PartIII Chapter 2.1
Gandalf to Saruman on 4 March 3019 (QD4)
And Gandalf returned to Orthanc.
Here he appeared, a tall imposing figure, much taller than the mortals of Middle-earth; appearing almost as some saintly form, wholly clad in a white flowing robe.
Gandalf looked about him, shaken and overwhelmed by his journey. All that had gone before weighed profoundly upon him; the task to be achieved, but more importantly, the burden of the well-being of others. So here, in Orthanc, at this special time, he appeared weary and beleaguered. His long hair, sweeping beard and tufted eyebrows appeared more disheveled and greyer; his once bright hazel eyes still shone but they were less brilliant; his mouth more taut, and the lines on his brow appeared deeper and more pronounced against his pallid complexion. And while in other ways, Gandalf had not changed, two things were markedly different, for Gandalf did not wear Narya, The Ring of Fire, and although he carried his staff, now it did not bear its crown.
Gandalf had set the chronomap to arrive in Orthanc in the mid-morning of this 4th of March, as it had been written that the Ents had completed their destruction of Saruman’s once powerful realm on 3rd. By now he had surmised, the fierce commotion of battle would be over, and for Saruman, his desperate demise could not be denied. But from where Gandalf stood, it looked as if the shadows of the fall of day had entered this space, this, the ante-room of the main hall of Orthanc.. It was a room he was familiar with. To it, many a time he had been welcomed by Saruman, when this Wizard was the Chief of the Istari and the Council of the Wise. But now it appeared ominously different and menacing. The walls, soaring, slate-coloured stone, appeared somber and deeply depressing, even fearful. There was no welcoming feeling here now. The lofty windows, huge portals that once looked over the emerald green land of Isengard, were covered by hulking wooden shutters. The sole light in the room came from a bronze candelabrum, which had been placed on the oak entrance table that stood against its western wall. A pungent odor of stale smoke lingered oppressively. It hung like rancid droplets in a dusky haze; so thick that it stung the eyes, and when Gandalf breathed, was inhaled with an acrid bite. Nearly spent, the candles spluttered, casting flickering shadows through the toxic-film. And with this pall, despite all windows being shut, a chilling draft surged. Gandalf drew his cloak closer to himself.
He walked across to the eastern bank of windows and prised opened one of the shutters. He was anxious to gain an idea of the actual time of day. He found the window covered with a grimy film, giving an eerie sense of decay. The film was caked on the outside; layer upon layer of grime from the smoke of the fires that had burnt deep in the land of Isengard. Fires that had forged for Saruman his army of Uruk-hai. Now his army had been defeated and destroyed. Now the water of the Isen River flooded over his broken land, and with the battle over, the solitary sound was that of the gushing torrents drowning Saruman’s ferocious forges and cursed creations. However, as Gandalf had surmised, Saruman’s winged spies, the Crebain, the black crows of Isengard, had survived the rout of the Ents. Now the lone remnants of his army, they soared close to Orthanc’s peak, waiting their Master’s call.
With a heavy heart Gandalf looked down upon the carnage of this beaten land. He saw Treebeard, who stood far below, acting as the sentinel of the Tower, interning its captives, the vanquished Wizard and his grim servant. He then saw Quickbeam
stride across to Treebeard, and give him the massive white-hand emblem of Saruman. Just days ago this had stood a top the southern gate of Isengard, as a sign to all that this land belonged to the once-White Wizard.
Gandalf felt heartened to see Treebeard and the others; it gave him surety that things were progressing as had been written; that his journey had not interfered with the old lore as it had been told.
Gandalf closed the shutter and crossed the room to the table. His eyes had become accustomed to the murky light and he became aware of the papers strewn across it. It looked as if someone had been looking through these documents, and when distracted, had carelessly and in a fury, in the urgency of the moment, cast them aside. Gandalf picked these up, and in the half-light, looked over them. Several were unmistakably words written in Saruman’s hand. But not the careful dignified hand that Saruman had as Chief of the Istari put to paper, but the frenzied scrawling of an anxious and angry soul. It appeared that on a number, Saruman had wanted to record the events of calamitous doom that he had experienced at the hands of the Rohirrim and from the lowly Ents. Others were documents not in his hand, aged manuscripts and maps. The light was so poor, the candles now spluttering their final breath that Gandalf could not read the writing, although a parchment he picked up appeared, from what he could make out from the elven runes, to be a map to a remote ruin near the peak of Mount Methedras. He decided, if he had time later, he would return to make a thorough study of these papers, but now he knew he could not linger, he must see Saruman.
As Gandalf crossed the room to the doors of the main hall, he could see that they stood slightly ajar. These were towering dark-stained panels, carved with symbols of the men of Gondor, the builders of this tower of Isengard. From this opening, Gandalf could see a section of the hall where shutters obscured the windows. From high on the walls, the candles of candelabra lit the room. However, Gandalf reasoned that there must be windows, obscured from his view, which were opened; for it appeared that a breeze fanned these candles; their flames flitted and cast trails of wispy smoke out through the doors’ opening, as if they were trying to escape the chamber and those inside. He could now hear the muffled sounds of two voices. One raised and demanding, giving an order. The other, slimy and coarse, making a vain effort to argue. These were the voices of Saruman and Gríma Wormtongue
King of Rohan,
who acted as a spy of Saruman
to keep the country of Rohan weak.
Although Gandalf could not discern the words distinctly, he was sure from their tone that there was no love between these comrades. Being interned together in these fraught straits, would put a mordant edge on their strained relationship. For Gandalf knew that Saruman would hold Gríma simply as a lowly serf, and that Gríma would resent this. Gandalf knew the mean ending that would take down this Wizard; but here he felt the presence of a besieged will struggling to re-assert itself; furiously seeking control of its, and others, destiny. He felt anger at Saruman’s treachery, but also pity for his downfall.
Then, as he contemplated how life is full of choices, and even those of renown and accomplishment, make choices which lead to dark-doom, he heard a voice more clearly, and then the sound of ungainly steps approaching the door. The doors were flung open, with fuming force and agitation. Gandalf stood back, hidden by their shadow. Out stomped Gríma, grim of face and form; obviously sent on an errand he did not approve of, and did not wish to obey, but was unable to refuse. Gandalf looked at this tormented soul as it swept by him. He shuddered at the sight, for Gríma appeared more emaciated and tortured than when he fled from Edoras; his face was ashen-grey, his raven eyes were sunken and inflamed, his hair fell in tangled locks, and his stoop so manifest that he appeared to have the gait of a crippled hunchback. As his passed his full-length cloak swung along the floor, making a faint whooshing sound, and Gandalf noticed it was caked with stains of mud and grime and smelt foul, the aftermath of his frantic flight and internment.
Gandalf needed to see Saruman on his own, uninterrupted by the gaze of Gríma, and agonised whether he would have enough time with Gríma attending to his errand. He had no choice but to proceed, but remembered with trepidation his previous encounter with Saruman in the very chamber he was about to enter. Gandalf ventured in, closing but not bolting the doors behind him. He looked quickly around this magnificent hall, with its high-vaulted ceiling and gargoyles looking-down in their mocking fashion, stain-glass windows on three walls (now a pair of windows were opened, the others were obscured by shutters as in the ante-room), the oak-paneled walls hung with woven tapestries, and the smoky-blue marble floor with a mosaic pattern depicting Gondorian conquests of bygone Ages. A majestic hall, with its centre-piece, the palantir on its pedestal. The globe, now uncovered, pulsing as if alive.
Although Gandalf had not deliberately entered quietly, Saruman did not immediately become aware of his presence. He was engrossed in his gaze on the palantir. Gandalf continued to walk towards him. Here too the sour odor and haze of dying fires engulfed the space. Gandalf looked at Saruman. How he had changed from the proud and powerful figure of their meeting in the Third Age; even the manner of his gaze bespoke of a being in racking despair. He seemed to Gandalf, to be shrunken in size, though over six feet tall, his demeanor, less self-righteous and upright, as if he had shriveled into himself. His hair, still silvery with ebony streaks, seemed coarser and matted, caked with a grayish tinge. He wore this cloak, no-longer white, which changed hue in the light as he moved, of browns, greens and ocher.
‘Saruman,’ Gandalf called, surprising himself at his conciliatory inflection.
Saruman turned abruptly, covering the palantir as he did.
‘Ah, you have come Gandalf, as I knew you would. But I saw you not within this hall – I saw you below, with others,’ he uttered, then continued in a biting tone:
‘How did you come into this hall; and the others, where are they?’
‘I come alone at this time, Saruman. For I have come with a personal proposal based on the friendship that once existed between us,’ Gandalf replied.
