Speak Again

fanfiction by Wild Iris

The Groupie of Dol Guldur

Fytte the Third

Several moons had waxed, waned, given up and been prodded back into the sky by Varda since Úlairiel had come to dwell in Dol Guldur.

Úlairiel had been allotted her own chamber near the base of the high tower. It had originally been furnished according to the needs of the Wraiths, being bare save for a spike for hanging cloaks and another for hanging torture victims, but her clever hands had quickly made it comfortable. She had hung festoons of fairy lights, a gift from her beloved, who had brought them back from a raid on Lothlórien. On the floor were fluffy cushions that Úlairiel had discovered the Orcs weaving in a secluded storeroom. A long mirror had been installed so that she could judge the impact of her new Ringwraith garb: robes of a subtle rigor mortis grey, and a cloak of silk that pooled in black tides about her feet. On the mantel shelf was a portrait of the fair #5, executed in that gallant cross-stitch that heeds not marred and riven fingers.

Úlairiel had spent many hours in the practice yard of the fortress, training for her new duties, and all had marvelled at her prowess with sword and horse. The mightiest blade seemed as light as a willow-wand in her grasp. The great steeds of the Nazgûl, with their bloodstained hoofs and hides of night, whinnied into her hand for sugar lumps and let her dress their manes with lavender ribbons. And it was declared that no one had ever learned faster the art of steering a pterodactyl.

Amidst all this activity, she and her beloved snatched many precious moments together. Often they sat on a gently smoking ash-heap in the bailey. He clasped her white hand between his gauntlets; she touched his invisible cheek and planted soft kisses around his glowing eyes. She was fascinated by his sorcerous flesh, knitted and moved by will; so unlike the irrational matter of common beings. Pressed close together, they shared memories and dreams of the centuries before they had met. He told her of his kingdom long ago, and of how taxing kingship was, and how being a Wraith was in many ways much simpler. She, in turn, told him of her lonely childhood as an orphan, after her father had been killed in the forest when an eagle dropped a wizard on to his head; and of how she had never truly belonged in the Woodland Realm, but at Dol Guldur had finally found her home.

They made plans to be handfasted, as soon as Úlairiel was fully established within the company of Ringwraiths. The others of the Nazgûl did indeed now accept her presence. If her skill in arms were not sufficient credit, she also won admiration for her avant-garde singing and the facility with which she picked up the Black Speech. The smallest Nazgûl was especially grateful to her for killing a large spider in his bathtub. Even the Witch-King had been forced to recognize her skills, though he still avoided her eyes when he encountered her, and requested that she ride her pterodactyl sidesaddle. The Lord Sauron, for his part, appeared to have no objection to the marriage, though admittedly he had spoken little since Úlairiel's arrival and spent most of the time locked in his room.

The time came for Úlairiel to undertake her first mission as an honorary Ringwraith. She was eager to prove her service to the company, not only for her beloved's sake but because she greatly empathized with Lord Sauron's plight, once she understood it. A favourite piece of jewellery of her own had once disappeared, and she had felt bereft for days. (She rather suspected King Thranduil.)

Accordingly, it was arranged for her to travel with one of the parties that went oft-times down to the Anduin, to trawl the river for Lord Sauron's lost ring. The party consisted mostly of Orcs, wearing rubber suits and waders. The Ten, led by the Witch-King, rode at its head. Úlairiel took her place alongside her betrothed. She was swathed in her black cloak and her fair face was masked. She sat proudly straight as the troop passed beneath the iron-toothed portcullis and on to the westward road.

"Dearessst," murmured #5 as they trotted. "You give me new ssstrength for battlesss."

"Maidensss," muttered the Witch-King.

"Ssso beautiful, yet unusssual," thought Nazgûl #2.

"Sssturdy protectresss," marvelled the small Wraith.

"Ssstrange tongue," puzzled #7.

"Ssstrange eyesss," blinked #9.

They came to a stream. The horse of Nazgûl #6 stumbled in the stony ford, but a quick movement by Úlairiel prevented the rider from falling. They passed then into a dark thicket. The Orcs gibbered in fear of the trees, but Úlairiel sang softly to calm their nerves. It grew cold as the night deepened, but Úlairiel produced a flask from her saddlebag and introduced the company to the properties of miruvor.

When they reached the Anduin, the Orcs splashed into the water and began to scrabble in its shallows. The Wraiths ranked themselves along the bank to oversee the operation. Úlairiel found herself studying the Orcs' ineffectual passes with pans and shrimping nets. After an hour, they had caught a boot, the rust-eaten remains of a kettle, three fish and an unidentifiable slimy object.

"There must be a better way of doing this," she said.

"Really?" sniffed the Witch-King.

"It seems to me," she said, "that the ring is most likely to have ended up in one of the deeper bits. Otherwise, wouldn't it just have been washed away?"

"And you would know about these thingsss?" he said. "We have been dredging river for centuriesss."

"Exactly!" said Úlairiel. "You need to try something different."

"Who could ssswim down there?" he queried, pointing with his sword towards a dark place in the centre of the river.

"I could," said Úlairiel. She had always prided herself on being an excellent swimmer, and had even bathed in the Enchanted River with no ill effects.

Úlairiel strode over to a high rock, casually stripped down to her Ringwraith-issue black underclothes, and swallow-dived into the deep pool. The water was murky, but her keen sight penetrated the sludge and scanned along the bottom. At first, she saw nothing of interest: weeds, fish bones and rocks. She swam in a circle, magnificently holding her course against the tugging current. The skull of an eel winked at her. Suddenly, a glint caught her eye as water stirred the sediment: a flash of gold. She reached out and grabbed the object.

Úlairiel swam back to the surface. #5 gazed at her, enraptured, as she waded from the water, her hair glistening in the faint moonlight. She opened her hand. On her palm lay a golden ring that seemed, oddly enough, to be exactly her size. She smiled at her beloved, and showed her find to the assembled Nazgûl.

"One Ring!" gasped the Witch-King. He took it from her, and bit it. "It isss found!" A rising chorus of excited hisses came from the other Wraiths, and they clashed their swords together. "Our hour hasss come!"

The company turned around and galloped pell-mell back to Dol Guldur. There they found that the Eye had already seen the night's adventure, and a newly solid figure met them, flickering with power. Thunder cracked over the fortress as Sauron slipped the ring on to one of his new fingers.

For several days, there was merrymaking in the fortress. The Dark Lord immediately gave orders for the marriage of Úlairiel and #5. One afternoon, in a solemn ceremony before Sauron and the Nazgûl, the couple declared their intentions and vowed their eternal love.

That night, they retired to the fluffy cushions in Úlairiel's chamber in order to cement their union. Úlairiel was floating in bliss. Her love was strong, her career was booming, and there were particular benefits, she discovered, in having a man whose flesh was subordinate to his will.