If you've never had a weasel hack your hand off, steal your jewelry, and condemn you to spend thousands of years roaming as an impotent, disembodied spirit, let me clue you in: it doesn't beat torturing your enemies, their families, and their neighbors slowly to death in terms of entertainment value. I should have known better than to back the little weasels in a corner and then go toe-to-toe with them.
I could have just had the damn mountain flip upside down on Isildur for crying out loud, but no, I had to get down in the mud with them. There's nothing that beats the spray of blood in your own personal face--really getting their veins between your teeth -- but next time I'll be working from a bit more of a distance. No point in making it easy for the weasels, that's my new motto.
Excuse me while I brood hatefully for a moment.
Coming back from that sort of thing isn't easy, believe me. It takes time, and a lot more patience than comes naturally to me, although you wouldn't believe it to listen to Saruman lounge around expensively on my payroll and lick my boots and tell me my preternatural shit smells like roses.
You start slow, no way around it. You manifest yourself once, scare a few travelers in Mirkwood, feed on their fear, maybe get lucky and run one into a swamp or a river and have yourself a snack that way. Next time you're just ever so painfully tiny a toe-nail sliver of power greater. Maybe you get a picnicker and his dog. Maybe two elves humping in the woods. And so the long years wear on, as it were. Imagine picking your scabs for several thousand years, and you'll have the general idea.
It's a long row to hoe, and no mistake, and the whole time you're seething inside over the freaking injustice of it all. Here you are, commanded whole armies, shaped the very matter of chaos and evil and freaking creation into the palm of your hand, crushed souls between your teeth like peanut brittle, and now you're back to having to start the whole long climb to absolute power again, like some kid of a ten thousand years. I seriously thought about just throwing in the towel and retiring, I really did.
But you know, you hate to let the weasels (elf, human, or otherwise) win. It's just bad business and maybe a little professional pride. So I went back to work, days and weekends too, and put it all back together one piece at a time.
I settled in to the ass end of Mirkwood, since the pickings were so easy there. It's easier to knock an elf out of a tree than a squirrel, believe me (and they're mighty fine eating if you fillet them to get rid of the bones and ears). There's also those nasty little singing-and-dancing orgies they liked to stage out in the middle of the woods. Wiping those out was both a tasty treat and an aesthetic favor to the world at large.
There were the usual problems with spying wizards wandering the roads like traveling salesmen or poxy whores, but I kept a low profile. They just chewed their beards and muttered to themselves and went and smoked their pipes and then lay around their campfires giggling to themselves. Dangerous when sober, of course; fortunately they rarely are. I could have just had a party of orcs wipe them out any number of times, but I had plans for them. Nothing beats a wizard for middle management, if you can keep them from smoking too much.
I was still royally pissed over that little weasel that stole my Ring, if you really want to know. I planned to retrieve it (it was a masterpiece of simplicity in design, and you just know the weasels had no appreciation for the art of it all) and pay them all back for the colossal pain in the ass they had caused me.
I had to rebuild the organization to do it with, of course.
So, there I was, growing in power very nicely, thank you. Centuries of mindlessly boring petty maiming and butchery always does the trick. I had the dungeons nicely stocked with elves, and dwarves, I was manifesting myself whenever I wanted to. Yes, not having the Ring around slowed that sort of thing down considerably, damn all thieving weasels, but in general everything was running sweet as a nut.
Then out of nowhere, the weasels and the wizards seem to get a freaking clue, and they stumble down and evict me. Turns out one of those damn weed-toking SOBs put down the pipe long enough to burrow into my dungeons like a tick and found one particular damn dwarf that he knew. They had some tearful reunion, cue the violins, and the dwarf ratted me out like the damn dwarf he was. The upshot was that it was time to move on considerably sooner than I had anticipated. Of course I had weasels nipping at my heels almost the whole way.
I was not happy at this turn of events. For one thing, I had to leave a lot of perfectly serviceable prisoners behind. It also takes me a while to get a torture chamber equipped the way I like it. Most of that stuff had to be left behind, and I just knew it would all go to waste. The weasels have some sort of weasel objections to keeping my sort of tools in working order. As a craftsman--no, as an artist, dammit--it was an unpleasant thing, abandoning years of hard work.
