Saruman the White, the leader of the Wizards and custodian of Nan Curunir, looked again at the simple orb of dark crystal in his central chamber.
"Palantír…" his normally oratorical voice murmured softly. A simple word, but such a tempting one. Their whole purpose was to communicate and to observe, was it not? That was why they were placed at such places by the Dunedaín. Amon Sûl, Annúminas, Elostirion, Minas Arnor, Minas Ithil, Osgiliath… and his own, at Orthanc.
Of course, now three of them were lost, to the sea or in some unknown battlefield, and another was in the hands of Sauron. Only three remained in their original locations – well, that and the Master stone, too far from the land to reach with any ease.
He had already used his own Palantír to learn what he could of Sauron's plans. As the White Wizard, he was strong enough to use the seeing stone without being corrupted by the Shadow… was he not? Yes, he must be. It was the nature of those plans that truly… inspired him, to report less than all he saw to his brethren. After all, they might act rashly, change those plans and then all he had done would come to naught.
As it was, he had the most likely plan to succeed of any of the Wise, when it came to the designs of Sauron. He would stealthily act as a rogue agent, appearing to further those same plans until the time came to break away, at the time it would do maximum harm.
And Sauron would not know the time he would do so.
Perhaps he should see what had changed since his last use. Yes, that was the best course of action.
His mind made up, he strode powerfully over to the orb and snatched the cover off, abruptly resenting every moment he was not in communion with the Palantír.
Too suddenly. His objective teetered for a moment on the edge of its' mounting, then fell onto the pillar top, rolled for a second and hit the floor with a resounding crash.
The need for the Palantír vanished like a dream upon waking, concern for the ancient, irreplaceable artefact in its stead. Crouching, he took the object and lifted it up to the light.
Unlike when he usually used it, there were no gently roiling clouds. Instead, a crazy patchwork of images flickered in it. A great eye – but for the merest fraction of a second, before becoming a strange and fantastical city stretching as far as the eye could see, then a field of stars, a flower, some monstrous fish-like organism… the Palantír was clearly somehow broken, but what he saw was beyond all he had imagined.
Except his dreams. Those strange dreams that all the Wizards had reported at one time or another, fragments of their full Maiar awareness leaking through their mortal forms. Gandalf spoke of flight and air, Radagast of growing things, the lost two – who it still felt painful to recall – of the hunt, and he himself of strange devices.
Perhaps this was a sign from his lord. He took the seeing-stone in both hands and focused his power, calling on all he could to calm the currents in the Palantír. To make it show him what he desired to see, much as he had struggled before.
There was a palpable feeling of release, and the cracks in the stone vanished. Instead of a cacophony of images flashing across the surface of the stone, there was a simple mirror surface.
Then he was floating with his own image reflecting back at him – as if he was somehow inside the Palantír. This matched the descriptions he had read of the most intense uses of the artefact, but it had always before escaped him, perhaps as he was not officially designated as its' user.
Images flashed before him. Complete scenes now, with time to take them in, and recognizable at that. An army of armoured warriors, marching out of an unfamiliar, industrial Isengard to his resounding command.
The stronghold of Helm's Deep, across the Gap of Rohan from where he was right now – or was he? – under siege. Escalades mounted against the walls by the black armoured warriors bearing the white hand, and men of Rohan – backed by Elves, for a wonder – holding the Deeping Wall.
The view focused in on a spiked iron ball in a small culvert, and one of the warriors (no, soldiers), bereft of armour and clearly stronger and taller than a man, running forward with a torch.
A great flash of fire, and the wall… exploded. There was no other word for it.
Thousands of Rohirrim, charging down a slope, with Gandalf in a white cloak in the front rank.
Isengard devastated by floods, with Tree-shepherds picking over the remains.
Himself, bereft of all but the tiniest shadow of his power, brought low by Hobbits and stabbed in the back by an underling.
Orthanc once more, but so weathered away by time that it was nearly unrecognizable. Humanoid figures fought in front of the gate, both with nothing more sophisticated than a stone axe.
The decline is inevitable. Each age is of greater entropy than the last. Though it will take time, the situation will eventually decay to a point where all technology and civilization is lost. It will be upwards of thirty thousand years before the climb upward begins again.
