The Cult of Benish Armon
Chris Seeman: PO Box 1213, Novato, CA 94948, USA
Jason Beresford: 3469 Legato Court, Pomona, CA 91766 – 0977, USA
Stefan Ardinger: 1617 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA94703, USA
Cults are an underdeveloped aspect of many Middle-earth campaigns. It is a relatively simple task for most referees to conjure up crazed fanatics in black robes worshipping Darkness around a blood-stained altar; but it is less easy to produce plausible motives for why otherwise reasonable denizens of Middle-earth would subscribe to such fictions. Still less attention is given to developing a concrete and unique history for a given cult most that have appeared in existing MERP modules are typically subsumed under the amorphous canopy of “the Dark Religion,” usually without further explanation.
What follows is a description of a cult which figures prominently in the forthcoming Kin-strife module, and which will also have connections to the Umbar realm module. It is presented here both as an exemplar of how more interesting cults might be designed, and as an expansion of the partial treatments of it which will be given in the aforementioned modules. In this article, the three collaborating authors offer an account of the origins, history, artifacts, and magic employed by the minions of Benish Armon.
The cult of Benish Armon draws together several distinct strands from Tolkien’s writings, as well as various themes from the Umbar and Kin-strife modules. The concept underlying the cult is derived from Chris Seeman’s previously published article “A Journey in the Dark” (OH 3: 13 – 18), which examines the extant traditions concerning the enigmatic figure of Queen Berúthiel. In essence, the cult of Benish Armon centers upon the cats which Berúthiel enslaved to do her bidding. These cats are imagined to have been Maia-spirits which the Queen encountered and bound to her will during her sojourn in Ethir Anduin.
Following Berúthiel’s so-called “expulsion” from Gondor, these cat-spirits returned to the Ethir where they became an object of worship for those of the Ethir Folk who had been associated with Berúthiel. The goal of the cult is to free the cats from the sorcerous bonds to which the Queen subjected them; in turn, the cats act as “guardians” over their Ethir followers and invest the cult leaders with magical power to effect their ends.
Although the cats are malevolent Maia-spirits and their predatory cult often entertains gruesome practices, they remain an “independent evil,” scornful of domination by Sauron and his purposes. During the time of the Kin-strife, however, circumstances necessitate a grudging alliance between the servants of Benish Armon and those of the Necromancer, but this tenuous alliance is always in danger of turning into open conflict and opposition.
Jason Beresford’s treatment of the Black Númenórean legacies of Umbar provided further background for this cult. His development of an ancient evil artifact known as the Kuilëondo created an important explanatory link between the origin of the cats and their subjection to Berúthiel. The Kuilëondo is a jewel of unlight which survived the wreck of Beleriand only to fall into the hands of Umbarean sorcerers over the course of the Second Age.
Berúthiel was herself a Black Númenórean from Umbar, as our version of her history will show, and it is by means of the Kuilëondo that she was able to bind the cats to her. It is through the Kuilëondo also that the subsequent minions of the cats are able to draw upon their Maia-powers, and Stefan Ardinger’s spell list details some of these as they might be used in the course of a game.
Although the cult of Benish Armon does not itself figure in “Eyes of the Blind Night,” the campaign presented in this issue of Other Hands, the cats and the Kuilëondo do. This article therefore forms an essential backdrop and supplement to running that campaign. Finally, some of the material presented here (particularly on the background of Berúthiel) will not be appearing in the Kin-strife module. While the information in this article does not conflict in any way with what is written in that module, neither is it necessary for the coherence of the soon-to-be-published material. It should be regarded therefore as an optional extension of what appears in the Kin-strife and Umbar modules.
The history and origins of the cult
Benish Armon is an ancient Daen Coentis site which lies in the midst of Ethir Anduin. It was abandoned after the lowlands surrounding the Anduin mouth were deluged by the global cataclysm accompanying the Akallabêth and transformed into a vast delta. Some years following the changing of the world, the Ethir became inhabited by the Falathrim a coastal people migrating north from the broken seaward lands of their homeland on the peninsula of Umbar. At some point after, these Falathrim became the Ethir Folk, the ruins of Benish Armon were made into the lair of malevolent Maïar-spirits that assumed a cat-like fana.
These were Tevildo and his nine thanes, who laid claim to Ethir Anduin as their domain and preyed upon its human inhabitants1. In T.A. 830, Queen Berúthiel of Gondor (who dwelt for a time in Ethir Anduin in a villa constructed by her husband, Tarannon Falastur), used the Kuilëondo to dominate the cats, and thereby freed the Ethir Folk from the terror of Benish Armon. But the tale of the cats, of Berúthiel, of the Kuilëondo, and of the cult that afterwards arose among the Ethir Folk, has much deeper roots.
The nature and fate of the Kuilëondo
The Kuilëondo is a spherically cut ruby, approximately six inches in diameter. Its deep-red color is almost black. When magically activated and immersed in fresh blood, a pool of darkness emanates from the stone, growing larger and absorbing more light as it absorbs more and more blood.
