Saruman and the Blue Wizards

The Shadow of Mirkwood

Aiwendil the Brown sat in a comfortable chair on the porch of his timbered longhouse, imbibing an herbal liqueur from a small wooden bowl and breathing in the flower-scented air of the Vale of Rhosgobel.

Rhosgobel was a broad, rich valley that lay on the eastern shores of the Great River Anduin, between the Old Ford to the south, the granite peak of the Carrock to the north, and the borders of the vast Greenwood to the east. Scattered groves of birch tress lined the grassy, gentle slopes, and a winding stream flowed from the depths of the forest some miles of the east through the valley, joining the Anduin above the Old Ford.

In this place, by the threshold of the greatest forest of the northern world, Aiwendil the Brown had chosen to settle some eight decades after his arrival in Middle Earth. His lands were bounded by a simple fence of wooden rails, within which he had planted gardens bearing all manner of herbs and flowers, trees and vegetables, from the ethereal and decorative to the medicinal, edible and practical. Here also he welcomed and befriended the many birds and beasts who took shelter amid the trees and the gardens. Though the dark fastness of the Greenwood shadowed the eastern rim of the valley, and though Middle Earth was a violent and dangerous land, Aiwendil had set his power over Rhosgobel. Within its bounds, evil things could not enter.

Aiwendil's turf-roofed longhouse, set into a bank along the northern slopes of the vale, was a rambling, one-storied affair, walled of dressed logs, and carved with flowing designs of the local clans of Northmen that were coloured with pigments of green and red. Several chimneys of mortared granite blocks rose through the roof, puffing smoke merrily as Aiwendil boiled down herbs and flowers for use in medicinal and other experiments. The small-paned windows of stained glass and the wooden porch faced south, so as to catch as much sunlight as possible – an important feature in a land where the winters were long and often harsh. But it was high summer now; the sky was clear and bright, and warm breezes scented with flowers and herbs sailed down the valley, affording Aiwendil the opportunity to open up the windows and the heavy, solid doors to let in the breeze, and to pull several high-backed chairs and a side-table onto the porch, sheltered from the chance of the odd rainstorm by the overhanging roof.

As Aiwendil sat in his chair, listening to the cheerful birdsong and the buzzing of many bees, and savouring the fresh, clean scents of the flower gardens that occupied the lawn in front of his house, he heard the humming and whistling of a merry tune from behind a grove of birch trees that lay south the gardens. As he turned in his seat he saw the form of an aging Man, dressed in robes of grey, his grey-bearded face hidden by a peaked hat of blue, a silver scarf of thin, shimmering cloth slung over his shoulder. He bore a long wooden staff in his right hand, and rode a mare of dappled brown and white. The traveler turned and followed the path that led trough the gardens.

With a growing smile on his ruddy, bearded face, Aiwendil set down his bowl of liqueur, got up from his chair, and strode down the path from his door to the gardens to greet his visitor.

"Mirthrandir!" he cried, in his rich, fruity voice. "After a full score of years, at last we meet again!" The green flecks in Aiwendil's brown eyes sparkled merrily as he gazed on his old friend.

Mithrandir looked up from under the broad rim of his peaked hat, his azure eyes keen and bright as he returned the welcome.

"Indeed, Aiwendil," smiled the Grey Wizard, in his deep but rasping voice. "Here I am at Rhosgobel at the Noon-time of Midsummer's Day, just as requested."

"You should call me Radagast, while in these parts," laughed the Brown Wizard. "That is the name the local Northmen have given me."

"Is that so?" asked the Grey Wizard, dismounting from his steed, and removing his pale blue hat with his left hand, so that his long grey hair was stirred by the gentle breeze. He breathed deeply, his checks flushing with a rosy glow, and then exhaled.

"Good air in this place," he offered. "Well, if you're Radagast the Brown now, so be it. Indeed, I had rumour of you by that name during my sojourn amongst the Men of these parts, on the road from Rivendell to Rhosgobel. You may wish to know that the Northmen refer to me as Gandalf – though how they could mistake anyone with a face as plain as mine for an Elf is beyond me. Perhaps they associate me with the Elves, seeing that I had journeyed from Rivendell, and hearing that I had dwelt with Lord Elrond for a time."

"Gandalf the Grey," smiled Radagast. "A fitting name for you, I deem. And where did you obtain that silver scarf, if I may ask? The material appears of very fine quality."

"A gift from Master Elrond," said Gandalf. "I seem to have cracked his initial reserve towards me, for we have grown closer in recent years. Indeed, he has done me the honour of naming me and Elf-Friend."

"I'm pleased to hear it," replied Radagast. "Well, let me conduct your steed to the stables, and then we can sit and talk, my friend. Curunir the White has yet to arrive."

Gandalf took his saddlebag and strode towards the porch, while Radagast led the mare to the stables, which adjoined the eastern wing of his long house. After seeing to it that the beast was fed and watered, he returned to the porch, where he found Gandalf, who had set his saddlebag, staff and hat on the porch, was sitting in one of the high-backed chairs, enjoying the view of the brightly-coloured gardens.