"Who or what are you?" Saruman called into the mirrored stillness. It was like… seeing the proof that all his work would come to nothing.
My remit is civilization. The rise of organization to a stable platform.
"But if this is what waits for the world, if this is the future, then how is this any use?"
Not the future. Only a prediction using stochastic variables. It can be changed, if the variables are altered. You are in the most parlous position.
The view returned, focused in on the metal device which had rent the wall asunder.
It was clearly crude, constructed hastily without much care.
The image of a Trebuchet, like those used by Gondor. Wood and metal creaked, at the limit of their capabilities as it hurled a rock the size of a small house.
The former is at the very nadir of possibilities for the materials it uses. The other is at the apex. Yet the single use of the former destroyed the wall, the latter requires many uses.
Saruman grasped at the distinction. "So what you mean is that the, the fire-device, is able to be improved?"
Correct. Other worlds have done so.
A metal tube, closed at one end. A bag of the fire-powder went in, then a marble ball. A man touched fire to a hole at one end, and with a mighty bang the ball went flying, far faster than any catapult shot.
The tube was more finely crafted, though not by much. This time, the ball was smaller and smoke sputtered from some kind of slow torch. It was sent forwards much the same by the, the tube-
By the cannon, and then it exploded in mid air.
"That was less effective than before."
Against buildings, yes.
Somehow, the stark practicality in that statement was more chilling than Sauron could ever be.
I optimize the world-line of civilization, Saruman. Not the world-line of any particular being.
The ball was metal, this time, and flew faster still. But instead of landing against a wall, it skipped through the serried ranks of a unit of Orcs – by the looks of them, the Orcs of the misty mountains known as "Goblins".
The carnage was terrible.
Grazing shot. Much more effective than ballista or catapults. Battlefield artillery.
This time, instead of an iron ball, hundreds of small lead balls went into the cannon. They spread like the breath of a dragon, and were about as effective against the Goblins.
It felt like days had passed when the intelligence – it called itself "Central", it seemed – released the hold on his mind. There were hundreds of scenes, dozens of devices, and several things that needed doing as soon as possible.
For one, he needed a disciplined army. One with the loyalty to follow him and not turn the weapons against themselves, and without the pre-existing methods of older armies.
"Those servants of mine from the vision…"
Uruk-hai. Orc and Man.
"Yes. I have had some ideas along those lines already – I must hurry."
Isengard industrializing, wood feeding fires and the machinery of engineering spreading over the surface.
The Ents, the tree-shepherds, tearing it to shreds.
Saruman himself throwing fire and fury into the advancing trees, rallying crossbow soldiers, until a huge rock came flying towards him and the vision mercifully concluded.
The wizard stumbled. "Does that mean that if I act too soon, then all is for naught?"
If signs of industry become visible in Nan Curunir, probability approaches unity that attack will come within two years.
"Visible… what of underground? If I channel the smoke through a gallery into the misty mountains, it could pass unnoticed."
An effective strategy, though it will not be possible to train many troops below ground.
Saruman nodded absently. "What I need is time. Time to get this fire-powder stocked up, time to gather lead, brass, iron, wood, and time to build all the machines and arms I need."
The serried ranks of the army of the white hand – his army – marching across the Gap. This time, the projection paused and focused in on their weapons.
The armour was plates of black metal, articulated with leather swords were simple hunks of metal, crudely stamped into shape. The pike tips were poor quality. The crossbows were made with bent metal, and their bolts similarly irregular.
Cast iron. Easy to make, but brittle. Too many troops to arm them all well.
"But if the army were smaller?"
The view this time was from above, showing the entire southern half of the Gap. Small local forces of Rohirrim swirled in and out of range of the Isengard host, casting their spears and felling the Uruks who had to keep up the march towards Helm's Deep.
By the time they reached it, there were too few to attempt an escalade against such a well defended fortress.
This time the Uruk force moved slower, using crossbow fire to kill the Rohirrim units as they came in. But it was expensive and required a profligate use of crossbow bolts.
When the force reached Helm's Deep, there were too few crossbow bolts left to suppress the Elven archers, and the attempt on the Deeping Wall was called off.
Observe the alternative, but the last projection is common to all three.
