoms of men.
The Lord of the Nazgûl had decided that he would not mind a short visit. He had been to most kingdoms in Middle-earth and even to the borders of the Elven realms. But for some strange reason Númenor called to him the most strongly, as if he had once lived there and had been sundered from his home.
Maybe the wraith-lord had stepped upon Númenor when he was still in the world of the living.
He suddenly stopped his pacing and drew his billowing robes close around himself. It was possible, but he could never remember what happened before he came to serve his master. The Lord of the Nazgûl wanted very much to dismiss any possible remembrances as he always did, but this call from a supposed home and his lingering dread would not allow him to.
Why? For the first time, his unraveled mind allowed him this thought.
Why the disturbance? Why the sense of connection to Númenor?
At first the wraith-lord blanched in horror, for surely this rebellious and disorderly thinking that did not come from Lord Sauron? What was this deviance from his master's will?
He forced these questions from his presumably unthinking mind with some difficulty and turned his gaze to the West. Though the Lord of the Nazgûl could only perceive his surroundings in different shades of black and gray and the living as floating articles of clothing, he could see the tips of the Misty Mountains stretching far along the horizon.
And beyond them, lay Númenor.
Lord Sauron plans. I carry them out. Númenor is but the subject. I have no cause to question my master. This disturbance is unnecessary. His reasoning allowed him to think this, I am in no way connected to the island country, nor would I be dismayed over its loss. I… I…
I cannot deny this dread, or this sudden desire to see this doomed kingdom of men before it falls. Yet I cannot defy Lord Sauron's command. He ordered me to rule Mordor in his stead.
And so the Lord of the Nazgûl became tormented over this conflict. Never in his life as a wraith had he been so inconsistent, with what little will he had clashing against his master's. How he longed for the days in which his actions were governed by Lord Sauron, and how he could allow anything that might possibly cause him affliction fade into the ever-overpowering mind of the other! However this was no longer possible, for it seemed that upon his master's departure, his bond with the Nazgûl had lessened enough so that the wraith-lord could no longer feel that assuring weight on his mind as strongly as before. As each day passed, he noticed that his struggle became more pronounced.
But this strife of inclinations surprisingly gave the Lord of the Nazgûl a sense of occupation, that despite being a wraith he was still a sentient individual. Though he was a servant committed to carrying out his master's orders, he realized that this thinking and arguing with himself took up most of his time in the increasingly monotonous routine of supervising a country.
He found that this seemly meaningless activity seemed familiar, as if he had for a time forgotten how and was now merely remembering it. There arose in him the determination to conquer this skill, so much that his horror of straying away from Lord Sauron's absolute will faded gradually day by day.
As he did so, the Lord of the Nazgûl began to weigh his master's orders against his irrational desire to visit Númenor. He absently noted that Sauron probably would not take it well if he left his duties even though Mordor was running well as a country. But then again, the wraith-lord had been given authority; he was free to appoint another in charge while he made the long journey west. If his master knew of his departure, then the Lord of the Nazgûl could always reply that he had fulfilled his orders nevertheless.
However, this was much harder than it sounded at first. Every being in the Dark Tower seemed to carry out their duties in a lighter mood in Lord Sauron's absence, especially the Nazgûl. Gothmog became more boisterous than ever whenever he was not challenging the others to duels. Morgomir now spent more time crafting odds and ends than he oversaw the orcs. Akhorahil and Ji Indur were often found causing mayhem among the human servants, experimenting with their terrifying aura to its fullest. Khamûl, his second-in-command, remained his usual silent and brooding self.
In the end the Lord of the Nazgûl had to select Khamûl for the task of supervising Mordor, for all the others were too carried away by their freedom. He had not been the wraith-lord's first choice, for Khamûl often acted in sudden hostile aggression, but he followed orders well enough.
"Do you take me for a fool?" The other Nazgûl spoke in that confusingly irritated tone of his, "I was once a king who ran a country twice the size of this desolate wasteland with more than thrice the people."
