Within the fortress of Helm's Deep, a hospital had been hastily set up, and anyone with the ability to heal was enlisted to aid not only the wounded men of the West but those of the enemy. Gondorian and Rohirric soldiers who had suffered minor wounds were detached to guard the prisoners, for those who were fit to ride or march had gone with the armies.
Hostilities ran high between captors and captives. While some of the Easterlings and Southrons could understand Westron fairly well, only a few of the Gondorians could speak any of the dialects of the East and South. Communication was slow and difficult. Eventually it was decided that those captives who had a grasp of Westron would serve as spokesmen for their fellows. Hundreds of captives had been taken and many were wounded, some mortally. Now they lay upon beds of straw, waiting for the attention of the surgeons.
"Tell your people that we do not eat the flesh of our foes nor do we burn them alive." A tall Gondorian soldier looked down at Corporal Babak, who had been selected as one of the spokesmen.
The corporal, defiant in spite of his wounds, replied gruffly, "So I see. Civilization has come at last to the West. It was much overdue, and now that it has arrived, it will be most welcome."
The Gondorian glared at him. "Well, my jovial friend," he replied sarcastically, trying to hold back his anger, "you shall have a chance to see just how civilized we are! It is your turn to see the surgeon next!"
Enjoying this baiting of the enemy guard, Babak provoked him further. "I will probably never see this 'surgeon' of whom you speak. What is his true identity? Master of a Rohirric dungeon? I wager he will slit my throat and hang me up like an ox to bleed dry and then boast, 'The surgery went quite well. The patient is dead.'" Babak grinned sarcastically up at the Gondorian.
"Will nothing silence the incessant flapping of your mouth!"
"A gag, perhaps, or a cudgel to crack my skull, but naught else," Babak retorted hotly.
"Spokesman Babak, that could be arranged... But here comes something that will quiet you at least for a while." The Gondorian looked down the hall as a surgeon's assistant walked down the long line of wounded. The young boy carried a tray of small cups filled with sleeping draught, stopping at every bed to administer the potion.
"Tell him to drink this," the lad said to the guard, looking uncertainly to Corporal Babak.
"He can understand your words well enough himself."
"Aye, I can understand," growled Corporal Babak. "After I have drunk the draught of the poppy pods, I will not have to listen to your words, my erstwhile Gondorian friend."
"Sleep well then...." the guard said as he watched the cup being offered to the Corporal.
Later, lying half-dozing upon the surgeon's table, the Corporal looked into the surgeon's clear gray eyes, and wondered if he would live through the surgery.
"Your wounds are quite deep and you have lost much blood." The surgeon shook his head, eying the helper who cut away the corporal's bloodied tunic. "I think, though, that you might survive. However, that growth above your eye, though benign now, does not look good. There is a possibility that it could turn malignant. We will wait a few weeks and see how you are faring by then. If you do not gainsay it, I will remove the tumor and perhaps save both your eye and your life."
"If your folk have not slaughtered me by then and I still live, I will consider your offer which, I will say, is most generous... for a savage." The Corporal looked up at the doctor and smiled, his bright teeth flashing brilliantly in the light of the torch. When the draught had taken its effect, the prisoner sighed a long sigh, closed his eyes, and fell into a blissful draught-induced sleep.
When the assistant was sure that Babak was sound asleep, he asked, "What will be done with the prisoners after they recover?"
"The word has it that after they have healed sufficiently, the lot of them will be put to work repairing the great damage they have done. Considering the plight of our towns, villages, flocks, herds, and land, I deem that they will be here as our guests for many a long day. And then should they finish that task before their beards are long and gray, there are always the roads, which are sadly in disrepair. It is only fair that they remedy all the evils that they have caused."
"Doctor," the boy smiled as he watched the surgeon's skillful hands at work, "that should keep them well occupied and out of mischief for quite some time! Perhaps they shall grow to love the land as we do and respect our kindness."
"I doubt that," replied the surgeon as his eyes barely flicked to the boy and then glanced back to the patient, all his concentration directed towards the wound. "Few slaves ever grow to love their masters. The times have come to this that we now impress men into servitude. Though some will dignify this practice by other terms more pleasant to the ear, there is no other name by which it can be called except slavery. You can be sure, though, that, back in their own countries, their people will not like it. Mark my words; there will be repercussions over this," he muttered dourly and then turned back to his grim task.
When the Western emissaries and their escort arrived at precisely one hour after dawn the next morning, June the 15th, they found the foe vanished. The enemy camp was deserted. The remains of their campfires still smoldered, their dying embers a mocking rebuff to the victors.
"This we take is their answer," Aragorn gestured with his hand at the vacated camp.