On the plus side, most of the movable furnishings looked out for themselves. You can't keep orcs out of one of my places. They're like cockroaches that can't stop talking: grunt, grunt, nose-pick, ass-scratch, "Me kill him now, boss?" etc., etc. A short wait, a few decades at most, and they started showing up down at the old homestead. I missed the convenience of those elf picnickers, but there were certainly advantages to being back home: residual evil, obscuring smoke, active volcano, that kind of thing. The key to the whole dark lord enterprise is location, location, location. Believe me.
It WAS nice not having stoned wizards wandering around the front yard trying to stare in through the windows.
So everything was more or less back on schedule and under budget. Still, something just didn't feel quite right. Like a nasty itch you can't quite scratch, or a headache that lasts a few centuries longer than you want it to, or a spying wizard just out of your reach where you can't get hold and pop his slack-jawed skull like a grape.
It was the Ring, of course.
Here let me stop to offer you a bit of neighborly advice: if you ever plan to pour your ineffable life essence into a piece of jewelry, put it in the sort of Ring that a weasel isn't likely to see (if you follow me). If you leave it out in the open, sure as shit one of them will take it in their heads to hack off your finger or toe so he can steal it like the thieving weasel he is. Trust me, hide the thing. It may make you walk a little funny, but that's a small price to pay for that sense of inner peace knowing that your ineffable life essence isn't prone to random weasel attack. Especially if you use a good steel codpiece.
Anyway, there it was. I had to get the Ring back, and that was that. Like every other half-assed decision you make, forging it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Owning the Nazgul and a few odd dwarves made for entertaining parties, not to mention the work-related benefits, but in retrospect, I should have suspected it was a bad idea when the elf-weasels managed to slip out of the grip of the Ring. Oh, they were bound up with it sure enough, but outside my control, more's the pity.
I have to admit I regret the whole rooting around in the fires of chaos and creation thing. It had been a slow century, what can I tell you? There was no sense in beating myself up over it, though. I've always prided myself on being a problem-solver, not a problem-maker. Getting the Ring back was a problem, but every problem has a solution. Project-management on something like this was all about coming up with a plan and sticking to it.
So I dug up the Nazgul again. It had been quite a while, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I hadn't felt quite up to par enough to deal with them until now. You don't want to keep them around during the slow periods since they're not exactly the world's greatest conversationalists, and that's coming from someone who works with orcs and cave trolls, mind you.
With the Nine Nazty Wonders, it's always "Ash nazg" this and "Gimbatul" that. Then they tend to sprint into whichever corner of the room is closest to wherever that damned Ring is hiding and get stuck in a tangle and start hacking away at each other, yammering like the weasels they used to be. Not to mention the fact that they're expensive to feed, unless high elves are a lot cheaper in your neck of the woods than they are in mine.
Even buried, they keep mumbling away about some damn thing or other. Of course then they're buried, so it's no skin off my Ring finger, if you follow me. They sure don't bore you nearly so much. I've always said that there's damned few awkward social or business occasions that can't be improved by a live burial.
So like I said, I dug up the Nazgul, shoveled a nutritious breakfast of high elves into the feeding trough and waited until they were down to gnawing on the bones and ready to listen.
Talking to them worked about as well as it always does, so I cracked some heads together, crammed the general idea as deeply into their rotting brains as I could, and finally (just to be sure), pinned notes to their clothes and reminded them that if they opened their eyes they could see to read the notes if they got confused. Nazgul aren't known for their self-initiative and decision-making skills, so I figured I'd help my chances with the notes.
"Ride fast -- kill things -- find Ring". That sort of thing, nothing too fancy. I wasn't too worried about the latter part; I'd field-trained them as mere pups on the Ring, and if the wind was right, they could smell it across a swampful of wet elves in heat. As long as they stayed away from corners and didn't fall off their horses, that was about the best I could hope for.
I can hear you asking the obvious question: "Why didn't you just go get the Ring yourself, Mr. S.?" Apart from the fact that the name is "Master," ordinarily, I'd agree; if you want something done right, do it yourself. But you can't run an organization of my size without delegating, believe me. That was the whole lesson I learned with the ugly weasel-hand-Ring incident, remember.
