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Shout Archive


A Trifling Problem by Narya

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Story notes:
'"As a small token of your friendship Sauron asks this," he said: "that you should find this thief," such was his word, "and get from him, willing or no, a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole. It is but a trifle that Sauron fancies, and an earnest of your good will."'

'The Council of Elrond',
The Fellowship of the Ring JRR Tolkien
“Khamûl, the time has come,” the Witch-king declared to his second-in-command. “We are to ride abroad!”

Khamûl let out a keening wail of excitement as tantalising images of moon-drenched beaches danced in his mind.

“Stop that offensive noise immediately!” snapped the Witch-king. “If you rouse the Dark Lord over in Barad-dûr you’ll be spider-fodder; you know how temperamental he is before the sun sets.”

“My apologies, sir.” Khamûl fell silent, but even so allowed his imagination to wander over cool desert-scapes and gaping dark plains where wolves still roamed, untamed and uncorrupted.

“Now, the Dark Lord has grown in power over the last few years, as you know well enough; he requires only his old weapon...”

Khamûl’s attention drifted as the Witch-king delivered the day's orders. His thoughts were too occupied with the promised trip abroad to concentrate on such dull matters as instructions on the day-to-day running of Minas Morgul. He was in the middle of a delightful fantasy involving himself and a rather lovely lady-wraith basking in the shade when the Witch-king’s sharp tones interrupted his thoughts.

“Khamûl! Are you listening?”

“Yes, sir.” Hurriedly he scrambled in his memory for any phrase that had registered from his captain’s monologue. “Er – ‘a mere trifle that Sauron desires,’ sir. Got it, sir.”

“Good. And you are to say this to whom?”

“Er...”

“To the Dwarves, you incompetent imbecile, to the Dwarves!” the Witch-king roared. Khamûl squealed in alarm.

“Yes, sir! Sorry, sir! Will do, sir!”

“You had better, Khamûl,” growled the Witch-king, drawing himself up to his full and menacing height. “Fail in this, and I will have you cleaning the Orc pits until the end of the Age.”

Khamûl bowed and retreated, though a plan had already begun to form in his mind. After all, he thought, where was the sense in riding all the way to the lands of the Dwarves to fetch a mere trifle? Nowhere, that was where. No, he had a much better idea...

*

“No, no, no, NO, you fools!” Khamûl shrieked. “Seven, Nine, when was the last time you heard of anyone using troll’s blood in a trifle?”

“Sorry, Big K,” they muttered, stashing the offending item back in the cupboard.

“Find some jelly,” he instructed. “And preferably not of the cheap sort made from squished Orc parts. If the Dark Lord finds bits of brain floating in his dessert then Morgoth alone knows what the Witch-king will do to me!”

“K, are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Nazgûl Three, sidling up to him.

“Of course I’m sure – do you really want to go gallivanting off to visit the Dwarves? Nasty, unrefined, anti-social creatures; what do they know about cooking? All that hideous red meat they eat...I’m sure we can concoct a much nicer trifle than them. Anyway, haven’t you heard? The Witch-king’s taking us all on holiday soon; we don’t want to tire the horses out by going off on a wild troll chase.”

“On holiday? That doesn’t sound like the Witch-king,” said Three doubtfully.

“Well, it’s true. He told me himself,” Khamûl said proudly. “ ‘Khamûl, the time has come. We are to ride abroad!’ That’s what he said – his exact words.”

Three shared an uncertain glance with Five before stiffening and inhaling. “Er – what’s that smell?”

Khamûl sniffed, then let out a despairing screech. “Four, what did I tell you? Cool down the furnace BEFORE you put the sponge cake in, not after you’ve burnt it to a cinder...”

He strode across the kitchen, and Five shuffled over to Three.

“What he said about riding abroad...” whispered Five.

“I know,” said Three grimly. “Khamûl never listens to the higher-ups properly; I’m fairly certain the Witch-king didn’t mean we’re all going on holiday. And I’m even more certain that the Dark Lord hasn’t asked for a strawberry-flavoured custard-covered trifle...”

*

“Hello, Mordor Travel and Tourism Service, how may I help you?”

“Hello? Hello?” Khamûl tapped the whitish globe in front of him. “You’re all fuzzy, I can’t see you!”

“May I ask where you’re calling from, sir?” asked the pleasant female voice at the other end.

“Er – Minas Morgul, Dark Dank Torture Chamber Number Three,” he replied, checking the number on the door.

“One moment please, sir; we’ll do our best to fix the problem. You are now going on hold.”

“Not again,” muttered Khamûl as an irritatingly catchy tune began to rise from the globe. “These Palantir Edition Twos are useless – just a cheap imitation of the real thing. So unreliable...I wish the Dark Lord would admit that he hasn’t quite mastered the Noldorin technology yet...”

“KHAMÛL!”

Khamûl yelped in alarm and sent his Palantir Edition Two skittering across the flagstones as the Witch-king billowed in.

“What are you doing? You should be halfway to the Black Gate by now!”

“All under control, sir; I was just ordering some brochures.”

“Brochures? Whatever for, you cretinous excuse for a horseriding spook?”

“For – for our holiday...”

“HOLIDAY!?”

“Yes, sir – you did say, sir, ‘we are to ride abroad’...”

“Indeed I did,” replied the Witch-king in a dangerously low voice. “What I meant by that, you piece of troll-brained Orc-dung, is that we are to ride beyond the borders of Mordor. I did not mean that we are to go dallying off on holiday – Nazgûl do not take holidays!”

“Oh,” said Khamûl, disappointed. In his mind’s eye, his lovely lady-wraith waved him a sad goodbye and disappeared.

“And you STILL have not explained why you have not set off in search of the One Ring!”

If Khamûl had still been in possession of skin, it would have drained of colour in an instant. “The – the One Ring? But I thought you said...”

“Khamûl, how many times have I told you not to think?” hissed the Witch-king, seizing his lieutenant’s robes at the neck and shaking them.

Amid the incoherent whimpers that Khamûl uttered in response, only one word was discernible. “Trifle...”

“Trifle? What do you mean?”

“We...we made a trifle...you know, the dessert? Jelly, sponge cake, custard, liqueur...”

With a murderous shriek, the Witch-king flung Khamûl across the room and swept for the door.

“It’s too late, sir!” cringed Khamûl. “I sent Eight and Nine over to Barad-dûr with the trifle in a casket-”

At that moment, the floor of the tower bucked; this was followed by a deafening rumble that rocked the room. Cracks appeared in the stone ceiling, and tiny flakes of stonework drifted down from above like snow.

When the earthquake ceased, the Witch-king folded his arms. “The Dark Lord is not very happy, Khamûl,” he whispered. “And neither am I. Not very happy at all.”

*

Khamûl was shovelling dung in the Orc pits the next day when a voice rang out across the plains of Mordor.

“Hear ye, hear ye!” boomed the Mouth of Sauron. “The Dark Lord wishes it to be known that, from this day forward, no custard, jam, cake or sweet treat of any kind shall pass the threshold of Barad-dûr. He further adds that, in future, his subjects would do well to remember that there is nothing in Arda he loathes more than having his pride trifled with.”
Chapter end notes:
I know, I know...terrible pun, I apologise...
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