"Had we expected aught else? An exchange of prisoners is beyond the comprehension of the foe," was the response of the Wizard at his side.
"Yet there was hope, brief though it was," Aragorn lamented.
"There is always that," the Wizard replied with a nod of his head and a smile that spoke of both encouragement and irony.
"They make for Edoras now, no doubt!" Éomer exclaimed, his face a cloud of anger.
"They will not abide there long," Gandalf opined.
"We will pursue," said the new King of the Mark grimly.
"Our men are in ill condition and scant in number. Our supplies are woefully short. The land will provide no sustenance for us. Our enemy, doubtless, has managed to retain a goodly amount of his provisions," Aragorn remarked, looking over at Éomer, "even though the men under your command either confiscated or destroyed a great number of their baggage and supply wagons."
"I had a great deal of satisfaction watching as the enemy's field headquarters burned," Éomer remarked with bitter triumph. "Though the Black Captain's pavilion was the largest of all and sparked the brightest blaze, we never caught so much as a glimpse of him." A dark look crossed over his face, for he remembered well the death of Théoden King. He paused, reflecting upon days of victory and days of defeat. His features grave, he continued. "When all the other standards, banners, pennants, flags, and assorted memorabilia of the Evil King were piled upon the bonfire, the flames reached high into the heavens. The men saved what documents they could find of the enemy, though in what language and in what script they are written no one knows. I doubt even Gandalf could recognize them."
"You are no doubt correct, but still I shall look at them. Perhaps some of the enemy's greater designs might be learned if the papers could be deciphered," Gandalf replied, his bushy brows knitting together in consternation.
"We took what victuals the enemy left behind, but most of it was foul stuff, orc food and draught. Some of the Easterlings had edible provender and we saved that. However, it will not be enough. There is no time to send a request for aid of either our friends the Elves, or of those whom your Dúnedain Rangers have long protected, the holbytlan of the Shire," Éomer spoke, feeling the heavy weight of kingship upon his head. How was he ever going to ensure that his people would have food enough to survive the winter?
"What supplies we have are yours to share," offered Glorfindel, "but there are few of us and we travel light."
Aragorn reached out and put his hand on Glorfindel's arm. "We know, my friend. Your offer is appreciated. Now we must all help each other in the coming days."
"There is neither grain nor pasturage to sustain our mounts for long. The enemy's policies of burning, pillaging and destroying, leaving the land ruined and dying, are very effective," Éomer said bitterly.
"I would have given them battle today if they had wished to accept it." Aragorn's words were filled with regret. "But at least we will give chase after them and free Edoras, if anything is left standing of it!"
"They will burn it to the ground in their wrath," Gandalf lamented sadly, his words a portent of things to come.
"Gandalf, I fear you are correct. They will destroy that which they cannot have, but I pledge this - whatever is left of their hordes, my Riders and I will hunt them down. With the help of Gondor, we will either destroy them or drive them back to the Dark Lands!" Éomer exclaimed angrily, his jaw tightening.
After orders were given to gather all available provisions, the combined forces of the West set out to follow their enemy. Glorfindel sent out messengers to Rivendell, Lindon and the Shire to give them tidings of the victory and to request food and aid for their friends.
Five days later on June 20, the combined armies came to Edoras and were met with the sight of the charred remains of the once proud capital. They rejoiced, though, at the sight of the many Dunharrow refugees who had survived the long days of darkness and fear and had come to the destroyed city to welcome the victors. The men were disappointed, though, to see that the valley had been burnt over from one end to the other and offered no graze for their hungry horses.
Their services no longer needed, the men who had guarded the civilians for so long joined the combined army and marched out once more. Yet no sign of the enemy did they see again. At last the haggard men, their horses spent and supplies exhausted, turned back. They would have to depend upon the wild game and green pastures west of the Thrihyrne along the River Isen. Though they wished that all of Sauron's mighty forces could have been destroyed, their hearts were content that at least for now the enemy had turned from the land in bitter defeat.
Peace had now come to the troubled land.
As the month of June waned and July arrived with all its heat and dust, the Army of Mordor limped back towards the eastern border of Rohan. Its numbers had been greatly reduced, and the cohesion of its infantry and cavalry had been virtually destroyed. Many of the orcs in the host, dizzy and sunburnt from the light, staggered back in a painful stupor and only the darkness of the night brought them relief. The mighty trolls and the great mûmakil now were only a memory, felled during the final days of fighting in the Deep.