The Uruk force detached flanking units and approached Helm's Deep at full speed, reaching it only minutes after the Sindar battalion. This assault unit was small, but had better morale than the first two projections and successfully demolished the Deeping Wall. However, their numbers were insufficient to also attack the Hornburg gate, and precious minutes were lost bringing up a ram to use on the inner stronghold.
The final vision showed the huge army of Rohan, which had been able to concentrate with Gandalf's aid, riding down the numerically smaller Uruk force and breaking the siege.
"So… so. These fire-powder-"
"Gun powder weapons are essential, then?"
Pike and shot is effective against most more primitive armies. Observe.
Blocks of pike troops, like hedges of spear tips in all directions, with small numbers of – hand cannon? – troops in between. Cavalry charged, and were warded off by the spear points and smashed by the hand cannon.
The projection flickered, this time showing men with tower shields and swords. Gondor troops.
The pikes once more kept the men at a distance, and the volleys of cannon fire smashed into them.
In this case, since good sword soldiers can eliminate pikemen with use of manoeuvre or attacks on the pikes, co-operation is essential.
One final projection. This time, the pike troops dying under a hail of arrows, the inaccurate hand-cannons useless against them.
The wizard scowled. "What can be done about archers?"
Very little, at currently examined technology level. More improvement needed. Rifles. Expanding bullets.
"Show me," Saruman commanded.
"Good." Saruman said quietly. "Very good. This batch is wrought-iron?"
"Yes, lord Wizard." The crafts-man replied. "Much better quality. Using charcoal in the furnace was a masterful idea – and blowing air through it seems to have made it stay molten for far longer than I would expect."
"Quite. A pity that it only produces batches, though." Saruman mused. "Still, very good. Test it with coal, and then with coal that has been prepared like wood is for charcoal. If we can fuel our industry with the products of the earth alone, it will help our goal of concealment."
He turned to another of the smiths he had employed from the former lands of Rhovanion. "Could you make this wrought-iron into a tube, sealed at one end?"
"Depends on the size, lord." The man said. "If you want a small one, it could be done simply with a number of iron staves joined on the inside, and bound like a barrel. For something much larger, I'd need to machine it. Cast a great block of iron and then bore it out."
Two cannon. One was loaded with an iron ball, and then fired it out at a wall. The shot went high.
Large circular probability error. Windage. Tumbling.
The second one was loaded. This one had a ball with a sort of seam around the edge, and loaded much slower.
But when it fired, it was with a much greater speed – and it hit within feet of the target it was aimed at.
Standardized bore diameter. Rifling imparts gyroscopic spin. Greater accurate range.
The vision faded, and Saruman turned back to that smith. "Actually, a better idea suggests itself. Create a sheet of iron, an inch or two thick, then roll it into a cylinder. Add attachment points on a hoop on the outside of the cylinder, heat-shrink it into place. And add the seal later, but bore spiral grooves down it first."
The various men were now all looking at him. One spoke. "My lord, if you don't mind my asking… why?"
"All in good time, my faithful servants. Now, what about considering the use of gears to alter the power supply from waterwheels?"
This will not work. The low carbon steel you are using in the barrels is the hardest material available to you. Boring the grooves for the rifling will destroy the borer.
Saruman sighed, watching the images play out before his eyes. Estimates, routes of supplies – charcoal from Eriador, sulphur from deposits in Nurn and caravanned around the north of Mordor via Rhun, saltpetre from sewage works…
"What would you suggest, then? This steel is barely more expensive than cast iron, much less so than conventional wrought. And bronze is much harder to obtain."
He took his gaze from the Palantír, now almost unnecessary since the deeper link with the sentience on the other end had been formed, and let it roam the chamber. His staff lay against one wall, beside the cabinet of various treasures he had gathered in his long research. Two of the Dwarven Rings of Power – which he had planned on destroying, but that plan had been ruined by Gandalf's manoeuvre to deny Sauron of such as Smaug the Red. Dragonfire might not have been capable of melting the One Ring, but the slightly lesser Rings might have proved vulnerable.
Although, the heat of a blast furnace might prove efficacious. Something to consider, for until the One Ring was his-
Destroyed. It is an agent of entropy, inciting arguments and drawing power from the others to feed it and Sauron. An energy sink.
