ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 10
"The two vast iron doors of the Black Gate under its frowning arch were fast closed. Upon the battlement nothing could be seen. All was silent but watchful."
And so, two days later on March 18th, the army of the West assembled and prepared to launch their challenge against Mordor. Fortunately, the company of Orcs and Easterlings that the Rohirrim had avoided in Anorien had broken and fled toward Cair Andros. Scouts reported that no enemies were in the area, so Minas Tirith would be in little danger in their absence. All of the Free Peoples would be represented among the host. For the Shire-folk, Pippin would accompany them. Merry was not allowed to go because of his injuries, to his dismay. The hobbit watched as they marched eastward towards the ruined city of Osgiliath. It occurred to him that everyone he cared for had gone away to the Black Land.
Many craftsman had been working feverishly to repair the crossings across the Anduin at Osgiliath. By evening those on horseback arrived at the Cross-roads. A fanfare of horns was blown to announce the arrival of the Lords of Gondor, who now reclaimed the land of Ithilien. Aragorn wore a uniform bearing the insignia of the White Tree and the Seven Stars of Gondor. When they came upon the statue of the king that Frodo and Sam had seen on their approach to Mordor, the men removed the ugly stone that the Orcs put on it and set into its place the head which had been cast down. It was still crowned with white and golden flowers.
Some had suggested that they assail Minas Morgul and take the Pass of Cirith Ungol to enter Mordor. But Gandalf, being aware of a great evil that lurked there counseled against the idea. Besides, he understood that if this was the way that Frodo had taken, it was crucial that they didn't draw the gaze of the Eye to that place. They did, however, leave a company of men to set a guard at the Cross-roads should it need to be defended. It was still another hundred miles or so to the Morannon, so they continued up the Harad road.
For several days, they marched and at one point they skirmished with a force of Orcs who tried to ambush them. But the army of the West dispatched them easily. Gandalf observed that the attack was probably nothing more than a feint designed to give them a false guess at the Enemy's weakness and draw them on.
As they got further north, they noticed the Nazgul following them astride their fell beasts like vultures searching for carrion. But they made no noises and kept their distance, often circling them from so high up that only Legolas could see them. On the fourth day out from the Cross-roads and the sixth from Minas Tirith - March 23rd - they reached the northern borders of Ithilien. Several of the younger men were overtaken by the horror of the desolate lands laying before Mordor. Aragorn took pity on them and released them to head west to Cair Andros, commanding them to re-take the outpost if they could and hold to its defense. With their departure, combined with the absence of the men they had left at the Cross-roads, they now numbered some six thousand. The army marched through the following day advancing slowly and coming around southeastwards. At last, they saw the Black Gate in the distance. They made camp for the night. It was March 24th.
Now it's important to point out that, unbenownst to the reader, there are other battles that were being waged beyond the southern lands of Middle-Earth. It will be revealed later by Gandalf in Book Six that all the Free Peoples had endured attacks ordered by Mordor. The arm of Sauron had a long reach. On March 22th, an army of Orcs striking from Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood launched a third and final assault against Lothlorien. The Elves, however, decimated this force. Galadriel then led a crossing of the Anduin and attacked Dol Guldur, throwing down its walls.
On March 17th, as the army of the West was being assembled, a host of Sauron's allies attacked the City of Dale in the valley below Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, in the north. After a great battle lasting three days, the Men and Dwarves of the those lands retreated into the mountain which was then besieged. Kind Brand of Dale, grandson of Bard the Bowman, and King Dain Ironfoot of the Dwarves were killed in the battle.
Dain had become King-Under-The-Mountain at Erebor after Thorin Oakenshield was killed in the Battle of the Five Armies as is told in "The Hobbit". They were still under siege on the morning of March 25th, when Aragorn led his army up to the Black Gate. At first all was silent, even after they called for the Lord of the Black Land to come forth. Suddenly, an emissary from the Dark Tower emerged. He was the Lieutenant of Barad-dur, the "Mouth of Sauron".
This character went through a bit of an evolution as Tolkien wrote and re-wrote his drafts. At first, it was to be the Witch-King that rode forth from the Gate (indicating that a different result was originally planned for him on the Pelennor Fields). Christopher Tolkien describes the development of the Mouth of Sauron not as a Ringwraith but rather as a living man:
"No more is said in the draft of the history of the Lieutenant of Baraddur, the nameless Mouth of Sauron, than that 'It is told that he was a living man, who being captured as a youth became the servant of the Dark Tower, and because of his cunning grew high in the Lord's favour...' In the fair copy this was repeated, but was changed subsequently to: 'But it is said that he was a renegade, son of a house of wise and noble men of Gondor, who becoming enamoured of evil knowledge entered the service of the Dark Tower, and because of his cunning [and the fertile cruelty of his mind] [and servility] he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour...' (these phrases being thus bracketed in the original)."
"But it was told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Numenoreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron's domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge. And he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron; and he was more cruel than any orc."The Mouth of Sauron taunted Gandalf as "old greybeard" and presented a bag of tokens that he was instructed to give to him. He produces Sam's sword, an Elven cloak with a brooch from Lorien and the mithril-mail that Frodo wore. He says they belonged to the "spy from the little rat-land of the Shire" that Sauron now held captive. The Messenger declares that in order to secure Frodo's release they must agree to withdraw their forces, cede control of all the lands east of the Anduin to Sauron's control and offer the western lands as tributary to Mordor. The terms, he insisted, were non-negotiable.
To fully appreciate what must have been going through the minds of Gandalf and Aragorn, we must remember that they, like the first-time reader, know nothing of Frodo's or Sam's fate. But the words of the Mouth of Sauron reveal clearly that Sauron does not have the Ring and that he does not know about Sam, otherwise he wouldn't be wasting his time trying to parlay with the army of the West. Gandalf understands that, even if what he says is true and that Frodo has been captured, Sam may indeed now have the Ring and he could be continuing the Quest. So while hope is faint, it still exists. But this does not lessen their sorrow at the idea of Frodo's suffering.
With the power of his upraised hand, the wizard seizes the tokens and rejects the terms of the Lieutenant whose face becomes "twisted with amazement and anger." Even as the Mouth of Sauron turns and gallops back to the Gate, the signals are given for Sauron's forces to attack. Out of the gates, and down from the hills a great host of Orcs, Trolls and Easterlings pours fourth, surrounding the men of the West.
Standing atop two slag hills, they looked around them as the enemy closed in from all sides. The Nazgul began to swoop in with their terrible cries. The battle was joined. A great troll attacks Beregond and Pippin comes to his rescue, driving his Westernesse blade into the exposed hide of its loins. The Troll collapses, black blood pouring from the wound. Pippin sees the end coming as the army of Mordor closes in. Among the clamor, he hears the crying of eagles!
In a moment oddly reminiscent of "The Hobbit", Pippin hears voices calling out, "The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!" His thoughts went to Bilbo and his own adventure of so many years ago and then he saw no more.
Here ends Book Five of The Return of the King. The story concludes in Book Six, starting with Chapter One: The Tower of Cirith Ungol
[Chronology: March 18th through March 25th 3019 T.A.]
------ (revised 10/26/06)