Mautor Kourosh rode at the head of a handful of riders, all that remained of a Khandrim cavalry detachment. Sergeant Daungha's brother, the young Tooraj, no longer joked by his side. The Sergeant tried to remember the boy as he had looked when he was a child, laughing merrily as he swam out into the depths of the broad River in Khand. He had watched this younger brother of his grow until he arrived upon the cusp of manhood. Now he was gone. Exhausted, Daungha slouched in the saddle, forcing his mind not to think about the scenes of battle, but instead concentrate upon the quiet times when he and his brother had played chess and drank their tea in the cool of the evening.
"He was quite good at the game," Daungha smiled at the memory. He had taught the young strapling how to play chess. As the boy had grown older, Daungha had taught him the use of the sword, the scimitar, the shield, and the wicked curved dagger. "He was a better horseman than I could ever hope to be," he reminisced. Sorrowing, he thought of that day in the future when he would have to face their father again and tell him that the joy of his life was no more. He felt a hot tear trail down his cheek, and angrily he brushed it away.
"If our father should sire fifty more sons, none could ever replace Tooraj, the apple of his eye!" Of all his many brothers, Daungha had loved Tooraj best of all. "If I ever return home from this accursed land, I will lift the goblet in his memory." But he knew no wine would ever assuage the pains of loss.
Daungha heard his name being called, a summons from his Lieutenant to move up the line and ride by him. Turning the command of his ragged company over to a subordinate, Daungha rode forward until he was beside Lieutenant Kourosh.
They rode together for a while in silence, neither one wishing to break the subdued din of the cavalry company in motion - the gentle creaking of the saddle leather, the jangling of the bits, the occasional snort of a horse, the thud of many hoof-beats falling upon the earth. Now and then one of the men would glance over his shoulder to see if there were any pursuit. Occasionally the column would halt briefly when a scout arrived with a report for the Lieutenant. All were relieved that they were not being followed; at least no clouds of dust were billowing up behind them to signal that the enemy was following. They were almost lulled by the steady tramp of the foot soldiers who marched behind them, the cadence of drums beating a constant rhythm as the battered remnants of the army moved forward.
Glancing up at the bright sky above them, the Lieutenant announced, "At least I can tell you that Corporal Babak's name was not listed as one of the dead. However, his is among the names of those who have been listed as missing."
"Any account yet, sir, of the total number of our casualties?" Daungha turned to the Lieutenant, steeling himself for the grim tidings.
"Only a rough estimate. Maybe nine thousand... ten thousand... maybe more. The total number of dead will never be known, but the masses of bodies were horrendous. Who knows?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Many could not be identified when they were found, for their faces had been obliterated and others had no heads at all." The Lieutenant clasped his brow, his fingers momentarily pressing into his forehead. When he looked up again, he appeared old and haggard, as though the strain had added years to his age. "One thousand... eleven hundred cavalry... no one is certain yet. Maybe we will never know exactly how many were killed. We can see our thinned ranks. We are the shadow of an army which once was." The Lieutenant's shoulders fell, his hand trembling on the reins.
"No account of Babak, only 'presumed lost?'"
"Nay." Lieutenant Kourosh's throat constricted as he swallowed hard.
"I will miss him."
"So will I!" the Lieutenant exclaimed bitterly. "I will miss them all, every last one of them! This war was folly, folly from the very beginning!"
"Sir, not folly," said Sergeant Daungha. "Like games of chance, battles are won or lost. It is purely a matter of Fate, or as some would call it, luck. I think sometimes that the Gods toy with us, casting lots or flipping coins to see what will be our destiny. This they have always done and this they will ever do. What does it matter to them?" He shrugged. "One God is good as another, or bad, whichever you take it. Sometimes Fate gives you fortune; sometimes it does not... This time it did not." Daungha sucked in his cheeks, feeling the sensation that he was about to weep, but he held back the tears. It was not good for morale for the men to see an officer cry.
"Is that all you trust, Sergeant, luck and the whim of Gods?"
"I trust my sword far more, sir," he said, a wry grin pulling up one corner of his lips. "I have control over it, not the Gods!"
When the defeated army of Mordor crossed the Mering Stream on the fifth day of July - the border between Rohan and Gondor - Maugoth Vivana issued orders that his diminished troops were to assume defensive positions. After they had prepared temporary breastworks, the exhausted troops were ordered to dig great pits in front of their fortified positions. Logs were cut and sharpened to fierce points, then were driven into the ground, bristling outward to halt charging cavalry forces. Behind these lines, archers' posts were hastily built from the very wood of the revered forest.
When all was in readiness to receive the pursuing, revenge-seeking hosts of Gondor and Rohan, the soldiers waited, listening to hear the sound of their accursed horns. Strain telling on their faces, all their senses alert, their nerves close to breaking, the troops waited east of the stream, protected by their fortifications. Yet they were not to see their foe. The forces of Gondor and Rohan and their allies never joined battle with them, for their enemies were satisfied that, for now, their fierce opponents had received their fill of war.
