The Fell Beasts Upon the Air
‘Soon it appeared as a great winged creature, blacker then the pits in the night.
Fierce voices rose up to greet it from across the water.’
In the pits below the Dark Tower, Sauron bred these great winged creatures. Foul beasts of the ancient world perhaps, that lingered still in the dark Mountains of Shadow, taken by the Dark Lord, fed fell meats and impregnated with dark sorcery. These evil creatures grew in size and shape, with vast wings of naked hide, spiked claws and many rows of sharp and terrible teeth.
Fell beasts they were named and became the winged steeds of the Nazgûl. The Black Riders were now Wraiths on the air and their power and terror was increased tenfold. Sauron kept these beasts hidden, beyond the borders of the Great River. Holding them in reserve until his forces were ready for the great assault upon the West.
It is thought that Sauron’s great hope had been to bring Smaug under his will and make the great fire-drake the steed of the Witch-king, Lord of the Nazgûl. However, that hope was dashed by a lucky arrow, shot by one of the rebels in Lake-town, bringing down the vast Dragon into fiery ruin, below the waters of the Long Lake. Sauron would never forget this offence and would burn lake-town and all it’s people for their impudence.
In the Red book of West March, we have a description of the first Fell Beasts seen, as it appeared along the River Anduin, when the Fellowship of the Ring was attacked by Orcs from the eastern shore.
‘Elbereth Gilthoniel!’ sighed Legolas as he looked up. Even as he did so, a dark shape, like a cloud and yet not a cloud, for it moved far more swiftly, came out of the blackness in the South, and sped towards the Company, blotting out all light as it approached. Soon it appeared as a great winged creature, blacker then the pits in the night. Fierce voices rose up to greet it from across the water. Frodo felt a sudden chill running through him and clutching at his heart, there was a deadly cold, like the memory of an old wound, in his shoulder. He crouched down as if to hide.
Suddenly the great bow of Legolas sang. Shrill went the arrow from the elven-string. Frodo looked up. Almost above him the winged shape swerved. There was a harsh croaking scream, as it fell out of the air, vanishing down into the gloom of the eastern shore. The sky was clean again. The was a tumult of many voices far away, cursing and wailing in the darkness, and then silence.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in the chapter ‘The Great River’
As Pippin stood upon the walls of Minas Tirith looking out at the growing threat in the East, he felt the presence of the wraiths upon the air, even as he had, long before fleeing through the woods of the Shire.
He looked at the great walls, and the towers, and brave banners, and the sun in the high sky, and then at the gathering gloom in the East; and he thought of the long fingers of that Shadow: of the orcs in the woods and the mountains, and the treason of Isengard, the birds of evil eye, and the Black Riders even in the lanes of the Shire ~ and of the winged terror, the Nazgûl. He shuddered and hope seamed to wither, and even at that moment the sun for a second faltered and was obscured, as though a dark wing had passed across it. Almost beyond hearing he thought he caught, high and far up in the heavens. a cry: faint, but heart-quelling, cruel and cold. He blanched and cowered against the wall.
‘What was that?’ asked Beregond. ‘You also felt something?’
‘Yes,’ muttered Pippin. ‘It is the sign of our fall, and the shadow of Doom, a Fell Rider of the air.’
‘Yes, the shadow of doom,’ said Beregond. ‘I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall. Night comes. The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away.’
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Minas Tirith’
During the siege of Minas Tirith, in their moment of great triumph the Rohirrim felt a coming darkness, a shadow fell upon the King.
“The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, an it’s vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, lingering in forgotten mountains beneath the Moon, oustayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed. Down, down it came, and then , folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled upon the body of Snowmane, digging in its claws, stooping it’s long naked neck.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’
When the Dark Lord understood the depth of his folly, he called upon the only help that might save him.
At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster then the winds, the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.
An into the heart of the storm, with a cry that pierced all other sounds, tearing the clouds asunder, the Nazgûl came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Mount Doom‘