And to be honest, or as honest as I'm likely to be, I'm probably patting myself on the back a bit too much with that earlier talk about merrily manifesting myself whenever I want. Strictly speaking, without the Ring, I'm pretty much limited to a giant flaming eyeball. Which is not to say that the giant flaming eyeball form doesn't have its uses, since most weasels will tend to run gibbering in fear and shit their pants if I pop up and starts chasing after them. It's a classic bit of my own invention, and I'm as fond of it as I can be, but it's not well-suited to travel across open country for several months, if you see what I'm saying. There's rain, to name only one problem, and the ballmobile hasn't got an eyelid.
So delegation is the name of the game, whether I like it or not, though it does have some perks. I get the pleasure of saying "You're fired!", which when I do it tends to be the literal truth. Zing, right into the flaming pits of Mt. Doom, no apprenticeships in MY business. Oh yeah, gotta love it.
So off the Nazgul toddled through the gates, and I settled down to wait.
I finalized a bit of personnel recruitment and brought Saruman completely on board, promising him options and partnerships and the usual sort of little white lies that keeps the production lines moving. I was a little surprised it worked, to be honest with you. Saruman was the only one out of the whole mangy lot of five wizards that hadn't spent the last few millennia wandering around, smoking, and giggling, after all. He was pretty smart, for a weasel wizard. On the other hand, he had been looking for a promotion--getting bored with the old job, that sort of thing.
Like I said, I'd always had the wizards in mind for recruitment, so I broke his will, yanked the thoughts out of his quivering brain as best I could from a distance, and put him to work on a corner of the big project.
Naturally, he started working both ends against the middle like the busy little weasel he was. Whatever else you could say about Saruman, he didn't lack for self-initiative and decision-making skills. But I'd expected that and had it figured into the plan already, or so I thought. I'm modest enough to recognize when I make an error in recruiting, though I suggest YOU not say so. In any event, I let the lesser Mr. S scheme happily away to himself as long as he kept cranking out the orcs on schedule and holding up his end of things. Which he did; they really are great middle-management, wizards.
Meanwhile, the Nazgul are out there meandering in their usual muddle across the scenery, sending back the usual sort of beginning-of-mission whines, complaints and confusions during my thought-yanking sessions. Unfortunately, sorting them out was one of the few jobs I couldn't delegate, so it was an endless series of late-night mental conversations like this:
"Yellow sky-ball burns eyes!"
"Wait for white sky-ball, then climb on big animal and ride. And pull up your hood, you undead dipshit."
"Burning water hurts like... burning!"
"No shit. Which part of 'you're not waterproof' are you having trouble with, Sunshine? Here's a newsflash--don't go in the burning water, then it won't burn."
"You'll eat when I get my Ring back, and not before, so cram it in your elfhole and call someone who cares."
"But Nazgul hungry now!"
"You want me to pull out the giant flaming eyeball and let you have a little talk with it? No? Then shut up and ride."
You'll get some idea of the difficulties I was working with when I tell you that these guys were my elite tactical forces.
They've got a nose for that Ring, though. That's one of the reasons why I don't just leave them buried and mumbling to themselves all the time.
So after I whipped them off the usual sort of rabbit smells and elf scat and got them all sorted out and headed in the same direction, they struck the Ring's trail and started tracking. Then, as if that wasn't enough good news, an elderly half-wit of indiscriminate species wanders by, and even before we drill the screws into his head, he turns out to know something about the Ring!
Sometimes it just all comes together for you, although that's hardly ever the case for me. My luck seemed to have turned, though, and for a brief shining moment I was giddily optimistic. Honestly, at that point it wouldn't have surprised me to open the front door and find the little guy all shiny and golden and round and precious on the mat, grinning up at me and apologizing for staying away from home for so long.
Nothing's ever that easy, of course, at least in a world where Ring-stealing weasels still roam freely. Still, we had more to go on now, and so I packed the idea of "Shire" and "Baggins" as solidly into the appropriate Nazgulian brain-walnuts as I could from a distance, and sent them back on their bitching, moaning and mumbling way.