Since its transformation at the hands of Morgoth and Ungoliant, the basic characteristic of the Kuilëondo has been the absorption and containment of thúle or “spirit,” one of the three elements that make up all rational incarnate beings (e.g., Elves, Men, Maïar). Thúle is the vital energy which holds body and soul together, though it is not identical to the soul (Q. “are”). The principal difference between the are and the thúle is that the latter may be transferred, used up or otherwise “spent” as a quantity of energy, whereas the former does not possess quantity; but is the essential core of a person’s being, indestructible even by God. The active aspect of thúle is the will.
Thúle resides in blood, and the Kuilëondo absorbs thúle by absorbing blood. The gem is able to do this either through contact with a wounded person or through a grisly ritual involving blood sacrifice. Once absorbed, the thúle may be drawn upon by the wielder of the gem for magical use (additional PPs = victim’s Pr + In + Em/20) or for the artificial prolongation of the wielder’s life. The Kuilëondo’s powers are only accessible to mortal Men.
The capacity of the Kuilëondo to absorb thúle varies according to the biological and spiritual nature of its victim. Its power is only fully effective towards Men, since it is their unique doom that their ore escape the circles of the world permanently and irrevocably as soon as the link between body and soul is severed (unless God or the Valar directly intervene). This means that the gem can contain thúle from a mortal source indefinitely.
The Kuilëondo is less effective towards Elves, since it is their nature to be reincarnated in Aman should they die in Middle-earth before the End. The act of reincarnation reunites their thúle to their are, which means that the wielder of the Kuilëondo can contain or make use of that thúle for a brief interim only. Hence, while Elven thúle could be temporarily co-opted for a boost in the wielder’s magical power, any benefits accrued from the gem for the extension of one’s life would be lost as soon as the victim’s thúle was reincarnated into a new body (Elven thúle can only be held by the Kuilëondo for a number of hours equal to the victim’s SD/10.).
Because Maïar are not incarnate by nature, their thúle cannot be severed from their are; instead of “absorbing” the energy of such creatures, then, the Kuilëondo simply binds their entire being within itself. If the gem’s wielder is possessed of a strong enough will, he or she may be able to command the imprisoned spirits as well as drawing upon their energy for magical use. At the same time, however, the inseparability of the Maia’s thúle prevents the wielder from drawing upon it for the prolongation of life.
In order to bind or absorb thúle, the wielder must overcome a victim’s RR level. If a person approaches the (unwielded) gem with open wounds or a debilitating illness, he or she must resist versus the 50th level potency of the Kuilëondo’s power. The effects of either depend upon the nature of the being affected.
The ritual use of the Kuilëondo to extend life necessitates that the victim’s heart is removed from the body and replaced with the gem before the victim dies. The wielder must utter a correct sequence of empowered words in order for the thúle absorbed from the victim’s blood to be transferred to the wielder’s own thúle. The wielder must also overcome the RR level of the victim’s are.
Should this fail, the victim’s thúle will remain trapped in the gem as magical energy, and the Kuilëondo will redirect its absorbing power upon the wielder. If the wielder succeeds in overcoming the victim’s are, he or she will stop aging for a number of months equal to the victim’s Co/5 + total number of previously sacrificed victims. Additional sacrifices can only be made after the efficacy of the initial sacrifice completes its course. Failure to repeat the ritual will result in the accelerated aging of the wielder’s body and irrevocable loss of the ability to recommence the process.
Origin and history
The Kuilëondo was crafted by Fëanor. It was one of the many gems stolen by Morgoth from the vaults of Formenos and fed to Ungoliant Only the most powerful of all the gems devoured by Ungoliant survived the ordeal and were subsequently belched forth from the spider. These few gems were transformed their inner light turned to darkness and their powers perverted. Morgoth had all of these gems collected and placed in the vaults of Angband, where they were, for the most part, forgotten (and later lost forever in the destruction of that fortress in the War of Wrath).
The Kuilëondo escaped this oblivion as a result of having been given to one of Morgoth’s mortal servants. This man, Gorothîr by name, used the Kuilëondo to entrap the wayward cat-spirits of Tevildo and his nine thanes, who at that time stalked the wilds of Beleriand, seeking prey to feed their divine hunger. Having enslaved the cats, Gorothîr sent them to spy upon the Eldar and their mortal allies, the Edain.
With the destruction of Angband and the capture of Morgoth, Gorothîr fled to the east and south, eventually finding his way to the northern shore of the Nen Umbar. There he encountered the forefathers of the Falathrim. Using the Kuilëondo, he commanded Tevildo and his thanes to capture many hapless Falathrim victims, who were slain in sacrifice to the Kuilëondo, whose power Gorothîr drew upon to prolong his life. Others of the Falathrim Gorothîr made into slaves, and set them to build for him a stronghold on the northwestern extremity of Umbar known as Vamag.
For over half a millennium, Gorothîr ruled the lands along the northern coast of the Nen Umbar through fear, threat, and bloody sacrifices. As the Second Age progressed, the Kuilëondo required increasingly frequent sacrifices to maintain Gorothîr life, and the Falathrim population was becoming dangerously low. Haradrim avoided the northern Nen Umbar, fearing the evil “spirit” that dwelled there, so Gorothîr was left with raiding the Falathrim living along the southern coast of the Nen Umbar. In an orgy of killing spanning two centuries, the entire Falathrim population dwelling there was sacrificed to maintain Gorothîr’s life.