The Lord of the Nazgûl interestingly found the words to retort back instead of backing down, "You once had years to learn the affairs of Rhûn. Not so with Mordor, which you must take charge on the next day. A wise king knows when to back down and listen to sound advice, so allow me finish without interruption! You should consider your temporary promotion as a honor few would ever have, since the rest of the Nazgûl seemed to have lost their collective restraint."
"It is because of the One Ring." Khamûl answered quietly.
"It currently has no wearer who bends his will upon it. We who have possession of the Nine Rings of Power are currently unbound to its master's mind."
"That certainly does not give us an excuse to neglect our duties." The Lord of the Nazgûl hid his perplexity underneath his severe tone, "I expect you to do the same, Khamûl."
"You fail to understand as usual, you obsequious slave of Sauron. I should have expected nothing more from he who holds the most accursed ring of all." The Easterling said in a voice so quiet that the wraith-lord only caught a few words. He did know that it was something unflattering though.
However, Khamûl surprisingly obeyed and listened to his instructions without argument. His second became much more approachable afterwards. The Easterling even presented him his horse, saddled and bridled, on the day he departed from Mordor. The Lord of the Nazgûl did not ponder long on this strange occurrence after thanking the other, for it was often when Khamûl went into one of his unpredictable moods.
Soon he was traveling fast across the plans of the Gorgoroth and exiting Mordor through the Black Gates, uncloaked but horsed. The Lord of the Nazgûl had decided it would be best to remain discreet and yet retain the advantage of speed. He did not know when Sauron would return or wished to attract the unwanted attention of men and Elves alike.
I certainly hope I am in time. The steady galloping motion of his steed lulled his mind into a placid state, Now that Mordor is settled, I shall focus my attentions on traveling as fast as I could. Perhaps… this journey will ultimately mean nothing… a nonexistence desire stemming from a long forgotten life.
But the Lord of the Nazgûl did not give up or dismiss the calling from Númenor as a mere dream. Even as he traveled, his aura as a wraith terrified any men unfortunate enough to come near his path. No doubt this strange phenomenon reached the Elves, for he was assaulted when he passed by Lothlórien. But he simply ducked low to avoid the flying arrows and spurred his horse to gallop faster. Haste was his most important priority right now.
He took the most direct route he knew towards the West, disregarding stealth as he usually did when traveling. Choosing to cross the Misty Mountains and then journeying across Eriador, the Lord of the Nazgûl made few stops along the way. He did not need to replenish any kind of supplies apart from oats for his steed or slumber during the night; in this way he made speedier progress than any mortal could have. Nevertheless, the wraith had to allow his weary horse to rest and eat when it became obvious that the poor animal could not go on any longer.
The long journey was not bereft of any hesitations. There were several times when the Lord of the Nazgûl questioned himself about the purpose of it. There was absolutely nothing that was worth abandoning his post like this and possibly incurring the wrath of his master, not even this unexplained longing that drove him to seek Númenor in the first place; not even the strange dread that continued to linger heavily on him as he got closer to his destination.
For when the Lord of the Nazgûl tried to better understand it, he realized it as a prescient apprehension that nothing would ever be the same when he returned to Mordor.
Of course… Lord Sauron may be furious at me and I might lose his trust. But… that should not be enough to disturb me like this, for this anxiety has been upon me ever since he left for Númenor. The wraith wondered as he slowed his horse down slightly to navigate to dense woody area he was currently in more carefully, An island country I seemly have no connection with, yet the only place that draws me to it. But Númenor has existed for hundreds of years… why should I feel like this now? Why should this indefinite link to my forgotten past suddenly resurface?
These thoughts were pondered extensively in repetition, yet the Lord of the Nazgûl did not find his answer even when he reached the West Shores, where the waters of the Great Sea stretched limitlessly into the horizon.
It was the first time he saw the sea as a wraith. Merely looking at the approaching and receding ripples of dark gray as the pounding waves beat rhythmically against the sand brought on him a sense of awe, along with a odd desire to step into the rolling waters or find a ship to sail on, just to feel how the waves bore him gently across the sea's endless boundaries.