"A fine spot you have here indeed, Radagast," smiled Gandalf. "Very soothing."

"I hoped you would like it," replied Radagast. "A moment though, while I carry your baggage to your room inside. Is there anything I can offer you to eat or drink? I've a flask of mead that might be of interest, made by bees from the pollen of these very flowers in the gardens before you."

"Some mead would go down nicely, thank you," replied Gandalf. "And perhaps some bread and butter, if you have any, and a pitcher of cream. And a large portion of firm ripened cheese, and some pickles, and a strawberry tart or three, if the strawberries are yet in season?"

"Ah, well, right away," said Radagast, unsuccessfully trying to hide his surprise at Gandalf's appetite. Quickly snatching up the Grey Wizard's saddlebag and hat – though not his staff – he then busied himself in his kitchen for some minutes. He then returned with a large wooden platter, bearing the foodstuffs he had prepared, which he set down on the table.

"You're a stout fellow, Radagast," smiled Gandalf, as he pulled his chair over to the table and tucked into his meal, demolishing the contents of the tray with astonishing speed. He then poured a healthy serving of mead into a large wooden bowl, pulled his chair over to Radagast's, and sat next to the Brown Wizard, conversing with him over draughts of the amber fluid.

"Delightful stuff!" smiled Gandalf. "Master Elrond's vintners at Rivendell could have done no better." Radagast beamed at the praise. "But tell me," asked Gandalf, "how did you manage to build such a sizeable house, and landscape these grounds, all by your own efforts?"

"It was not by my own efforts," replied Radagast. "When I first resolved to settle in these parts, I moved amongst the Northmen of this upper Vale of Anduin, succoring and befriending them as best I could. After some years of healing their sicknesses, tending their wounds, and offering them the benefit of some of my herb and beast lore, they adopted me as if I were a wise man amongst their own folk. They built this house for me as a token of gratitude for my aid, and helped shape the grounds. Though I assisted them somewhat with the house; they knew not the use of glass, nor of chimneys, having but shutters on the windows and holes in the roofs of their own houses. Indeed, you may have noticed on your journey here that some of the newest houses of the Northmen bear the improvements of glass windows and proper chimneys."

"Indeed I did," nodded Gandalf. "You seem to have done a great deal of good amongst these simple people, Radagast. Most commendable of you."

"Thank you again, Gandalf," replied Radagast.

"Do you know, I saw the most curious thing this morning," said Gandalf, changing the subject. "Only a few miles down the valley, west of your enclosure."

"What was that?" asked Radagast.

"It was a creature, like to a Man. But only half as tall!"

"They're called 'children'," replied Radagast, wondering if Gandalf had already imbibed too much of the mead.

"I know what a child is, for goodness' sake!" snapped Gandalf, shaking his head. "This creature was no bigger than a child, but appeared to be a fully grown example of its kind. It was dressed in a cloak woven together from leaves, which covered much of its body, though not its arms or legs. It had rosy cheeks, and warm brown eyes, and a shaggy head of chestnut brown hair – and its feet were covered in hair too, if you please!" He laughed, his bright blue eyes twinkling mischievously. "But you think I'm jesting, no doubt."

"Perhaps you are," replied Radagast. "But if not, then what you saw was a Holbytla."

"A what?" asked Gandalf, his bushy grey eyebrows shooting up in surprise.

"A Holbytla," repeated Radagast. "That's what the Northmen call them. That would mean a Halfling, in the Common Tongue."

"Holbytla," said Gandalf. "So you've seen one of these creatures yourself?"

"Not at all," replied Radagast. "In fact, I did not even know they truly existed. I though they were but a fancy of the Northmen, who believe the lands between the Misty Mountains and the Greenwood are inhabited by many strange creatures; some are quite real, though others mere figments of their imaginations. I had assumed that Halflings were the latter, until your tale of a moment ago – unless you are indeed jesting."

"Well, I'm certainly not," replied Gandalf. "It was a shy little creature, though."

"Yes, it is said they fear Men, and run and hide at the first sound or sight of them," noted Radagast. "If such creatures are indeed real, I'm surprised you saw one at all."

"He was injured," replied Gandalf. "Somehow he had slid down the treacherous bank of a stream, and twisted his ankle. He was in great fear at my approach, and he understood not my speech, but I did what I could to calm him. When I divined his injury, I gathered some Athelas herb from under a nearby bush, set the Athelas and my hands on his ankle, and spoke the words of a healing spell. His pain was gone, and for a moment he sat there, staring at me in wonder." Gandalf sighed. "Then he shot away down the stream-bed and into the underbrush. I was tempted to follow him, and see if I could find a dwelling of his kin; but I knew that I already risked running late for our meeting, so I let him alone."

"How remarkable," said Radagast, nodding his head. "A creature from a child's bedtime story, sprung to life."

