"Saruman's force should have destroyed Rohan by now," Sauron commented, standing before a faintly glowing palantir. "And so I wonder why he has not contacted me."
"Perhaps he has the Ring," Melkor's voice hissed, like a serpent of doubt. "Perhaps he has the strength and power to defy Mordor."
Sauron snorted. "He doesn't." He placed a hand on the palantir. Streaks of lightning shot through the orb under his fingers. "Saruman is not deigning to speak with me. How unfortunate for him."
There was a short, rapid burst of knocking on the door.
"Come in, Vorea," Sauron called. Each ringbearer had their own distinctive knock. Khamul didn't usually bother with knocking, Yanta had a very sluggish knock, Vorea's was military, Metima's was faint, Ceure's was quite delicate and lady-like, Aica just pounded on the door, and neither Ancalime nor Ringe had ever approached the Dark Lord.
"I have returned from Rohan, sir," Vorea said, throwing up a salute as she walked in.
"And? Is it in ruins?"
"I fear I did not stay long enough to witness that. I encountered some difficulties traveling home."
"What did you see?"
"Saruman is treacherous not only to the West but to us as well. He has bred Men with orcs, creating –"
"The fighting Uruk-hai," Sauron said. "Yes, I know. There is nothing that Saruman does that I do not know about. Is there anything else?"
Vorea seemed rather disappointed to have her information already known. "As I passed over the Dead Marshes I seemed to spy something in the water, but when I came down for a closer look, there was nothing to be seen."
"Because it was just the illusions of the water," Sauron said. "That is why the Men call the Marshes haunted."
"It was alive. I am sure of it."
"Perhaps it was a bird."
"It was pale and stood out quite brightly against the dark marsh. Also, it was much larger than a bird."
"Why are you telling me this if you don't even know what it is?"
"It is information," Vorea said. "Information is valuable."
Sauron sighed and shook his head. "I cannot imagine what it would be save for some luckless and stupid traveler. No doubt he met his fate in the depths of those vile waters. There is nothing to worry about. I'm glad you're here though."
"How may I serve, Lord?"
"Go to Isengard and find out what's wrong with Saruman."
"Yes, my lord." Vorea spun on her heel and marched out of the room.
"So Saruman has either lost it all, or he's decided to take you on," Melkor mused, glancing at the palantir. "Either way, Rohan will be in no position to save Minas Tirith from attack."
"Excellent," Melkor purred. He stepped out of the shadows and into the eerie light cast by the palantir. "You will have the Ring soon, apprentice. And then I think it will be time to find out who will rule the land."
Sauron smiled. "Indeed. I have no doubts as to who that will be."
"No doubts at all," Melkor agreed.
Everywhere were the preparations for war. Minas Tirith fairly gleamed with the bright steel of armor and weapons. Civilians were being hustled off their farms and to safe areas. Safe. Ha. There were no more safe places.
Vorea flew high, trying to avoid detection, but she heard cries from the city. Perhaps the sight of her would weaken their resolve, bring despair to them.
The beacons of Gondor were not alight. Not yet. Denethor was waiting until the army was within sight. Until the invasion had begun. A foolish plan. The man was a fool, corrupted by Sauron in the palantir, consumed by despair. He should step aside and let a man with a mind fight against the hordes.
There are no more worthy enemies, Vorea thought sourly. Denethor has fallen, Gandalf is destroyed, Theoden is dead and was never much to begin with, and the Heir is either dead or will be soon. There is no one to fight. There is nothing.
Turning her sights to Isengard, Vorea frowned at the sudden greenery she could see around the fortress. Saruman had torn down all trees for miles. Where had this come from?
"Where did these trees come from?" Khamul snarled, knocking a branch aside as she rode down the road toward Isengard. It seemed a lot more…woody than before. Maybe Gandalf had done magic on it to make the trees grow fast, though as for why, she hadn't a clue.
The sun had risen several hours ago, and it was turning into a rather nice day. Perfect for catching Saruman at home without any of his monster-orc guards.
Khamul grinned. Nazgul versus Maia. Oh, this was going to be good.
Reaching the gates of Isengard around noon, Khamul's jaw dropped. She'd become increasingly suspicious of the greenery, but this was…this was…
Just when she thought she couldn't get any more surprised.
The walls of Isengard were broken. Water covered much of the plain, and in that water walked…walked… Trees. Trees were walking around in the water. Orthanc stood defiantly against them, but the trees ignored the tower, although one occasionally hurled boulders at the walls, which did not so much as shudder.
It took Khamul's mind a while to deal with the trees and Isengard and…everything. Things are going crazy, she thought. If trees start walking, that's a sure sign of it. All right, well… It doesn't matter. Trees can't move very fast. I can outrun them.
Although I'd prefer not to have to get involved with them at all.
Unfortunately, one particularly large tree spotted her and came over to the gate. "Hello, little Man," it called. "What brings you to the Treegarth of Orthanc?"
"Treegarth." The tree gestured with one huge limb to the ruins of Isengard. "No longer is it Isengard, that land of steel and iron. Now it will be a garden. If we could, we would take the tower down as well, but so far it has resisted all our efforts."
"Locked in his tower. Were you one of his spies?" The tree leaned disturbingly close and Khamul could see its huge yellow eyes.
"No. No, definitely not. Not me. Um…wow… It's very impressive. Very impressive indeed. Now…I need to go somewhere." Khamul turned her horse away from the ruins and slapped the reins, though the horse needed no urging.
The tree's laugh followed Khamul for quite some time. Valar, she thought. I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. The trees are fighting us now! The trees! What's next?
She was heading south now, straight for Gondor. She wasn't going to stop until she was safe, relatively speaking, in Minas Morgul.