For once, the Lord of the Nazgûl did as he wished, leading his horse along as he stepped gingerly onto the wet sand. However, his steed stamped and nickered, refusing to follow, so the wraith proceeded the rest of the way alone. For a long time he stood ankle-high in the sea as the tossing waves swirled at his cloak softly, gazing pointlessly at the distance. He could see that the sun was beginning to set, casting its bright reflection on the ripples of the sea as it slowly sank into the cloud-shrouded horizon.
The Lord of the Nazgûl now wished he could perceive his surroundings as mortals did. The setting sun no doubt cast the sky into various shades of warm orange and dark indigo, the fiery orb itself wreathed in orange flame.
How…?! He realized in surprise, How could I possibly know that when I had not seen a single color in my life as a wraith? What is this mystery?
He turned his gaze upon the black and gray scenery once again as a frown grew on his unseen face.
Is it what remains of my humanity? For the first time, the wraith did not feel horrified over this obvious drifting away from Sauron's will, This has never happened before. Is this area affecting me more than I expected? I should be relieved, for I am on the right track.
Númenor is more than an enemy country to me, though I may not know it. Somehow, it contains whatever remains of what I once loathed to remember.
It was this final thought that cemented the Lord of the Nazgûl's determination to see his journey through, that it was not a pointless venture based on an irrational desire. After enjoying the waves of icy cold seawater brushing against his feet for another few moments, the wraith departed for the north to board a ship at the Númenórean harbor of Vinyalondë.
This seemly unlikely task for a being of the unseen world was surprisingly easy. The Lord of the Nazgûl left his horse at a large stable meant to hold the steeds of those who set sail and leapt aboard a departing ship, uncloaked. This caused some panic and confusion among the crew and passengers, for all were suddenly assaulted by a cold wave of fear and dread. The wraith decided to spare them from his undesirable presence and situated himself high in the rigging. There was no need to cause the people to abandon ship.
Soon they were off, sailing smoothly southwards towards Númenor. The wind was strong today, causing the canvas sails to flap loudly and the rigging to squeak from time to time. Coupled with the gentle up-and-down bobbing motion of the vessel and the muted rhythmic roar of the sea, the people were lulled into a rather placid state, those who were used to traveling by ship that was. A few passengers stumbled about drunkenly before collapsing with discomforted groans.
The Lord of the Nazgûl was again surprised that he felt no such illness, as it was also his first time sailing. He even enjoyed the soft rocking motion of the ship and the chilly but slightly salty sea breeze blowing against his face.
There was also an indefinite longing heard in the ringing calls of the sea birds that circled above and the continual wash of the waves against the worn weathered wood of the vessel; a desire to build a ship himself and allow the sea to take him wherever it wished for the rest of his nonexistent life.
Such an odd desire, The Lord of the Nazgûl thought, Even if Lord Sauron should allow me to journey by sea to the uncharted waters, I do not see how this longing should afflict me so, as this is my first time traveling by ship. It is almost as if… I have been accustomed to doing so for quite a time, like thinking for myself. Another part of my forgotten life long sundered… but remembered…
Is this a mere coincidence? After Lord Sauron left Mordor, I have been experiencing such recallings, from strange longings, feelings of nostalgia to cast-off memories.
This was yet another mystery that the wraith was not able to solve. However, all traces of reluctance to think for himself had vanished by now. The Lord of the Nazgûl grew increasingly at ease aboard the ship, even descending from the rigging from time to time to walk around while everyone else slept. He often lingered near the helm and the aftercastle, where many of the ship's navigation equipment was stored. From then on he was often found with a sextant, surveying the unchanging horizon with the small intricate instrument and discovering that he indeed knew how to make sense of the many tools and specialized language the crew shouted to each other with.
On the fifth day into the voyage they met a severe storm. As continuous waves as high as a small house poured over the deck and left everything soaking wet, the crew hurried frantically about, securing themselves to the mast with ropes and rolling the sails up. Violently rising and dropping like a piece of flotsam in the vast raging seas, the ship was sent tossing uncontrollably through the waters. The Lord of the Nazgûl tried his best to help in the middle of the chaos, beyond caring now of his frightening aura since half of the crew were scared out of their wits by then. His hands moving as if they had a mind of its own, he suddenly remember how to tie knots to secure the sails. Soon the wraith was leaping from rigging to rigging among the men working at the masts. In no time the sails were all tied to their yards.