"Yes, a most curious little fellow entirely," continued Gandalf. "Like a tiny Man it seemed, and yet different in spirit; less subtle and proud, more simple and innocent, but with great hardiness bred into it. I shall keep an eye open for more of its kind."

"I shall see if I can learn more of them for you," offered Radagast. "I had not enquired into the lore of such creatures, but I can ask my friends amongst the Men of these parts more about these Halflings, if you wish."

"That is most kind of you, my dear fellow."

"Not at all. But tell me now, how else have you kept busy, since our departure from Thranduil's Halls in the Greenwood?" enquired Radagast.

"I've been here and there," said Gandalf, waving his hand vaguely. "At Rivendell much of the time, but also to visit the Dwarves of Khazad-Dum in the heart of the Misty Mountains. Such strange folk they are, proud and stubborn, willfully dwelling apart from those not of their kindred, and yet with a strong sense of honour and extraordinary hostipitality toward their guests. And their stonework is truly a marvel to behold. You should see the mighty pillars of the Twenty-First Hall of the Seventh Level, and the wonders of the Chamber of Mazarbul!"

He sighed. "And also I have been to Laurelindorean on a second visit to the Golden Wood. I dwelt there for several years with Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel."

"A wondrous place!" said Radagast enthusiastically.

"Indeed it is," replied Gandalf, a far-away look in his eyes. "As you will recall, it seems that under the Lady Galadriel's influence, time is not there as it is in other, mortal lands. The Sun shines brightly there as it has not elsewhere in this Middle Earth since the First Age."

"I must visit there again, when I can find the time," replied Radagast, shaking his head. "Though there is so much work to attend to, now that that I have my own lands under my stewardship."

"Well, that's why I haven't settled down," laughed Gandalf. "Better to be a guest of landholders than a landholder myself! It allows me more time to concentrate my efforts on my foremost tasks. Indeed, I have been dwelt with Men too, from Bree and Fornost to the Lake-town at Esgaroth and the city of Dale; moving amongst them, learning from them, guiding them with my counsel where I may. Preparing them for the struggles that are to come."

A shadow fell across Gandalf has he spoke those words, and looking up, he and Radagast saw Curunir the White, who must have ridden up the path in such silence that neither the keen ears of Gandalf nor those of Radagast had heard him. The White Wizard, his long hair and bear neatly groomed, was garbed in flowing robes of dazzlingly white, rich cloth, formed from some material that shimmered in the light of the Sun. He held his ebon staff in his long, pale hand, and the gilded, bejeweled scabbard of an elegant longsword hung from his belt. He was mounted on a magnificent white stallion, whose saddle and bridle were of rich black leather inlaid with intricate designs in gold and silver leaf. His dark eyes, as they gazed upon the Grey and Brown Wizards, were calm and serene, betraying no emotion.

"Welcome, Curunir the White!" cried Radagast, as he and Gandalf arose from their chairs and bowed their heads in gesture of respect towards the leader of their Order.

"I have been deemed Saruman by the primitive Men of these lands," replied the White Wizard, dismounting from his steed. "The name Saruman the White will suffice while I sojourn in the North, though I remain Curunir in Gondor."

"Welcome, Saruman," replied Gandalf, whose blue eyes sparkled keenly as he took in the changes to Curunir's appearance, noting that his once dark hair was now almost entirely white, with traces of black remaining only in his eyebrows and beneath his lower lip. His face was also older, as if for a time he had lost the ability to delay the aging of his mortal body.

"We have earned our own names in the North," continued the Grey Wizard. "I am Gandalf in these parts, and Aiwendil is known as Radagast."

"Gandalf and Radagast. Well, it is long since we have last seen each other, old friends," replied Saruman with a smile, as Radagast led his steed to the stables beside Gandalf's. He set his ebon staff against the wall, next to Gandalf's, and sat down in a chair, motioning for the Grey Wizard to likewise be seated.

"You are wondering at the change in my appearance," offered Saruman without any prompting. "Suffice to say that my labours were heavy for a time, and they have told on me. But I have long since been restored to my full vigour." Gandalf nodded, but remained silent.

Radagast returned from the stables, slung Curunir's saddlebag over his shoulder, and turned to the White Wizard. "Is there anything I can offer you Saruman? Food? Drink? Gandalf here has nearly eaten me out of house and home, so I might not be able to offer you as much of the former as I would like," he laughed.

"I am not hungry. But have you any wine?" enquired Saruman. "I am especially keen on the red vintage of Dorwinion bearing the marque of the year 1087. It fetches a high price in the Great Market of Osgiliath, and rightly so. I am certainly keen on a change from the insipid ale served by the Men of these lands about Rhosgobel."

