Q: Is the Messenger Sent to Dáin a Black Rider or the Mouth of Sauron?
ANSWER: At the Council of Elrond Gloin shares a disturbing story about a mysterious messenger who comes to Erebor and offers rings to Dáin if he will support Sauron and assist in finding Bilbo Baggins. Here is an excerpt from Gloin’s tale that describes the Dwarves’ encounters with the messenger:
“Then about a year ago a messenger came to Dáin, but not from Moria — from Mordor: a horseman in the night, who called Dáin to his gate. The Lord Sauron the Great, so he said, wished for our friendship. Rings he would give for it, such as he gave of old. And he asked urgently concerning hobbits, of what kind they were, and where they dwelt. “For Sauron knows,” said he, “that one of these was known to you on a time.”
‘At this we were greatly troubled, and we gave no answer. And then his fell voice was lowered, and he would have sweetened it if he could. “As a small token only of your friendship Sauron asks this,” he said: “that you should find this thief,” such was his word, “and get from him, willing or no, a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole. It is but a trifle that Sauron fancies, and an earnest of your good will. Find it, and three rings that the Dwarf sires possessed of old shall be returned to you, and the realm of Moria shall be yours for ever. Find only news of the thief, whether he still lives and where, and you shall have great reward and lasting friendship from the Lord. Refuse, and things will not seem so well. Do you refuse?”
‘At that his breath came like the hiss of snakes, and all who stood by shuddered, but Dáin said: “I say neither yea nor nay. I must consider this message and what it means under its fair cloak.”
‘”Consider well, but not too long,” said he.
‘”The time of my thought is my own to spend,” answered Dáin.
‘”For the present,” said he, and rode into the darkness.
‘Heavy have the hearts of our chieftains been since that night. We needed not the fell voice of the messenger to warn us that his words held both menace and deceit; for we knew already that the power that has re-entered Mordor has not changed, and ever it betrayed us of old. Twice the messenger has returned, and has gone unanswered. The third and last time, so he says, is soon to come, before the ending of the year.
There are two interesting things to note about this account. First, the black horseman hisses — something which is associated with the Nazgul but not the Mouth of Sauron, although anyone can hiss for all sorts of reasons. But the horseman also refers to his master as Sauron. Only the Mouth of Sauron uses that name. It is therefore understandable that readers are confused about the identity of the messenger. Based solely on this text it would be fair to say that readers are free to decide for themselves who the messenger might be, but that really isn’t fair to the readers who want to know what Tolkien thought. Fortunately, he provided other information. For example, in “The Hunt for the Ring”, which was published in Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth, he wrote:
Now Sauron learning of the capture of Gollum by the chiefs of his enemies was in great haste and fear. Yet all his ordinary spies and emissaries could bring him no tidings. And this was due largely both to the vigilance of the Dúnedain and to the treachery of Saruman, whose own servants either waylaid or misled the servants of Sauron. Of this Sauron became aware, but his arm was not yet long enough to reach Saruman in Isengard. Therefore he hid his knowledge of Saruman’s double-dealing and concealed his wrath, biding his time, and preparing for the great war in which he planned to sweep all his enemies into the western sea. At length he resolved that no others would serve him in this case but his mightiest servants, the Ringwraiths, who had no will but his own, being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held.
In this passage it is clear that Sauron would only have trusted a Nazgul to bring him the One Ring. Hence, one must ask if it would be logical for Sauron to send some other emissary to Dáin who might — by some remote chance — come into possession of the One Ring. Further, in a passage from “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” (published in The Silmarillion) we find another declaration by Tolkien that Sauron only trusted the task of retrieving the Ring to the Nazgul:
Now by fortune and his vigilance Mithrandir first learned of the Ring, ere Sauron had news of it; yet he was dismayed and in doubt. For too great was the evil power of this thing for any of the Wise to wield, unless like Curunír he wished himself to become a tyrant and a dark lord in his turn; but neither could it be concealed from Sauron for ever, nor could it be unmade by the craft of the Elves. Therefore with the help of the Dúnedain of the North Mithrandir set a watch upon the land of the Periannath and bided his time. But Sauron had many ears, and soon he heard rumour of the One Ring, which above all things he desired, and he sent forth the Nazgûl to take it. Then war was kindled, and in battle with Sauron the Third Age ended even as it had begun.
I think that on the basis of this evidence we can say with certainty that the messenger who spoke with Dáin was one of the Nazgul. Sauron would not have entrusted a lesser servant, even the Mouth of Sauron, with finding and retrieving the One Ring. The risk to him was too great.