"You know this, for sure and certain?"
It is extrapolation. But the nine kings of men suffered its' effects, and the results are obvious.
"Yes, the Blind Sorcerer, the Witch-King… they barely exist in the physical realm any more. Very well, we will leave this for later."
Central subsided, and he continued looking. Next there were a trio of helmets, some armour and weapons, and a personal banner – relics he had found on some long-ago battlefield in the Anduin Vale, the very place (or so it seemed) where Isildur had been ambushed and died.
The final item in that particular case was the Star of Elendil, perhaps the single most precious item he had found there. It was a poor second to the One Ring, but…
"Central," he asked, ideas blossoming, "Would mithril alloy be harder than low carbon steel?"
Insufficient data. Mithril unknown except from your memories.
Saruman took the Star, and removed the bright diamond from its mithril backing with the point of an ancient dagger. "A shame to destroy such a beautiful artefact, but needs must." Then he took the helmets, good old Númenor work – and hence possessed of a mithril alloy crest. The armour was mundane, but the rings… they were made of mithril themselves, and pure at that.
And the Rings… they were mithril, as well. How deliciously ironic.
"Look at that…" the smith breathed, as the borer reached the end of its' run. Six grooves ran down the barrel, grooves cut in the hardest material he had ever worked on, by a tiny edging of the silver-steel material on the borer teeth.
"Excellent." Saruman proclaimed, clasping the man's shoulder for a moment. "Now, seal off one end-"
The one furthest from you.
"-That one. And get a ball of metal made to the specifications of the tube diameter."
He hastened to obey.
Central, Saruman thought, Why that end?
The lands twist slightly faster on the other one. Acceleration in speed of spin is useful, but deceleration is extremely detrimental.
Then shouldn't we try to ensure that all the barrels have an increase in spin speed towards the end?
Such a task would be barely within your technological capabilities, and is unnecessary in any case. The natural irregularities in boring produce one end twisting faster.
I see. So that one can be the open end.
Indeed. Prolonged use will eventually wear out the barrels, but with low carbon steel the effect is reduced. It is more important not to overreach.
A battle – no, a war – where both sides deployed weapons utterly fantastical to even the technologically-inclined Wizard. They were using weapons similar in concept to the cannon he had been shown, though clearly at the other end of their development as much as a longbow differed from a dart, or a trebuchet from a thrown rock.
The view focused on a flying machine. Unlike a dragon or fell beast, the wings were fixed, and it pulled itself through the air by… fanning air behind it? Saruman struggled to understand.
The other used them as well, but tried to do better. Strange objects that flew and spat fire, far faster than their opponents, but so much harder to make that the second side, despite having nearly the same amount of resources, was overwhelmed by numbers.
A few hundred Uruks, carrying astonishingly advanced versions of the handguns he had seen. They had no flint or steel, no slow match, not even the 'percussion cap' he had been shown. The soldiers simply pointed them, held down the levers, and they spat lead shot across vast distances, cutting down the Orcs of the Mordor army arrayed against them like wheat to a scythe.
But there were only a few hundred of them, and they were swiftly overwhelmed once their ammunition ran out.
I understand. I will progress the technology as far as it will go with simple methods, and improve them as far as they will go until the war starts.
Saruman reached out towards the Warg in its' cage. It snapped at him, and he flinched back.
"Impressive. This one almost waited until I was in reach. Continue, I want a breed which will listen to orders as well as a horse or dog."
"And why's that?" Anuz asked, the chief orc among his warg-kennels.
"Because if I can have infantry able to move at the speed of a Warg, I can move small units to places it would normally take them five times as long to reach."
Anuz' face cleared. "I see, lord. Only, why infantry?"
"Rohan have cavalry that no other can match. I simply plan on fighting them on the terms of infantry."
"So if we do this, the breech can be opened by the same lever that closes it, and the trigger cocks back and then releases the hammer." The craftsman demonstrated, working the model he had made through the process. "It should only take a few seconds, and it means there's no need for ramming the bullet home."
Saruman frowned. He hadn't even assigned this as a problem, thinking that his workers should get used to the idea of gunpowder before he started skipping the entire concept of a muzzle-loader.