"Ah, well, I don't have any wine as such," said Radagast apologetically. "I have made a distillation from the fruit of blueberries, which you might deem a sort of wine…" …

"That will suffice, I'm sure," replied Saruman with a sigh. He and Gandalf remained silent until Radagast returned a few moments later, bearing a flask of the blueberry elixir and a large wooden bowl. Radagast poured a generous helping of the dark blue fluid into the bowl, and offered it to Saruman, who raised his dark eyebrows at the sight of the crude vessel. The White Wizard took the bowl and sipped its contents cautiously, his nose wrinkling, before nodding and setting it down on the table alongside the remains of Gandalf's meal.

"A commendable effort," offered Saruman graciously, gesturing at the bowl. Radagast smiled, and then took his seat beside Gandalf. Silence fell again for some moments, as Gandalf and Radagast waited for the White Wizard to speak.

"Well, my friends," began Saruman, using the deep, mellow tone that he favoured at meetings of some import. "It is fully a century, one hundred years under the Sun of this Middle Earth, since our arrival at Mithlond, and our first council with Lord Cirdan. Much has transpired since. It was to see each other face-to-face and take counsel together that I sent messegers into the North, summoning you to a Council of Wizards, as Men have come to call we Istari. Radagast's new abode seemed to me as good a place as any for that purpose, far as it is from prying eyes and ears." Gandalf frowned at this remark, but remained silent.

"I have my own views on the paths that we should follow in the future," continued Saruman. "But first, I wish to hear your reports. When last we met, it was agreed that after meeting with the Lords Elrond and Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel, you would travel to these lands East of Anduin, seeking out King Thranduil and his Sylvan Elves, and then exploring the fastness of the Greenwood for rumours of a growing shadow there." He gestured to the East, where a low, almost ebon-black line along the eastern rim of the Vale of Rhosgobel marked the edge of that mighty forest. "What did you learn from your meetings with the Woodland King, and your travels along the woodland paths?"

"Less than we would have liked, and yet enough to make us take pause," replied Gandalf gravely. "We had some difficulty penetrating Thranduil's realm, for he takes an ill view of trespassers. But after our initial misunderstandings were set aside, we befriended him, and he opened up to us concerning his fears about the fate of his ancient realm, the forest which Men call the Greenwood, and which is known to Thranduil and his Sylvan Elves as Eryn Galen."

"Though it is always not known as the Greenwood any longer, to the Men of these parts at least," offered Radagast. "Mirkwood many of them now call it, since the shadow has deepened there."

"Yes, Mirkwood," nodded Gandalf. "And indeed, it seems that lately Thranduil's Elves have referred to it Taur-e-Ndaedelos, the Forest of Great Fear."

"I heard the forest called 'Mirkwood' on my journey north," noted Saruman. "But is there truly anything to fear within, beyond wild beasts and bandits, and the usual woodland dangers?"

"Well of course there is! Hence the name!" snapped Gandalf testily, as if the question hardly deserved an answer. Radagast raised his eyebrows in surprise at Gandalf's tone, though he had always known that patience and good manners were not chief amongst the Grey Wizard's strengths.

"Well then," replied Saruman, smoothing a crease in his robes. "I'll ask again, what manner of fearsome things are found in that forest?"

"Wargs," offered Radagast with a shudder. "Giant wolves, they are, big as a horse, vicious and keen-minded. And Orcs, foul, ghastly creatures all. And Spiders, huge, loathsome Spiders, whose eyes glitter like pale flames in the night, and whose fangs drip smoking venom. I can't tell you how many of the dreadful, eight-legged things Gandalf and I have had to slay, in our exploration of the forest. Take one step off the Elven Path that runs from near the Carrock, to Thranduil's Halls, and you're in for a most unpleasant journey indeed. The Old Forest Road is less used than it once was, for the Wargs and Orcs and Spiders and other foul creatures lie in wait along it, seeking to ambush unwary travelers."

"We heard rumours of such beasts a hundred years ago," frowned Saruman. "Have you learned no more than that? What of this shadow itself?"

"The shadow is both within and without those who travel through Mirkwood," replied Gandalf, who had regained control of his temper. "Without, for there is a physical shadow that grows ever deeper. Under the boughs of Mirkwood, the darkness almost seems to be a tangible thing – it is not merely the absence of light, but rather it devours light entirely."

Saruman frowned more deeply. "And within?"

"Within," replied Gandalf, "a Shadow of Fear. I felt its traces myself, though it did not press too deeply upon my heart. But the Elves feel it more keenly, and it grows stronger the farther they journey into the forest towards its southern reaches, away from the safety of their underground halls near the Long Lake. And Men, it seems, though many live along the western edges of the forest, and by its eastern edge at the Long Lake, are in such dread of Mirkwood that they no longer dare enter within at all, save in large, armed parties of hunters and wood-gatherers."

"But by your account, there is good reason for such fear," noted Saruman. "Wargs and such. Is that all we have established, that Mirkwood, as you now call it, has grown dark, and is home to foul, unnatural beasts?"

"There is more…" whispered Radagast. "There is the Necromancer of Dol Guldur."

"The what?" said Saruman, looking up sharply. "And where is this Dol Guldur? I've never heard of it."

