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The Black Gate Opens

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The Return of the King chapters
Book V
  1. Minas Tirith
  2. The Passing of the Grey Company
  3. The Muster of Rohan
  4. The Siege of Gondor
  5. The Ride of the Rohirrim
  6. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
  7. The Pyre of Denethor
  8. The Houses of Healing
  9. The Last Debate
  10. The Black Gate Opens
Book VI
  1. The Tower of Cirith Ungol
  2. The Land of Shadow
  3. Mount Doom
  4. The Field of Cormallen
  5. The Steward and the King
  6. Many Partings
  7. Homeward Bound
  8. The Scouring of the Shire
  9. The Grey Havens

The Black Gate Opens is the tenth chapter of the fifth book in The Return of the King.


Two days after the decision by the Captains of the West to assault Mordor, the armies of the West set out, numbering seven thousand. At Imrahil’s urging, a small force remains in Minas Tirith to defend the city. Though the injured Merry cannot go to battle, Pippin marches as a soldier of Gondor. The army passes Osgiliath and makes camp; the horsemen move ahead, but they encounter no opposing forces. As the army draws closer to Mordor, Gandalf instructs the heralds to sound the trumpets and declare the coming of the King of Gondor. The army’s stirring and brazen cheers meet little answer from Sauron aside from an eerie, watchful silence.

On the second day of its march, the army is nearly ambushed by a strong force of Orcs, but Aragorn and the Captains stop the ambush. Several Nazgûl begin to fly overhead, following the progress of the army. As Aragorn’s army nears Mordor on the fourth day, the younger troops become paralyzed with fear. In pity, Aragorn permits them to turn back, but many decide to stay. On the sixth day, the host approaches Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor, which is surrounded by reeking pools of mud and filth. Aragorn arranges his army upon two great hills.

Gandalf and Aragorn ride toward Morannon with a small envoy, including Gimli, Legolas, Pippin, Éomer, Imrahil, and Elrond’s sons—representatives of each of the races of Middle-earth that are opposed to Sauron. The envoy calls for Sauron to emerge and submit to the justice of Gondor. After a long period of silence, the Lieutenant of the Dark Tower emerges with an embassy of black-clad soldiers. He is a living man, tall-helmed and evil, and his horse has a face like a skull, with fire burning in the eye sockets and nostrils.

The Lieutenant mocks Aragorn and his army. When Gandalf admonishes him, the Lieutenant draws from his cloak Frodo’s coat of mithril, Sam’s sword, and a grey Elven cloak. The Lieutenant informs the anxious Captains that Sauron will spare the life of the captured Hobbit spy if they agree to certain terms. Gandalf, with a look of defeat, asks for the terms. The Lieutenant says that Gondor and its allies must never attack Mordor, that Gondor must become a tributary to Mordor, and that a suitable captain from Mordor must rule in Isengard over Rohan. Gandalf utterly rejects these terms.

The Lieutenant, rebuked by Gandalf, is gripped by terror. He turns and retreats to the Black Gate. As he does, the host of Mordor, much larger than that of Gondor, pours out of the Gate. Drums roll, fires blaze, and the sun turns red. A great company of brutal hill-trolls charges into Pippin’s company. One of the Trolls pounces on Beregond, but Pippin stabs the Troll with his sword. The Troll topples forward and crushes the startled Hobbit. Pippin begins to lose consciousness. He bids the world farewell, but just as everything turns dark, he hears a great clamor of voices shouting, “The Eagles are coming!” In his dazed state he wonders if he is merely recalling Bilbo's story of the Battle of Five Armies.