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This again is another strange decision on Sauron's part. We know from Grishnákh and the fact Legolas killed a Fell-beast that there is at least one Nazgûl on the eastern side of the Anduin, possibly more. Now in both Saruman and Sauron's case they know that a Halfling currently holds the One Ring. So they naturally think Merry or Pippin has it, as they're the only Halflings the Uruk-hai, northerners and possibly Mordor Orcs come across at Amon Hen.

Now from my personal point of view it is likely Sauron learnt from the Orcs on the eastern bank of the Anduin, or is merely guessing (we know he finds Saruman easy to predict), that Saruman has sent his own band of merry Uruk-hai to capture and deliver the Hobbits to Isengard; so Sauron himself sends Grishnákh and maybe a few other Mordorians to make sure Uglúk actually takes the Hobbits east. Grishnákh himself learns that Uglúk represents the "White Hand" and outnumbers him by a lot, so Grishnákh then slumps off for a bit and returns with 40 Mordorians with him.

Now why I find this so strange is down to the fact that Sauron risks letting a rival have the Ring (from their view, we know Frodo in fact has the Ring) by sending an Orc messenger who is heavily outgunned, even though he has at least one Nazgûl on the eastern bank of the Anduin (personally I think there is more than one waiting). Now the main argument against myself is that Grishnákh reveals the winged Nazgûl are forbidden in showing themselves across the Anduin, but we know they could cross in secret and use horses instead of the giant fell-beast.

So why does Sauron send a lackey instead of an actual power to get the Ring?

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    I'm pretty sure at that point, Sauron was still staying fairly hidden. A Nazgul can mean only one thing, whereas roving bands of orcs were somewhat common in the lands around Rohan and Gondor. In fact, that was one of the main threats that the Rohirrim rode around taking care of.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 21:14
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    True point, but like we see in the shire, Sauron is willing to send the Nazgul in secret. Like you said orcs roaming around may have been fairly common around Rohan at the time. So Sauron imo should of sent the Nazgul while the orcs occupied the Rohirrim
    – user31546
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 21:47
  • No answers hmmm where is darth satan when you need him.
    – user31546
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 23:30
  • I can expand on my comment as an answer, but I don't have any book quotes or anything to support it. At the moment, it's just speculation based on my understanding of the text.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 15:00
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    Now that I've thought about this a little more, it's possible that Sauron had a lot of faith in Grishnakh. He's pretty much the only major player we see among the Mordor Orcs, so he's gotta be a general or commander of some kind. Given the nature of orcs, this would also mean he garners a lot of fear & respect from other orcs.
    – Omegacron
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 16:30

2 Answers 2

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The answer is that your question is flawed, at least in part. Sauron did send a Nazgûl. As Grishnákh and the other Orcs are bickering, one of them says:

'I came across,' said the evil voice. 'A winged Nazgûl awaits us northward on the east-bank.'
-The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 3: "The Uruk-Hai"

The "evil voice" is Grishnákh, of course. So Sauron did indeed send a Nazgûl along, possibly the one who had his mount shot out from under him, but probably not. Shortly after the passage quoted above, Grishnákh runs off from the main party of Orcs and then returns a bit later.

'Splendid!' laughed Uglúk. 'But unless you've got some guts for fighting, you've taken the wrong way. Lugbúrz was your road. The Whiteskins are coming. What's happened to your precious Nazgûl? Has he had another mount shot under him? Now, if you'd brought him along, that might have been useful - if these Nazgûl are all they make out.'

'Nazgûl, Nazgûl,' said Grishnákh, shivering and licking his lips, as if the word had a foul taste that he savoured painfully. 'You speak of what is deep beyond the reach of your muddy dreams, Uglúk,' he said. 'Nazgûl! Ah! All that they make out! One day you'll wish that you had not said that. Ape!' he snarled fiercely. 'You ought to know that they're the apple of the Great Eye. But the winged Nazgûl: not yet, not yet. He won't let them show themselves across the Great River yet, not too soon. They're for the War - and other purposes.'
-The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 3: "The Uruk-Hai"

Sauron sent the winged Nazgûl, but ordered them not to cross the River Anduin, probably because the first winged Nazgûl sent out was immediately shot down by Legolas. Since Uglúk tauntingly asks Grishnákh if the Nazgûl has had "another mount" shot under him, we can probably assume that they already knew about the first mount being killed, and therefore, the Nazgûl who "awaits" the Orcs on the eastern bank of the river is a different one.

The Middle-earth Encyclopedia entry on Grishnakh says:

Grishnákh and Uglúk had an ugly dispute in which Uglúk cut off the heads of two Mordor Orcs who opposed him. Grishnákh reported these events to one of the Nazgûl on February 27, but the Nazgûl advised Grishnákh to pursue the Uruk-Hai and remain in the company with the Hobbits. On February 29, Grishnákh and his band of Orcs from Mordor once again joined the company of the Uruk-Hai. The Orcs and Uruk-Hai rested near Fangorn Forest.

And Thain's Book contains the following passage in the entry devoted to Nazgûl:

Sauron kept the Winged Nazgûl east of the Anduin at first. However, on January 9, 3019, an unexplained shadow passed over the Fellowship in Eregion (FotR, p. 299). Some have speculated that this was one of the Winged Nazgûl that crossed the river prematurely (HoME VII, p. 365).

According to a timeline published in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, one of the Nazgûl met with Grishnákh on the eastern side of the Anduin near Sarn Gebir on January 26. Grishnákh was an Orc from Mordor who had information on the Fellowship's journey.

