"Deuce," said Petals, "I don't like the looks of that battering ram."
"You mean the one that's rolling directly at the gate beneath us?"
"That's the one."
I had to admit that Petals had a point. "You think we should move?"
So we moved. We went back down the stone stairs to the top of the Ring of Isengard, then behind the tower that stood to the right of the gate, coming in sight of one of the catapaults that lined the Ring's outer perimeter. A group of soldiers in a uniform I hadn't seen before, a bright red one, was loading a large black ball into the cup of the catapault. One of the soldiers had a lamp, and he used it to light a wick that was trailing out of the ball. The wick caught on fire, and burned down more quickly than an ordinary wick, producing sparks rather than the usual flame. Another soldier was looking at an hourglass and speaking Dunlendish words at regular intervals. The last word was shouted, and the catapault was fired. I watched the black ball rise up, and then drop somewhere beyond the parapet. There was a sound like the loudest clap of thunder I had ever heard, and a flash of light, and every soldier of Isengard within range began cheering.
I looked up at Captain Gríma. "What just happened?"
Gríma smiled. "Some of the Professor's fire magic. The battering ram has just been disabled."
Petals and I exchanged a look, and we both returned to the guard post above the gate. The orcs were still advancing, but something had knocked the battering ram off of its frame. While I was watching another of the black balls went sailing out from Isengard and landed on the battering ram. There was another thunderous explosion and a blinding flash of light when the thing landed, and the battering ram was completely loose from the scattered remains of its frame and rolling along the ground, crushing a number of unlucky orcs.
Captain Gríma had followed us back up to the guard post, and I asked him, "How many of those things does the Professor have?"
"Classified," he said.
"What's that mean?"
"It means it's a secret."
Yet another one of the black balls went arcing into the sky, but it missed its intended target, one of the approaching siege towers, and instead blew a hole into the ranks of the orcs. It's been said that hobbits don't like complicated devices, and I found that I particularly didn't like the complicated devices the Professor had come up with to deal out death. I had to admit, though, that they were efficient. Up here at the guard post they had installed two metal things that looked like bows mounted onto big sticks, and that's what they proved to be. The soldiers manning them would crank handles that pulled wire bowstrings back, then place long metal bolts in them, then release a catch that would fire the bolts into the approaching orcs.
Again one of the black balls was launched into the dark sky, and again it missed the approaching siege tower. I realized two things then: one, the siege tower was headed directly for us; and two, it would reach us before they could load another exploding ball into the catapault.
"Deuce," said Petals, "I don't like the looks of that rolling tower."
I agreed with him, but unfortunately we didn't have time to leave the guard post before it hit. The shock threw all of us off our feet, and sent Legs and Captain Gríma rolling down the stone steps. A sort of drawbridge thing came down with a loud, heavy thud, and a dark figure came striding across. I could tell from the way the hair on my feet was trying to stand up straight that it was one of the ringers. This one didn't bother with a hood; instead, there was a crown floating in the air a foot above the empty collar of his cloak.
I tried to scramble out of the way, and found myself backed against one of the metal bow-on-a-sticks. The collision with the siege tower had skewed it around so it was almost facing the crowned ringer. It was cranked back, and there was a bolt in place. I gave it a shove so it was aimed straight at him.
"Keep away!" I shouted.
The ringer hissed, "Keep away? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"
"I ain't no Man, buster!" I growled, and yanked at the trigger. Three feet of stainless steel took the ringer right between his invisible eyes. It passed through where his head should have been, and became a spray of white-hot liquid that spattered against the siege tower. The crown and clothing that had been all that was visible of the ringer suddenly collapsed onto the ground, and a shriek that made all the earlier ones sound like cooing babies rose up into the sky and faded away.
Petals rose up on his hands and knees, his eyes as round as saucers, and said, "Sweet merciful crap, Deuce, you whacked one of the ringers!"