Unfortunately, packing in new words apparently snapped some other vital sensory apparatus. The Ring-wraiths ran the Ring-weasel to his hole, handily labeled "Bag-End". That sets off some stray synapses in the Nazgul brains and, not surprisingly given the millennia I'd been having, found the hole empty. The Ring-weasel was on the move, which was a bit disturbing somehow. "Don't get too close" seemed to be the Nazgul team motto for this part of the project. That and "One step behind is more than close enough."
Monitoring all this from a distance was as painful as watching dwarves try to think.
Nazgul #7--I can never remember their damn names--woke me up from a sound sleep once, chattering with excitement about smelling something under some tree roots. I'd already had the rabbit conversation with him, and I was in no mood for more, so I whipped him back onto his horse with a few pithy words about the differences in time zones between whatever me-forsaken plungehole of the world he was currently infesting and Mt. Doom.
Even a blind rat finds some cheese, though, and sure enough after the Nazgul blundered around long enough, hacking down some local peasantry and sending back an endless series of excited "Me smell Ring!" and "Me smell Ring too!" messages, they managed to track the weasel to his current lair, or so they claimed. Admittedly, they only managed to accomplish this remarkable feat of logical deduction and olfactory prowess after the weasel had checked into an inn for the night and made a spectacle of himself by gadding about with my damn Ring, but beggars can't be choosers. I gave all the Nazgul mental pats on the head, promised them bushels of elf entrails, reminded them to point the sharp ends of their swords away from themselves, and hoped for the best.
A fairly simple task, you'd think. Hell, they could have burned down the whole town just to be sure, and then dug the Ring out of the ashes. It's not like it was a booming metropolis, for crying out loud. If I'd been thinking, I'd have told them to do just that. But you can never anticipate the minds of idiots, even if you're the one who crammed their brains into their skull-pans. The next time they reported back, it was with the usual whimpering account of their group stupidity. Big surprise.
Well. I try to be as tolerant as I can, but I'm not really a very patient avatar of evil. When they finally admitted that the Ring-weasel and my Ring had vanished again, and that all they had managed to kill was a gatekeeper and an assortment of mattresses and feather pillows, I had to chide the boys a bit.
After that, there was no more of that whining about burning water and burning yellow sky-balls and so on. I reminded them that I had a perfectly workable giant flaming eyeball that would be happy to fry them where they tottered, and we all agreed that maybe competency and a 110% effort wasn't too much to ask for, all things considered. And off they went again.
Having followed me this far, you can understand why I wasn't terribly optimistic when the Nazgul checked in again a few days later to report that they'd had an ugly little skirmish with one of the pipe-smoking wizards I didn't own yet, but, more importantly, now had the Ring-weasel and his fellow weasel thieves cornered on top of a hill.
"Go, team," I tell them, but at this point I'm really more curious to see exactly how they screw it up. Say what you want about the Nazgul, they never disappoint you when you ask questions like that. As nearly as I can tell, it went down like this:
1) Nazgul creep up hill and surround Ring-weasel and friends, who mostly appear to be some variety of midget.
2) After brief yammering discussion about who gets new and exotic Ring-weasel entrails, Nazgul amble forward. Ring-weasel panics, puts on Ring, and Nazgul get very excited--lots of juicy Ring smell there. Nazgul 3 obligingly pokes Ring-weasel (with the right end of a Morgul blade, which is a nice change of pace although probably by accident and lucky for Nazgul 3, because those knives are disposables, but they cost a pretty penny). Ring-weasel obligingly yelps and falls over.
3) Nazgul stand around congratulating each other until the weasels organize a defense. Nazgul start getting "ouchies." Panicked by this, Nazgul stage an impromptu version of what would be called a tactical retreat, assuming that the Nazgul had brains large enough to contain the idea of "tactical retreat" along with "Shire" and "Baggins." The Nazgul theory apparently being, as they explained it later to me, that one good stab was all it would take, and staying to hack everyone's heads off would have been a senseless waste of their talents. "Hacking heads off is your only talent," I pointed out, in between flaming eyeball blasts to what few sensitive areas the Nazgul still possessed.