‘There was never friendship Gandalf,’ retorted Saruman with disdain.
‘Then a respect that one has for a renowned figure,’ answered Gandalf.
Saruman looked scornfully at Gandalf and rejoined:
‘Yes, Gandalf, there was a time when you revered me. I was your esteemed counsel. Did you not come to me that day, to where we stand now, and ask for my guidance and wisdom.’
Sincerely and with sorrow, Gandalf responded to this sneer:
‘I did, thinking that the Chief of the Istari would give me insight beyond what I possessed.’
‘Yes insight… for as Gandalf the Grey, you never had acumen. Always on a crusade to help others, with a grave weakness, never seeing everything that might be seen.’
‘I saw what was before me. I saw the evil looming again in Mordor.’
‘What of it, I saw this too. You made a choice driven by lesser creatures of the plains and wood. I made my choice, aligning myself with a power that will rule all earth. All earth Gandalf, not just Middle-earth, and not only for now, but for all time!’
‘But you did not see that this, your power, could be opposed and defeated as it now has.’
‘Opposed and defeated for now, Gandalf. I realise that you come to gloat on my demise, but the Dark Lord, waits his strike. Do you think that you have won for all-time. Men are rooted in evil, even those that seem white with honour; inside them lurks a malicious beast. It is for power that they lust. I have seen it in the palantir and from readings of the Great Books. Once good men turned to The Dark. Isildur and his line, even your Ranger from the North, your new found leader of men. Even within him there is a lust… for his selfish need for love has sealed the fate of… of others.’
Then as he spoke these words, Saruman realised that he had said too much, and tried to swallow them as they left his lips.
Regaining his composure he continued in a mellow restrained voice:
‘But you said that you come with a personal proposal.’
Gandalf, was on the verge of asking him what he meant by the ‘fate of others’, but he resisted the temptation of displaying his burning need to understand. He knew he must not declare anything of his real purpose, for all that he might say, could be relayed to Sauron.
‘Yes, I came to ease your demise by…’
But before Gandalf could end his sentence, Gríma appeared. Gandalf had not realised that he had re-entered the hall, and was not sure how long he had been listening to what was said between Saruman and himself.
‘My master,’ Gríma hissed as he approached Saruman,
‘how did Stormcrow
come to be in this hall?’
‘Yes, Stormcrow, you did not give me an answer, how did you come to be here?’ Saruman continued in a derogatory tone, as if he had caught Gandalf out on this matter.
‘It is not of any importance. I have my ways as you are aware Saruman, but I seek to continue our discussion,’ Gandalf replied in a like manner.
‘Yes, Gríma, he wishes to discuss some matter in private, what do you think of that?’ Saruman said, turning to his servant, ‘should I trust him, do you think?’
‘I would not trust him Master, he is full of trickery, always the bearer of ill-news,’ whined Gríma, but before he could say anymore, Saruman exclaimed to Gandalf:
‘Only this morn, Gríma and I agreed that Stormcrow was not to be feared, did we not Gríma?’
‘It is true, but…’ muttered Gríma, but Saruman did not wait for his reply and continued to address Gandalf:
‘Gandalf you have befriended men, elves, dwarfs; creatures of no power or foresight. I have no fear of you, transiently on a winning-side, say what you propose.’
‘I will say it only to you. If you will not permit this, then I will take my leave.’
Gandalf commenced to walk to the main doors, remembering the previous time he tried to leave, Saruman had violently prevented his departure.
Saruman was intrigued by Gandalf’s appearance at this juncture, so different from his vision of his coming below and on the morrow. What did Gandalf have to offer? He was confident that he could outwit this unwise Maia. Saruman hesitated in these thoughts, but seeing Gandalf committed to leaving, in a groaning growl of one trapped by his words exclaimed:
‘Gríma, leave us!’
‘Master…,’ Gríma pleaded.
‘Leave us; I have nothing to fear from Gandalf. Go!’
Gríma grudgingly skulked to the door, glaring at Gandalf as he left:
‘I will stay in the ante-room, in case you need me.’
‘Shut the door, Gríma. I do not need your protection,’ Saruman screeched, then composing himself once-more addressed Gandalf:
‘Come into the Council Room, we may sit there.’
Saruman walked away from the palantir, towards the southern part of the hall, taking a candlestick with him. He opened the door to the Council Room, a place where Gandalf had often sat with Saruman discussing the Great Books and issues of the Council of the Wise.
Gandalf followed him.
The room was dank and oppressive despite the candle-light. The windows were covered by shutters, which prevented light or fresh air to enter or be circulated within.
‘Remember the discussions we had with the Council in this room,’ Saruman spoke in a gentle friendly tone, as if he remained the benevolent mentor.
‘Yes, Saruman, a time when Maiar were of one mind,’ Gandalf replied.
‘Ah, we were never that Gandalf. You persist in seeing the most positive in everyone. But we certainly thought more alike in those days of old, than now.’
The room had a suffocating ambience. Clearly no-one had used it in an age; however, the reek of the fires had penetrated its space. A grand mahogany table commandeered the room, now empty except for the bookcase which stood against its northern wall. Once holding an extensive collection of illuminated volumes, it was half empty, with the books in disarray, but on one shelf, sat the engraved silver coffer of the Council of the Wise. Once a prestigious library of the Council, the chamber now appeared neglected and forlorn.
Saruman sat at the far end of the table, placing the candlestick in front of him. He pulled-out the chair beside him, and reluctantly Gandalf sat on this. The light shone on their faces, and both wizards for a moment looked at each other intently, physically similar, but in terms of all else, worlds apart. Each recognised this instantly.
Saruman spoke first in his assuaging tongue:
‘Ah Gandalf, tell me what it is you wanted to reveal to me.’
He spoke in a controlled and fawning tone. Gandalf recognised it as the voice of the Chief of Istari. He recalled how Saruman had commanded and enthralled others who heard him speak; to Gandalf now the voice bespoke only of manipulation and treachery.
‘I ask, no plead with you, to return to the position you once held,’ Gandalf expressed cordially but forcefully.
‘You come on any authority but your own?’ Saruman questioned.
‘I come with the authority of those who have triumphed over your army and will defeat that of the Dark Lord,’ Gandalf replied. ‘I come to give you one last chance…’
‘One last chance you say, am I to take this as a threat?’ Saruman retorted.
‘It is meant not as a threat but an offer, but you cannot deny Saruman that the consequences of your actions provide you with few choices.’ Gandalf realized that he had raised his voice, trying to take control and hold Saruman’s interest.
‘This offer, what does it contain?’ Saruman responded, raising his voice as well, wishing to dominate that of Gandalf.
‘The houses of Rohan and Gondor offer you as the Chief of the Istari, freedom to continue…’
But before Gandalf could complete his sentence, Saruman rejoined in growing agitation:
‘Freedom to continue, what freedom?’
‘If you renounce Sauron and…’
‘Renounce Sauron!’ Saruman spat, and then stood up, threatening to leave.
Gandalf continued urgently:
‘Let me finish Saruman. If you renounce Sauron and The Dark, the kingdoms of men would call upon your knowledge and wisdom. Your lands of Isengard would be restored. You will hold a place of significance in these kingdoms.’
Gandalf spoke with an urgency and fervor, he wished to lure Saruman back into conversation; much remained to be answered. He did not expect Saruman to believe all that he said, but he wanted him to be drawn into why this offer of reconciliation was being made.
Saruman hesitated, then returned to his seat; he stared searchingly in Gandalf’s eyes.
‘Isengard restored and a significant place in the kingdoms; adviser to each King I presume you mean,’ Saruman’s stare grew into a glare, cold and intense.
‘They want access to my knowledge and wisdom. Tell my Gandalf, what in particular do they want?’ his voice snarled, like the slow, vicious growl of Draugluin, the wolf servant of Sauron.
‘They spoke of an alliance, man with Maia,’ Gandalf answered hurriedly but with conviction, apprehensive that Saruman would draw from him the things that he was thinking; those thoughts that he was concerned to keep hidden from his prodigious intellect and sway.
