Chapter Eight

Night had fallen on the godforsaken corner of the world called the Shire, and Andagora was fuming. The Witch-king had spent the last several hours berating her for being the one to talk to that little rat creature . . . hobbit. She sighed bitterly. She was painfully sick of their constant feuding, the result of years of tension and failure.

The day they met, the sun shone down in benediction on their entire doomed enterprise. She remembered the first time she rode up to Barad-d�r behind Gayawen. There was no Black Gate then, and the surrounding countryside sang with the glory of spring. It was all sickeningly beautiful, so outrageously idyllic that it could have been a woven image on a tapestry.

Barad-d�r�s first incarnation had boasted a magnificent feasting hall, hung with gold and silver embroidered banners. The wasteland of Mordor had been a charming scene of mountains and pastoral fields, and though Barad-d�r stood as an imposing black tower amid it all, it was not an ugly place. It was much like Andagora�s own homeland of Rh�n complete with a fortress fit for a king.

Or Nine Kings, as she soon found. Andagora, a queen in her own right, hung back as Gayawen confidently pushed her way through the massive studded doors and entered into the feasting hall. A long table, richly laid and set for twenty-two, was set in the middle of the room. At the far end of the table, facing the door, a tall, handsome, imposing-looking man sat on an iron throne. His hair was long and black, and though his skin was swarthy, he was fair to look upon. On his finger, he wore a plain golden ring. To Sauron�s right sat a proud-looking man, well past the prime of his youth. His long hair and beard were white, and he bore a sharply pointed crown. He sat beside a woman much younger than himself: a beauty with long, mahogany hair and a golden crown. Next to the radiant couple were four more kings and their wives. Across the table sat four more royal pairs. These kings and queens were of many races, garbed in clothing both strange and familiar to Andagora. The last two seats, nearest to the door, were empty, along with the throne-like chair at the table�s foot.

Gayawen paused in the doorway as Sauron and the assembly rose. A dusty-skinned man rushed forward to escort Gayawen to the ornate seat at the table�s foot as another helped Andagora to the chair on Gayawen�s right.

�My lord,� began Gayawen formally. �And my lords and ladies, I bid you welcome Andagora, Queen of Rh�n.� Andagora inclined her head as the group bowed to her, and Gayawen named them to her one by one. Three of the couples were Black N�men�reans, but the rest were descended from the other races of Middle-Earth, as was Andagora. The radiant couple to Sauron�s right was descended from the Kings of N�menor, the Witch-King and Queen, skilled in sorcery and black magic.

�Well,� said Sauron smugly after introductions had been made and everyone had been seated. �What happened to Cabbage?�

Blank looks prevailed around the table. Gayawen cleared her throat delicately. �I was too late. He had perished by the time I arrived. As it was, Andagora and I had a very difficult time escaping.�

Andagora made a gurgling noise in the back of her throat. � Cabbage ?� she goggled. �You�re calling my poor brother �Cabbage?��

�Erm, yes,� muttered Gayawen. �An unfortunate translation. You see, Cawel happens to translate into �cabbage� in the Black Tongue.�



�Cabbage� ?�

�I�m afraid so,� said Sauron still smug, sitting back into his throne. �I�ll work on it when he gets here.�

�He�s not going to get here!� Andagora sputtered, rising to her feet. �He�s dead, or didn�t you hear that?�

There was a tense silence around the table as the kings and queens shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The smug look had dropped off Sauron�s. Slowly, he rose from his throne and walked solemnly to where Andagora stood fuming. The kings and queens braced themselves for the ensuing ugliness.

Only to be completely disapointed.

�You poor thing,� Sauron said, laying a hand on Andagora�s shoulder. �Losing your only flesh and blood! Well, I�ll be your brother from now on.�

The queens glared at Andagora as the kings fidgeted, looking to the Witch-king, who had previously enjoyed the lion�s share of Sauron�s affection. The Witch-king looked as though he was experiencing indigestion.

�I have a great idea!� crowed Sauron, picking up a flagon of wine. �Why don�t we celebrate Andagora�s arrival to our little family by invading Rh�n and taking revenge on whoever killed her brother? Witch-king?�

Forty eyes swiveled in their sockets to fix upon the unfortunate Witch-king. He looked wildly around the room, avoiding the stony glare of his wife, before rising, sword in hand, and going to kneel before Andagora, laying the sword at her feet.

�Fairest lady,� he said ubiquitously. �I am at your service!� The remaining Eight looked nervously at one another before rushing over one another to lay their swords in a pile before her, each proclaiming his allegiance to her at the top of his voice.

Sauron smirked. �Well, isn�t that sweet? Now we have a Queen of the Nazg�l to fight alongside the King! Right, now that that�s cleared up, let�s tuck in, shall we?�

He strode back to his throne and winked at his wife as he sat back down. As he drained the flagon of wine, she heard his voice in her head.

This is going to be fun, I promise you. Just watch.

Gayawen stifled a giggle as the Nine gathered their weapons and returned to their seats under the reproachful eyes of the queens.

That night in her room, once the impressive elegance of Sauron�s abode had worn off, the stress of four days of heavy riding and hiding on the road from Rh�n hit Andagora full force. Fed, bathed, and dressed for bed, she was indulging herself in a good cry when there was a knock at the door.

�Just a moment!� she cried, splashing some water on her face and drying it hurriedly before opening the door. Nothing could have prepared her for the shock she received upon opening it.

There, staring at her in her nightgown, where the stony faces of the Nine queens. Andagora blinked.

�Um, won�t you come in?�

Silently, they entered single file, surrounding Andagora. One of them grimly closed the door. Slowly, Andagora turned to look each of them in the eye. Each woman returned the gaze, each face a mask of poised anger. Their brilliantly woven and embroidered gowns glimmered in the candlelight impressively, and Andagora felt herself shrinking inwardly before them.

�Can I help you?� Andagora finally offered.

The mahogany-haired wife of the Witch-king stepped forward. Andagora noticed that her crown appeared to be embossed with a motif that looked like dragons flying in circles around her head. The Queen�s dress was black, embroidered with writhing golden serpents with jeweled eyes. She stared Andagora coldly in the eye without blinking.

�Right,� she said, after a momentary pause. �We saw your little act in there, and we�re onto you. Back off our husbands, Nazbitch!�

�What?!� Andagora fumed. �Look lady, I don�t want your husband! I don�t want any of your husbands!�

Another queen stepped forward. �What, our husbands aren�t good enough for you? Who do you think you are, going after Sauron himself? Because Gayawen will kill you if you try and steal him. She�s pretty powerful herself.�

Andagora could actually feel her mind reeling. �Sauron? What? No! Look, you�ve got it all wrong. I just want to have the rule of my people again, I�m not trying to take anybody�s husband! Not yours, not yours, not yours, not Gayawen�s, nobody�s!�

�If you say so,� the Witch-king�s wife sniffed condescendingly. �But don�t forget, my husband was Sauron�s right-hand man before you came along, and even though he�s pulling that big brother act with you, you�ll always come second to the Witch-king. Oh, he may help you with that little rebellion you�ve got on your hands, but he�s always going to be the one with all the power, and he�s mine . Understand?�

Andagora gave her a blank look. �Yeah, sure, I get it. Look I�ve had kind of a crappy last couple of days, could I, like, get some sleep?�

�Of course you can,� said another queen sweetly before hardened her voice. �Just make sure you sleep alone!�

Without another word, the Nine Wives of the Nazg�l turned and huffed out of the room, leaving Andagora supremely confused in her quarters.

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