"Good work." The Wizard finally said. "The only problem that I see is that the way the back of the breech is open. That will cause back-blast, and make the gun inoperable in the rain."
He shrugged. "Rain problem's not much worse than a musket."
"Yes, true. But the back blast is going to be the problem anyway."
Percussion cap. Mercury fulminate.
Tell me more.
Quicksilver, poured into a mixing vessel. Something else-
-added to the mix, and stirred until they dissolved. Another, colourless liquid
Ethanol. Pure alcohol.
-then went in, and the results were carefully collected.
It explodes when struck hard.
Then this could be used for explosive shells as well?
Yes. Now, cartridges.
A pointed piece of lead, with brass wrapped around it and extending past the back of the bullet proper. Inside was mercury fulminate in small quantities, and black powder.
The hammer struck the back of the chamber, transmitting the force through a solid bar to the base of the cartridge, and firing the bullet.
Most of the brass remained in the chamber, but when the lever was pulled to open it again it tumbled out.
Saruman opened his eyes again. He'd developed the habit of closing them when communing with Central, and as a result everyone in his employ recognized it as indicating intense thought.
"I have a few suggestions for you, regarding the ammunition. And you get double pay this month, for a truly inspired solution."
"This is called a Rifle." Saruman explained to the first ten Uruk-Hai he had created, led by Lurtz. "It is a new weapon, for a new power and a new people."
So saying, he passed it to the human craftsman, who demonstrated its' operation slowly. The opening of the chamber, fitting in the first round, closing the chamber, raising it to the eye, flipping up the simple ladder sight to the appropriate setting, and pulling the trigger.
The sharp retort and puff of smoke rocked the Uruks back on their heels, but to them this was just how it was. They were young, and had not yet begun thinking in wrong-headed ways.
A small splash of lead appeared at the other end of the chamber, around a foot from the target.
"Hm. Not very good over barely two hundred yards." The Wizard commented lightly.
"Sorry, my lord, I'm not used to the kick." So saying, the craftsman opened the chamber, ejecting the spent round and replacing it with another one, before repeating the shot. This one was much closer to the centre dot.
"What would you say is the fastest the rifle could be fired?"
"This version? Ooh, about fifteen times a minute, ten if you want the time to aim. That's with a lot of practice, though."
"And, you see, I think that if we were able to make bursting charges for the big siege mortars, it might help in sweeping battlements clear of enemy soldiers."
"An interesting point." Saruman agreed. "But I think that using percussion explosive shells for that is enough, especially from one of the siege mortars. There is also the risk of premature explosion with a timed cartridge, while the percussion triggers only detonate on impact. Look into packing in additional drop shot around the explosive charge in such a shell, though, to see if the benefit is worth the reduction in range and power."
Lurtz moved a few of the counters around on the model of Helm's Deep. "The big problem with taking a place like this would be that wide open rear and flank. Too easy to be trapped, especially with the time it takes to put the guns in place. The fortress itself is pretty much a joke, except for the tunnels in the Hornburg, the galleries dug back into the cliff."
"Agreed." Uglúk said, pointing to a raised area on the field in front of the fortress. "Is this accurate?"
"It is." Saruman assured him.
"Because if I have this right, then a howitzer here could throw solid shot into the doors of the Hornburg itself."
He is correct.
"You have a good eye." Saruman praised. "Though the difficulty is still getting them there. Anuz, how goes the Warg breeding program?"
"I have the somewhat tractable beasts you wanted for mounted infantry, lord, and they're being kept near the testing range, so hopefully they'll be used to guns by maturity. No good draft animals yet."
"At worst, we will use horse or oxen." Saruman then swept his lieutenants with a level gaze. "Do any other issues present themselves?"
"We're still working on how to prevent extraction jams. The brass gets soft enough on a hot chamber that it tears, that's the problem." Mauhúr spoke. "Firing in volley helps, because it means the faster loaders give the gun an extra second or so to cool down, but it's going to be a consistent issue."
"Would water-cooling the outside of the barrels help?" Lugdush asked him.
"I've not tried it, it could. But it would be a bit unwieldy."
"True. Perhaps just a change of tactical emphasis, then."
Saruman smiled thinly as the discussion picked up. These were his people, and they were doing what no power had done on Middle-Earth for hundreds of years. Innovating.