Saruman scoffed, shook his head in disdain, and rose from his seat and began to pace the room. He had become weary of this joust with Gandalf. Gandalf sensing this, continued to stare fixedly at him as he paced, entrapping Saruman through his gaze. Saruman hesitated, then walked to the table and leaning over the chair upon which he had previously sat, and directly facing Gandalf, pronounced dispassionately:
‘Do not insult me Gandalf. This is your feeble idea, to show yourself ever as the compassionate crusader against evil. I do not believe that those of Rohan or Gondor will trust me after the battle, no matter what I denounce and what you say. Remember I know men too well to know that they do not trust and forgive easily. Do not delude yourself Gandalf, you are not one of them. You are useful to them for now. You have brought them to a victory of sorts, but do you think they will tolerate you when your next advice or battle fails – as it will. So I say to you Gandalf, I will not renounce what I have seen will envelope the world. I reject your plea, but I offer an alternative to you. I treated your earlier refusal with anger, but offer it afresh in recognition that Maiar of our kind must stand in concert. I have seen a time in the future, where Maiar no longer exist. I offered this alliance to you before as one for us in this Age. I offer it now as the only way that we, as Maiar, can ensure our existence in the future. For only man will survive then with evil at his call.’
Gandalf listened and at first said nothing. He let an awkward silence pass. He needed time to compose his reaction. Although he did not trust Saruman, he felt that there was an element of sincerity in his words. He knew he had to tread with caution, for should he take up Saruman’s proposal too eagerly, Saruman would see through this ploy.
Gandalf sat silently, and then moved in his chair a fraction from Saruman’s stance.
‘Did you understand my offer?’ Saruman questioned insistently.
‘Yes, Saruman, I heard and understood it,’ Gandalf replied, turning his face and body from Saruman’s gaze, as if needing space for his thoughts. He reached into his pocket, he reached for ‘it’. It was time, he knew, time – for nothing would save Saruman, and soon he knew that Saruman would call an end to their meeting, and he must be ready by then, otherwise all would be lost. Imperceptibly, he whispered:
‘Bila piy lohsw aehmat
Bila piy et nmappaf.’
He paused, his message sent. He cleared his throat, then continued, dropping his voice to a half-whisper:
‘I am surprised you offer this to me knowing how I felt at our recent encounter...’
He wanted Saruman to be frustrated at his misconstruing the changed substance of Saruman’s offer, and keep him thus ensnared. Then quieter still he added:
‘at our grievous encounter…’
‘Gandalf, why do you face elsewhere and speak in a murmur,’ Saruman retorted frustratedly.
Gandalf turned, stood up, and looked directly into Saruman’s eyes. They were now grey, the dark-grey of ominous thunder clouds, no essence of life appeared behind their film; their stabbing glare, bitter and unyielding, as if they had been wrought from a shattered slab of stone.
‘You spoke of times when Maiar will not exist, how is that so?’
Gandalf wanted to pull from Saruman the details of his foresight, and keep him engaged with feigned reverence to his superior knowledge.
Saruman hesitated, removing his eyes from Gandalf’s gaze. Gandalf feared he had failed in being so direct, that Saruman would see through his words, but after a quivering pause, Saruman snorted haughtily:
‘Ah… yes, Gandalf you do not have foresight!’
Saruman walked across to the bookcase, glancing flittingly at, then positioning himself in front of, the coffer:
‘You crave my insight, you need it, that is why you have come and risked everything to entreat me. Do you think I will give this to you without something in return?’
Gandalf noticed his glance, and knowingly registered Saruman’s dependence on what lay within, but standing his ground he confidently uttered his trump card:
‘I have offered you a future, do you think that Sauron will forgive your defeat against Rohan; he tolerates no failures! Whatever you saw before, you must know this.’
Saruman tremored at this truth. He knew Sauron’s wrath at failure, but he had seen Dark’s infiltration of all into the future. But he hesitated; it would be wise to have an alternative plan if all was to fail with Sauron. He decided he would tolerate this discussion for a short-time more, to entrap this weak wizard. He returned to his seat, and with a bravado characteristic of his manner, he motioned to Gandalf to return to his. Gandalf returned to the table, but did not take this seat, but another on the opposite side to Saruman.
Saruman nodded in a contemptuous way, and allowed the slight to pass, continuing in a conceited and conniving tone:
‘You speak of one in a powerless position Gandalf, I am not that. My power exists outside that of the Dark Lord of this Age. I have seen things beyond Sauron. I have seen the end of the Maiar, but not at the hands of Sauron... ’ Saruman let the end of his sentence hang.
‘What is it that you have seen?’
‘Careful,’Gandalf thought, ‘do not speak too eagerly’, then he unfaltering continued:
‘You made mention of a reign of men, without others, how can this be?’
‘It is written Gandalf – it will come to be! You who have befriended them, yes you have been ensnarled in their net. You have aided our enemy of the future!’ Saruman jeered.
Gandalf sat and said nothing. He wanted to ask the questions that burned inside him: how did this all come about? But knew if he asked straightforwardly, Saruman would pull back and be guarded with his answer. Gandalf struggled to maintain his composure. He waited for Saruman’s fervent need to impress him, to let this to drive Saruman’s response, to let slip the information which he yearned.
Saruman filled Gandalf’s silence with his words:
‘Yes Gandalf, the very men you are aiding, will bring down the world as we know it. Bitter as some times might be, at least all beings of Middle-earth exist now; they will not in the future.’
Then exuding malice:
‘But I feel you feign surprise, for I sense you are aware what I am saying is the truth. Our world will be destroyed by men, those descendants of Rohan and Gondor. Even now, one who you have brought into power, will see the end of the elf. It is written Gandalf! If you had spent the time I have in the Great Library of Gondor and seen what I have in ancient ruins, you would know this, and the palantir has confirmed this all to me.’
Saruman, lost in his intent to convince Gandalf, continued in a tone of disdain:
‘The love that man speaks of, how shallow and corruptible it is, but how obsessed he is with conquering another in this way.’
Then, like venom from a fang biting into flesh, Saruman spat:
‘The Dark Lord had the betrothed of a Queen of men watch her die at his hands. This betrothed – this prince of men - betrayed her to win the power that the Dark Lord offered him. That is the nature of man. He wrote of loyalty and love, but would stop at nothing to gain Sauron’s favour and stand at his side.’
He spoke rapidly and viciously, without reserve or control, taken by the moment of delivering his final blow:
‘That is the character of those in whom you have placed your trust!’
Then he stopped, checking on Gandalf’s demeanor, and then, on his own. He realised he had spoken too passionately and too extensively. Gandalf saw in the flickering of his eyes and the twitch of his mouth, that Saruman had realized the lure he had fallen for. Saruman looked fiercely at Gandalf then moved his gaze, fleetingly looking at the bookcase, then, as if distracted, at the door. Saruman shifted in his seat, and now sat erect and rigid. Gandalf struggled to regain the moment, he urged:
‘Saruman, you speak of men thus, but this is from Ages-past.’
Saruman did not respond.
Gandalf knew that he had lost control – his moment with Saruman was gone. As Gandalf realized this, Saruman sensed that Gandalf knew. The joust was over.
Saruman rose to his feet, pushing his chair so wildly that it toppled over, and walked towards the door.
Gandalf remained seated.
However, before Gandalf could respond, Gríma called from the Hall in a panicked tone.
Saruman did not respond to Gríma, but addressed Gandalf in a sycophantic tone:
‘Ah Gandalf, I fear I have overwhelmed you, but Gríma calls. Accept my hospitality in Orthanc, I can see you after I have attended to this matter, and we may then continue our discussion,’ the words flowed like syrup, as if earnestly spoken to a friend.
Gandalf knew otherwise. He stood up but remained at the table. He knew that his future, and that of the Quest, rested on a knife’s edge. As Saruman had imprisoned him before, so now, his situation was more perilous. He knew what lay in the hospitality Saruman offered. Saruman would contact Sauron and inform him of Gandalf’s presence, he knew that if this happened he would never again see the outside of Orthanc. His end, and that of the Quest, would be sealed. His only chance existed with the diversion he had set in motion.
He knew that he had to keep Saruman from contacting Sauron, until he had time…
Gandalf took a rapid breath, and in as dispassionate a tone as he could muster:
‘Saruman, I have heard what you have to say. I cannot give you an answer if you choose now not to take me totally into your confidence.’
‘Then it is at an end. You will see that what I have spoken is the truth, but I sense that you would not be willing to accept this truth from me. In spite of my words, you will take the side of those who will betray the very being of Middle-earth.’
Gríma called yet again in a distraught tone, and then rushed into the chamber. He whispered excitedly to Saruman:
‘The Crebain are fighting off a flock of birds from the forest who have dared to attack them, seeking access to our position in Orthanc.’
Saruman agitated, confronted Gandalf:
‘Gandalf, you see the war continues and… and will not end in this world, in this Middle-earth. I must insist that you remain until I return...’
‘Will you not see…’, but before Gandalf could finish his words, Saruman interjected brusquely:
‘I have no time to converse further with you…’ and with those words he turned, rushed from the chamber, bolting the door behind him.