Forced to return to “harvesting” sacrifices from the Falathrim along the Nen Umbar’s northern coast, Gorothîr was overjoyed when five large ships sailed into the Nen Umbar. These Númenórean mariners were led by Aldarion the Mariner, son of Tar-Meneldur the king and Captain of the Venturers, who was then engaged in a coastwise exploration of the Harad. Perceiving that Aldarion and his men would yield up a more efficacious sacrifice for the Kuilëondo, he ordered Tevildo and his thanes to attack the Venturers once their ships made landfall.
Though surprised by the attack, Aldarion’s men were able to fight off the ambush. Several more attacks were launched before six of the Venturers were captured. Their companions pursued their captors back to Vamag, but not before one of the captives was sacrificed. Aldarion attacked Vamag, managing to recover the survivors before being forced to retreat. A final parting shot by Aldarion’s bow impaled Gorothîr’s left arm, wounding him and breaking his link to the powers of the Kuilëondo.
Rapidly aging, Gorothîr sought sanctuary in Vamag, where he perished. Gorothîr’s death, however, did not free Tevildo or his thanes from the Kuilëondo, though it had no wielder. For nearly fifteen centuries, the cats remained bound to Vamag, unable to act in physical form (though the horror of their memory hindered any of mortal race from drawing near to their resting place, until the coming of Adûnaphel to Umbar in S.A. 1914).
Adûnaphel’s choice of Vamag as her residence in Middle-earth all but guaranteed the rediscovery of the Kuilëondo. Disregarding its evil reputation, the ambitious Dúnadan lordess ordered that her citadel be built upon the ruins of Gorothîr’s stronghold. During the construction, the Kuilëondo was uncovered and Adûnaphel, already familiar with its history, began researching its powers.
Focusing on its life-extending properties, she documented how they could be tapped; but Adûnaphel never became aware of the Kuilëondo’s other powers, or of the cat-spirits that were bound within it. Deeming it too dangerous to use, and seeking true immortality rather than a mere extension of her life, she put the stone and her notes aside in a kregora-lined box, and placed them in her most secure vault. There they remained, undiscovered by the King’s Men as they dismantled Adûnaphel’s citadel following her rebellion.
Late in the Second Age, the Kuilëondo was discovered once again by a slightly mad, middle-aged Númenórean named Gorlim, who was desperate to avoid death. Gorlim followed rumor after rumor, seeking the mythical gem that would keep death at bay. Gorlim made contact with the entrapped spirit of Tevildo, agreeing to release the cats from their prison in exchange for knowledge of the Kuilëondo’s use. The Prince of Cats gladly accepted Gorlim’s offer, instructing him in bloody sacrifice and the stealing of mortal life-force. Gorlim then held to his promise, freeing the cats from the Kuilëondo and leaving them to inhabit Vamag in physical form, where they were to dwell until the Akallabeth, when Vamag was destroyed.
The Kuilëondo, however, remained in Gorlim’s possession. With Pharazôn’s corruption and the establishment of the worship of Melkor in Armenelos and many of the Númenórean colonies, Gorlim came to the Temple in Umbar. His age and vigor providing all the proof needed to demonstrate the “favor” granted to him by Melkor (At the time of Sauron’s capture by Ar-Pharazôn, Gorlim was as old as Elros.). Gorlim assumed a central political role in Umbar and its official cult.
Gorlim’s fate is unknown, but the Temple in which he and the Kuilëondo resided fell soon after the Akallabeth, due to a rebellion against those who had joined Ar-Pharazôn in the Great Armament that had led to the downfall of their homeland. This revolt was brought to an end with the arrival in Umbar of Fuinur and Herumor, two expatriate brothers from Pelargir who had abandoned me Faithful after Elendil’s sons claimed the kingship. With Fuinur and Herumor’s aid, the rebel faction overthrew the Temple, and Gorlim was robbed of the Kuilëondo during the course of the struggle.
The Kuilëondo then fell into the possession of Fuinur, who became a lord over the Haradrim during the last years of the Second Age. Although he never made use of the Kuilëondo’s powers, both Fuinur and his brother were corrupted by Sauron to make war upon their kinsfolk in Gondor in the War of the Last Alliance (through Sauron’s promise to them of the throne of Gondor). Herumor perished in that great conflict; but Fuinur fled the Dagorlad, returning to Umbar to await the end.
With Sauron vanquished and his own years growing short, Fuinur succumbed to the weakness of his race, seeking ever for a means of averting Death for all time. But though desperate, Fuinur was no fool; he knew the peril of using the Kuilëondo to prolong life and would not be deceived as Gorlim had been. In time, he believed he had found another way.
Having sent out his servants throughout the South in the hopes of finding some forgotten elixir to his ailment, Fuinur heard rumor of a place beneath the surface of the Mirror of Fire where flowed living waters that would preserve life unending. To this desert place he withdrew with all his court, and descended into the depths of Haradwaith. The Kuilëondo went with him. The year was S.A. 3441.