"My lord!" A human voice came from the door.
Saruman turned to see one of the Dunlending men he employed as servants on the surface. "What is it?"
"A lone man approaches. He wears no armour, only a grey cloak."
"Gandalf." The White Wizard took his staff from the wall, and set off for the stairs. "Carry on."
The conversation, which had stalled while the news arrived, began to flow again, the Uruks discussing the possibility of troops ascending the mountains outside Helm's Deep to set up sniping positions.
"Sauron's spirit is still anchored to this world, Gandalf. Unlike the Balrogs, or… other Maiar," both dropped their gaze for a moment in memory of the brothers, "he can regain his power from even a defeat of the kind he suffered at the close of the Second Age. He may not be physical yet, but that is merely a hindrance."
Saruman sat, one hand on his staff. "A great eye. Lidless, wreathed in flame. It can see all… or nearly all. Even the greatest spy, the strongest scryer must know where to look. But he has begun gathering his armies, poised to sweep across all of middle-earth and find the One Ring by force. Even now, the Nine have crossed the River Isen, as riders in black." And a pity it had been that he wasn't ready to face Sauron openly – to take all nine of the Nazgul's Rings would have been a great coup.
An interesting scientific test: what would happen if the One was the only ring left?
Gandalf looked saddened. "How do you know all this?"
"I have seen it."
"Using a Palantír?" Gandalf asked, not seeming to believe it. "Of all the irresponsible… they are not all accounted for!"
Saruman smiled slightly. "Two are sunk, one lost, one here, one in Minas Tirith, one near the Grey Havens, and one taken by Sauron."
"Then he does have one? He could be watching!"
"Do not worry." Saruman swept the cloth off his Palantír, revealing the mirror surface that Central's presence had left it with. "The orb is altered. It no longer connects to the others."
"You can't know that."
"No, I can't… but neither can you know that you are safe to wear that ring of yours."
Gandalf flinched before he could catch himself.
"I wondered, you know, why you did not destroy the One Ring when you had the chance. There was Smaug, last of the great Dragons, and the One Ring, in the same mountain – the same room! And yet, you did not even try. Did it not cross your mind that the Ring of Fire and the fire of a dragon could potentially harm the Ring? Dragonfire can certainly melt rock. And yet, despite that chance, you could not destroy a single Ring. I, Gandalf, have destroyed two."
Saruman then changed tack. "But there is a greater problem, even, than the work of Sauron. He is less powerful now than he was the last time he rose to power, but yet the prospects of the free peoples are worse. Why is that?"
He began striding about the room. "I will tell you why. All the greatest glories of Middle-Earth lie far in the past, further back the greater you look. The only time in the last two Ages that anything has improved was the influence of the Rings of Power themselves, and even that is fading thanks to Sauron's power. But now! Now, there is the chance for a new power to rise, to end this cycle of despair."
Gandalf looked wary. "And how?"
"A new power, a new people. My Uruk-hai are inventive, smart and strong. They are thinking – they improve, Gandalf! Like no other people have done since the genesis of the Sun! They are greater followers of Aule than any other… and at the same time, the others in my employ do the same things! When was the last time you heard of an invention, Gandalf? A better kind of bow from the Elves, who spend all their time pining for the days that have gone without trying to really live? A larger axe from the Dwarves? A longer sword, from the Men? Or perhaps a change from one way of doing things to another? Even Narsil is kept around in Rivendell, a sword that has been broken for three millennia."
The colour had gradually drained from Gandalf's face. Now, he swung his staff, and pushed Saruman back against a wall.
"When did you abandon reason, Saruman? Consorting with Orcs!"
"They were Elves once." Saruman released his staff, and it fell to his feet pointing at Gandalf. A pulse of force emanated from it and upset the Grey wanderer's footing.
"Man now is as degraded compared to the ancients of Númenor as Orcs to Elves. Or is that why you pay such attention to the Heir of Isildur? Are lesser men beneath you?"
Glamdring shone for a moment in Gandalf's hand, then half a dozen Uruk-hai broke the door down with rifles levelled and bayonets attached.
"Lord Saruman!" Lugdush cried, and snapped the simple trigger safety onto his rifle before coming over. "Are you alright?"
"Just a few bruises, I think."