Gandalf could hear the calling of the Crebain, furious screeches of a battle occurring in the sky to the east. Gandalf knew he had little time. Little time to do what must be done, before Saruman overcame the distraction and contacted Sauron. He went to the western windows, and pulled at the shutters. They were bolted tightly. He took his staff and levering with all his strength, tried to release the bolt. It made a dull rasping noise, then as it gave way, a resounding thud. Gandalf alarmed by this, spun-around to check the door, expecting to see his captors, but neither came. He pushed the window outward, hoisted himself up, precariously teetering, on the ledge hundreds of feet from the ground, and held the beacon outside. He waited. Within the moment he felt the beating wind of wings as a speck dived from the heavens and reaching his landing, hovered close-by the tower wall, like a billowing cloud hanging low in the sky – it was Gwaihir.
The greatest of the eagles of the Third Age, 20 feet in statue, with a wing span exceeding three-times his height, this mammoth flying creature was an awesome sight. Of gargantuan proportions, he was covered in a black-brown plumage, with a striking flaxen feathering on his crown and nape, framing his regal head and accentuating his piercing sable eyes and horn-coloured raptor bill.
Gwaihir had answered Gandalf’s call, as had been planned before Gandalf had left The Light. Gandalf leaned from the ledge, and stepped with care onto Gwaihir’s back.
‘Gwaihir, dear friend, it has all worked as planned. Fly me far beyond the clouds, beyond the sight and range of Saruman’s spies.’
As these words were spoken, the eagle soared skyward, effortlessly riding the updraft to propel himself and his passenger upward, straight upward, through the clouds, beyond the reach of Saruman’s crows. Suspended in the clear white sky, Gandalf took out his chronomap. He turned the date back to mid-morn of 4 March 3019 of the Third Age, pressed on the image of Isengard and its sky below the clouds were he sat, and chanted:
Si sga sola, emm luts qasuqp,
Si sga yiqmf es sgot niops,
Lew Sga Mohgs diq emm yosgop,
Qasuqp sga sola ti.’
Gandalf put down the chronomap, sighed gravely and waited for a sign. In that very second, a swirling boom sounded as if from thunder, and then he felt a shudder. Gwaihir felt it too, his hover shook in response. The clouds below them pulsed; rippled as if a titanic quake had flowed across their surface. Then all was still and silent. Gandalf knew it was over. He sat, stunned momentarily, knowing that what had been unleashed was so boundless a power, so perilous in its potential, that although possible with all chronomaps, the Council had decided not to make the others of the Quest aware of it. Only for one-other did Gandalf set in motion this force, but this was controlled by Gandalf himself. However here, under the circumstances that Saruman would contact Sauron about Gandalf’s visit on this day, thus by changing the course of events written down in LOTR; he had no choice but to make use of this power, whatever the risk and consequence.
‘It is done, Gwaihir, we can descend. Let us return and see Isengard on this mid-morn.’
Gwaihir swung about, Gandalf felt him hesitate a breath, then bringing his wings into his body, dived through the clouds and held his flight high in this position, waiting for Gandalf to scan the world below. Here they remained out of the sight and reach of Saruman’s winged-spies.
‘Ah Gwaihir, time has returned as promised.’
As Gandalf looked upon Isengard, he saw that it was covered with lakes of water, smoldering from below. The air was a dismal-brown, a baleful-grey sky mingled with the yellow-brown smoke from the death-throes of Saruman’s forges.
‘There,’ Gandalf exclaimed, ‘I can see Quickbeam striding across to Treebeard, to give him the white-hand emblem from the southern gate of Isengard.’
To the east, the Crebain were hovering the Tower as they had when Gandalf saw them on that morn; there was no sign of the battle that had occurred those minutes ago in another time.
Only one element for Gandalf remained undetermined, had this all happened in time? Had Saruman contacted Sauron and informed him of Gandalf’s visit and words in this time of the Third Age? If so, how would this change what would come, what would be? But as he was in a quandary about this, across time, he received a message that infused his thoughts, as the muted notes of a distant flute heard upon a summery westerly wind:
‘Os emm ot, et os yet’
Gandalf felt the warm glow of relief, and reassured himself, uttering his thoughts out loud:
‘There will be no sign of my entering Orthanc at this time, and nothing of my discussion with Saruman will flow into that which occurred in the Third Age. I will arrive with the others on the morrow, and will speak to Saruman from afar; as it has been told.’
‘Gwaihir, all has been done now that needs to be done here.’
He thought searchingly of what he needed to plot his next course. There were so many loose ends; where to start to bring them into an understandable whole. Too many souls were dependent on him. And now he must follow up those seeds of thought released by Saruman. What of Saruman’s claims of reading and seeing the destruction of the elves and Middle-earth, from books within the Great Library of Gondor and… ‘ancient ruins…’, that is what Saruman had said. Gandalf then remembered the map he held in his hands in the ante-room. Like a gushing torrent, he was filled with self-reproach: ‘If only I had taken more account of the elven runes; if only I had more wisely handled my discussion with Saruman. If only…’
Then as if the bracing winds of the upper sky shook these thoughts from him, he took control of what he had, and asked his eagle-ally:
‘Great Windlord of Middle-earth, Maia-kin, know you of ancient elven ruins on Methedras?’
Gwaihir replied in a rolling bass timbre, like the rumbling of a waterfall cascading over a rocky crag:
‘In a time long-forgotten, a sanctuary for elves existed near the mountain summit, but many Ages-past, the forest has reclaimed this site.’
‘Pray make haste and take me there Gwaihir,’ Gandalf urged his host.
Gwaihir banked sharply over the valley of Nan Curunir, soaring his way with the clouds to the southernmost peak of the Misty Mountains.
If Saruman had been watching from Orthanc, he would have seen this mighty eagle flying towards Methedras, but he was not; he had just given an order to Gríma, and Gríma had stomped from the hall, flinging open the doors, off on an errand he did not approve of, but was unable to refuse.
As Gwaihir descended to the peak of Methedras, the clouds hung heavily, whipped by the winds that buffeted this bleak pinnacle. Not far from its crest had stood the ancient sanctuary of Elmowë (descendent of Elmo, the younger brother of Thingol ) ;
where this prophet of the Elves of the Twilight had then dwelled. In this time, Elven scholars and disciples came to sit at the feet of, and seek counsel from, this illustrious seer. But that was in days of yore, and as the Ages past, all memory of him faded, as did that of Elmo, his father. He only existed in what was written in the Elven manuscripts of new lore, for no mention of his existence was ever made by the Master of Middle-earth.
The sanctuary had been built in a small clearing surrounded by a forest of red-oak trees; these standing august and aloof near the virgin springs of the Entwash. Their gnarled forms reaching up to the sky, they stood as mute sentinels against all intruders. From twisted roots, their primordial frames supported writhing branches, extending out to reach others, as if in their union, the path beyond to the sanctuary would be barred. At their feet was a blanket of olive, russet and ochre foliage, and remnants of hoary ancestors, which lay in profound repose. And covering both the living and the fallen, a swarming swathe of lichen had burgeoned, clinging close as casings in parts, draped like willowy shawls in others. Vines sprang high out of the trees and hung like plush curtains across were once a pathway had been trodden. Now, no pathway and clearing existed. The trees had gathered up the ruins, bringing back to the earth all that once stood apart from it.
Through the jade-green canopy, blocking all vision of the mountain’s peak and the sky beyond, the swollen sun sent shimmering shafts to piece this silenced sanctum, but as they came upon the ruins, they were infused with the mist that rose from the forest floor. This dissipated in the gusts that swirled their way past the silent sentinels; bringing with them the fragrance of the forest and the aroma of the earth, of growth and decay, sweet, spicy and stale. Yet even here, the smoldering gasps of Isengard’s fires intruded, caustic and choking. An eerie light and silence grew, here now where no-one trod.
Gwaihir hovered over the forest’s peaks. Standing as tall as the tallest tree, Gwaihir could not land within, but alighting on the tree tops, supporting his weight with the occasional beat of his mighty wings, he spoke to Gandalf:
‘We are here Mithrandir, below this mantle lays the remnants of the sanctuary of Elmowë. I will unfold my right wing and pass it through the trees, on it you may climb to the forest floor below. I will stay upon Methedras’s peak until you call for me.’
‘Thank you my friend, I will make haste to find what I need, then I would seek your kindness and wisdom to chart my course further,’ Gandalf replied gratefully.
Gwaihir then unfolded his wing like a gentle-slopping stairway and Gandalf descended to the depths of the forest.