The Mirror of Fire was the site where the primeval fires of Ormal had shattered the face of Arda in Melkor’s assault upon the Valar. The devouring flames of the lamp consumed the waters encircling Almaren, the island in the middle of the great lake of the gods. The lifeless desolation of the Mirror of Fire bore the scars of ancient Almaren, but beneath its surface still ran hidden veins of those primeval waters from the First Spring of the world.
These living waters were “breathable,” and indeed preserved mortal life, suspending the flow of Time if a person were to be immersed in them (just as Fuinur had heard from the legends of his Haradan subjects). What the aging Dúnadan lord did not know was that a mortal exposed overlong to the water would fall into a dark sleep endless, unless the slumbering individual were returned to the realm of air by someone else. But if immersion in the primal waters of Almaren halted Time’s course, removal from them would cancel their effect, subjecting the person once again to the Doom of Men. And if the person had passed beyond their allotted span of years in the waters beneath, Doom would come upon them all the swifter after returning to the surface.
Into these waters Fuinur and his court descended, after Fuinur used me magical power stored within the Kuilëondo to summon forth water spirits, commanding them to construct for him and his followers a palace at the watery roots of Almaren. And from this submarine throne-room, Fuinur for a time continued to rule the Harad, until the sleep took him and his court, and all rumors of them ceased.
During the time when Fuinur had established his new dominion from beneath the Mirror of Fire, he had given the Kuilëondo to his foster-daughter, Ancalimë, whom he had taken into his house following the death of her father in Umbar during the rebellion against the Temple. Ancalimë was the daughter of Ar-Pharazôn’s Captain in Umbar, and her mother had herself been a cousin of Pharazôn.
Ancalimë was to sleep in Fuinur’s well for nearly a thousand years, before she was to become Berúthiel, Queen of Gondor and, soon after, to meet a Doom not of her devising. Through her, Tevildo and his thancs were to be once again bound to the Kuilëondo, and out of that binding would be born the cult of Benish Armon.
The Awakening of Ancalimë
Ancalimë was brought forth from the waters of Almaren by a Black Númenórean sorcerer named Zimrakhil in the year 830 of the Third Age for a dual purpose. The first was to defend the cult of Melkor against its detractors in Umbar, by producing “proof” that Melkor’s promise of an escape from Death was real. The reappearance of the daughter of Ar-Pharazôn’s last Captain of the Haven now having surpassed even Elros’ lifespan by many lives of men was to be ample material for renewing commitment to the dying ideals of the King’s Men.
The second, and deeper, purpose for calling the foster-daughter of Fuinur from her sleep was a secret plot to plant within the line of the kings of Gondor the seed of their own destruction by Sauron’s coming dominion. Foreseeing the return of his Dark Lord in a dream, Zimrakhil perceived that many centuries too many would have to pass before Sauron would have rebuilt enough of his ancient power to contest the present and growing might of the Dúnedain of the South-kingdom.
A child would have to be born to the heir of Elendil, a child in whose veins would run the blood of both the King’s Men and the Faithful, an heir to the throne whose dual bloodline could serve as a basis for Sauron to corrupt Gondor from within to influence and even secretly rule his enemies through the hand of one of their own. Ancalimë would bear that child.
Zimrakhil knew that Ancalimë would not have long to live once removed from the waters, for in sleep she had already passed nearly three lives of even the strongest bloodlines after the Akallabêth; but as the wife of the King, she might live long enough to perform the task required of her. The sorcerer also knew that more than eight centuries of sleep in the waters of Almaren would cloud Ancalimë’s memory of who and what she was … until it was too late.
Already when she was brought out of Fuinur’s well, Zimrakhil had devised a means of masking Ancalimë’s true identity and purpose both to her and to the men of Gondor. Zimrakhil knew of the Kuilëondo that she bore, but not even he could foresee that Ancalimë was fated to encounter the cats once again, nor that she would use their divine power to learn the one terrible secret that the sorcerer so wished to keep from her.
King Siriondil of Gondor passed away early in the year 830 after a long and prosperous reign over the South-kingdom. His son and heir, Tarannon, was soon to take the crown, and needed a queen. A woman was already betrothed to him Berúthiel, daughter of Prince Thorondur of Arnor. Berúthiel was journeying to Gondor by ship, and was to meet her husband-to-be at the isle of Tolfalas, where Tarannon had quartered himself as Captain of the Hosts under his father.
Zimrakhil’s plan was to intercept this ship, kill Berúthiel and all of her crew, and set the still slumbering Ancalimë upon it. A malevolent storm-spirit would be summoned to provide a natural explanation for the wreck of her ship and the loss of her crew. Ancalimë would awaken as Berúthiel, and no one in Gondor would realize the deception. This was carried out2.
At first, Ancalimë accepted the name and identity those around her gave to her, though the darkness of her memory ever tormented her and increasingly so as time wore on, until she found herself to be with child. Troubling fragments of her real past began to haunt her dreams, but she could not understand their true meaning. The bodily anguish of eight centuries of borrowed life then began to assail her, driving her to the brink of madness.
These things all took place during the time when Tarannon her husband was away making war on the lords of Umbar. Berúthiel then dwelt in Ethir Anduin in a villa which the king had built. In time, she became aware of the malevolent power that stalked Benish Armon.