Gandalf seemed in a state of shock at actually seeing Orcs inside the fortress of Isengard.
"Sir? Shall we kill him?" Lurtz asked, rifle pointed between the eyes of the old wizard.
"No, place him on the star-mount." Saruman replied, striding over and taking Gandalf's staff.
As soon as Lurtz, Mauhúr and Gandalf were gone up the stairs, Saruman chuckled.
"He didn't seem as concerned as he should have done."
"He probably wondered what was wrong with our spears." Lugdush shrugged, sniggering.
Saruman's trained orator's voice rippled throughout the cavernous spaces under Isengard. "We are found out. Not by treachery, or by spywork, but by camaraderie and strength of dedication – of which I am proud. But regardless, the result is the same."
"We have lost our shield of anonymity, but nor do we need to hide any longer! From today, we can work on the surface, and begin full production of the weapons and tools we spent the last five years building."
The speech rose to a crescendo. "A new power rises, and now we show ourselves!"
Cheers rang in the confined space.
"Yes, the entire outer wall should be lined with Fougasse. Naphtha, mainly." Uglúk said, directing a team of Common Orcs. "And I want some of the big mortars refitted as carronades, use a modular base-plate big enough to slot them into the battlements. Anyone coming up to the walls is going to get a storm of canister or solid shot, even if they have the equipment for an escalade."
A few of the second-generation Uruks followed him, watching as he explained siege weaponry by example.
Mauhúr, below, was running the first unit of Warg-mounted infantry through drill. "Now, the next manoeuvre is to deploy from column into line of battle, without countermarching. I want everyone to be able to do it without slowing down, because when we end up fighting Rohirrim they won't be nice and give you five minutes to get yourselves sorted out, will they?"
One of the riders raised a hand. "Won't countermarching mean we end up moving away from the enemy?"
"Not necessarily." Mauhúr answered. "How do you think we'd go about stopping to shoot them if we were falling back?"
Some of them nodded in realization at this. "We'd do this same drill, but turn around at the end?"
"Right! Good to see there's some grey matter up there."
Lugdush frowned. "I am disappointed. Three of you forgot to reset the sights."
The offenders shuffled their feet.
"Fortunately, it seems to have been because you were trying to fire as fast as possible. And as it happens, there is a trick for that. Aim down a body length from the enemy, at this range difference. Not for Trolls, though! Trolls, you aim down an arm length, which should put you shooting at the point between their feet because a Troll does not notice being shot in the head!"
He leaned in closer. "I think it's because they replaced all the brain with bone. Of course, that's fairly common among our enemies. Else, why'd they be fighting us?"
Lurtz pointed at three members of the skirmisher unit. "You are dead. And so are you, and so are you."
He then gestured up slope, where an Orc pulled off the Elven cloak he was wearing.
"Elven skirmishers are as stealthy as our little friend up there, except that they can shoot you while they hide. You have to be better at hiding, and to spot them first. Only the rest managed even the first part of that."
Ternak shook his head. "No, we can't use carts. They're too slow and unwieldy. It has to be a beast of burden that can carry what we need as packs."
"Yurgs?" volunteered one of his subordinates.
"Good plan." The great beasts were used by Mordor as pack and food animals, though there were none northwest of the Black Gate. "How do we get hold of some?"
"I think we can sneak a couple through Rhovanion, and then breed our own. That'll take months, though. Until then, perhaps the new Warg breeds?"
"We need these kettles to make the water clean. Disease kills more people than swords or bows in most wars." Skara shuddered. She was assigned to handle the medical matters of organizing the Army of the White Hand. "I hate to think of it, really."
"But what about on the move?"
"One of the tenets is that we march from nine to four, then we set up camp. We can do it then. And make sure we have enough iodine powder as well, come to think of it. The lord Wizard says it helps make water and wounds both clean."
"All right, you lot." Oglo barked out. "Our job is to find out where the enemy is, what they're doing and how loudly they yell when their valuables go missing!"
His unit contained some of the best common Orcs with the rifle, as well as those of the new Uruks with vague notions of stealth and good initiative. They would eventually be given Wargs, but for now they were practising infiltration drills.