Gandalf at once felt the silence. A spectral stillness – of a primal soul of immense intellect, now in innermost thought. He looked in amazement at the forest, the sentinels of a secret, which they had swallowed up in reverence. He felt them looking down-upon him, questioning what right had he to disturb this consecrated ground. But Gandalf had things to do; he did not now have time to worry about the sensitivities of these beings. However, he felt the pangs of old despair return. If only he had taken greater note of the writings on the map; if only he had been clever in questioning Saruman. He felt anger and frustration with his handling of their encounter. But then, as if the spirit of Elmowë took pity on him, the despair dissipated as the early morning mist, and Gandalf felt a stirring sense of relief, then determination. He did not know exactly what he was looking for, but knew with certainty now that he would find it; here he would find the key to Aragorn’s mission. When he left on his journey to this mountain top, he thought that what he sought might be a parchment that had been hidden in these ruins, but now he knew it was not to be anything like this. He went over Saruman’s words:
If you had spent the time I have in the Great Library and seen what I have in ancient ruins…
‘Seen, not read – words chosen purposely by ‘the man of skill, Curunír’
he had seen something,’ Gandalf reasoned.
Gandalf started to search through the labyrinth of vines and undergrowth that entangled the elvish-made structures: a humble timber and thatch dwelling, of which only two walls and a section of the roof remained; a crude seat of stone, which must have looked across the clearing. Gandalf imagined Elmowë giving his audience here, to those who made the arduous journey up the mountain to his feet. But nothing here provided the answer he was looking for. He ventured in a broader circle through the trees. The mist thickened as if to tell him he was on the wrong path. High-pitched chirps of unseen forest folk, warbled as if to give him directions: ‘Go back’, they seemed to say.
His cloak drenched from the mucid mist of the forest, Gandalf returned to the seat, he looked for a sign, then noticed, if he faced not south but north on the bench, just ten feet away lay some stones, roughly buried by the leaves and debris of the forest. He went over to them, removed the debris from years of where they had fallen, and then with an excited thrill that ran within his body, started assembling the pieces. Each stone fitted into the next, and when he had reconstructed what seemed like a whole, it formed a stately altar. It had been gilded and painted brightly, but only scant remnants of the gilt and colour remained, however, the surface of the stones was carved in deep-relief. Like a magic puzzle, as the pieces of stone were fitted in sequence, though worn with years of decay, the carvings depicted a story which started in the east and worked its way to the west. Gandalf recognised it as the story of the Elves. It showed their awakening in the far eastern land of Cuiviénen; the imprisonment of those by Melkor; the journeys for the Three Kindreds and of the Wood-elves and Galadhrim of Lórien; of the War of Wraith; of the making of the Rings of Power…
Gandalf followed the history, breathing in gasps as he moved around the altar, feeling hesitant to see what lay to come, but mesmerized, driven to continue.
He saw depicted a meeting of the peoples of Middle-earth in Rivendell. He made out what seemed to be the meeting of two on Cerin Amroth, although a piece of the carving was scoured out, as if an attempt had been made to change this event. Although dismayed he nevertheless continued, carried by the momentum of seeing this carving from antiquity recount what must have been for its carver, the foresight into a far-flung future.
There was a meeting in Lothlórien, a wedding in Minas Tirith (although again the carving was scoured and pitted), and a ship leaving Grey Havens, sailing west. Two more panels existed, separate from the others, but connected by a vine inter-twined with a scythe; Gandalf recognised its meaning, the symbol of life and death. He hesitated to look at these last two panels, he drew a lingering, agonising breath.
One undoubtedly represented the birth of Eldarion, Aragorn’s son, and the other, the other… Gandalf drew back in horror, the last panel depicted the death of elves of all kin. Death not in battle, but from the ravages of age and disease. Gandalf reeled with the sight, he dropped to his knees in the clotted mass of forest decay, and cried out in anger and despair, tears falling like the soaking rain:
‘It is true, it is true then… the union of Aragorn and Arwen has somehow brought about the death of all elves – the end to their immortality.’
Gwaihir heard Mithrandir’s cry of despair, but knew he had not been called. Nevertheless he flew from the peak and circled where the sanctuary once stood, just in case some enemy had arisen, but looking down, he knew that it was the cry of sorrow from a soul that now did not need his assistance. He flew back to the peak, and waited.
Gandalf pulled himself up. In a fury he kicked the altar to pieces, as if that would bring asunder its savage prophecy. Mutely they fell back into the debris of their times.
He struggled back to the stone bench. He felt angry, helpless and bitter about what had been destined. How would his dear friend take this dreadful news, sitting before as a baleful premonition, now confirmed in all its horror.
A mournful pall fell upon the forest. The rays from the sun disappeared, as if swallowed by the blackness of a heart. A silence grew as if a shadowy emptiness shivered across the forest, all beings knowing that a monstrous calamity had been recognised.
Gandalf sat there, in the dimness – empty, not knowing what he was thinking or what to do. Then like the shimmering of silvered starlight, the lightest of droplets floated from the sky and fell upon his hand. He looked at this kiss from the heavens, and then looked up, and rain fell softly upon his face, washing away his anger and tears. The sky shone a radiant azure through a canopy of luminous jade.
‘Life is renewed,’ Gandalf whispered aloud, ‘life will find its reason and its way.’
The rain fell more heavily now, but he did not seek cover. He felt it seep through his cloak and on to his skin. It had been an age since such purity had touched him. He sat there and watched the trees and earth soak up this essence, this giver of life. Circling him the rain splashed and gurgled as it bounced off leaf and twig. A ray of sun sliced through the cover to where he was sitting, casting crystal shimmers wherever the water had passed or lay as droplets waiting to be taken within. It lasted mere minutes, but it seemed to Gandalf that an age passed while he breathed in revived life. He felt renewed. He still felt the pangs of sadness for what decisions lay ahead for Aragorn, but was confident that with this lay, hope and good, for what would come of whatever must be.
Yet there remained much for him to consider, and he felt that here, seemingly sheltered from those who would work against him, he would find the solace he needed to interpret what Saruman had released to him.
Gandalf cleared his mind of all else, of worries of the others. It would not serve him or the Quest well to cloud his thoughts with these concerns. He must seek answers now from Saruman’s words, answers for the others, for his task with Saruman had been completed. Saruman would not relinquish The Dark, his path was tied irrevocably now to that of Sauron. His end determined as written in old lore.
So he turned his mind to what he had learned. Yes, the destiny of the elves rested in Aragorn’s hands. He had seen this graphically, but Saruman had confirmed that in addition his information had come to him from the Great Library of Gondor. Gandalf would confirm to Aragorn that he needed to find the manuscript of Elven prophesies. Aragorn would do what was needed to be done.
And then there was Éowyn’s Queen. Yes, they had correctly judged that it was at the time of the creation of the Ringwraiths they needed to search. For no man stood at Sauron’s side, but those that became his Nazgûl. But if all records of her were erased by Sauron, where would Éowyn find her?
Gandalf stopped, he had been immersed in thought, but suddenly became aware that he did not feel the chill of wet fabric. He felt his cloak and it had dried, and rather than a chill, he felt enveloped in a comforting warmth. He looked around and it was clear, that above Methedras the sun was climbing steeply, ready to plunge beyond its peaks. A soft greyness of light edged the canopy, and fell like dusky silk among the trees.
‘It will soon be dark,’ Gandalf thought, ‘and I have yet to resolve Éowyn’s riddle.’
He went over the words of Saruman. If all records of this Queen had been destroyed, how did Saruman find her? Perhaps Sauron had told him, to gloat over man’s weakness. Gandalf could hear the words being said:
A man’s complicity in the murder of his betrothed, for the sake of power. This was the nature of Man.
Yes, these Maiarwould find common ground here, in their disdain for men!
Gandalf stood up, and started to pace up and down, crunching the leaves and twigs under his ponderous strides; sending the ripples of this sound echoing through the forest.
But what of Saruman’s comment about…Gandalf tried desperately to remember the exact words.
He wrote of loyalty and love.
‘He wrote!’ Had Saruman found a document, a note or letter, which the betrothed had written to the Queen pronouncing his love?
Gandalf was breathing more deeply, pacing more quickly; then he stopped. He probed the forest as if aware of eyes upon him. Then discounting this, he re-commenced his pacing – as if this motion brought forth the reasoning, and then as if pronouncing a revelation to the trees, he said out loud:
‘Some document which had not been destroyed despite the commandment of Sauron. This document must exist, or at least existed when Saruman looked at the Great Books. Saruman would not have taken or destroyed it, for it would hold no meaning for him. But in locating the Queen, it would be a thread, a sign for Éowyn...’