At the last, she came to realize that Berúthiel was dead, and that she was in truth Ancalimë, daughter of Fuinur, who by her mortal nature should have died in centuries past. Her death was inescapable, but would her child live? And, if so, to what evil fate was it destined? She had to learn the truth, or she would not have been able to bear her torment another day. She would seek out the cats of Benish Armon
Ancalimë never knew that Tevildo and his thanes had once been enslaved to the wielder of the very same Kuilëondo that she now bore, but she had watched Fuinur use it to command immortal powers, and would now invoke it to do so again. The confrontation was brief, for the cats did not foresee the Kuilëondo’s return. They were bound to Ancalimë and to her fate. From that binding, stronger than any other they had known, the cats could be released by Ancalimë alone … or by her child.
Ancalimë returned to Osgiliath to bear her child, and the cats accompanied her. Her child’s birth was kept a secret, both by her wish and by the king’s later command; it was never recorded in the Annals of the Kings, lest those evil powers that willed it could not easily find it and turn it to their purposes. Hence, Tarannon was called childless, and the succession passed to Eärnil his nephew, who wrote down a secret history of the affair that was hidden in the Hall of the Faithful in Pelargir.
In the remaining days that were left to Ancalimë, alone in Osgiliath with her child, she sent the cats about the realm to learn the whole truth of what had happened on Berúthiel’s ship as it passed into that unnatural storm off the coast of Tolfalas; to learn who these men were that had robbed her of her eternal sleep; and to discover what perils lay ahead for her child. To accomplish this, the immortal sight of Tevildo and his thanes was joined to those windows that hold knowledge of what is, what was, and what may yet be the Palantíri.
Out of these last days in Osgiliath was derived the greater part of the legend and infamy surrounding the figure of “Berúthiel (as folk now referred to her). But in truth they were brief, and finding her in anguish, Eärnil brought her to her husband Tarannon, on Tolfalas, where she died. Her body was set adrift on a boat, and was received into the bosom of Uinen. The cats, bound to her in their fang, went with her.
The Kuilëondo did not, however, for Ancalimë had given it into the care of Eryn, one of her handmaidens from the Ethir Folk, before her death. When at last Ancalimë surrendered her weary spirit to Mandos, Tevildo and his thanes lost once again their physical shapes, and were drawn back to Benish Armon, the place of their binding. There they met Eryn, the girl who now possessed the Kuilëondo, and with her Tevildo made a pact, which was to become their cult.
The Cult of Benish Armon
As a consequence of their second binding, Tevildo and his thanes were now unable to move beyond the confines of Benish Armon, unless Ancalimë or someone descended from her who wielded the Kuilëondo chose to release them. In the absence of Ancalimë herself, moreover, this release could only be effective if it took place on ground that had been hallowed to Melkor, whose servants had brought about Ancalimë’s unnatural fate by removing her from the waters of Almaren. Such ground existed now only in Umbar, on the site of its Temple, which was razed to the ground by Eärnil in T.A. 933 and its foundations sealed beneath a strong tower that he caused to be built there.
Tevildo realized that he could not hope for freedom from his bondage unless he could appeal to the Ethir Folk for help. Erin agreed to aid the cats in exchange for Tevildo’s promise that the cats would no longer prey upon the Ethir Folk, but would instead become their protectors. In return for this promise, Erin and her folk would seek knowledge of Ancalimë’s child, in order that they might bring it to Benish Armon. Through the Kuilëondo, Tevildo granted Erin and her successors magical powers to aid them in attaining their goal.
Tevildo’s Powers (MERP)
The Prince of Cats has developed means of projecting his thúle through the Kuilëondo, even though it remains a constraint and limitation upon his powers. Through the medium of the gem, Tevildo can do one of three things: 1) summon his thanes, 2) transfer certain powers to the wielder of the Kuilëondo as it pleases him, or 3) visibly project his presence out of the gem for a brief period of time. Each of these activities are subject to certain conditions.
Tevildo’s thanes lose their perceptive capabilities outside of Benish Armon; but his domination of these lesser spirits allows the Prince of Cats, through the Kuilëondo, to call them individually to his current position. This, however, can only be attempted on a night of the dark moon (the day of the month when they were bound by Ancalimë). Moreover, Tevildo’s summons must be accompanied by a blood sacrifice, whose scent draws the keen-nosed cats to the desired location. The sacrifice must be performed with a ritual dagger only possessed by members of the cult.
In order to remain free of Benish Armon without fana, Tevildo’s thanes must feed upon mortal thúle. The cats do this by “infesting” a living victim’s body (they are incorporeal). The effect of this infestation is the gradual corruption of the “host” body from within. Eventually, the victim’s soul is severed and passes away while the corpse becomes an empty husk, petrified into a tormented effigy of the person. The infestation process reduces the victim’s stars at a rate of 5 points/day, and can only be reversed by the most powerful healing magic.
Because the Kuilëondo enables the transfer of thúle as magical energy, Tevildo is able to incorporate some of his own powers as a Maia into that exchange. In this way the Prince of Cats gives assistance to the wielder of the gem beyond the pure availability of extra Power Points. The nature of this assistance depends in part upon the wielder, and in part upon the nature of the goal to be accomplished.
