Shield and Skull

Middle-earth time is:
Daytime on Sterday, 2nd Yule.
Real time is: 14:15:41 MDT on Wed Aug 20 2003.

Easterling caravan
A row of wooden wagons of a rich oak adorned with brightly colored markings and signs create the Easterling caravan. Each wagon is lead by two short and stout Easterling horses, shaggy with hair from the winter season. The grooming and care to each horse is apparent for the Easterlings take pride in their horses. A sea of aromas hit the senses as perfumes, oils, and herbs radiate from two wagons. To another the thick furs caught by the hunts line outside the wagon. This is an arrangement of colors that can overwhelm the sights, a small reflection of the activity in the merchant squares in the Eastern lands of Rhun.

=========================== Rhun Time and Weather ============================
Current time: Early Morning on Sterday, Yule 2 of 3030
Weather forecast: Severly Drifting Snow on this Winter day
Real life time: Wed Aug 20 14:15:43 2003 MDT

Another night on the road for the Easterling Caravan. The snow is falling down heavily this night, meaning most of tommorrow's day will be spend digging wagons out of the snow. This trip in the dead of winder has already taken its toll, with noticably fewer wagons and horses in the caravan. The night is pitch dark, but even if it werent, nothing can be seen past the falling snow anyway. Unable to survive otherwise, some yurts have been put up, with fires glowing from within them.

From a makeshift lean-to close to the main caravan the smith Tolgai stands, his brawny arms sweating in the heat of the portable forge as he crafts some runners for some of the heavier laden wagons. He swears mightily to himself since he had hoped to be off duty and sitting in a comfortable yurt and drinking ale at this time. A broad kerchief adorns his brow to keep the sweat from falling into his eyes. "Bloody fools," he mutters under his breath, "Should have thought of this long ago. He pulls a piece of metal out of the fire and the hammer clangs dully on the orange metal as he bends it into shape.

A sudden shriek pierces the night. Even muffled by the snow, it is a terrible sound, filled with anguish and and hate. It seems to have come from the road going back South. Few seconds pass after the last echo dies, and the call is answered by another voice, this one coming from ... above! It's a gurgling, hissing sound, a voice of great despair. Heavy snow and dark night hide everything few steps away from the fires, the eye sees nothing. But something is coming this way.

A circle of children playing around a camp fire with one of their mothers instantly stop their movements frozen with fear as the sound travels to their youthful ears. One little girl runs up to her mommy tugging on the hem of her dress, "Mamma, what's that?" Instead of answering the child, the mother simply grasps the young child by her wrist and pulls her into their tent, the flap quickly closing them out from the night and what it brings.
Tolgai stops what he is doing and freezes in place, the hammer dropping from his nerveless hands as his ears are assaulted by an unearthly shriek. His hands go up automatically to his ears and his knees bend as he remains rooted to the spot.
The guards around camp wield their weapons as they hear the shriek, exposing their bodies to the cold as they stick their arms out of their thick cloaks. Staring wildly into the darkness, onf of them says "That's not the sound of a pig..." The caravan awakens again this night. Soldiers begin lighting extra torches in an attempt to illuminate more of the camp. It is to no avail however, as the heavy snow obsructs most views out of the camp.

The night is silent, for a while. The terrible shouts do not repeat. Only the touch of the wind seems to become colder, with a chill which reaches through the warmest cloak, through furs and armor alike, and touches the heart. Then, it appears: a great black horse on the snowed-up road. It struggles to lift its legs above the snow, and with every step the iron-shod hooves sink into it. Black skin glistens with sweat, and foam freezes under the horse's chin. Atop the horse, the rider, cloaked in all black, urges it forward, not with a whip, not with a kick of the stirrups, but with a quiet hissing sound, which causes more pain than a hundred lashes.

Albolar sits straight up in bed, woken by the shriek and listening intently as the last cadence dies. She quickly rises and pulls on her shirt and leggings and rushes out of her yurt into the cold carrying her scimitar in its sheath, her eyes darting around. "What was that?" she says to no one in particular. Cringing in the cold her ears listen for the sounds to be repeated. She motions for the guard, "Wake more of the soldiers, I like this not."

The guards asseble a line infront of the oncoming horse. Spearmen in front. There they wait for its arrival, unable to see much more than a blur from their current distance.
Albolar shudders in the cold, which now seems to be even more intense. She motions for a slave, "Get my robe from my yurt," she commands peering forward and only just being able to detect the faint outline of a powerful black horse against the snow. Nodding his head to the Arbans word, the slave scurries off, only to retun moments later with the Albolar's robe, it being carefully extended within his hands.

Snow splashes under the hooves as the horse moves on, through the swirling clouds of white snowflakes. But even the brightest clearest snow and the glittering sparkling crystals of ice vanish as soon as they touch the black robes of the rider, who stands out as a black void amid the white blizzard. Soon, you can make out a great horned helm on the head of the rider, just by its outline against the falling snow. One hand in a black glove is holding the reigns, while the other holds a tall tower shield bearing nine runes in a circle.