Then Gandalf stopped dead. He wavered before a tree scarred by fire, its bark shedding in charcoal chunks, as if wishing to dispense with what was blighted, so renewal could begin. Gandalf stared at this shedding, and if something connected in the recesses of his mind, threw his fist in the air in exhilaration, turned and shouted a correction to what he had uttered a moment before:
‘Saruman would have taken the document! If Sauron had ordered all memory of the Queen destroyed, and the Nazgûl had not destroyed the letter, then Saruman would realize that this would be a valuable prize. One to hold against that Nazgûl, should Saruman ever need his influence. He would guard this letter; he would keep it very-close.’
Gandalf knew that he had to return to Orthanc; to find Saruman’s prize, this pivotal piece for Éowyn’s enigma.
Gandalf called for Gwaihir. The eagle came without delay, pleased to see the raging despondency gone from his learned friend. Gandalf climbed upon his back, and Gwaihir flew to the peak, beyond the forest, where Gandalf could alight and they could talk.
Gandalf explained that he must return to Orthanc – to the place where Gwaihir had picked him up some hours before. Gandalf explained the peril in this return. Saruman and Gríma must not be aware of Gandalf’s presence. A distraction must be set in place, to draw them far away from the Council Room. And moreover Gwaihir must not be seen, for it was not written that he was there at this time, and if Saruman saw Gwaihir, he may suspect that Gandalf lingered nearby. There was no possibility for renewing time again should they be discovered.
Gandalf outlined his plan with Gwaihir. Treebeard could organize this, but how could Treebeard be contacted if Gandalf and Gwaihir could not appear to him while he stood guard of Orthanc.
While Gandalf was pondering this dilemma, Gwaihir spoke, his voice with its genial tones:
‘Mithrandir we are fortunate, for Nessun, the peregrine falcon, friend of the eagles and Treebeard, fastest creature in Middle-earth, lives in this forest. She will come at my call, and I am confident, will assist you with your plan.’
Gandalf replied elatedly:
‘That is truly opportune Gwaihir, call her, and I will, with your trust in her, ask her to carry my plan to Treebeard.’
Throwing his head back, Gwaihir let out a series of short yet booming notes, their sound pulsed, echoing and resonating, through the forest. As his call dissipated, back came a set of drawn-out whistles.
‘Nessun has heard, and is coming to our aid’, Gwaihir confirmed triumphantly, and as he had said that, a rush of whirling air enveloped them, and a striking silhouette swooped down and landed on a rock-strewn hillock, feet away from them.
She was a bird the size of Saruman’s crows, with a darkish stripe drawn from the top of her head on feathers of lustrous midnight-blue, blazoned with an ivory splash of colour on her neck. Despite the fierceness of her eyes and the savagery of her beak and talons, Gandalf was drawn to her affable aura, and when she spoke, her words flowed in expressive vivid tones:
‘You called mighty Windlord. I have come as an ally of those of The Light. What do you wish of me?’
Gandalf explained his plan. She asked no questions nor for more than what he laid out, and said without hesitation:
‘I have seen the destruction wrought by the Wizard of Isengard as he has laid waste to the Forest. I will take your message to Treebeard. May you find good fortune with what you must do.’
With that, like an arrow spent from a bow, she launched into the sky, and within a moment was beyond their sight.
Gandalf and Gwaihir readied themselves for their journey, but as they were about to leave, the sun raised its gilded head above the billowing clouds as one final gasp of day, and shone upon a gleaming stone. This ray rebounded across the space and streamed into Gandalf’s eyes. He stood stunned for a minute, blinded by this light. When it had passed, Gandalf looked beyond the rise, and saw, there at the edge of the forest, partly embraced by the branches of a princely willow, a rock still radiating with an incandescent light. He raced over to this and saw this rock was in fact a marble headstone; its inscription read:
‘Gaqa moat Amliya, tip id Amli,
Nqingas id sga Topfeq.
Lew sga tup id sga epf tseqt id sga pohgs
Huofa wiu yatsyeqf si sga mepf id wiuq epbatsoqt.’
Prophet of the Sindar.
May the sun of the day and stars of the night
Guide you westward to the land of your ancestors.
Gandalf was shocked for he realized that he was looking at the burial-mound of Elmowë. But what black-doom had brought an end to this immortal being? Gandalf sought an answer from what lay before him. Made of the whitest marble, the headstone shone in the sun’s fading rays, as if it, itself, was alight. He kneeled alongside the mound and saw placed beneath the inscription, miniature pictures of the scenes on the altar in the sanctuary. Each panel had been carved separately on a thin marble tile and these were inserted into slots on the headstone. He looked through them, seeking the last two, carrying the prophecy of doom. But the panels ended at Eldarion’s birth – the space where the final panel was to be, was empty. Had it, in the years since its creation, fallen from it slot – or had someone taken it?. Gandalf started to search for this tile. Gwaihir helped, pawing at the ground and undergrowth with his talons – but as the shadows of the end of day fell upon the mount, they realized it was hopeless and gave up their search. The piece was not to be found; not here.
So Gandalf resigned himself that for now the end-tile lay beyond his reach. He climbed upon Gwaihir, who took to the air, as the shadows of the beginning of night ran across the land like the unfolding of a vast shroud. He flew high-over the clouds, outrunning the engulfing darkness of the ensuing night, so that they would come undetected to the western side of Orthanc, to the windows of the Council Room. As they came upon the Tower, far from the sight of Saruman, Nessun flew up to meet them.
Nessun greeted them with demure tones:
‘All has been arranged and is in readiness. I need only to fly to Treebeard and tell him to proceed when you are ready.’
Gandalf replied appreciatively:
‘Then dear friend of the forest, do so, for as you return, we will be in place.’
Nessun nodded in understanding to both eagle and wizard, and departed saying:
‘May we will meet once more within the forest when all the darkness has passed,’
then diving to the Ent waiting below.
Gwaihir banked and flew farther west, and in the darkness of the new night, descended to the western wall. Here the eagle hovered and the wizard waited, shrouded in the twilight, nothing stirred below. Then they heard Treebeard, on the eastern side of the Tower, in a bellowing cry, call out for Saruman.
‘Wizard of Isengard, I call upon you.’
Then some minutes later, through the stillness of the night, Saruman answered:
‘Why do you call me, Ent of Fangorn?’
They did not wait to hear Treebeard’s reply, which would be pondering and slow-moving. Gandalf jumped from Gwaihir’s back to the window ledge. One of the shutters was unbarred, but not the one that Gandalf had escaped through in the other time. He whispered to his Windlord:
‘Depart now mighty Eagle, I will call you soon. We have much to do this dark of night.’
Gwaihir beat his wings but once, and disappeared into the night’s shadows.
Gandalf, hoisted himself into the room. Someone had been working here recently. A candle stood upon the Council table, its wax had seeped like an overflowing stream, down the copper base and spilt out as if upon a flooded plain. The breeze from the unbarred window had fanned the candle, and it had burned down to its wick’s end. The door to the chamber had been flung wide-open, as if someone had left in a hurry – called out to speak to a jailor calling from below.
Gandalf, felt his heart racing, how close to failure if Saruman had failed to be diverted; how close to being discovered, if he was to return now.
Gandalf could hear Saruman addressing Treebeard, trying to hurry the Ent to explain his purpose.
He pulled the door to, just so that it was partly closed. He was sure that no suspicion would be aroused by this, as through the window a swift breeze was blowing, which was by all measure sufficient to cause a door to close in this way.
He went to the bookcase, where he had noticed in that other time, sat the coffer of the Council of the Wise. Saruman had coveted this coffer, and showed to be immensely proud to be declared the keeper, the owner, of its contents; rare documents and objects from the history and powers of Elf and Maiar in Middle-earth. The coffer was said to contain formidable magic, and many believed that Saruman’s wisdom rose from the sorcery that lay within. The coffer was protected, and could only be opened, by an incantation. At a time when Saruman had craved Gandalf’s support, he had opened the coffer in his presence. Gandalf struggled to recall the words, and then in a whisper he chanted:
‘Si sgitea yosg yotfil emm ot inap.’
Gandalf tried the lid, but it did not move. Had the code been changed, or had he not remembered it correctly? Gandalf cast his mind back to that time Saruman had opened it. He then remembered that Saruman had placed his fingers onto the points of the five-pointed star etched on the lid. Gandalf went to the door and peered into the hall. Saruman had not returned. Gandalf knew that Treebeard would travel ponderously with the words and negotiation, and this would frustrate Saruman. However, what Treebeard he had to offer, Saruman would desire and want whatever the cost. This would hold his interest, not matter how exasperated he might become with Treebeard’s droning. This would give Gandalf the time he needed.