Grishnákh and a company of Orcs along with a Nazgûl attacked the Fellowship on February 23 as they were travelling downriver by boat. Legolas shot and killed the Nazgûl's steed with an arrow, but the Nazgûl survived. Grishnákh later joined forces with Uglúk of Isengard to attack the Fellowship at Amon Hen, and Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took were captured.

Grishnákh met again with one of the Nazgûl on February 27. The Nazgûl told Grishnákh to pursue Uglúk, who was taking the Hobbits to Isengard. But Grishnákh was killed by the Rohirrim, and Merry and Pippin escaped on February 29. That same day, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee heard the cry of a Winged Nazgûl overhead while in the Emyn Muil. It is possible that this was the Nazgûl who had been Grishnákh's contact.

As the previous answer suggests, Sauron deemed the Fell beasts too valuable to risk being lost before the war began in earnest. He sent one to oversee the capture of Merry and Pippin, but made them hang back a bit to stay out of danger.

We can probably assume that Sauron deemed the actual capture of the Hobbits to be too dangerous to get the Fell beasts involved, because Legolas had shot down the first Fell beast that was sent out, and the Orcs were carrying the Hobbits through hostile territory with the Three Hunters and the Rohirrim in hot pursuit; therefore, he sent Grishnákh to catch the Hobbits and bring them to the winged Nazgûl, who would be waiting in a safe place, and would then fly back to Mordor with the captives.

We might think of Grishnákh as a sort of Major or Captain, and the winged Nazgûl as a Lieutenant General. The General is in command, but too valuable to send to the front lines, so he stays away from the battlefield and gives orders to his lower ranking officers who are expendable and in the thick of the action.


Note: the quotes from Thain's Book and Middle-earth Encyclopedia are based on the same source, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion which the invaluable Tolkien Gateway describes as "one of the greatest recent secondary works on Tolkien's world."

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    Of course, Gris could have been lying about the Nazgul to make himself look important and direct the captives his way.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:40
  • @Oldcat - Possible, but I think it's unlikely. It wouldn't necessarily make him look important - it could actually have the opposite effect, by creating the impression that he isn't trusted to be in charge, and needs someone to supervise him. And Ugluk knows about the first Nazgul, who lost his ride, so there is precedent for Sauron sending Nazgul to the area, and for Ugluk knowing about it.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:46
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    And if Grishnakh is trying to impress Ugluk, it doesn't work at all. Ugluk basically calls the Nazgul a bunch of little bitches.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:47
  • I don't follow the logic of "another mount". Surely that implies it's the same Nazgul? If it were a different one it would be their first mount.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 9:50
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Thoughts:

  • Sauron is fighting wars on many fronts. Gondor. Imladris. Lórien. Rangers. Possibly in the east. He has a lot of ground to cover.
  • He is discreetly pulling/conveying resources from the far east (Oliphaunts) for the making of war, and that takes logistics. He is equipping and staging long logistic lines for his massive armies of Orcs. He has high overhead.
  • Sauron just got news from Moria (the Balrog was one of his seriously capable minions) that the Balrog is dead, and that takes a major hero. He has to re-conquer there because he has a great love/hunger for Mithril and derived technologies. (What he does with it is not mentioned.)
  • When a Nazgûl goes down it takes months to get back up. It literally walks home, but not seeing stuff in the way. It is formless, a wraith not a body. It doesn't walk fast.
  • A number of horse-mounted Nazgûl were unhorsed just before the team gets to Rivendell/Imladris. It is likely that at this point, he is still low. His Nazgûl pile was low.
  • The Nazgûl were used to keep the warring tribes of Orcs in line. They do have other strategic uses besides hunting hobbits.
  • As mentioned above he doesn't know where the Ring actually is, so he can't concentrate resources there.
  • He has PTSD and is looking for heroes like Isildur, Anárion, Glorfindel, and such. He probably has some level of PTSD related to Fëanor and sons. (Their wars over Silmarils were profoundly bad for Morgoth and Sauron). He is looking for a single great hero like Aragorn to confront him. Aragorn uses this against him to very great effect later. He isn't looking for small groups of scrawny creatures; he watches for the canonical/larger-than-life heroes.
  • He has an idea that the Elves (Elrond and/or Galadriel) have the Ring and would expect anything but the strategy attempted. He likely expects them to turtle in their fortresses (after the Balrog, likely Lórien). Building fortress busting siege-armies (worthy of evil) is the proper counter-strategy.
  • He might inform his highest ranking Orcs to take advantage of the desire of Isildur's Bane to reach its master - more Orc arrows to bring down a second Isildur. This is likely why the Orc leaders knew to look for "unexpected opportunities".
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    I'll give you a +1 since all of these thoughts/theories are equally possible. However, we don't know if the Balrog in Moria is actually Sauron's minion or more of a third-party.
    – Omegacron
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 16:28
  • The ring called it, drew it to Frodo. The ring can only call that which it has power over. The purpose of the ring is to go back to it's master. The ring, at least, thought the Balrog likely to bring it to Sauron. The Balrog was a maya that had been corrupted by the darkness, like Saruman. Commented May 12, 2015 at 17:03
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    The balrog was certainly not Sauron's minion, do you think if he had a balrog he would leave it in moria? The balrog chased the fellowship because of Gandalfs presence and after countering Gandalfs spell, Gandalf proceeded to attack the balrog which is why he chased them for even longer :)
    – user31546
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 0:21
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    In the books Saruman is far from Sauron's minion
    – user31546
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 10:36
  • 1
    Because he wanted the ring for himself
    – user31546
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 2:29

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