"Push them back! Push them back!"
The orcs launched themselves from the boats, leaping atop Gondorian soldiers, biting them, stabbing them, clawing them.
"The beasts!" the Captain of the Guard snarled, striking one's head off. "Why now, the little fiends? Has The War begun?"
"I think they have some other purpose in mind," his brother said, sending an arrow into a large orc's chest. "These are not the orcs we are used to Ithilien."
"Indeed? Are the ones in Ithilien blue?"
"These are weak orcs. If I were a cynical man, I would say Sauron has sent his weakest servants to bother us while some greater evil is being done."
The Captain considered this. "You are right, little brother. That is just the sort of scheme the Eye would come up with. Get down!" He hurled his brother to the ground just as an orc jumped toward the spot he'd been standing.
"I could have handled that myself," his brother said, standing up and dusting himself off.
"Faramir, I fear for your safety."
"I am a Captain of Gondor! The same as you!"
"But I am the elder." The Captain smiled and attacked the orcs with renewed vigor. "If we are to discover what new devilry Sauron is up to, we must be rid of his fodder as swiftly as possible!"
A chill swept through the city. Faramir and his brother shivered, as did their men. Even the orcs paused in their attack, glancing this way and that.
"Shriekers!" one whined, cowering on the ground.
"What is this?" Boromir hissed. "What new device is this of Sauron's?"
"It's coming from over there." Faramir cut his way through whimpering orcs and toward the source of the chill.
"No! Get back here, little brother!" Boromir ran after his brother, fear constricting his heart. He didn't care for his own life, but if Faramir died…
He found Faramir standing on a ruined building, looking out over an empty expanse of the city and river.
"There's nothing there," he whispered.
"We need to get back to the battle," Boromir said. "Weak these orcs may be, but if there are enough, they could still overrun us."
"I cannot see anything, but my heart fears this place. There is some evil here."
"An invisible evil?"
Boromir stared at the river. There was nothing there. He shifted his gaze to the city. Nothing. "There is nothing there." And yet, he could still feel the cold, the dread, the terror.
"Some new devilry of Sauron's," Faramir muttered. He stared for several moments longer. "You are right, my brother. We must return to the battle."
And so the two Captains of Gondor failed to notice eight beings cross the Anduin and ride through Osgiliath.
Sauron had unleashed his ultimate weapon, greater than any orc.
He had unleashed the Nazgul.
"I am pleased that you came to Isengard so quickly," Saruman said as he walked the black stone halls with Gandalf. The Grey Wizard had arrived in a hurry and seemed to need to speak with Saruman urgently. There was a slight hesitation though in Gandalf's eyes. A slight suspicion.
Even the wisest are blind, Saruman thought. They do not see what they do not wish to.
"Whatever you called me here for, Saruman, I fear I must speak first. In fact, I would say we need to call the Council to session, if there was time," Gandalf said. "There is not."
"I should say not," Saruman said. "There are foul things abroad in the world."
Gandalf looked at him sharply. "What sort of things?"
"Creatures that wear the shapes of Men but are far more. And less. The Nazgul."
"How many?" Radagast had mentioned the Nazgul, but he had not given numbers. Gandalf hoped, deep in his heart, that it was just Khamul. There was mutual, if somewhat grudging, respect between the two. He could reason with Khamul. He couldn't with the others.
"Eight. And then, some time before, one."
"All the Nine have left Minas Morgul?"
Saruman nodded. "They are heading north, my friend. How curious. I have always believed The War would take place in the south."
Gandalf was quiet for many long moments. "I must leave," he said. "I must return to the Shire."
Saruman raised an eyebrow. "So soon? You've only just arrived."
"The hobbit is in danger."
"From what? The Nine? He does not need to fear anything unless… He has the Ring."
Gandalf nodded wearily. "He has the Ring. A gift from his uncle. I knew it was magic the moment I laid eyes on it, but I never thought…how could I have known? The One has been hidden for millennia. All thought it had been swept out to sea."
"And yet the Nine are abroad and heading north," Saruman said. "Toward this Halfling. If he does not have the Ring, then he is doing an excellent job of convincing them he does."
"I must return," Gandalf whispered. He spun around and started for the door, which slammed shut in his face. Slowly, he turned around and looked at Saruman.
"My apologies, Gandalf. I can't let you return and warn that Halfling."
"The Nine will take the Ring then," Gandalf said. "Sauron will have the Ring!"
"No," Saruman said. "I will. There are pits beneath Isengard, Gandalf. There are furnaces and industries. I have been creating an army there. A breed of creature stronger than even orcs. Things that can walk under the sun. Backed by my power, they are stronger than even the Nazgul. They will take the Ring and they will return it not to Sauron, but to me."
"Traitor!" Gandalf spat. "I always knew you lusted for power, Saruman, but to betray us to Sauron! That is too far!"
"Without me, Sauron would take the Ring and his power over Arda would be complete. By taking the Ring myself, I will usher in a new age of greatness in this world!"
"You're mad," Gandalf snarled. "Sauron has twisted your mind. You will never gain the Ring! He's using you to get the Ring for himself! You've damned us all!"
Saruman chuckled and shook his head. "You simply do not understand, Gandalf," he said. "You will see though. Join me in creating this new world. Us Istari should work together."
"You can begin to atone for your treachery by letting me leave," Gandalf said. "Open these doors, Saruman."
The White Wizard's eyes went cold as ice. "I see," he said. Quick as lightning, he lashed out with his staff. There was a blinding white light, and Gandalf crumpled to the floor.
"You chose poorly, Gandalf," Saruman said. "The Ring shall be found, and it will be claimed by me. You could have ruled beside me, but now you must watch my star rise while yours falls."