Gandalf returned to the coffer, held his hand over the star as he had seen Saruman do, and then repeated the words in a whisper. The lid opened. Within the coffer were documents and phials of liquid substances and others containing coloured particles. Gandalf lifted the objects out of the casket, and placed them in order on the table. He then glanced through the documents. Some were sealed by wax insignias. One carried the seal of the Steward of Gondor, some were from other Wizards, but as the candlelight faded in a frail grasp of life, there it was… a yellowed parchment, containing a verse. The parchment had been crumpled, as if at some point, someone in an overpowering turmoil had thrown it away. Although Gandalf could not read the words in the failing light, he saw that the verse carried no signature, but he was confident that this was the evidence that Saruman had gloated about.
He went to the window, and with the star, called for the return of Gwaihir.
He then heard footsteps and voice of Saruman. Gandalf took the parchment but returned the remaining documents and the phials in the order they had been placed in the coffer. He shut the lid, then realised that it required a separate code to close it, what was it? He went to the door. He saw that Saruman had re-entered the Hall with Gríma. Saruman was in a state of agitation and was wildly gesturing to his servant, who did not respond. Saruman reached the palantir, uncovered it, and started nervously to converse with it. Gandalf surmised that the message he was receiving from Sauron was one of discontent with his Isengard collaborator. Gríma initially stood at Saruman’s side, but then fretfully started to pace the hall and stopped at the eastern bank of windows starring out at the night. Saruman turned in Gríma’s direction and issued an instruction to the servant who did not respond, but remaining facing the eastern skies. Gandalf could only discern the words: ‘Council Room’. Gandalf cautiously pulled the door to and with that, locked it; this making a hollow metallic click. He did not know if Saruman or Gríma would have heard this, but thought not, considered where they stood.
‘The words, the words to lock the coffer, what were they?’ his thoughts were racing, knowing that although Gríma would only amble across the hall, he had only limited time, ‘Something about closing…’
He frantically searched from within his memory for the words. Then like the brilliance of a mid-day sun breaking through the darkest clouds, he had them. Chanting:
‘Si sgitea yosiusg jpiymafha emm ot bmitaf,’
and the lid locked in place. He returned the coffer to the bookcase.
As he did, he heard a key in the lock, then the door wrenched open. Gandalf stood back against the wall, in the shadows of the room, the candle now having sputtered its perishing breath. He then heard Saruman calling to Gríma, who not hearing his master’s order, returned to the hall, leaving the door partly open; letting the light of the hall flow into the chamber.
Gandalf rushed to the window, and there Gwaihir was waiting. As he slipped out onto his back, Gríma appeared at the doorway. Gandalf heard him cry out in his loathsome whine:
‘Yes Master the candlestick is in here, but the candle has burnt down.’
Gandalf then heard the door pulled shut.
‘Just in time my friend, again you have saved me from certain discovery.’
Gwaihir thankful of his part but not dwelling on these honours, responded graciously:
‘It is little enough that I can do. Where to now Mithrandir , you spoke of much yet to be done this night.’
Gandalf felt an overwhelming weariness envelope him. He knew of only one place where he could find respite, and where there would be another to help with the questions that remained unanswered.
The stars illuminated the sky, piercing the darkness with their sparkling array, as if they wished to compete with that of the moon which in the onyx sky hung like a blazing ball. All seemed peaceful, but Gandalf knew this was nothing but an illusory façade in this Age – that Sauron was planning his vengeance upon Middle-earth; shortly the battle of Pelennor Fields would begin.
‘Yes, friend, fly me with all speed to the Old Forest.’
‘To the Ancient One?’
‘Yes, to the Ancient One.’
Gwaihir leaped into the night, flying across the wide lands of Enedwaith and over the veiled paths of Cardolan, soaring as swiftly as the east wind, carrying Mithrandir through the night, to the Old Forest and Tom, to Iarwain Ben-adar
The wind from the south brought a chill and wild gusts that propelled Gwaihir faster towards the north, towards the forest and safety. The night passed as they journeyed, and in its deepest reaches, Gandalf finally arrived at Tom’s home. Although it was late, a light welcomed him within.
Gandalf dismounted and spoke in a solemn tone to Gwaihir:
‘Dear friend, we will not see each other again in this time. I know that of all creatures, you who has flown beyond the reaches of Middle-earth, will understand that time and space are merely fragments of a whole. I will need to call upon you in some other time when things are resolved. So for now, I thank you for all you have done this day – on this day of revelation and sadness. May, when we meet again, The Dark we know now, no longer threaten all that we hold dear.’
And Gwaihir bent over to speak caringly to the wizard:
‘Mithrandir, we have seen the darkness of the Ages. We two, from the same yet differing pasts, know what an evil end there is if we do not collectively stand against The Dark. There is much to be fearful of, in all lands and time, I hope, that you, with the Ancient One, can bring to all more certainty and less fear. I am at your call throughout time, you need only summon me.’
With that the mighty eagle, stretched out his wings, and looking back at the Wizard, shot upwards into the night. Within that second of this time, he was gone and Gandalf was alone.
Gandalf looked about him, in the darkness which obscured all detail of life, stood Tom’s home, within, but not part of, the Old Forest. A strange feeling came upon him. Yes here was the house, just as before, emerging at the side of the hillside; the spring of the Withywindle in song as its waters flowed, and the Old Forest and Downs looming darkly beyond; but things were not the same, not the same in this parallel of time.
Gandalf stood on the stone threshold, knocked on the door as faintly as he could, not wishing to disturb those inside at such a late hour. No-one came, but the door unlocked at his touch and creaked open. Gandalf hesitantly entered the long low-hung room bending over to avoid the beams of the room and the lanterns that were hung from them. A fire was blazing in the hearth, and this sent a balmy glow and the syrupy scent of apple-wood throughout the room. The single candle on the rustic table, shimmered a tender welcome, but no-one was to be seen. Things were different, the sandstone walls appeared paler in colour, as if greyed with age, and the flagstone floor, appeared shiner and more worn, as if age had smoothed out its surface. Even the lime-green hangings and lemon curtains, appeared lighter in colour. Then as Gandalf pondered this, he realized that everything was covered with the finest argent film, which was barely perceptible, but a sign that this time existed in some paralleling plane, here at the brink of all…
‘Of all things’, Gandalf stirred from his thoughts, ‘all things yet to be solved.’
‘Tom, Tom, it is Gandalf, apologies for the late time,’ he called out.
‘Gandalf’ came a voice from beyond the room. ‘Gandalf, dearest friend – welcome!’ and there appeared Tom, in his blue jacket and yellow boots, his head adorned by a crown of leaves of the fall, smiling broadly and bounding towards Gandalf. Gandalf noticed that there appeared no film enveloping Tom, for he existed in all times. Gandalf laughed within, few knew who or what Tom was. He appeared as if a smallish man, larger and stockier built than a hobbit, with stout legs, arms and hands, but tiny in comparison to Gandalf. Here he had a ruddy complexion, the brightest of periwinkle eyes, as if they were crystals of sky from the sunniest early springtime day, and fuzzy russet beard and hair, that sat like bracken on the forest floor. But he had an aura and presence about him, which despite his jovial demeanor, bespoke of illimitable wisdom and power. Gandalf knew what a supernal being lay hidden within.
‘Apologies, it is so late…’ Gandalf said as he bent over to take Tom’s hand in an affectionate gesture of welcome.
‘That is no matter, as you know Gandalf, time has no meaning for me. But I was expecting you somewhat-earlier,’ Tom replied warmly.
‘You were?’ Gandalf responded.
‘Yes, waiting on the doorstep for you,’ and he broke into a tune.
‘I am afraid Tom that I have no time...’
‘Yes, I know that Gandalf, let me not delay you.’
‘I need only a quiet spot and a candle…’
‘To read the parchment, of course,’ interjected Tom.
‘You know of the parchment?’ Gandalf replied surprised, although he at once checked himself and thought, why should he be, knowing Tom.
‘Ah Gandalf, I know much and nothing. But come to the room at the rear of the house, there you will have peace and quiet. When you wish, we can speak of what needs to be done,’ and with these words Tom disappeared strutting to the back of the house.
As Gandalf followed, he could hear him say:
‘I will bring you some supp.’
‘Do not bother yourself,’ Gandalf said to the air, Tom somewhere in advance of him.
‘It is no trouble, and you have had nothing all day.’
Gandalf hesitated at Tom’s words, but realizing that he was correct, he responded thankfully:
‘Just something simple then, go to no trouble,’ by which time Gandalf reached the room.
On entering, Gandalf saw that there on a table was already a candle, an earthenware bowl of broth, fragrant and bubbling, chunks of crusty bread, and a glass of crimson wine. Tom was not to be seen, or now heard.
