56. Battle Plans
Khamul did not see Gollum again. Whether Sauron had killed him or was merely keeping him in the dungeons under Barad-dur, she didn't know, and neither did she particularly care. She had absolutely no desire to meet 'fishses' Gollum again. However, she was curious as to whether he knew where Bilbo lived. It seemed doubtful. After all, what kind of moron would tell a deranged creature their name and address?
"You are distracted," Vorea commented as she surveyed a large map of Osgiliath and Minas Tirith. She pushed an orc statue represent a regiment forward, frowned, then moved it back.
"I'm bored stiff," Khamul grumbled. "You're acting like you're removing a bit of the Barad-dur's foundation, and trying to do it without toppling it."
"This is tactics," Vorea said. "Lord Sauron has entrusted me with the war against Gondor."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Why you and not Morgoth or me? Well, Morgoth I can understand. Sauron doesn't want to give him any responsibility in case he uses it to stab Sauron in the back. But why not me? I'm not an idiot."
"You are most certainly not. However, you are not trustworthy."
"What are you talking about?!" Khamul exclaimed. "I'm perfectly – ! Oh. Right. Okay, you're right. So you're the next one down?"
"Yes. I believe I have an excellent plan," Vorea said. "You see, the Anduin runs through Osgiliath, cutting it in half." She pointed to the blue ribbon of paint denoting the river. "If we can take and hold the eastern half of the city, then we have an excellent spot to launch attacks on the western bank. In order to destroy us, Gondor's forces will have to cross the river. A dangerous thing, for they will be very vulnerable in that crossing."
"So, basically, if we get the eastern side, we get Osgiliath?"
"There will still be resistance in the western half, but yes, we will control much of the city. And once the western side falls, we will be able to ferry our forces across the river and launch an attack on Minas Tirith itself."
"That's going to take a while."
"No, it is a small distance from Osgiliath to the capital."
"I mean, it's going to take a while to get that kind of army together. Minas Tirith isn't some abandoned dump like Osgiliath. It's got seven walls! And the gate's never been breached. Or that's the legend anyway."
"The legend is correct."
"And you think you can do it?"
Vorea smiled. "Mordor is filling with orcs, goblins, trolls, and Men. Sauron has sent out the call to our allies."
"It's going to take more than that to conquer Gondor."
"Siege weapons are being built as we speak. And I have a special one in the works."
"Huh, what's that?"
"I call it Grond. Morgoth seems to find that offensive. It is a ram that will be used to break open the so-called impregnable gate."
"And you think it'll work? People've been trying for millennia to get those gates open."
"This will work," Vorea said. "I am sure of it."
Khamul was skeptical of that claim. After a certain amount of time, things either crumbled away or were so close to invulnerable that they might as well be. It would take an act of the Valar – or of a Sauron with the Ring – to bring down the gates of Minas Tirith.
"Sauron wants to see you," Ancalime said, wandering into the room, stroking a huge white cat.
"What about?" Khamul snapped.
"I don't know. He seemed excited."
"Huh," Khamul muttered. "Wonder what it is."
"Do you have any valuable insights?" Vorea asked, gesturing to the map.
"I shall continue my planning then."
"You do that." Khamul left Ancalime to study the map with puzzlement while Vorea continued to move little figures back and forth.
"Ah, Khamul." Sauron was seated behind his desk, a large window looking out on the Black Land behind him. The fires of Mt. Doom were visible in the corner.
"What'd you want?" Khamul asked.
"The years pass swiftly, do they not?"
"Why, it seemed such a short time ago that Arthedain fell. Do you recall that?"
"Yes..." What was Sauron getting at? He certainly hadn't called her up here to reminisce.
"Gollum was unhelpful," Sauron said at last. "Baggins, he shrieked. And Shire! The Shire is apparently a place in Eriador populated by short Man-like creatures. Halflings."
"Huh, fancy that."
Sauron gave her a look, trying to see if she was lying. Khamul gave him her best honest face. It wasn't very good.
"Needless to say, if the Ring is in the Shire, then it must be recovered," Sauron said. "And to whom can I trust such a valuable mission?"
"I don't know. Who can you trust?"
"I cannot trust Melkor, and nor can I spare Vorea. Aica is needed for spying on Gondor, as is Ceure, who lacks the deceitful and cruel touch anyway. Yanta lacks the subtlety needed for this, and Metima couldn't find her way out of a barrel. Ancalime and Ringe are idiots."
"Which leaves me."
"You want me to find the Ring?"
"For now," Sauron said.
"What'd you mean?"
"I mean that I want you alone to search for the Ring for now. But I will be ready to declare myself shortly. When that occurs, I will unleash all the ringbearers."
"Unleash us, huh? Like we're dogs."
"Did you kill Gollum?" Khamul asked. "Just curious."
"No. I have released him."
"I have released him. Following him may be an excellent way to both find the Shire, and Baggins."
"What if someone else finds him?"
"Who else is looking for him?"
"I don't know," Khamul muttered. She started for the door, then paused. "Vorea's planning an invasion of Osgiliath."
"Is she? That seems highly intelligent."
"Is the war starting?"
Sauron smiled. "The war?" he asked innocently.
"Yes, The War. The utter destruction of all your enemies."
"The utter destruction of all my enemies will only occur when I have the Ring."
"But this is The War."
"Yes. It is."
Khamul nodded. "Good to know," she muttered. "Is it going to be like the Last Alliance?"
"We will not be losing, and no, it will not be. The elves and humans have no friendship, and the dwarves are buried in their mountain halls. Gondor and Lorien are all that remain, and Gondor is all that is truly left."
"So it's going to be a war on Gondor then?"
"For us," Sauron said.
"Is there someone else involved?"
"Saruman is destroying Theoden's mind, as his armies are destroying Rohan. Gondor can expect no help from them." Sauron smiled again. "That pleased Melkor greatly. I can't imagine why. Did he actually think that a bunch of horsemen could somehow hurt him?"
"Beren stabbed him with a knife."
"By accident. The blade broke and cut him. It took one of the mightiest elves to so much as injure him, and he broke the elf like a dry stick."
"Don't know why he'd be scared of Rohan then," Khamul said.
"Find the Ring."
"Yes, sir! Right away, sir! Just on my way now, sir!"
After Khamul left, Sauron reviewed his notes on Rohan and Saruman. Should he let the wizard destroy the land? Was there something there that Melkor feared? If so, should it be preserved so Sauron had some leverage over the first Dark Lord?
"No," Sauron said at last. One less human kingdom to worry about was fine with him.