Yet the danger was not over. At least two men had been tossed overboard, though the Lord of the Nazgûl narrowly prevented a third one by snatching him by the scruff of his clothing as he lost his grip. There were some faint shouts amidst the driving rain about dropping anchor and running downwind.
It is certainly unfortunate that I should run into a storm. There are few of these among the West Coast, especially on the shipping route to Númenor. The wraith wondered, If it should prevail over this ship, I will not perish, though I will be delayed for several months at most. Let it not be so, for both my sake and the crew's!
Still, I must wonder if the storm is a sign that I should have remained in Mordor… or if Lord Sauron's influence has extended beyond the shores of Númenor.
It was also the first time that the Lord of the Nazgûl wished this was not so. How strange, that as he spent more time on this ship he was also beginning to harbor more independent thoughts.
The storm thankfully abated on the third day, leaving most of the crew and passengers intact but miserable. However, the vessel sustained some serious damage, with a mast completely snapped, three sails ripped to shreds and several leaks in the hull. Unless they landed in Númenor within the next few days to make repairs, the ship would not last long even against a short squall. There was nothing the crew could do now but to press on.
The Lord of the Nazgûl was positively frustrated by the obstacles that hindered him on his long journey. He was not expecting smooth seamless traveling, but this was becoming absurd. It was as if Lord Sauron had been displeased with him and had sent this storm to discourage his progress.
The wraith shuddered at this unwelcome thought, If he was able to conjure peculiar weather even here, then he must be close enough to sense my presence. The fact that he has not contacted me means that miraculously enough, I remain undetected.
"… the sixth time this week alone," He suddenly heard one of the sailors say grimly, "Perhaps the Valar are truly displeased with Ar-Pharazôn and his new regime. Have you experienced these recent earthquakes? They are a sign—"
"Hush! Do not speak of such matters in the open air. Tar-Mairon has the uncanny ability of rooting out anyone who might have ties, however little, with the Faithful." Another shushed the first speaker.
"Still, you cannot deny that since Mairon the Admirable's arrival Númenor has fallen into a strange kind of shadow," The sailor's voice had a bitter sarcasm in it, "If he should happen to hear my words even in the far off seas, so be it! This may be my last voyage to the Land of the West."
The Lord of the Nazgûl leaned in to hear more, but he had underestimated the force of his overpowering aura. The two sailors were soon scrambling away in sudden fright. For once he cursed this uncontrollable ability, for he wanted to know more about what Lord Sauron had been doing on Númenor. It seemed like he was sowing discord successfully, though the wraith felt unsettled instead of elation. If the legendary Valar, unprecedented storms and shadows over an entire country were involved in Númenor's twilight, then it seemed that he was running out of time sooner than he thought.
However, the Lord of the Nazgûl lost all semblances of doubt and hesitation when the island nation itself arose before the ship on the fourteenth day. He had been studying a slight inclination in the horizon for the past few days, but to see Númenor up close suddenly stole his nonexistent breath away and left him frozen at where he stood at the bow.
It was so familiar and strangely foreign at the same time, from the neatly built docks and harbors to the houses of stone that lined the dirt-paved roads. Even in his deficient vision, the Lord of the Nazgûl could see that many people were scurrying around at the port of Rómenna with carts pulled by horses, large crates and baskets. Vendors crammed the wharf with their merchandise, shouting out their goods of hot fried fish, recently caught oysters, freshly peeled lobsters and more.
The wraith cast his gaze upwards, and promptly stepped back in awe. Towering above the arching columns of other buildings and even the intricately decorated royal palace was a high imposing mountain, barren at its interestingly flat summit. Although there was no structure built at the very top, he could sense that the mountain held a special significance, as well as the echoes of praises sung a long time ago to a listening deity.
Meneltarma. A name came into his mind. The Pillar of Heaven.