A few days later, a host of reinforcements from Mordor arrived, adding their numbers to the orcs who were already there. It was still feared that the Western forces, thinking themselves strong, might push aside the vanquished army and strike into the very heart of the Dark Lands themselves. And so the army of Mordor halted in its tracks, waiting.
Though the orcs and their commanders came in for their share of the blame for the loss, Sauron the Great put the bulk of the blame upon His allies and vassals, the Easterlings and Southrons. How could the Great One admit that the orcs, the Children of Melkor, had failed Him in every way? No, it was the fault of the armies of men, and they would suffer for their incompetency! The officers responsible for these failures were to be summoned back to the Tower, where they would "receive their reward."
Sergeant Daungha was riding in the small escort of Lieutenant Kourosh when the riders reached the sad city of Minas Tirith on that warm day of July 16. The air was hot and stifling, and the unforgiving sun beat down upon them. Their mounts, though, fared better than their riders, for Yavanna had smiled upon the land and graced it with lush green grass, which the horses ate eagerly at every opportunity.
Filthy, sweaty, their unwashed bodies reeking, their hair and beards shaggy and unkept, Lieutenant Kourosh and his cavalry commanders were met on the outskirts of Minas Tirith by a host clad in the dark livery of Mordor. Sergeant Daungha by his side, Lieutenant Koroush rode forward to meet the approaching band.
"Hail, gentlemen! I am Lieutenant Kourosh, commander of the Khandric Cavalry!" he announced as he held up his hand in greeting.
"Hail, gentlemen, well met!" the officer saluted him. "We seek Lieutenant Kourosh... to honor him."
Feeling a grave premonition come upon him, Kourosh smiled grimly as he answered, "I am Lieutenant Koroush. Who are you, sir, and what is the nature of this honor?" As the men talked, a line of riders separated from the main group. Moving forward, they soon encircled the small group of Khandian officers.
"I am Zalmox of the leagues which are loyal to Mordor," the man replied, an unpleasant smirk upon his thin face. An aide handed him a scroll, which he quickly perused. "I have a list of the names of those who are ordered to return with us to Lugbûrz and there receive the just payment for their services. Those men whose names are not upon this list are hereby dismissed from the service of Mordor and may return to their homelands."
Lieutenant Kourosh's name was first upon the list.
"Sir," Daungha quickly looked to his commander, "I shall go with you!"
"Where I go you cannot follow! Be silent!"
"Zalmox, I protest this unprecedented outrage!" Daungha rested his hand upon the hilt of his sword.
"What is your name?"
"Pizbûr Daungha, sergeant commanding a company of Khandian cavalrymen."
"Fool, your name is not upon the list, and there is no outrage about it! Your commander and these other officers are to be rewarded with great honors."
"Then if they are to be honored, I wish to journey with them wherever they go!"
"That is denied. You shall not accompany them!" Zalmox returned coldly.
"I am bound to my commander by oath!"
"The oath is no longer valid. Now be gone!" Zalmox barked, his face turning bright red, his eyes slits over his thin nose and tight mouth. He signed to the surrounding circle, and the riders separated, giving Daungha a way to pass.
"I refuse to leave Lieutenant Koroush!" Daungha spat vehemently, his face dark with fury.
"Then, dog, have it as you will! Follow him and beg for bread in the Houses of Lamentation!" Zalmox screamed.
Before Daungha could reply, Zalmox's men were swiftly upon him. With a vengeance, they lashed out with their scimitars, delivering painful wounds before they beat him to the ground with the hilts of their weapons.
When Daungha awoke, there was blood and a huge knot upon his head. He had been wounded in a number of places, and the lacerations still oozed. Hours had passed and there was no sign of Lieutenant Koroush, the other Khandian officers, or Zalmox and his grim riders. Darkness lay all about him, and as he looked to the East, dread filled his heart. Daungha called for his warhorse, but no there was no answering whinny. The Sergeant realized that they had taken his mount, leaving him afoot. Struggling to his feet, he spat on the back of his hand and wiped the blood off his forehead. Then he turned to the East and began walking resolutely forward.
Of those who were summoned to the Dark Tower, their fates are not recorded. All that was ever known is that they never returned to their homelands. However, some lore masters of the East and South have written that not only the officers, but their families and even their servants, were all taken to Lugbûrz. Of their fates, here the lore is silent.
Of the Nazgûl, some say they received their own summons that day in July, but therein lies another tale.