Some soldiers recognizing the figure from camp earlier in the month immediately drop into the snow in a bow. Others, unsure of what is going on raise their weapons to the ready... But not for long. Terror soon courses their their hearts, and they know what rides before them. They too fall, leaving an open path for Gothmog to ride into camp.
The Jagun takes the furlined robe with bearly a nod and pulls it tightly around her, the hands holding the scimitar disappearing within its depths.
There is a hum of voices as more and more people emerge from their yurts or wagons looking around fearfully.
Albolar looks at one of the Arbans close to her. "Have the perimeter sentries checked immediately," she commands, and then there is a sharp intake of breath as the figure becomes more recognizable and the blood freezes in her veins as she turns towards it and sinks to one knee.
The slave, perhaps valuing his life more than that of the Arban, lowers completly to both his knees, his head bowing unitl it lightly touches the ground, with his hands extended before him, palms pressed to the ground before him. The cold ground begins to slowly soak through the meager clothing he wears.

A black void cut out of the swirling snow, and an invisible cloud of terror, Gothmog raids in into the camp. The guards are sensibly out of his way, and he does not even acknowledge their presence. Instead, with a quick tug on the reigns he halts his horse, and slowly scans the camp, leaning forward slightly, as if he is sniffing out something. Then another hiss sends the horse moving again, slowly this time. It walks by the fire, which, abandoned to the cold snow, crackles ans sputters. A heavy hoove steps on the toy left by the child whose mother hastily whisked him away. The horse finds its way between the yurts, slowly approaching the brightest fire in the camp, that of the makeshift smithy.

The guards stand from their bowing, and scramble to alert others not awoken by the shrill sounds that the caravan has another visitor in the middle of the night.
Albolar remains on one knee her eyes lowered to the ground as the great black horse and rider pass her position and move to the outskirts of the yurts. The wave of intense cold that seems to follow the figure is a familiar one, and she remembers the ceremony of the shield. However, she does not follow and no one else moves in camp though many eyes follow the sinister figure from their places on the ground.
The smith Tolgai looks up in surprise and terror as the black figure looms closer to him and he falls face forward on the ground in terror, his arms outstretched in front of him in supplication.

Gothmog halts his horse in front of the smith's yurt. The tools of the trade of the smith are in plain sight, and if it's the smith Nazgul is looking for, he does not have to ask if he found one. The black cloak billows, scattering the snow, and the rider jumps off of the horse and onto the snowy ground, surrounded by robes whipping in the wind and shadows casting about. The shield is still in his hand, and he holds it forward as he approaches the smith, "This is the night to finish the work", comes out hoarse voice. "The night when the moon hides its face, and darkness reigns the skies unhindered."

Tolgai feels the presence to the marrow of his bones as his eyes watch the metal shod feet from his position on the ground. Still he does understand what the figure is talking about, since word of the fate of the luckless apprentices had spread throughout the camp.
The fell words push themselves into his ears, his subconscious - his very soul and his body begins to tremble in terror. "Howhow, my I be of service my lord," he finally manages as he feels the warm flow of his own urine bathe his thighs.

The wraith does not answer, leaving the man waiting. Instead, he raises his face to the sky, and lets out another terrible cry. Even directed into the darkness above, its echoes roll over the camp in mind-searing waves of pain. Soon, a desperate sad wail answers the call. Amid the blizzard, tossed this way and that by heavy winds, a bat-like shape is growing in the sky as it approaches. "Call more men", hisses the wraith, without looking at the smith.

Albolar has just arisen from her position on the ground and is conferring in low tones with her Arban as all cast apprehensive looks towards the lean to of the luckless smith. There is a preternatural quiet in the camp when suddenly a shriek even more intense than the previous ones, rends the air. She drops her scimitar and places her hands over her ears in synchrony with the others witnessing this terrifying visitor.
The smith Tolgai remains petrified on the ground in front of Goshmog, not daring to move his eyes closed in horror as the sound reverberates in the cold night air.
The eyes of everyone in camp go up to the heavens as a huge shape appears in the sky and the sound of its wings whumps through the night.
Albolar comes to from stunned silence, and noting the smith's predicament, she orders, "Arban Machela, take your squad over to the Smith's on the double."
A fearful glance is given but the soldiers comply, immediately dropping to their fronts as they arrive at the leanto.

The shape in the sky resolves into a creature which looks like an overgrown bat. Large leathery wings flap heavilly as the flying beast struggles against the blizzard. With a heavy thud it lands, almost falls into the snow, and the bald head on a long snake-like neck falls at Gothmog's feet. It gulps for air, having enpended the last of its strenght to get here. It is an old thing, the large wings are ripped in several places, the skin is marred by scars, and clings to the ribs. But the eyes of the beast are still alive with unholy red glow.

The Arban and the soldiers on the ground, along with the shivering smith feel the impact of the great beast as it lands close to them. Those that dare, raise their eyes to the sight and quickly lower them again as the sinuous neck weaves around and they can hear the air hiss in and out of the creatures mouth.