The Pillar indeed! See how it reaches the firmaments, as if it symbolizes man's inherent desire to commune with the divine. Perhaps this is where the Númenóreans brought their thanksgiving and praises to Eru Ilúvatar in the three prayers, the Erukyermë, Erulaitalë, and the Eruhantalë…
The Lord of the Nazgûl had not known what those three words meant or existed until now, when they seemly floated to the surface of his mind. He would have tried to puzzle over this phenomenon had not a sudden epiphany come upon him as he regarded Númenor. It came from nowhere, out of his forgotten living memories, that this country was once his, its people and its land. He was once one of those living beings who found joy in sailing and in calling this majestic island his home.
An indescribable emotion welled up in him even before he actually set step upon Númenor, and the next thing he knew he was chanting the lilting Quenya words of a short song:
Laita ná Ilúvatar, iatar ima nórë
Ierta ilya ontanë akarë ho essë
Epë iúmë yesti uncairës
Etima sanya nura ho ortane ima melda ióna
Ho ríë inúmen, ilca oio-alcarinqua
Its tune was rather mournful and spoke of thousands of years of fraught history. However a sense of gratefulness, and most of all a fierce pride for a country, permeated the song of praise strongly. It was only after the last lingering note faded into the clear cloudless sky that the Lord of the Nazgûl comprehended its meaning. When translated into the Common Speech, it read as thus:
Praise be to Ilúvatar, the Father of our land.
May all creation glorify his name!
Before time began he hollowed out the sea
Out of its depths he raised our beloved isle
His crown jewel of the west, gleaming ever bright.
How the people of Númenor revere their Creator! He marveled, The words of this psalm alone seems to lift my entire being to rejoice along with them. How could I have ever forgotten that I was once a Númenórean, a living breathing man who once walked alone these very shores? Why have I left all this behind, to choose to become sundered from the home I never thought I had?
My home… this place… is where I once lived…
The Lord of the Nazgûl finally felt confident enough to disembark from the ship, moving away from crowd that had gathered to welcome them. Unseen and undetected, he made his way along the wharf slowly, taking in as much as he could without actually seeing the living. With his keen sense of smell, the Lord of the Nazgûl could perceive the sharp flinted scent of the sea and the myriad odors of cooking seafood from the merchants. He could also particularly taste the excitement in the air as more people got ashore. Shrieking children ran here and there, grinning happily when the vendors treated them a bit of lobster tail and an occasional fish head.
The wraith could also perceive many finer details he had missed before, now he had set step on the land of Númenor itself. Many of the houses and other buildings were built in the manner of those of the Eldar, with high vaults and numerous fountains in spacious courtyards that sprayed arcs of water sparkling with a thousand gleaming facets in the sunlight. Sprawling stone walkways interconnected most of the buildings, the longest one stretching to encompass the width of a large plaza. Everywhere the Lord of the Nazgûl looked, he saw elaborately carved colonnades hewn out of stone and entwined with the haphazard curls of climbing ivy.
Everything here hints of familiarity, yet it all seems foreign to me. I have a feeling that I once trod upon this very road many times in the past, but I could not remember why. The wraith mused, Despite all, even if I was not stricken by the sense of coming back to my home country, Númenor is truly a wondrous kingdom of men. Why did I leave in the first place? I… would have never chosen my current path if I had known… Of all places I had been, even Mordor where I stayed the longest, this is where… I feel I belong to. I was once one of these proud seafaring people who sang glad praises to Eru Ilúvatar. I would have never left my country…
What had happened to me?
In the midst of his growing joy, the Lord of the Nazgûl felt the hints of the heavy burden of grief cling to him when he recognized a small alley that led to a wide roadway that stretched all the way to Armenelos, the capital. He took this narrow path without consciously realizing it. To his relief, few people trod here, though a few stabled horses whinnied and shied away from him.
The ground suddenly trembled slightly beneath the Lord of the Nazgûl, causing him to stop in surprise and instinctually reach out to seize a wooden post. However, the earthquake faded away as soon as it came
There was nothing worth noting on this alley except for a large derelict stone building. Its wooden door and supporting beams had long collapsed into ruin, all except a sign that read "Tercenyë Ship Chandlers" hanging crookedly on a rotten signpost. Though the words had been violently crossed out by a series of deep gouges, they were still legible. Driven by a sudden impulse, the wraith gingerly touched the faded letters, tracing the shallow indentations they made in the worn surface.
