The combined armies of the West set out for Mordor, a small force remaining in Minas Tirith to protect the city. Merry is left behind due to injury while Pippin continues forth as a soldier of Gondor. The closer to Mordor the army gets, they encounter no resistance, and Gandalf orders declarations of the coming of King Elessar of Gondor. The Nazgûl begin to fly overhead, and Orcs ambush the army, but to no avail. Younger troops become paralyzed with fear, and when Aragorn offers them an out in pity, many draw strength and stick it out. After six days, the army reaches Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor. In tactical superiority, Aragorn positions his army on two hills overlooking the Gate.
With a small envoy of story regulars representing each of the races of Middle-Earth — Gimli, Legolas, Pippin, Éomer, Imrahil, and the sons of Elrond — Gandalf and Aragorn ride to the Gate, calling for Sauron to come forth and submit to Gondor’s justice. Silence looms heavy before the Gate is finally thrown open. The Lieutenant of the Dark Tower, known only as the Mouth of Sauron, comes forth with an embassy of soldiers.
The Mouth of Sauron mocks Aragorn and his people, but Gandalf stands forth in admonition. The Mouth of Sauron presents Gandalf with Frodo’s coat of mithril, Sam’s sword, and a grey Elven cloak, accusing Gandalf of folly for trusting in his small spies. To spare the life of the Hobbit spy from a slow and excruciating torture that will result in his eventual break, the armies must submit to terms. Gondor and its allies must never attack Mordor, Gondor must submit to Mordor, and a suitable captain of Mordor must rule in Isengard over Rohan. Gandalf rejects the terms and demands to see proof that the Hobbit captive is still alive.
Gandalf’s stand against the Mouth of Sauron is such that the black envoy is gripped by terror. As he retreats, the host of Mordor pours from the Black Gate, accompanied by a group of hill-trolls. When Pippin attacks one, it the troll topples forward, crushing him. Pippin begins to lose consciousness and bids the world farewell, but as things turn dark, he hears voices shouting, “The Eagles are coming!” He thinks he is perhaps merely recalling Bilbo’s story of the Battle of the Five Armies.
Unlike the two film translations, I have to applaud Tolkien for this last part. The presence of the Eagles still come out of nowhere, but because we are told of them here, their appearance in Book Six does not seem contrived. It also heralds a complete shift in the story, as the Eagles are essentially Tolkien’s “I WIN!” button. The thing is, at this point in the story, we don’t know this. We can perhaps even take the Mouth of Sauron at his word, though as Gandalf rightfully reminds us, the Lord of Lies will bend any truth. And so it is at this most desperate hour, Tolkien gives us and his characters hope to cling to where perception would tell us there is none to be had. Sauron’s tactics are purely psychological, relying on misdirection and misinformation at all turns to weaken resolve. Gandalf stays the course, and the Eagles herald the impossible.
What we can take from this is that, though outnumbered, the forces of Good still hold the proverbial high ground. Without the Ring, Sauron is panicked, as previously discussed, believing that maybe Aragorn has it or at the very least knows where it is. And since Sauron is now focused on this battle, the Eagles can now fly in without the Great Eye focusing upon them. Keep in mind from The Hobbit, the Eagles are noble, but they will not endanger themselves needlessly. This means they know something the reader does not yet know, and their role is somehow related to the final outcome of the story. For those who are unfamiliar with the tale, all will be revealed.
Here endeth Book Five.