As a sign of the cats’ power and as proof of their covenant with the Ethir Folk who serve them, Tevildo has conferred the power of shapeshifting upon the mistress of the cult, enabling her to assume the form of a large hunting cat at will (and at no PP cost to her). This transformation (which takes one round) affects the body only, and anything the woman might be carrying with her in human form will be discarded. In addition to the accompanying feline abilities, all knowledge and human skills are retained while in cat-shape (though some of these may be unusable).
Tevildo’s capacity to channel power through the gem extends to his generic Maia abilities to adapt the fana to its environment. This means that the Prince of Cats is able to grant heightened maneuvering skills to the gem’s wielder (up to +100 bonus on all maneuvers related to climbing, jumping, hiding and sneaking) as well as increased speed in accomplishing these maneuvers.
The White Face
Without fana, the naked visage of the Prince of Cats is terrible to look upon, and can drive mortal Men to madness. If the wielder of the Kuilëondo is in need, Tevildo may expend enough energy to project a luminous outline of his face about the gem. Except when he is inside Benish Armon, it is very power-consuming for the cat to reveal himself in this way (e.g., five times in one day would be taxing). The result is a greenish flash of light (a 20th-level attack). Those that fail their RRs are left confused by horrible visions of cat-demons, which will last for a number of days equal to the failure of the RR (i.e., if a character failed the roll by 32%, the madness will last for 32 days). A failure of 50% or more results in permanent insanity3.
The Cult in action
The cult of Benish Armon emerged soon after Ancalimë’s death around 830 or 831, and spent the next five hundred years searching for the identity and location of any living descendant of Ancalimë, in vain. Fearing for his child’s safety, but not willing to expose his wife’s son to the public eye, because of her now questionable heritage, Tarannon caused the babe to be secretly fostered by Gundor his Steward, who became the first Prince of Morthond. Gundor took the boy as his own, and made him the heir of his house. So it was that the bloodline of Berúthiel and Tarannon lived on in the princely line of Morthond, unknown even to the later scions of that house.
It is during the time of the Kin-strife (14321448) that knowledge of the child’s fate comes to the ears of Tevildo. Spies sent by the Necromancer to search out the ruined capital of Osgiliath discover a forgotten inscription attesting to the identity of Berúthiel’s child, and these are commanded by the Dark Lord to seek out Benish Armon: in order to provide this knowledge to the Prince of Cats and his cult for a price.
Sauron knows that the cats can only be freed by the hand of Ancalimë’s descendant on ground sacred to Melkor. In exchange for the descendant’s name and access to the hidden foundations of Melkor’s Temple in Umbar, Sauron demands that Tevildo and his servants gain the confidence of this descendant, and to prepare him for the destiny that Sauron has set for him to rule the Dúnedain on his behalf.
Tevildo and his thanes have ever eschewed the domination of a greater evil power, and the discovery of Ancalimë’s descendant promises release from this and all other such compulsion; but now the Dark Lord seeks to use them for his own purposes. The cult of Benish Armon has no apparent choice but to accede to Sauron’s terms; yet there will be many uncertainties along the way to fulfilling their obligation, and circumstances might arise that could turn the tables against the Necromancer and in their favor. The adventures appearing in the forthcoming Kin-strife module, and their sequel appearing in this issue of Other Hands, offer one possible resolution of this conflict. There are others as well.
The Prophecy of Zimrakhif
As the day of Tarannon’s ascension approached, the lords of Umbar grew fearful; for they could not forever hope to resist the might of Elendil’s sons through their waning power. And yet this impending doom was but the canvas for a peril that ay the heavier upon their minds — their race was dying.
After the fall of Sauron and the disappearance of Fuinur, the King’s Men had dwindled in numbers, and much of their blood became merged with that of Lesser Men. So it was that in the time of Tarannon no woman of pure lineage remained to perpetuate their name. They called upon Melkor to deliver them from their fate, and spilled the blood of many sacrifices upon the altar of their Temple, to hasten if they might the promise of deathlessness spoken to their fathers of old.
Their minds became twisted with despair, and many slew themselves in their madness and pride; but then one arose among them who spoke in whispered counsels of a way by which their salvation might be won and their foes overthrown. His name was Zimrakhif, and he was a wicked lord of necromancy of the brood of Herumor.
The Lord of Ancient Darkness does not lie/he said to them. Deathlessness he has promised to those that serve him, and these words were not spoken lightly; but the malice of the Valar has frustrated his designs, and the Sons of Elendil hinder the coming of that day. But when their might is overthrown and they look upon the naked lies of their masters, then will they cast themselves in shame upon our altars to the glory of Melkor; but this honor we must earn by our own design.’
But the lords of Umbar answered, “you speak of victories not yet achieved and of honor yet to be had, but with each passing day our foes grow stronger and we the weaker! Will any of our race even live to see that day, though it should come to pass? Open your eyes to the truth, clever seer! Behold, among us no woman still lives whose veins pump with the blood of Ar-Pharazôn!”