I came here before. I used to visit this place... frequently. It belonged… to a dear friend I was forced to leave behind without a single farewell.
The sounds of a busy harbor suddenly faded into the incomprehensible muted hum of white noise. The Lord of the Nazgûl was no longer standing before an abandoned chandlery struggling to make sense of the memories that lingered at the edge of his mind. The ruined store was bustling with people once again, though they were of insubstantial form and color. With an amazed start, the wraith-lord realized he could actually see their faces.
This came as a shock for a wraith who had lived for hundreds of years without seeing another living countenance. But he adjusted to this new sight more quickly than he had expected, as if he had been seeing faces for his entire life. None of them were familiar, except for a laughing young maiden carrying an armful of coiled rope. To his utter surprise, her eyes met his directly as if she could see him fully.
Then she smiled and raised a hand to wave at him. Her lips moved to form words, perhaps a glad shout of greetings, but the wraith heard no sound. As quickly as it came, the vision faded so that he was looking at the empty chandlery again.
Are these my own experiences? Are these actual people I knew on this island I once called home? Perhaps I once had a family… maybe some companions… or maybe even a lover. Perhaps I was even king of this nation.
Why did I give them up?
Or more importantly, why did I forget them in the first place? Why could I not remember anything of my life here? There was only a sense of familiarity, nothing more. Nothing of my memories of my life on Númenor. What had happened to me? What happened to that young maiden who saw me and to her chandlery?
The Lord of the Nazgûl no longer puzzled over the nature of his homeland. Instead he pondered over on what could have possibly happened here that caused him to become as he was today. He had never considered his status as a curse, but he felt the first hint of doubt growing.
He continued along the small alley until it led to the aforementioned wide roadway. By now he had ceased admiring the view of the significantly grander houses that lined the sides. As he proceeded along, he saw more and more of these strange visions that overlapped the present with the past.
He saw a tall young woman clad in a long dress and a white cloak trying her best to chase after a small boy in a mud-splattered tunic down the wide roadway. An older boy watched nearby as he laughed uproariously along with the chandlery girl. As the wraith passed beneath a stone walkway, a flash of white above guided him to see the young woman and the small boy walking across it, both now matured by a few years. A simple glance at a mapmaker's workshop showed the chandlery girl emerging from within with a large bundle of rolled-up scrolls. Then all four of them were sitting on a jutting rock in the sea when the Lord of the Nazgûl turned his gaze towards it.
Which one of these young youths am I? Or perhaps none of them, since they have passed on and I am the only one who remains. Whatever my connection to them was, they once knew me while I was still alive.
How did my departure affect them? Did they know what I have become?
The Lord of the Nazgûl stopped in the middle of the roadway. He suddenly felt uncomfortable on the land where he once stepped as a living mortal. The wraith was a relic of the past, long separated from his home. Yet he was the one who had changed the most while Númenor stood mostly frozen in time. It was the same as he supposedly remembered it.
Or maybe his home country had also changed much. The Lord of the Nazgûl noticed a heavy atmosphere hanging over Númenor that he had missed before, being so caught up in his awe previously. While the harbor was filled with people who gladly welcomed the travelers, the rest of the Númenóreans went about in their daily tasks grimly and spoke to each other in the guttural tones of Adûnaic. He could also sense the tangible aura of fear in their occasional hushed whispers and uneasy glances behind their backs.
The wraith-lord suddenly remembered what the two sailors on his ship had been conversing, about a strange shadow, the Valar and Sauron's influence. He found that he would rather not see his master trying to bring down Númenor from the inside. Months ago the Lord of the Nazgûl would have balked at the very notion of going against Sauron in any way, and distanced himself from those who spoke against his lord. But something had changed in him months ago even as he struggled against his master's will and his own feeling of dread. Númenor was no longer a distant enemy country acting against Mordor; it was a long-lost home he never knew he had. Only then did the Lord of the Nazgûl realize how little time he had remaining before he either had to head back or face Sauron. The longer he stayed on Númenor, the chances of his master sensing his presence grew.
