I was still staring at the crown and heap of clothing that had been one of the ringers. "All right, Petals," I said, "if I just whacked the ringer, why do I still feel like my spine wants to get up and run away?"
That question answered itself when another ringer stalked down the ramp of the siege tower. This one wasn't as careless as the other about exposing his invisibility; he still had his hood up over his invisible head. The black sword he carried in his gloved hand, however, was perfectly visible. And here I was all out of three-foot-long steel bolts.
I've never seen a hobbit crawl backwards on his hands and knees as quickly as Petals did. Luckily for him, the ringer had no attention to spare for him. Because all of his attention was focused on me.
"Bagginsss," the ringer croaked. "Give me the ring." There was an almost conversational tone to his demand, and I realized that this was none other than Khamûl, the ringer who had wrecked my office back in Bywater and chased me all the way from there to here.
"Don't you already have a magic ring, Mr. Khamûl? Don't want to be greedy, now, do we?" Then I slapped my forehead. "Oh yeah, that's right, your boss took it back, didn't he? Some people, huh? You and your eight buddies -- sorry, seven buddies -- ought to sue him for misrepresentation. If you want, I know a cheap lawyer back in Bywater."
All the time I was cracking wise, he was advancing on me with his sword raised, and I was backing away. I felt my foot reach the edge of the guard post, and I knew that it was the end of the line.
And then, silence.
All the time he had been stalking me, the sounds of battle had been going on all around us, as the orcs continued storming Isengard, but it all came to an abrupt halt, like someone closing a door.
Khamûl came to an abrupt halt, too. He turned his absence of a face to the side, so he was looking over to my left. Khamûl didn't strike me as the type to use the "Hey, look behind you" gag, so I risked a look myself. That's when I realized that every orc, troll, and monstrosity in Sauron's army was staring in the exact same direction. It suddenly occurred to me that they were all looking to the southeast, directly at Mordor.
The silence ended abruptly as every single member of Sauron's army screamed at the same time. I can still hear the sound of it. I'll be hearing that sound until my dying day.
That terrible scream finally stopped, and I was astonished to find that I could now see Khamûl's face. It was the face of an old, agonizingly old Big Guy, with wisps of long white hair falling past his face. Then his flesh shrank away and his skin stretched across his skull like he had been dead for a thousand years, and he toppled over. His skull rolled past me, shedding bits of skin like ancient parchment, and fell off the guard platform.
I looked up over the low wall at Sauron's army, and it was back in motion. Instead of resuming the assault on Isengard, though, its members had started fighting each other. Orcs hacked at each other, trolls smashed their maces at anything within reach, the catapaults remained unused. The few orcs who had made it onto the Ring of Isengard fought the Dunlendings and each other indiscriminately and were quickly taken out. All around me, Petals, Legs, Captain Gríma, and the other soldiers, stared out over the walls topping the Ring of Isengard and watched Sauron's army fight itself. Everyone was sharing the same dumbfounded look -- everyone except Legs. His face displayed astonishment, but not incomprehension. I realized then that he knew exactly what had happened.
I reached up and tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, Legs," I said, "spill it. What's going on here? What happened?"
I got an answer, but not from Legs. From behind me, that familiar purring voice said, "I can tell you that."
I turned around and saw that the Professor had joined us above the gate. "What has happened, Deuce," he said, "is that the Ruling Ring has been destroyed."