Then Zimrakhil’s voice grew soft yet venomous, and he mocked their disbelief. “Fools! Fainthearted fools! That you should be unmanned by your own forgetfulness, while the proof of Melkor’s words lies before your gaping faces! For there is a woman of our blood that yet lives, and whose years have surpassed even those of Elros Tar-Minyatur, greatest-blessed of our race.”
“Of whom do you speak?”
Then Zimrakhil laughed, and the sound of his laughter echoed through the temple of Melkor. “Ancalimë,” he said at last. “The daughter of Fuinur.”
But the King’s Men looked at him once more in doubt: “Why do you speak to us of legends?”
“I speak only of what mine own eyes have seen; for I have been to Fuinur’s Well and have looked upon the face of our forefather,” answered the prophet with slow relish. “And he lives.”
There was hushed astonishment in the Temple as the lords of Umbar contemplated what this might mean. Then at last they asked: And what of Ancalimë his child?’
“She sleeps beside her father and all his court, far beneath the surface of Arda; but soon she will be awakened, and her presence will herald our salvation and the downfall of our foes.”
Spells of the Cult
The servants of Benish Armon draw upon the power of Tevildo and his nine thanes, each of whom governs a specific domain of Maki-power. Unless the cats are temporarily summoned by the Kuilëondo (see above), their power is only effective within the boundaries of the Ethir itself. This stricture does not, however, apply to the wielder of the Kuilëondo, as she is able to move about freely with her master’s spirit. Detailed below is a list of exempla)), spells that the Ethir Folk typically use.
Cat-Like Visage (Domain: Tevildo)
One of the first spells learned by the servants of Benish Armon grants the caster the illusion of being a bipedal cat of local coloring and of me size of the person being affected. Yes, there is a tail, which, yes, can carry a small amount, until the spell fades. People have been known to use the spell for intimidation in combat.
The caster kneels in front of a statue of Tevildo, and begins the chant: “Cher solser, octolias li, Tevildo” (Cat Lord, blessed one, Tevildo). The caster then gazes up into the eyes of the statue (often of jade or emerald), the eyes of both the caster and the statue now glowing a dull green. The caster continues: “Octol ghi siget dol niagith” (Bless me with your visage). At this point, an outline of the cat-visage will form around the caster. The visage is transparent. The caster and the statue are radiating green magic at this point. The casting continues with: “ser felar ariethir, ith stil ser har testa!” (Thy feline greatness, and let thy will be done). The image becomes solid, and the casting is complete.
Sensory Acuteness (Domain: Thindae)
This spell, often the second taught to adherents of the cult, enhances both physical and magical awareness as a given situation may demand. An additional level of power must be expended by the caster for each sensory domain sought out for enhancement.
The caster inhales the smoke from a small burning incense stick, with eyes closed. The chant begins: “Gi mel ser shetao ith ser joelai, Thindae” (I ask thy sight and thy hearing, Thindae). Eyes opening, and looking off as though day-dreaming, the caster’s eyes begun to glow a green color. The caster continues: “Cher nahal, fe deir gi jer felimore” (Cat Thane, so that I may perceive).
Cat’s Paw (Domain: Oikeroi)
This spell causes two-inch long magical claws to form on the tips of the caster’s fingers, which exude a dull green glow. They remain active for as long as the spell is operative (no longer than five minutes). The more magical power invested in the claws, the more damaging they become. At normal strength, the claws are about as effective as a short sword, though when boosted they can be as damaging as some pole-arms. The spell is typically used only in self-defense.
In order to cast it, the caster must stand in a crouching position, with hands straying, making passes with the following words: “Oikeroi, ser dokham re gied esteirier” (Oikeroi, thy claws to my might). The tips of the caster’s fingers ignite with glowing green blades. The chant continues: “k’lario octole fo malaen, arimus ghi” (this blessing in battle, aid me). The caster may then attack with the claws.
Summon T’malshi (Domain: Curligol)
This is one of the more important spells a servant of Tevildo may learn to cast. It grants to the caster a companion to whom they may look for aid or assistance. A T’malshi is a cat with magically enhanced intelligence (though not necessarily all that smart by human standards). Although its own entity, the T’malshi is linked to the caster, who will experience physical pain should the companion ever be wounded or slain.
To initiate the spell, some powder ground from shells must be tossed with some herbs upon an open fire, after the caster has assumed “Cat-like visage.” The first part of the chant begins with the caster calling the attention of the Prince of Cats and his sorcerer: “Curugûl, Tolehdo nam Tevildo, gi anol kot ser be-kolin” (Curugûl, Sorcerer of Tevildo, I call for thy skill). A packet of herbs, containing catnip and other aromatic scents, is tossed upon the fire, producing a sweet odor attractive to cats: “Gi anol matalani, Curugûl, someliy arimus, te solas-je, te octolias solas-an nam ser solser, Tevildo” (I call outward, Curugûl, seeking aid, a companion, a blessed servant of thy lord, Tevildo).
There is an expectant pause, as the slower burning herbs ignite, creating a lot of smoke and a bright flash: “Curugûl, Gi mel ser ramati re anol te felar niagith nam arimus, te n’mar solas-an nam Tevildo, te sholn etimir, gi ith gied solser” (Curugûl, I ask thy summons, to call a feline visage of aid, a true servant of Tevildo, a connection between me and my lord).