If only I had come sooner! Then I would not have to visit my home under the cover of fear. Nevertheless… there was never a better opportunity than now. I would have never obtained that strange desire to travel to Númenor if not for my master's recent attention on it. It would not be wise for me to linger longer than I should, but…
I wish to stay.
The wraith-lord turned to the harbor once again, casting his vision as far as he could until he could see the rows of ship masts and rolled-up canvas sails bobbing gently along with the tides.
I… I… want to spend many days here, even months, wandering around my home and recalling as much as I could… and remembering what those people I saw once meant to me. I do not want to see my country ruined when I have finally discovered where I once belonged. But a shadow has already fallen on Númenor.
As he gradually made his way towards the mainland to Armenelos, the oppressive atmosphere steadily worsened to the extent that the welcoming scene back at the harbor seemed a distant memory. The Lord of the Nazgûl cannot accurately describe it as something visible; it was more of a feeling that something had gone terribly awry, that the entire country was holding its breath as if waiting for something to happen within the hour.
For the first time, he noticed that the capital was strangely bereft of people. The few that were present were the soldiers that guarded the royal palace and some stragglers loitering in the streets aimlessly. It was also deathly silent; no shout of glad laughter or even a conversation could be heard, apart from a distant unceasing rumble that seemed to make the ground tremor slightly. The Lord of the Nazgûl strained his hearing as he proceeded deeper into the royal city in the hope of discovering what had occurred.
A shrill scream of terror suddenly rang through the air, piercing the silence like a blade. It sounded as if coming from a high place, indistinct and immediately lost in a gust of wind. But the wraith-lord heard it as clearly as if it had been uttered next to him.
It came from a large circular windowless building situated in the midst of the hill that Armenelos was built on. It was larger even than the royal palace and built in a manner that clashed greatly with the elegant Númenórean architecture. There was nothing beautiful about it, no decorations that set it apart as to deserve such a prominent place in the capital. The large dome that covered the building was once made of silver, but had been long stained black by the thick smoke that had started to issue from a small opening at the top.
He frowned as a foul scent reached his keen sense of smell. It seemed vaguely familiar, a scent he often faced with when the orcs of Mordor brawled and then promptly fell into one of the many lava fissures to be roasted alive.
Something abhorrent is going on inside that structure. I would have gone in haste to investigate if not for the presence of my master. It emits the strongest from the smoking building. No doubt he is inside. I must be cautious in approaching if I want to find out what is going on.
He tried in vain to mask his presence, anything to suppress that dreadful aura that should have alerted Sauron long ago to his servant's proximity. But Sauron still seemed to not have detected the wraith-lord. The Lord of the Nazgûl decided to stop pushing his luck, and made his way to the pair of black iron doors that was the only entrance. Upon pushing one open by a crack, he could hear a familiar voice chanting something in the Black Speech. Although he was accustomed to the voice issuing commands instead of taking on a singsong lilting quality, it was unmistakably Sauron's.
"…this blade I present the offering of lifeblood to the one and only King of the World, Lord of All and Giver of Freedom and Master of Fate. May he in his boundless mercy grant upon these faithful acolytes the gift of longevity, undimmed by the curse of Man and freedom granted to strive against the Powers that have cast them aside in their insurmountable pride!"
The Lord of the Nazgûl spared a quick glance inside, and proceeded to freeze in the doorway with all thoughts evading detection forgotten. He could not pick between horror, revulsion, anger or sorrow upon taking in the scene before him.
The domed building was some sort of temple, complete with inscriptions on the walls in a language he could not understand and a circle of long wooden benches that surrounded a large square altar of some sort. It was currently surrounded by a straggle of robed figures bowed to the knee towards the altar, on which a large fire had been lit. Whatever was burning on it issued a thick cloud of smoke. The smell of burning flesh was much stronger here, filling the room completely and blocking out all other scents.