And then, believe me or believe me not, they let the weasels limp away. Is it any wonder that I haven't managed to take over Middle-Earth yet?
Staffing, staffing and location, those are the keys to the dark lord business, take it from me. And delegation. Staffing, location, and delegating. And not putting your vital life-essences into visible jewelry. Don't forget that last one.
Still, they'd poked the Ring-weasel a good one, or so they claimed, and with a Morgul blade at that. Even though it looked like the weasels were headed for sanctuary in one of the various elf-dumps that litter the landscape and weren't yet worth the effort it would take to scrape them off into the sea, I had faith in good old-fashioned Morgul craftsmenship.
No bigger than the Ring-weasel was, I figured he'd pop like a tick in a night or two and then I'd make the little bastard bring me the Ring on his hands and knees himself. Well, fly him back to Mordor, then make him crawl. No point in delaying my ascension to ultimate power and domination, after all. Plus it would put me ahead on the project, scheduling and budget-wise.
All the same, discipline was discipline, so I gave the Nazgul a good dose of the flaming eyeball until they were ready to do the job right next time. Believe me, if I'd had anything to replace them with, they'd have been getting reburied right about then. I was not happy.
So, surprise, surprise. Not long after that little pep rally, the Nazgul picked up the trail again and the chase was on once more. The home team managed not to chop off the heads of their own horses in their excitement, which is more than you can say about some of their previous debacles. They actually ran that damn elf who was dragging the Ring-weasel to safety all the way to the river next to the nearest elf shacks.
It ended with the usual sort of Nazgul fire-drill.
The elf made it across the river with the Ring-weasel and stopped to offer a few choice words and obscene gestures to my boys. They whimpered a bit and did their usual "water burning - not like burning water" dance on the shore, until it dawned on them that this wasn't going to be a good time to piss me off. So they shambled into the river like good little undead creatures. Keep in mind that I'd equipped them with bows for just such an occasion, but no doubt by this point they'd broken them poking each other's eyes out or torturing stray animals or something.
At that point, things get a little cloudy in the reports, and they keep talking about "burning water" this and "burning horses, burning horses" that.
It's ALWAYS burning with those guys. In retrospect, burning them alive for several years in hell-fire prior to ye old Ring-wraith processing may have been a mistake in terms of training, but who knew? Like everything else, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Anyway, the elf fried them, or drowned them, or beat them to death with sticks. I couldn't tell head from ass since like I said, the Nazgul were pretty incoherent about the whole thing. For months after that Nazgul were straggling in, wet and disembodied and blaming the whole thing on all the other guys.
"Me want body," they'd whine. Yeah, no shit. Look at me, I'm a giant flaming eyeball. Tell me all about your troubles, Scooter. But I gave in and gave them bodies again and buried a few of them for a couple of weeks just to shut them up.
On to plan B. I got word that a party of elves, dwarves, and other assorted vermin had been seen skulking their way south, and when I see elves and dwarves voluntarily hanging around together without a battle starting, it's a sure bet that they're trying to screw me over in some way or another. I figured the Ring-weasel would bring the Ring south and sell it to the highest bidder, unless he was fool enough to try to put the smack down on me himself.
The company of weasels went to ground, though, and I couldn't find them for love or money, or murder or torture for that matter. I sent word to Saruman that he'd damned well better find them and keep them heading in the right direction. Maybe it was my comment that I'd always enjoyed pulling brains out through the palantir that inspired him, but the old fraud came through in the end.
While I was having a series of briskly punitive meetings with the Ring-wraiths, see, I had to pin my hopes on Moria.
Imagine the world's biggest basement, and you've got Moria. Put it another way: imagine taking several dozen battlefields full of dwarves--live ones, worse luck--and putting them down next to a field toilet that someone's dug incorrectly. First they start out to fix that. Three hundred feet down, they get interested in a shiny rock they find and they start carving out tunnels to find more shiny rocks. Pretty soon they've dug a mile down and the place looks like a rabbit warren. This all gets them excited, so they make more little dwarves by some nasty process we won't dwell on, and all those little dwarves grow up and keep digging in all directions. Dwarves are like gophers with slightly enlarged brains. Anyway, let that process go on for a few thousand years, and that's Moria.