"It is a very recent rumour," replied Gandalf. "It has only spread amongst the woodmen and those of the river-valley in the past few years, and they speak of it only in whispers. You should understand that it is twenty years since Radagast and I last spoke with Thranduil, or trod the paths of the Greenwood, that is Mirkwood ourselves. In any case, I first heard of this rumor but a few weeks ago, as I journeyed east of the Misty Mountains on my way here to Rhosgobel. It seems someone, or perhaps we should say something, has established itself in the south of Mirkwood. It has built a Dark Tower in which to dwell, and calls itself 'Necromancer', which simply means a black sorcerer of some sort. Those Northmen who have commerce with Thranduil's Elves say the Elves have named that place Dol Guldur, Hill of Sorcery. That's where it lives."

"Why do you say 'it' and not 'he'?" asked Saruman. "Is this Necromancer not a Man?"

"Well, that is indeed the question," replied Gandalf dryly. "What is the Necromancer, or who is he?"

"And have you found the answer?" enquired Saruman.

"I have not, for my part," admitted Radagast. Saruman stared at him, and then turned his dark gaze at Gandalf.

"I know not for certain," said Gandalf. "I only know of these rumors. But if the rumors are true, then this creature, this Necromancer is fearsomely powerful in the Black Arts."

Saruman nodded wordlessly. At length, he said, "It is not impossible for a sorcerer amongst Men to have knowledge of those arts, incomplete and imperfect though it may be."

"Perhaps," frowned Gandalf. "But my heart tells me this creature is not a Man, or at least is no longer a Man. I fear it might in truth be…" He began muttering into his beard.

"Might be what?" asked Saruman, his eyes narrowing slightly. "I have no time for your riddles, Gandalf. Speak your mind plainly!"

Gandalf returned his gaze. "I fear this Necromancer is a Wraith. One of his Wraiths."

"One of the Nine, the Nazgul of old?" asked Saruman, raising a dark eyebrow.

"If the rumors of its power are true, then yes," replied Gandalf, nodding gravely.

Saruman stared downward, silent for some minutes. At length, Radagast sought to break the silence by remarking, "Well, it is possible, Saruman. And his Wraiths might well foreshadow his own return, in time."

Saruman looked up at him, and then divided his gaze between the Grey and Brown Wizards, addressing them both. "It's 'possible'. You 'fear'. It 'might be'. In other words, though you have been given a century to learn the nature of the shadow that infests Mirkwood, you've learned nothing substantial at all! Any traveler through these lands could have learned what you have, if he listed to the gossip of the local peasants." His dark eyes were hard and inscrutable now. "I am disappointed, my friends. I expected more of both of you. You in particular, Gandalf."

Radagast hung his head, abashed at the White Wizard's stinging criticism. But Gandalf's blue eyes shone fiercely, and his eyebrows bristled.

"You expected more of us, did you Saruman?" replied the Grey Wizard, an acid tone to his rasping voice. "Well, please accept my apologies. We've only spent the best part of a century traveling the length and breadth of the Northlands, learning the ways of Elves and Men and Dwarves, preparing them for the struggles with the Enemy that lie ahead should he return. We know the impassible forest of Mirkwood like the backs of our hands, and have brought you word of dark tidings that are of very recent origin, and of which you yourself were unaware."

Gandalf took a deep breath, and continued. "No doubt it seems to you that, dwelling in your sumptuous palace at Osgiliath, savouring Dorwinion Red Vintage 1087, pouring over the archives of Minas Anor at your leisure, ingratiating yourself with the King of Gondor, and in general living off the fat of the land, you've accomplished far more than we have. Perhaps you'll offer us your own report, then?"

Radagast looked upward sharply, his jaw dropping at Gandalf's display of insolence. Saruman glared angrily at the Grey Wizard, and then cast aside his own manners. His voice was harsh and strident now.

"Living off the fat of the land?" asked Saruman. "So that's all you think I've accomplished? How very wise you are, Gandalf, how very perceptive. Though apparently not perceptive enough to realize that Gondor and all the Westlands owe to me their very existence! If not for me, all of these lands would have been overrun by the Easterlings and Southrons decades ago!"

"Ah yes," replied Gandalf. "Admittedly, I have heard of the role you played at the Second Battle of Umbar. Forgive my calumny against you. Although, some might wonder if your part in that battle truly did more good than harm."

"And what do you mean by that?" asked Saruman, his voice taking on an ominous tone.

"I mean," replied Gandalf, "that you used your Voice to great effect in that battle. Or so I have gathered from the rumors of it. Indeed, your Voice was used to such great effect that it led the best part of three-hundred thousand Haradrim to their deaths."

"As it was intended to," replied Saruman.

