The Old Grey Wizard
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The Kindness of Strangers: 14. The Clan of Isen
The Clan of Isen
Every day Coräc and Morigian visited, and with them came a flock of their kinfolk. Each bird bore another sample of food, stolen from the orchards and gardens of Isengard. One of Coräc's sons, Fiach, discovered the outdoor ovens in which the Tower's bread was baked. He and his brothers soon learned how to snatch a loaf in their claws and carry it aloft, laughing as they fled from the curses of the bakers. Another raven, Coräc and Morigian's eldest daughter Anann, found a quarter round of cheese wrapped in cloth, and managed to bring it to the platform. The old man was obviously pleased at the expanded menu, and bowed solemnly to Anann and Fiach again and again. Coräc dared not bring any meat, however sound or sweet it might seem to a raven; he did not wish to repeat his earlier mistake. Rain came on the third day after the greybeard was released from the dungeons, and again on the sixth day. He did not lack for water to drink or for fresh nourishment.
The raven could see that the man was regaining some of his strength. His face gradually lost its discolored bruises, and from what glimpses Coräc caught of the rest of him, it seemed that his other injuries were slowly healing too. The rains rinsed the blood and filth from his clothing and hair. He began to resemble the raven-like old greybeard Coräc had first spied on the top of the Tower in mid-July. But he spoke little, and his mood was somber. Understandable, Coräc thought, given what the future held for him.
"If only he were not so large," Coräc said to his wife as they flew off. "If he were a smaller creature, several of us might be able to clasp him in our claws and fly with him to safety. But as things are, all we seem able to accomplish is to renew his strength so that he lives long enough to be mistreated again."
"We are who we are, husband, and he is who he is," Morigian said. "You were hopeful before, when things looked bleak. Do not give up your hopes for him now. We can only do what we can. The rest must be up to him."
The seventh morning came, bright and clear. The calm, lovely weather of early autumn had arrived. The ravens flocked together, bearing their gifts of food. As they circled and descended, Coräc saw that the greybeard was up to something unusual.
He was practicing with the great sword. The silver object glittered as he swung and twisted it, forward and back, slashing through the bright air. Most of the ravens landed carefully out of reach of the blade, left their morsels near the edges of the platform and departed nervously, anxious to get away from the whistling weapon. But Coräc flew up to his accustomed perch on the tip of the southeast spire and settled in to watch the display, and Morigian landed beside him.
"It's a good thing he's practicing. He's not the most skilled swordsman I've ever seen," Morigian croaked in a whisper to her mate.
The greybeard apparently overheard her. He laughed and ceased his exercises, sheathing the sparkling blade smoothly.
"Well met, Lady Morigian, and my Lord Coräc," he said, bowing formally to the ravens. "Indeed, whatever ability I had as a swordsman is rather rusty. But I must regain my skills, and soon. One week has passed. The Nine will arrive any day now." His voice grew fierce and his eyes glinted as he gazed eastward. "They are, after all, merely the wraiths of men. If they think to take Gandalf the Grey easily, they will learn their error soon enough."
Coräc watched with dismay as his wife suddenly took off, spiraled down toward the old man and landed lightly on his shoulder. She was such an impulsive bird, and far too trusting! He opened his beak to shout at her to fly away--but Morigian spoke first.
"They will come at night, Gandalf," she said.
He nodded grimly. "They will not catch me sleeping."
She shifted her claws a bit, balancing carefully. "The Ravens of the Clan of Isen would like to do our part in this struggle, Grey One."
Soon, a sentry of ravens was on duty, day and night, on the pinnacle of Orthanc. A dozen birds brought food each day, for the man and for those on guard with him. Dozens more flew in high soaring circles over the Vale of Isen and the lands about, peering downward for any sign of riders in black approaching over the plains of Rohan, or sneaking through the thick forest. Messengers reported to Coräc at intervals.
"We have seen nothing, Lord Coräc," his old lieutenant Kruk said in his deep voice. "But the birds of the grasslands whisper of an icy wind creeping from the Great River. Kelvari of all sorts, on hoof, footpad or wing, are fleeing before it in dread. The wraiths are coming, but remain out of sight of our patrols."
"Keep up your vigil, Kruk. The Lady and I will remain here, on the Tower. Report to us day or night, anything unusual. Anything at all."
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