“The nine…” Gifflodean thought to himself and snorted through his noncorporeal yet shriveled nose. It had once been a proud nose. A high nose. A nose that middle earth had feared and cowered before. Back when Gifflodean was a captain of the sword and giant among his people. A king renowned for his megalomania and bloodthirst. But now, he was only a shadow.
Gifflodean spurred his evil horse’s flanks. The evil horse grumbled and lost its footing along the rocky shoreline. The water here was brown and scummed voluminously in large pools between the boulders. As the ironclad powers of Mordor had corrupted this ancient valley, so the absolute power of Sauron’s return had polluted this riverway absolutely. It was unlivable and stinking. Gifflodean would have spit on the ground if he still had a mouth. Instead, he moped along on his black stallion, looking for a small hobbit named Frodo who — he was certain — was not here and never had been.
“Sire!” hissed one of Gifflodean’s associates. It was Malkalite, another Nazgûl, approaching from behind a rock formation.
Hundreds of years ago, Malkalite had been a beastly king in his own right. In addition to burning down peaceful villages, levying unmeetable taxes and destroying temples, he had also demanded payment in virgins, oftentimes selling his own offspring into slavery in foreign lands.
“Sire!” Malkalite repeated, trotting on his own bastard steed towards Gifflodean. “We’ve found no evidence of hobbits here.” Malkalite’s ghostlike body was undulating with anxious energies. His silken black shroud seemed to waver uncontrollably.
“You won’t find them here. There’s nothing here at all.” Gifflodean retorted.
He hated Malkalite. He hated all of the six riders who had been assigned to him. The so called Banner of the Anklets, they were. Seven Nazgûl, unaffiliated with the more impressive “nine” who had actually been ring bearers in their day. Not so for Gifflodean and his ratpicking, second rate cavalry. They had all sold their souls for jewelled anklets from Sauron. Jewelled anklets had been much more in vogue for marauding kings 700 years earlier. These days, his missing anklet brought him much pain. Every waking moment — which is to say, every moment as he was now a sleepless ghoul– he could feel the searing, phantom touch of his lost anklet. It was heavy and made the gait of his riding a bit lopsided.
“Speak!” shrieked Malkalite, who was prone to emotional outbursts. “How can you be so certain we won’t find the hobbit and the great one’s ring! We have information from the high inquirer!”
“Smeagle said all manner of things to the high inquirer.”
“Smeagle — you mean, the little fishman?”
“Yes. The little fishman. Who was beaten with iron rods and whipped and choked and starved for days to learn the secrets of the missing ring.”
Malkalite hesitated for a moment but then burst into a cacophonous laughter. His laughter thundered and made the surrounding cliffs quake until their brittle tops crumbled. Rocks rained down into the brown, thick water. In the chaotic downfall, Malkalite reveled and reared up his red-eyed pony for emphasis as she pounded her hooves down to the earth. “Gone soft, have you Gifflodean! Feeling sorry for the little squirt!”
Gifflodean sighed tremendously and several patches of dried scrub brush all but shriveled and died in the immediate aftermath of his exhalation.
“No, you foul accumulation of voidum” Gifflodean said, folding his gloved, invisible hands over each other. “I am saying that the little fishman said all matter of things because he was was not made to suffer blows. He shouted out all kinds of names. Places. Memories. Useless grombolar that all the sworn allies of Sauron must now systematically eliminate. Just in case. It’s a duty for dust maids.”
Malkalite stopped laughing. He turned his empty hood in Gifflodean’s direction and seemed to stare at him. He stared for a long time. Because Malkalite didn’t have a face, it was difficult to tell what thoughts were ranging through his hideous, old mind. After a time though, he spurred his horse and rode on ahead of Gifflodean. Gifflodean imagined that Malkalite would go off and eaglery tell the other Nazgûl about their exchange. No doubt Malkalite would cast aspersions on Gifflodean’s grit and willingness to serve The Great Eye. Gifflodean wondered if some kind of mutiny might be in store for him now.
“Well it hardly matters,” Gifflodean thought. He pulled the crown of his hood down further over the blank space where his head used to be. “What can they do? Kill me again? And anway, they’ll see. When the ring turns up, it will not be here. It will be shown to have never traveled through these parts.”
Gifflodean wound his horse’s reigns tighter in his riding gloves. For the thousandth unfortunate moment, he reflected on the short, invigorating time he had spent among the living. It seemed so small and inconsequential now compared now with the inexorable curse that eternal life was turning out to be. Like a single bead of water at the center of a breathless desert.
Thoughtlessly, Gifflodean kicked his horse savagely in the ribs, causing it to whinney and shriek. The evil horse reared up on its hind legs in ferocious protest of its rider. Gifflodean turned the horse back towards some rock dens which he had already explored. Accompanying him — as always– were both the immense burden of his phantom anklet and the icy, weightless feeling inside his heart.