"As it was intended to," repeated Gandalf. "Answer me this, Saruman. Why did you not simply put your sleeping spell on them, as you did on the Elves when we arrived at Mithlond a century ago? You alone have mastered that spell, and you wield it with ease. Had you used it on that day, fifty years ago, it would have given the Gondor-men ample time to round up the sleeping Haradrim and take them prisoner. Or if you cared not to use that spell, then you could have used your Voice to bid the Haradrim to lay down their swords, and depart in peace. Either way, countless lives would have been spared. And yet you took it upon yourself to act as judge of the Haradrim, and impose upon them the sentence of death. Tell me, Saruman, what purpose do we Istari serve in Middle Earth, if our methods are no less ruthless than those of Sauron himself?"

Though Saruman maintained a vestige of outward composure, inwardly he waxed wroth at Gandalf's presumptuous questions and open insults. Who did the Grey Wizard think he was, to challenge the White? He was almost as bad as…

Pushing the thought from his mind, Saruman replied to Gandalf in a stern voice. "If you have ever wondered why the Valar choose me instead of you to lead our Order, Gandalf the Grey, now you have your answer. You think yourself wise, but beyond any doubt you understand nothing of leadership or the arts of war, and even less of the nature of Men. The hearts of Men are dark, and long do they bear grudges, passing on their hatreds from father to son. This is above all true of the Southrons, who like the Easterlings live and die by the sword, and to whom the Blood Feud is the highest call of duty. And they still serve Sauron in their inmost hearts. Yea, they are little more than Sauron's pawns. And as long as Sauron endures, there can be no enduring peace between them and the Men of Gondor, only periods of respite. Thus, I did what I had to do in order to dispel the threat the Haradrim pose to Gondor for generations!"

He pointed a long finger at the Grey Wizard. "If you will the ends, Gandalf, you must will the means. That is a solemn truth, a law of nature. I advise you to reflect on it, before letting your tongue wag again."

Gandalf stared at the White Wizard, by no means prepared to concede defeat. "So the ends justify the means, Saruman?" he replied. "But surely, if the means are evil, in time they will corrupt the ends themselves."

He then pointed his own finger back at Saruman. "And here is something else upon which you should reflect. If the Haradrim show no mercy, it is because they have never been shownmercy by anyone. Had you spared their lives, and had they by that token seen Gondor show them mercy, even though justice called for their deaths, they would have been amazed. You could have planted a seed in their hearts that would have endured and grown through generations, softening their hard ways, reconciling them with the Gondor-men until there no longer was enmity between them, but peace enduring. That would have been leadership."

He sighed, folding his hands in his lap. "But instead, you have ensured that the survivors who escaped the battle will remain unchanged in their hearts. They will pass their hatred onto their sons, and there will indeed be no peace between the Men of the West, and those of the South. Your prophecy shall be self-fulfilling."

Saruman dismissed Gandalf's remarks with a wave of his hand. "Your naivety is boundless, Gandalf. If you offered such counsel in the Throne Room of Osgiliath, the King and his nobles would take you for either a fool, or a madman. They know, as do I, that a leader is one who wades the fray, doing what must be done. He is of little use if he instead views events from a safe distance, offering pious homilies rather than making the difficult choices that need to be made."

Gandalf appeared about to reply, but Saruman cut him short. "I will brook no more discussion of this issue, Gandalf. It is closed."

Gandalf frowned, while Radagast fidgeted with his sleeve, desperately thinking of how to restore the breach that had suddenly come between his two friends.

"Now, now," said Radagast at length. "Peace! We are not at war amongst each other. Saruman doubtless did what he felt was right, Gandalf. He is our leader, and it is not our place to gainsay him."

The Brown Wizard turned to Saruman. "As for Gandalf, Saruman, remember that beneath his gruff exterior, he conceals his deep compassion for others. It is painful to Gandalf to hear of suffering and death, especially when he believes they could have been averted – true or not as his belief may be."

Gandalf looked down and muttered something inaudible under his breath. Saruman, meanwhile, was brooding over Gandalf's display of insolence. How did Gandalf dare to be so brash, so bold? Where did he find the confidence to challenge the White Wizard, and…

And then, for a fleeting instant Saruman's keen eyes, which saw with more than mortal sight, caught a glimpse of it. Narya, Ring of Fire, one of the Three Rings of the Elves. And it was concealed by a spell of illusion on Gandalf's right hand!

Saruman's mouth fell open, and he stared dumbly as if thunderstruck. Gandalf looked up at him sharply, and Radagast stared quizzically.

How was it possible? Saruman's thoughts raced frantically. How did Gandalf obtain the Ring of Fire? Surely not by his own efforts and against the will of the Elves. His mind groped desperately through the various possibilities…

And then realized the true answer was the simplest one. Gandalf bore the Ring of Fire, because the Elves had given it to him of their own free will. They had freely chosen Gandalf over Saruman to bear their precious Ring.

Saruman's shock was transformed into rage, deep and dark and cold, at this gross insult to his pride. The Elves had chosen to honour Gandalf the Grey, and spurn Saruman the White! It was outrageous…unfair…shameful!