Many times, the caster will lapse into unconsciousness from the casting of the spell. When reawakened, there will be some kind of local feline (appropriate to either the surrounding area often the largest possible, but it is random, as the caster has no idea what they are calling). When the caster does not lapse into unconsciousness, the cat is very close.
T’malshi Senses (Domain: already established through “Summon T’malshi”)
This spell enables the caster to perceive the world through the senses of a T’malshi companion very useful, though potentially dangerous, as the caster is more susceptible to taking damage if the T’malshi is wounded in this state.
The spell begins with the following chant: “Gi toren ser shetao, haria sered shesil gied T’malshi” (I need thy eyes, what thou seest, My T’malshi). The eyes of both the caster and the T’malshi glow green, then the caster closes their eyes, so the glow is no longer visible: “Gied ulindi solas-je, kaln gi mi octolias holin ser shetao mi aygil octole nam Thindae” (My guiding companion, may I be blessed with thy sight, by the blessing of Thindae). The caster can see though their T’malshi’s eyes, hear though their ears, etc. Though they do not hear through their own for this. They may, at anytime, back out of the spell, and use their own senses, then return to the T’malshi’s.
Mental Illusion (Domain: Maeguen)
This spell enables the caster to place strange and distracting images into an opponent’s mind very annoying, but extremely useful rendering the victim disoriented and ineffectual.
To cast the spell, the caster’s eyes narrow, focusing on the target, their hands making mystic passes, as they chant: “Ser arimus re ghi, Mantil gied malerlar, matilis derlar siget ser lirimantii, Maeguen.” (Thy aid to me, confuse my enemies, distract them with thy illusions, Maeguen). The magic radiates off the caster, some of it seeking the target (visible only to other users of magic), as the caster continues: “Stil derlar shesil dier heaira am rod earthil!” (Let them see that which is not there!). The illusions then take place in the mind of the victim.
Bestow Cat-Sight (Domain: Miaule)
This spell grants the caster night-vision equivalent to that of a cat. It’s side-effect is that, also like cats, the caster will be color-blind for the duration of its effect. While affected, the caster’s eyes will appear cat-like.
The caster makes several passes, eyes glowing, while the following words are chanted: “Tarage’ ser shetao, K’lario cao azilias, Miaule” (Bestow thy eyes, upon this touched, Miaule). The caster then reaches out and lightly touches the receiver of the spell, still chanting: “Kaln dimal shesil lim sered lemsol” (May this one see even as you).
Cat Guardian (Domain: Umuiyan)
This spell creates the visual illusion of a cat which appears to watch over the servants of Benish Armon while they sleep. If the confines of their repose are invaded, the guardian will emit a loud roar, magically awakening those within the camp. The illusion then moves forward to intimidate the intruder (though it cannot actually cause physical damage).
The caster will move about the camp, placing small pouches of herbs at selected boundary points of the spell. Then the caster will begin to chant: “Colmdefalore kot cau morte’, Nahal nam Litimantis, Nahal nam calijor, Solder nam felarias am melt’” (Protection for this night, Thane of illusion, Thane of magic, Lord of Felines, is asked).
At this point, the pouches glow that nice dull green, as do the caster’s eyes. The caster continues the chant: “Colmdefalore fo aygil morte’ oliain” (Protection in the night that comes). There is the image of a large cat forming about two feet in front of the caster, the pouches now glowing brightly: “tiedi dilar solas-ka raimior malin ser solas-an” (from those that would harm thy servant). The image of the cat solidifies, and will be seen walking around the camp, occasionally stopping to dose here and mere, until dawn, when the cat will fade into nothingness.
Tevildo, Prince of Cats is, of course, derived from the infamous cat-lord appearing in Lost Tales II: 1 5 — 58, a fascinating character which Tolkien never developed further in any of his published writings. In surveying the totality of published and unpublished writings concerning Middle-earth, Tevildo emerges as the only extant example of how Tolkien might have developed a feline character of dark significance. For this reason, and for its intrinsic interest, we have chosen to meld this strand of Lost Tales with the mysterious cats of Queen Berúthiel. Reading Berúthiel’s cats as Maïar-spirits is certainly not the only possible explanation for Tolkien’s story; it does not, however, conflict with either the letter or spirit of the Berúthiel tradition, and in any event creates intriguing game possibilities. ↩
Refer to Eärnil’s history of Berúthiel provided in the accompanying campaign materials for “Eyes of the blind night” (see insert) for details. ↩
The names, functions, and domains of magical power for Tevildo’s thanes are here listed in brief: Miaule (function: personal attendant; domain: ritual preparation), Umuiyau (function: herald and gatekeeper; domain: wards and magical protection), Oikeroii (function: personal bodyguard; domain: hunting magic), Raukoruth (function: bodyguard and war counsel; domain: battle magic), Thindae (function: spy; domain: stealth magic), Caronuial (function: assassin; domain: death magic), Curugûl (function: sorcerer and loremaster; domain: knowledge-acquiring magic and instruction), Mithia (function: healer; domain: healing magic), Maeguen (function: emissary; domain: mental control). ↩
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