He already had the suspicion what exactly was going on, from the smell to the altar. But another glance at the altar, and what lay on it, caused the wraith-lord to look away in disgust. Among the glowing logs and flames lay the unmistakable form of a person.
The Lord of the Nazgûl had stumbled upon a ritual of human sacrifice.
What is this?! How… how can this… abomination come to being on this island?! My people, my own kin… performing such an act against all moral laws! This cannot be happening… unless…
The rumble he had heard earlier suddenly became a deafening roar in his ears as he took this all in. Another group of people were huddled to the ground at the back of the temple, trying to move away as far as they could from the altar. They were all chained together by the ankles, and had the Lord of the Nazgûl been able to see their faces, he was sure they were all of terror. He could particularly feel it in the stifling atmosphere of the room. Even the robed figures, no doubt observers of the ritual, excluded an air of fear.
An all too familiar fear he and the Nazgûl faced regularly when they stood before their displeased master.
Sauron himself stood on the other side of the altar, having taking his accustomed fair physical form of a young man with shoulder-length brown hair and gray eyes. Although the wraith-lord was used to seeing him in this guise, there was a haggard look on his face that was not there before. The wraith-lord cared not for what could have caused it, for his attention was drawn to the long bloodstained knife his master held in one hand.
In that instance the other noticed him. His eyes widened in astonishment as he turned to face the Lord of the Nazgûl fully−
And the world literally collapsed.
The ground beneath his feet was suddenly heaving upward, throwing him straight into the air before he could understand what had happened. Then he was hit with a force equivalent to a hard slam into a stone wall and was yanked into darkness.
After resurfacing for a brief second, the wraith-lord realized that he was being carried away by massive torrents of water. The waves battered at him mercilessly and pulled him under again before he could attempt to orient himself.
He lost track of time. There seemed to be no end to the waves that repeatedly seized him mercilessly to dash him against various hard objects in the water. Since he did not need to breathe, he could not perish from drowning and was thus subject to spinning helplessly with no way to resurface. He tried to summon his sorcery to lift himself to the surface, but he could not utter the incantation with a mouthful of water.
The chaos had vanished, and he was no longer being jerked along with the currents or being bashed against something. The Lord of the Nazgûl found that he was floating in utter darkness without a single clue where he currently was. He spent several minutes in guarded wariness before allowing his thoughts free reign.
What is going on? What just happened? Sauron discovered my presence and then the world was engulfed by water. But why? Who caused it? Then this means… my homeland…
I am truly sorry that you had to experience this, young one.
The Lord of the Nazgûl started at the quiet voice that suddenly spoke out of the utter silence. He turned around in haste, trying to catch a glimpse of the speaker, but his surroundings remained lightless as ever.
In this realm of Arda Marred the choices of man have brought much sorrow upon this world. Even an entire nation I once called my own was not invulnerable. Even you, who had made the fateful choice to accept the gift that is your ring, had to bear the consequences of choice.
Who… are you?
We once shared many a glad dialogue, the voice continued on, It has been a long while, my old friend. Perhaps it is time that you remember who you were once before. You have been sorely missed.
I do not understand…
You will when the time comes. Now go in peace, last of the Númenóreans of old. Your place is not with the lost.
Wait! The Lord of the Nazgûl was still bewildered by the perplexing words the other voice had spoken, What is happening right now?! Who are you? Why are you speaking to me? Do you know me? What has befallen Númenor?
All in good time, young one. You shall see me again.
Light suddenly burst into existence and banished the darkness completely. The wraith-lord was assaulted with the natural urge to recoil and find shelter from the piercing rays, but there was nowhere he could run to. He could only endure the ache that began to build in his head, that began to burn away at his incorporeal form.
No… what is going on?! Turn off the light… it is not for wraiths such as I to bear it… I need to back into the shadow!
As if responding to that last thought, the light increased tenfold, so powerful that it seemed to impale his very essence.
Pain. Stabbing, slicing, pummeling at every part of his being. He screamed, but no sound came forth.
When oblivion finally claimed him, he fell headlong into its offered respite without a second thought.
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