Within seconds, Saruman's keen mind discerned the true reason for the Elves' choice. Saruman was powerful, more powerful by far than any Elf, even the Lady Galadriel. Gandalf, by contrast, was weaker than the White Wizard. But the Elves had ever been vain and jealous, and they had long begrudged their slow fading into the Twilight, as their leading place in Middle Earth was usurped by mortal Men. Saruman had come to succor the Men of the West, first and foremost…and thus the Elves had given Narya to Gandalf, so he could use it to magnify his own power.

Gandalf was still weaker than Saruman, but he had become strong enough now to challenge the White Wizard openly…and deceitful and ambitious enough to try and hide Narya from Saruman's eyes, rather than confess to him what the Elves had done…and foolish enough to serve as a pawn of the Elves, who had proven to be no friends of the White Wizard, and whose own agenda doubtless did not include their fading gracefully to make way for the Dominion of Men – the very Dominion which Saruman had been sent to prepare, as his foremost purpose.

Yes, Gandalf was being manipulated by the sly and treacherous Elves of Middle Earth, just as Alatar and Pallando had been manipulated by the Black Numenoreans of Umbar, and through them by Sauron. Of the five Wizards, three of them – Gandalf, Alatar, and Pallando – had fallen, had proven faithless and untrustworthy. Only Radagast the Brown still appeared loyal to Saruman.

And Radagast, as Saruman knew well, was a simple-minded fool.

Saruman felt under siege from all sides; from Sauron and Gandalf, from Elves and Wraiths and evil Men. And he could rely on no-one other than himself, of any real consequence, in the struggle against them. He was alone.

Meanwhile, as these thoughts had formed in Saruman's mind, Gandalf had gathered himself for another assault against the White Wizard.

"Very well, Saruman," he said. "We will not speak of this again. But there is another question I am very keen to hear you answer."

Gandalf gestured vaguely to the East and the South. "Where are the Blue Wizards? What has happened to our friends Alatar and Pallando? They journeyed east of Anduin with you, it is rumoured. That is the last anyone has seen or heard of them. And then years later you emerged from the South at Umbar, alone. What has happened to them? Have they made any progress at all in their mission to begin the taming the Easterlings and Southrons? If not, then what obstacles have they encountered? Do you know, or can you at least guess?"

Saruman turned his dark gaze on Gandalf. "They have strayed from the path," he replied solemnly. "They have failed our Order." As have you, he thought to himself.

Now it was the turn of the Grey and Brown Wizards to stare open-mouthed in shock.

"What do you mean, that they have failed?" asked Radagast. "That they have strayed? Has something terrible happened to them? You must tell us!"

"I must tell you nothing!" cried Saruman, in a deep, booming voice the echoed across the valley like thunder. He stood to his feet, tall and proud, and as the echoes of his voice faded away the Vale of Rhosgobel was deathly silent.

"I am the head of our Order!" continued Saruman, his dark eyes blazing fiercely. "It is I who question and command, and you who obey! I have told you what I deem sufficient, and you will be satisfied with it, or hold your tongue if you are not!"

Thoroughly cowed, Radagast subsided into his chair, begging forgiveness. But Gandalf had also leapt to his feet, and now he confronted the White Wizard openly.

"That simply will not do, Saruman," said Gandalf angrily, stamping on the porch with his black-booted foot to emphasize his point. "Radagast and I have a right to know what has happened to our comrades, who make up fully two-fifths of our Order. You might have frightened him into silence, but I insist you tell us what you know about the Blue Wizards and their fate!"

"You insist?" asked Saruman, his voice deepening ominously, drawing out the "s" as if in a hiss.

"It is not your place to insist I tell you anything, Gandalf the Grey," warned Saruman. "If you have lost your hearing as well as your wits, I shall repeat myself one last time. I am the head of our Order! I decide what you need to know, and what you do not! The Blue Wizards have strayed and fallen, and you shall hear no more from them. How and why they fell, I may tell you in the future, as I deem fit. Or, I may not."

He pointed his long finger at the Grey Wizard. "But you should choose your words and your fights more carefully, Gandalf. I have endured your insolent tongue all this afternoon, but no longer. My patience with you is near exhausted. Know this; you would be well-advised never again to issue commands to me as if I were your servant," – he paused - "unless, perhaps, you think you should occupy my station as Leader of the Istari?"

Radagast maintained a frightened silence at this dreadful confrontation, licking his lips as hisgaze flicked back and forth between his friends. Gandalf likewise remained silent, though his bright blue eyes bored into Saruman's dark orbs, as if striving to sweep aside the invisible veil that surrounded the White Wizard and peer into his inmost thoughts.

But then, Gandalf turned his gaze to the ground, and bowed deeply. "Forgive me, Saruman," he said contritely, in a low, tired voice. "I have indeed spoken above myself, and my choice of words was poor. It was not my place to challenge you. Radagast and I must trust you to do what you think is best."

Saruman regarded him for some moments, his visage hard and inscrutable, before his features relaxed into a thin smile, as he appeared mollified by the Grey Wizard's remarks.