"First order of business is how to set up the heliograph. This needs to be done quickly, signal sent quickly, and down again quickly, before one of the other side thinks of looking above their feet for once!"
Marek and Raza shouted to their squads, exhorting them to work faster, dig quicker, and set up their own camp properly, damn it!
The two were both line infantry types, like Lugdush, but were currently on the field entrenchment rotation.
"Come on, you slaggards!" Marek shouted. "You don't think a half finished camp is going to stop three thousand charging horsemen from trying to rearrange your faces, do you?"
"Don't let them beat us to it!" Raza yelled to her own unit. "If there's anyone having a short, sharp meeting with the horselords, it's not us!"
Kerkú glanced across at Sharku, his NCO. The grizzled old Orc had experience raiding Rohan for decades, but was adapting to the new realities fairly quickly.
Sharku gave him a grin, and urged his mount forward to berate an unlucky Uruk. "No, no, no! The whole point of the pistol is that you can have it in one hand! If you're aiming at a target you need both hands for and you're on your Warg, get off! Or charge them so you can use your sabre instead!"
"Central, what else is there?"
Other weapons systems often presuppose higher industry.
"Often?" Saruman stared into the depths of the Palantír. "So there are some which do not?"
Useful avenues include starshells and signal rockets at this point in time.
One of the field encampments the Uruks set up on the move. The sky overhead was dark with cloud, and only the occasional star shone through.
A picket trooper got cut off with a truncated yell, and his Ward snarled before being killed by spears.
The well-trained Uruks stood to the walls hurriedly, but with no light to shoot by their Rohirrim enemies were able to get among them without taking the punishing volley fire of a prepared unit.
They stood their ground, and bled, and died, and eventually, pushed beyond endurance, they broke and ran.
Armies of Rohan and Gondor investing Isengard. They had encircled it beyond cannon-shot, trapping the Armies of the Hand inside Nan Curunir.
As the light dimmed in the sky, a concerted rush began from the Human lines. Some Uruks tried to man the walls, but were so weak with hunger they could barely lift their weapons.
Sauron's armies conquering all of Middle-Earth.
Two orcs, fighting one another with stone axes before the steady gaze of the incarnate Sauron. As he watched, one was victorious, and offered up the body of the vanquished to his lord.
Your forces must not have an easy weak point. Starshells will enable them to fight after dark. Their vision is good enough for melee combat, but not for gunfire.
The same attack as before, but as soon as the Rohirrim rush began, a flat thump heralded the rise of a mortar shell into the sky. A few seconds passed as the Uruks manned the walls and the horse-lords drew closer, and then the shell burst in the heavens.
Firework. Parachute. Stays aloft.
Under the sudden light, stronger than the moon, the Uruks methodically worked their levers and sent out deadly volleys. A number of mines were lit and triggered, scything through the horses behind the initial rush, and a forest of bayonet-points panicked the horses as the rifles behind them spat fire.
"Why, Gandalf?" Saruman asked. "I wanted your help in this. Can you not see, it is the reason for which I was put upon Middle-Earth! Not only to defeat Sauron, but to break the cruelties he imposed on its' people and create a future!"
Gandalf shook his head sorrowfully. "Evil is poison and disease in one, Saruman. The way the Númenorians fell should have warned you of that."
So saying, he threw himself off the tower, the lord of Eagles bearing him up and away from Orthanc a moment later.
Lurtz called to Saruman from the floor below. "I could still hit him, lord."
"No, let him go. I can only hope he will see reason."
AN: This is the most spectacular plot bunny to ever hit me, I think. All this lot was written in the last twenty-four hours.
This is a crossover between Lord of the Rings, and a series of books that don't appear to be on the site - the General books by David Drake. The central theme of the General series is arresting the fall of civilization and replacing it with a continuous rise.
Central itself is an AI, able to calculate extremely detailed simulations of future events on very little information. It cannot, however, innovate - that's the job of its' human partner.
Most of what shows up here is pretty much doable with the kind of resources Saruman has in either the books or the films, assuming that he has a few years to prepare. And while it's wildly divergent from Tolkien's themes for the series, Saruman is a Maiar aligned to the Valar of the forge and of smith-work. So if anyone, him.
Do let me know if I forgot an apostrophe or accent somewhere. Dang English professors and their constructed languages...