As the men approach, and the beast crashes into the snow, Gothmog draws a slender longsword, a sliver of pale white in the black hand. A wave of chilling cold spreads out as the blade leaves its scabbard. The fell beast struggles to lift its head from the snow, the red eyes stare into the black shape of the wraith. Its mouth opens, and, between whizzing gulps, lets out a wail of great sadness, strong at first, then ending in a crying desperate whimper, which lingers in the air for a moment after the cruel cold blade falls in a swift stroke. Red glow fades in the dead eyes as the head rolls into the snow, staining its pure white blanket with dark red, almost black blood.
"Clean the flesh off the skull", instructs Gothmog the soldiers who assembled around him.

As the wraith's sword emerges from its scabbard there is a collective gasp amongst the on-lookers, and the soldiers on the ground hug the snow beneath them as the keening of the winged beast fills the air around them. There is stunned silence for a few moments after the great head is parted from its body and then nikuds begin to slowly crawl over to the large head which rests on the snow. Daggers are drawn and the flesh is peeled back to be pulled off in pieces, which are then discarded on the discolored snow around them.
Tolgai remains where he is, not daring to move a muscle his whole body dancing in the snow from the tremors he feels from fear and extreme cold.
At last, the nikuds turn from their gruesome task and abase themselves once more in front of Gothmog - the bloodied head of the great beast now lies staring in a horrible grimace of death on the snow in front of the wraith.

"I said CLEAN IT. Wipe the blood dry!" shouts Gothmog, evidently displeased by the fact that the bare skull is left bloodied. Pain rips through ears and minds, throbs in temples like crushing vice. Dark shadows flail around the wraith, enveloping two of the closest men with black tentackles, flow into their eyes and ears.

The voice is enough to curdle the blood and the two soldiers nearest the wraith appear to have a seizure and then lie quiet. Arban Machela and the rest of the squad shrink into the ground, every nerve fibre in their bodies shrieking in pain as the fell voice descends on them and they gasp with the pain of it. After a few moments the Arban struggles to his knees and he says in a strangled voice, "Get up you sniveling cowards! Get some water and some towels!."
Two of the nikuds rush away and soon come back with a bucket of water from one of the yurts. This is splashed over the gruesome head and then it is toweled dry and they fall back onto their faces once more.

Presently, the wraith picks up the skull, which shines white next to his dark form. As he holds it in his hands above his head, the red glow once again returns to the now empty eyes. It flickers and goes out when Gothmog lays the skull on the smith's anvil. He lifts the great shield, where in the center, between the nine glittering runes there is a large empty space, a patch of flat metal slightly larger than the skull. "You must affix the skull to the shield before the sun comes up. Everything must be finished before it is light".

From his position on the ground, Tolgai stutters through his chattering teeth, "Y,yyyes, my lord. It shall b,bbbe as you w,wwish. The one look that he dares to take upwards into the void of Gothmog's visage, makes his eyes widen and he still makes no move to get up.
The Arban glances nervously over at the smith and rises, kicking him in the ribs. "Get up you swine," he grates, "You have a job to do and for all of our sakes it had better be well done and finished by the time his lordship has requested."

The black horse slowly edges away from the headless corpse of the flying mount which is quickly freezing in the winter air. White snow falls on its spread wings and no longer melts, instead piling up in the folds of leathery skin.
Gothmog waits, silently, for the smith to work on the shield. The eyed of the dry bare skull remain dead and empty, until it is placed in the center of the runic circle. The dead head stares at the smith with the red glow coming anew in its eyes.

Tolgai grunts painfully as the boot of the Arban connects with his ribs and he struggles painfully to his feet clutching his side. He wobbles forward unsteadily towards the shield and the macabre skull at its centre. His hands move to the bellows and he pumps at them to bring the fire up again, the blast of hot air scarcely felt on his skin. He mumbles back at the wraith, not daring to look again, "How d,ddo you wish it to be affixed my l,llord? Bands across the top or a single one around the bottom?" He places some metal pieces within the fire to heat up.

Gothmog flips the skull with a long thin finger, showing the opening where the neck bone used to connect. "Run the bands through, on both sides".

The smith swallows heavily and nervous perspiration begins to bead on his brow as his eyes follow the skeletal finger. Tolgai nods ingratiatingly, "Yes, your lordship,' and he turns to bring the metal from the fire and lays it on the anvil, bending to pick up the hammer that he dropped and smashing it down on top of the band with practiced strokes. After some time, it is bent in the required shape. Then he quenches it in water and reheats it before securing this first band in place. The process is repeated for another band and after about four hours, the head is mounted centrally on the shield and the smith stands back, his shoulders slumped in exhaustion.

The wraith lifts the shield in the air with both hands until the skull is at face level, and stares into the dead eyes. They glow red again, and in the flickering red light the white bare jaws seem to grin, a terrible grimace of death. "It is done", drops the wraith after a while. Not a moment too soon, too, as the first light of dawn spreads in the sky.