Gandalf looked at the room, homely and cheering, as he had remembered it. It contained sparse pieces of furniture, a table, rickety chair, bed and closet, all of a knotted pale taupe timber made from the weeping willows of the Old Forest, but here likewise, the argent film covered all things.
Gandalf sat down and took a spoon of the broth and sip of the wine. He felt his weariness lift from him, like a dawn mist over the plains of Eastemnet. Comforted and relaxed, he felt a sense of relief flow through his body. He knew he was right travelling to Tom, for Tom’s hospitality and wisdom would ease his mind, and allay his burden of having to unravel the mystery of Éowyn’s Queen alone.
He took out the parchment, laid it carefully on the table and started to read. The candle gave out a soothing warmth and glow that eased Gandalf’s journey to the Queen. From the window, Gandalf could see the shadows of the trees of the Old Forest, looking despairing and overcast, as if they knew about the tragedy he was about to uncover.
The words cried out from the page:
To the love of my heart,
How, from first we met,
Did I feel you bond yourself to me
And me to you.
We will face many trials together,
For there are those,
Unwilling to give consent,
But worry not of this.
At the Erukyermë on Meneltarma,
When the doves meet the eagles,
We will make them understand,
For nothing can come between us.
Patience and courage, my love,
We have only three days to wait.
The words were written in a bold and decisive hand. Doubtless the writer had meant the words only for the eyes of his beloved. Gandalf felt uneasy that he should be intruding on such an intimate declaration. He felt intensely the writer’s emotion, of both elation and concern. But there were no names and no date, how could this expression of love help the Quest’s purpose. He knew of the Erukyermë, an annual Spring prayer of the King of Numénor on the summit of Meneltarma, where three eagles flew, but to which year did this poem refer? Only ‘When the doves meet the eagles’ gave any inkling to a particular time, but Gandalf did not understand this reference. He went through all the possibilities of the words to see if a specific meaning would occur to him.
‘Not able to work it out, Gandalf?’
Gandalf swung-around in the chair, to see Tom grinning with satisfaction behind him.
‘I am working on it,’ Gandalf said defensively but with no animosity.
‘Ah Gandalf, but you see it is not a riddle, either you know it or you do not. There is not a logical argument behind it,’ Tom replied genially.
‘Then I presume you do. I pray Tom do not delay in giving me the answer, much depends on this,’ there was an urgency and pleading in Gandalf’s tone.
‘Now, Gandalf we can’t know everything, and while I know you accept this, we both know Saruman would not,’ Tom responded resolutely.
But Gandalf was not willing to fall into a debate about Saruman or anything else at this time, he needed an answer.
‘The answer, please Tom. The dawn is near... Please do not take my insistence in this manner as anger, but I must…’
‘Yes, transmit the information before dawn, I understand,’ and then with a light-hearted laugh, but with pensive eyes which portrayed that he was aware of the seriousness of the situation, Tom replied:
‘The answer is simple, only in one year was the Erukyermë ceremony changed to include doves as well as the eagles. Then because of the tragedy… doves were never included...’
‘Please Tom, the year!’
‘Of the Second Age, the year of 2000, in the reign of Tar-Ciryatan,’ Tom pronounced with calm certainty.
‘Thank you Tom, your knowledge is indeed wondrous,’ Gandalf responded with sincere reverence.
Gandalf then turned to the words spoken by Tom,
‘What of the tragedy Tom, do you know what this was?’
Then in a hesitant tone unlike Gandalf had ever seen in him, Tom stammered:
‘No, no memory survives, except that a horrific ill fell upon this ceremony. I know that this is important for you, Gandalf, but I cannot find or give you anything...’
‘Cannot find or give? Tom, if you know anything …’ Gandalf pleaded.
Tom glanced at Gandalf then turned to walk from the room, declaring sorrowfully:
‘I cannot!’ then in an assuring tone,
‘What Éowyn searches for she will find in the record of this occasion. You had better transmit your message, as dawn is near to breaking.’
Tom was walking out of the room as he was saying this, visibly not wanting to engage with Gandalf on the matter. Gandalf could scarcely hear his closing words, but he looked out of the window and realised that Tom was correct. He must make contact with Éowyn now at this time when Sauron would be less likely to trace the transmission of their thoughts.
Gandalf closed his eyes, and cast his mind back through time, back to Éowyn in Gondor’s Great Library. Sparingly he used words, conscious of their vulnerability and the peril caused by casting them thus:
‘Look for the year 2000 of the Second Age, in the reign of Tar-Ciryatan.
Of Elves, his apprehensions were correct, the manuscript holds the key.’
The thoughts sent Gandalf slumped into the chair, exhausted in mind and body. From where he was sitting he could see the departing night-tide devoured by the glimmer of Aurora’s rays, rising in her golden gown. Had Éowyn received his message? Was his visit to Orthanc of use for Aragorn and Éowyn? He could not convey in his message the horror of what he had seen on Methedras, even if it had been safe to transmit these details, for he knew not the words to use; and what of the uncertainty and hope given by the missing tile, how could that change what must be? But he was confident that Aragorn would find and do what was needed, now that this possible dread had been confirmed. Gandalf sat motionless, staring beyond the forest, to the rising shimmer of the birth of this 5th day, waiting for the sign they had heard.
‘They have heard Gandalf.’
There was Tom in the middle of the room offering Gandalf a steaming cup of brew.
‘Do not worry my friend, they have heard, and Sauron has not detected your message.’
Gandalf was about to thank Tom for his reassurance, when into his mind came a message, a whisper like the falling of winter’s first-flush flakes of snow, allusive and ethereal:
‘We understand, information of great value.’
‘It is now up to them,’ Gandalf muttered as an affirmation to himself but something he wanted to share with Tom.
‘And they will not fail their purpose, but you now have a second journey to take,’ Tom expressed with a mounting concern, ‘but you need a brief respite.’
‘Ah Tom, I wish this was possible, but I must leave within the first hour of dawn’s awakening, and even if the timing could be arranged, my mind is so full of commotion I could find no rest now.’
‘I will stay Aurora’s rise, and the broth will ease your mind. You will need lucidity to conquer the task that lies afore, and you will not achieve this without this respite. Rest now, I will return when it is time to send you on your way.’
‘I thank you most humbly for your intercession – which I know from past you are loathe to do, but we sit on the brink of calamity without your wisdom. We have yet to finish our discussions of old about these powers you hold very close,’ Gandalf replied relieved and reassured.
‘Next time we meet, when things are not as they are in this time. Rest now,’ Tom laughed affably, eager to escape this topic.
Gandalf lay on the bed, fully clothed, and soon he moved from waking to a world of dreams. Visions haunted him of ten friends sent on missions with choices, decisions and risks to be faced, with the sinister eye of Sauron ever upon them. But as the soothingness of the broth took over, these daunting images slipped from his imaginings, and a serenity of the gardens of Irmo came upon him. And it was from this time when he dwelt in Valinor and was a pupil of Nienna, the patron of mercy, that Tom woke him. He felt refreshed and invigorated, just as Tom had promised.
Gandalf sprung to his feet and saw the scarlet sunrise reflected off the expiring night-tide sky.
‘It is time Gandalf, you must depart,’ Tom said with a sigh, ‘but there is one matter we must speak of before you leave. You worry about the missing tile onElmowë’s headstone – do not – for in this lies hope; hope that what may occur in the time of the Quest will change the prophecy, change what Elmowë foresaw. That tile has been reclaimed, and is waiting to be recarved , if Aragorn – if Aragorn…’
‘He will find the way, Tom, of this I am sure,’ Gandalf interjected assuredly.
‘Yes, Gandalf, there is hope that he will, there is hope. Well, much has been achieved in this time, but the future beckons you now,’ Tom responded pensively.
Gandalf walked to Tom and replied:
‘I must go into the Forest, out of all sight.’
‘I wish you a safe journey and return. And although it is to the unknown you pass, for where you go even I have seldom ventured, my signs foretell that what you seek is something that gives a vision when none is there.’ Tom whispered this in an uncharacteristically troubled and tentative tone. He gave Gandalf a heartfelt hug, seemingly from a body much larger then his physical frame.
‘Thank you Iarwain Ben-adar, noble and wise spirit, for your counsel and favour. Under the covenant, we shall soon again share the peace of the promised day’, Gandalf’s words overflowed with emotion, of gratitude and optimism.
With these he left Tom and walked into the Old Forest, into what arose in primeval days, and then forward in time, to the Seventh Age in the Woods of Fangorn, to the 3rd day of the 1st month of the new millennium.