Land stretched on as far as the eye could see. Warm lands with rolling fields and dancing forests. Living lands with spring in full bloom. The Enedwaith welcomed life.
A dun goat grazed on the crisp greens of the meadow eager to fatten itself after the harsh winter months. Grass sweet and warm after the full day’s sun filled his belly. His nostrils flared. Clover. Raising his graceful head, he scanned the meadow for the source of the scent.
His eyes caught what his nose had missed: movement in the line of the woods. Stock still, he scanned the copse for the Wild Men he expected to smell there, but he only saw trunks and branches and leaves.
A thunderous crack split his eardrums; the pain was swift and all encompassing, but soon there was nothing but the smell of burning goat hair.
“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?”
The young man who spoke smiled, amused, as the older gentleman stepped out from the veil of shadowy trees.
“As long as it is effective. Chasing that last rabbit halfway back to Rohan soured me on simply setting them on fire.” The man raised his arm in a flourish. “Besides, this way is much less…cruel, don’t you think?”
The words seemed foreign on the man’s lips. His upper lip curled as he tasted the mercy of his thoughts.
The younger man hummed approval as he joined his elder to gaze down at the goat. “Though we could forage still and live well enough. We do not have to kill at all.”
“Ah, but steak, my dear boy,” he said with a chuckle as he knelt to begin skinning the animal. His robes were far too fine to be doing such work, and his delicate, fine hands were uncertain with the blade.
“Gather some wood; we will feast tonight and tomorrow we shall hopefully reach the Windfalls. We are making good progress.” The man wiped his bloodied hand on the grass beside him. “Yes. It is good.”
He watched the young man with a smile as he went about gathering fallen branches for their campfire. He admired the way the sun played in his hair, light breaking in the mists of the afternoon showers still clinging to his luxurious strands. He was captivated by the slope of his back as he stooped to gather fuel.
For him, this new life.
He touched the tent of logs and set them ablaze without flint or tinder. He watched his fellow spit and roast the goat meat as the sun set behind him and he smiled. He drank from a skin of fresh water and once again marveled at how sweet water could taste. He was like a child waking up to the world around him now that he walked in the light.
Pharazanû’s light. Never again would Zabathôr allow that light to fade.
When the meal was eaten and their passions spent beneath the starlit sky, Zabathôr of Mordor stroked the silvery white hair of his young lover. He contemplated the irony of the lands of the ancient capital of Arnor serving as their refuge. Once the great enemy, now fallen into its own shadow as Gondor rotted to the south. It would serve as their cover. And he heard it was beautiful.
He counted the lights in the sky and dedicated each one to the slumbering form in his arms. He considered the distances between their bedrolls and the nearest settlement. He weighed the risks of revealing themselves to the Dunlendings. He thought about Pharazanû’s suggestion they forgo hunting for a life of nuts and berries. He thought about building a home and living without fear. He thought little of the power left behind on the banks of the river in Rohan.
Now was not the time. The witch was dead. Again. The man he coveted was in his arms. There would be time to find answers. But for now, he rested beneath the open sky and was at peace.