"I accept your apology, Gandalf," he replied, his voice now smooth and mellow. "No doubt you mean well, however crude your speech may be. But, as you say, you must trust me to do what is best. As I must have faith in you and Radagast. Only together, trusting in each other, can we hope to defeat Sauron and his minions."

"Here, here!" said Radagast heartily, mightily relieved to see that his friends had regained their good senses. "That's right, no use sparring with each other, is there?"

Saruman smiled more broadly now, his dark eyes flashing with seeming warmth, and yet betraying nothing of what lay beneath.


As the Sun began to sink into the West, casting long shadows eastward from the peaks of the Misty Mountains, Saruman departed Rhosgobel on his white stallion. He had not intended to tarry long at Radagast's dwelling in any case, but Gandalf's announced intention to remain with his friend Radagast for several weeks had prompted Saruman to depart for the South as soon as the council meeting had concluded.

Saruman's instructions to his fellow Wizards had been quite simple. Radagast, dwelling near Mirkwood, was to continue his watch over it, and report at once if he received any solid information as to the true identity of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur, or of any new threats from that quarter. Gandalf was to focus more of his efforts on Men in the North, and less on the Elves – "You are needed more by the King at Fornost than by Elrond of Rivendell," he had said; and Gandalf, apparently keen to appear less argumentative after their earlier confrontation, had assented without comment.

Saruman would return to Gondor, and continue combing through the archives of Minas Anor, in particular seeing if there was anything in them he could correlate with the rumors of the Necromancer and his activities to unravel the mystery of that dark sorcerer's identity. The three Wizards would meet again in another hundred years at the very latest; much sooner than that, if new events or discoveries occurred that required their combined wisdom to interpret. In the meantime, Radagast would henceforth use his trained birds to carry messages between himself, Gandalf and Saruman as need required. And Saruman made it clear that he considered the breach between himself and Gandalf to have been merely a heated exchange of views, of no lasting concern.

Or so he wanted Gandalf to believe. For in truth, Gandalf's possession of Narya, and his attempt to disguise it from Saruman, had permanently undone Saruman's faith in the Grey Wizard. He would use Gandalf when he had to in the fight against Sauron, and he would try to insulate him from the influence of the Elves; hence his instructing him to spend more time at Fornost, and less time at Rivendell. But he would never again trust Gandalf the Grey.

As he rode south and west, toward the Old Ford that crossed the Anduin, Saruman contemplated the extent of Gandalf's powers, and his ambitions, now that he possessed the Ring of Fire. In truth, he soon realized, both were unknown. He was certain that Gandalf was still weaker than he was, but he was less certain precisely how much Gandalf's power had been magnified by Narya, or what skills and abilities it might give the Grey Wizard that were beyond his own ken. And at Gandalf's ambitions, he could only guess; his behaviour at the council meeting had clearly betrayed his wish to lead the Order of the Istari; but whether he desired more than that, Saruman was unsure. He could not put out of his mind the sweeping ambitions of Alatar and Pallando.

That Gandalf had backed down at the council meeting, and apologized to Saruman, was in Saruman's opinion no more than a tactical move, as had been Saruman's acceptance of the apology. It might take Gandalf centuries to fully unlock Narya's secrets, and until then, Gandalf doubtless preferred for his rivalry with Saruman not to escalate into an open duel of wizardly powers. For his part, Saruman, having nearly suffered disaster as the consequence of his underestimating the Blue Wizards, was not prepared to make the same mistake concering the Grey Wizard. As long as Gandalf wielded unknown powers, Saruman could not afford any further open confronations with him.

Saruman recognized, of course, that meant he must make learning the extent of Gandalf's powers an utmost priority, which in turn meant learning all he could of Narya, the other Elven Rings, and the Rings of Power generally. And this Ring-lore was not merely important on account of Gandalf. The Rings of Power were rooted in Sauron's schemes for dominon, and his long-lost One Ring was the cornerstone of his strength and skill, and the master key that could unlock the power of all the other Rings. Saruman had already understood long before that he could not hope to best Sauron unless he could first access the Dark Lord's power, in order to turn it against him. Now, Saruman realized, prudence also demanded he learn as much as he could of Ring-lore lest Gandalf the Grey someday confront him with more than mere words.

Yes, concluded Saruman, both his rivalry with Gandalf and his enmity with Sauron pointed in one direction; he, the White Wizard, must become a master of Ring-lore. No, more than that; the Master of Ring-lore. He would still offer the Gondor-men counsel and aid when they requested it, but for now building the coming Dominon of Men could no longer be his focus. He must, at all costs, attain complete mastery of the lore regarding the Rings of Power; necessity required that all other purposes be subordinate to that supreme purpose.

And when he had mastered fully all Ring-lore…who knew what he could accomplish? To command the Rings of Power was to command Middle Earth itself.

Saruman smiled at the thought, and continued his lone journey as the shadows lengthened in the East.

The End


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