85. The Last Battle
They did not care for her. Well, they did…in that they cared for her. But they did not like her. She was not one of the Western Men who had come out of the sea from Numenor all those many, many years ago. They also did not like the favor the king had shown her. Least of all, they – meaning the women – disliked that she, and not a man, had slain the Witch-King of Angmar.
And yet, they were bound to fulfill their king's orders. She wanted to become a healer, and so they gritted their teeth and taught her of herbs and poultices, of how to bind a wound, and how to splint a broken bone. They could sense the impatience in her and suggested that perhaps she tend to the wounded, for there were many, of the Pelennor Fields now that the uninjured survivors had left to go to the Black Gate from which they would not return.
They would though. She knew they would.
And that is how Eowyn daughter of Eomund came to be sitting next to the injured man, washing the wounds on his face. She had no idea how one could even be injured like this. It was as if lightning made of knives had struck him square in the face and spread its tendrils out over him.
Some device of the Witch-King, no doubt. The chief healer had mentioned that the man had upon his arms the same spidery black lines that had been upon hers. Perhaps he had tried to fight the wraith as well. Unsuccessfully. Eowyn couldn't help but smirk at that. She had fought the wraith and done more than survived. She had killed him.
"Are you awake?" she asked in the gentlest voice she could find. It didn't sound very gentle to her.
The man didn't respond. Most of the others would moan or twitch or give some sign that they heard. Perhaps this man's body was alive but his soul had departed. The healers had speculated that this was so, and that if he was not better within the week they would give his bed to someone else.
"Has he eaten anything?" the chief healer asked, poking his head into the room.
"No," Eowyn said.
"It's the strangest thing I've ever seen. All the time he's been here he hasn't drank a sip of water or eaten a bite. I wonder if the Nazgul turned him into a wraith."
"He isn't a wraith," Eowyn snapped.
"We should just give his bed to someone else. He isn't going to get better."
"Do you wish to be the man who tells his wife that her husband was left to die by the chief healer of Minas Tirith?"
"His wife? How do you know he's married?"
Eowyn held up one of the man's pale, pale hands. Upon one finger a ring sparkled brightly.
The healer sighed. "Fine. But if, I mean when, the men come back from the Black Gate, they will have many injured with them. If he is not awake by then, he is going out."
Eowyn scowled at the healer until he left and then she focused on the man. She felt a connection to him; they had both faced the Witch-King and survived. Well, she had survived, he seemed to be hovering between life and death.
Defeat him! she implored the man with her mind. Show Sauron and the Darkness that there is strength in Men! Do not let him win!
The days passed in a blur of rounding up orcs and leading them across Gorgoroth toward the Black Gate. Sauron was preparing another attack, and this would not be the Pelennor Fields all over again. This time there would be no Elessar, there would be no victory for the Free Peoples.
"I don't like it," Khamul said one fine morning.
"What exactly do you not like?" Vorea asked.
"The Morannon. I don't like how it looks."
Vorea sighed. "We did not rebuild it. It was the Men of Gondor."
"I don't like how they did it."
"What would you do? Tear it down and build it up again?"
"That will not happen until all Arda comes under Lord Sauron's sway."
"And that'll happen soon enough."
"What do you think, Vorea? What do you think about being Nazgul forever and ever?"
"I have lived like this for so long that I cannot imagine anything else."
"Do you still have honor?"
Vorea frowned. "Honor? Since when has Khamul the Haradrim spoken of honor?"
"Do you think you still have honor?"
"…No. I do not. I was tempted and I fell and claimed the ring. I have yet to redeem myself for that."
Khamul nodded and looked into the black sky. "There're a lot of birds up there," she remarked.
Vorea followed her gaze. "There is an army coming."
"And how do you know that?"
"The birds come from the lands outside of Mordor. They flee the approach of an army."
"Look like Gondor's brought the fight to us."
"They cannot possibly win. They must know that."
Khamul shrugged. "Maybe they just want to go out with a bang."
"No minstrels will exist to sing their praises after their fall. This is madness."
"Better go sound the alarm. Make sure Sauron knows they're coming."
Vorea eyed her suspiciously for a moment before hurrying away.
Elessar's leading them, Khamul thought. It'll be the survivors of the Pelennor Fields. But why is he doing this? Vorea's right, it's madness.
Think like Elessar. Why is he doing it? The only thing it'll do is kill a few orcs and keep Sauron watching for…a…while…
That was it! Elessar was drawing Sauron's attention for a while while the Halflings destroyed the Ring.
Khamul imagined her ring tingled as she thought the dreadful thoughts. Imagine, being free from the ring for the first time in…millennia. So many long, long years. And she could die then. Die and go to Mandos.
Vorea returned shortly with…something else.
"What is that?" Khamul asked, looking at the hideous creature riding a sickly horse. It looked like what she always guessed people thought the Nazgul looked like. It was swathed all in black with a tall black helm, but its skin was sick and dead. Its fingers were claws stained with red. Actually, it looked quite a bit like that old Numenorean priest of Morgoth…what's-his-name…
"I was unaware of this, but he is Lord Sauron's emissary," Vorea reported.
"Emissary. His ambassador, if you will."
"When has Sauron ever needed an ambassador? No, scratch that. When has he ever needed anyone besides us for his diplomatic work?"
"I believe he was recruited shortly after the incident between the people of Umbar and Yanta in which a considerable sum of gold was lost."
"Ah. Right. Well, what's he going to do?"
"He will speak with this army and explain to them the hopelessness of their situation, instilling fear and despair in their hearts."
"We destroy them."
"Sounds like a good plan to me. Where's everyone else?"
"Mounting the Fell Beasts."
"I hate those things."
"I do not care much for them either." Vorea waved the emissary forward and he started for the gates, which began to creak and open.
"You ready?" Khamul asked, looking behind them as orcs started to gather like the tide before it hits the shore.
"Aye. I always am."
"Are you ready for this battle though? This is it, you know. The one that will decide our fate and the fate of all Middle-Earth."
"It is just another battle, Khamul. There cannot be more than two thousand men out there. We have a hundred times that number. They cannot possibly win."
Khamul shrugged and let her gaze drift to Orodruin.
"After all that I have done for you, you betray me."
Khamul gasped and nearly fell off her horse.
"What is wrong?" Vorea asked.
"Did you hear that?"
"I can hear very little besides the screams of the orcs and the gate opening."
"Never mind," Khamul muttered. "Must've been imagining things." Not another sentient mountain! she thought. Great.
"Even now the Halflings climb my slopes," Orodruin continued. "Even now they climb higher, seeking Sammath Naur. They will die before they reach it, for the creature Gollum follows them with fingers eager to wrap around necks."
Khamul ignored the mountain. She'd always figured it was in league with Sauron, but it was quite clear now. Why don't you just tell Sauron? she thought.
"He cannot hear me," Orodruin said.
Good. Mountains should be seen and not heard.
Orodruin rumbled in the distance, shaking the ground.
"The mountain seems angered," Vorea said.
"Can't imagine why," Khamul said.
The emissary rode back shortly.
"What have they said?" Vorea asked.
"They wish to fight," the creature rasped. It had a horrible voice.
"And so they shall."