Question of Breeding, A: 3. Part 3: Gandalf.

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3. Part 3: Gandalf.

On and again the brethren rode, over the pass from Rhosgobel, and across the grassed hills of northernmost Hollin. They were close to home, but despite debate around their night firesides, no closer to an answer about orcs. The changing brush showed how urgent their question was starting to become. The first leaves were turning gold, early heralds of autumn. When dusk was black and leaves were bare, they might begin their winter orc-hunting again – could they but decide whether it was good or ill.

As they rode one sunlit afternoon, Elrohir saw his horse flare its nostrils and look around curiously. Both riders paused. Their keen eyes saw, to the northwest, the thinnest line of smoke spiralling up into the blue sky.

Elrohir turned to his brother and said, “Shall we see? And if it's trouble –“

Elladan reached back and touched his sword-hilt. “We're ready for it!”

They drew close in near-silence, listening. When they had determined that it was one or few near the fire, they spurred their horses to a thundering ride and burst out of the brush near the fire's source. There, in another open meadow, sat a grey figure beside a knoll of stone. The figure had a pot simmering over a fire, a pipe joining its smoke to the fire's, and a pointed grey hat.

“Gandalf!” Elrohir cried. He put up his sword and rode in circles around Gandalf's camp as he laughed. “We had no idea it was you.” Elrohir jumped out of his saddle, still laughing, and swept a bow. “Well met, Mithrandir, Olorin, friend of my father's house!”

Gandalf looked up, unperturbed. “Well, well. A chance meeting and a fair one, Elrohir of Rivendell.”

Elladan watched the pair of them, Elrohir playing the gallant, Gandalf just as clearly playing the sage. Elrohir went on, “Have a care! A spire of smoke in the clear lands – you might not have drawn us to you, but somebody else. Pipe and pot, fire and smoke-shadow, might be the death of you someday! And we cannot have that.”

Elladan added, “I wouldn't be surprised about the pipe. All you wizards veil yourself in smoke. Saruman was smoking as well, and I expect Radagast will begin any day.”

“Saruman? Saruman was smoking?” Gandalf muttered.

“Oh, yes. Puffing away!” Elrohir said.

“How soon they change. I wonder...ah well. Do you ride hard, or can you bide a while?”

Gandalf turned to his luggage. “Sit and have some honey-cake. The Beornings have loaded me down with it.”

With grave courtesy, Elladan said, “Our supplies suffice us, but they are low. We have little to offer in return.”

“We could hunt you some game before we ride on,” Elrohir offered.

Gandalf shook his head in gentle refusal. “After all the feasts I've had at your father's table, a cake in the rough wilds is a little gift. Do not be troubled. What brings you abroad? I recall that this is not the time of year you usually ride against orcs.”

Elladan and Elrohir accepted the honey-cakes as they explained their ride that summer, going first to give Saruman counsel, then riding as couriers to Radagast. Gandalf found their tale remarkable. “So Radagast told you how the orcs differed from wargs in their corruption, and Saruman – what did Saruman tell you?”

“I – he – “ Elrohir looked to his brother. “It's a bit of a fog to me now, just that he had some defense or fear in mind that he wasn't telling us. Probably because we wouldn't understand. Surely you remember more?”

Elladan narrowed his eyes, thinking. “No, Elrohir, you are right. For all the counsel we gave him, he told us little. We learned almost nothing of why he sought our knowledge, beyond some vague hope that orcs might not be evil.”

“Most unusual. I wonder if he considered asking some orcs themselves. Tell me, have you two ever spoken with orcs?”

“A few times, to interrogate them,” said Elrohir. “And then we slew them.”

Gandalf drew on his pipe, but it had gone out. “I have as well; a few times, I have. I confess I was hoping not to slay them.”

Recalling Saruman, Elladan asked, “Is this seeking goodness in orcs a project of you Istari?”

Drily, Gandalf said, “Perhaps it ought to be. Myself, when I consider the plague that has marred Gondor this past year, the increase in giant spiders in Mirkwood, and the fact that Sauron is risen once more from Barad-dur, I feel rather preoccupied, as it were.”

“Mayhap you can answer our question?” Elladan nodded approval as Elrohir asked, “If orcs might be, how to say, redeemed, should we stop hunting them?”

Elladan told the details of what Radagast had said to them, then said, “We know that orcs are beings, people, whether we like it or not, and they were never meant to be. We of the Halfelven never were, either,” said Elladan. “More, we slay evil mortals as well, at times; and thus we have slain our kin.”

Gandalf took a moment to look at them both. Then he began to address what was tangled up in their guilt. “Much blood has soaked your swords. That is how mortals wage war with mortals, I do fear.”

“As for the orcs...there are many creatures that do the will of evil. But most of them were once good. As Radagast said, wargs were, in their grater part, once but wolves. So too crebain were once crows. Even dragons and other fell beasts had their place and time, in ages long ago. What we see today are such creatures preserved and perverted to evil's will. Whatever orcs once were was good. They are beings, yes, but with a massive flaw. For that which would have made them true beings, their will, was taken from them. And thus they have fallen furthest of all.”

Elrohir said, “I disagree. Orcs seem to have plenty of will.”

“Have you ever seen an orc happy?” asked Gandalf.

Both brothers shuddered. “Yes,” said Elrohir.

“What made it so?”

“Something fallen, or some task well done for its masters,” Elladan replied.

“The same as with trolls, really,” Elrohir added.

“Nothing else?”

Faced with silence from them, Gandalf said, “Could you say that you had seen aught else, it might trouble me, as well. As things are, perhaps it seems a noble idea to try and redeem orcs. So it seemed noble at one point, as well, to make Rings of Power – such as the one your father wields, and the ones that enslave the Nazgul.” Gandalf let that sink in for a moment. “Neither elves nor wizards have the power to undo those rings and retain the power they hold; nor can we remake the orcs. Such things should not be meddled with, lest we become like Morgoth ourselves.”

“So, we are not powerful enough to save orcs?” said Elladan.

“You are not; your father is not; and I am not. What is more, if you try to unmake an orc, by nurture or force, can you guess what you will get?”

Elrohir said, “Something still ugly, but at least not evil?”

“Worse, I fear; something sadder. A twisted remnant of an elf,” said Elladan.

Gandalf said, grimly, “No. It will still be an orc. One that follows you as its master, does its evil in your name, and hates you as the orcs hate the one who rules them now.”

“So we can't do anything,” Elrohir grumbled.

“You can do something, difficult as it might be. You can listen. If an orc asks for mercy – give it. I did not say that orcs cannot be redeemed, but that you cannot force redemption. It must come of their own wills. If an orc ever has enough will to want to be redeemed, then it should be. And no doubt, it will.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“I don't like it,” said Elrohir.

“Nor I. I was hoping for something – “ Elladan paused and gestured, for once lost for words.

“Larger? Grander?” Said Gandalf.

“Something of that sort, yes, Elladan admitted.

“If the world needed grand saviours right now, I would not be here before you as Gandalf Grayhame,” the wizard said. “Many small acts may add up to one great one. For elves, for men, even for orcs.” Gandalf met the eyes of one brother, then the other. The fire flared up in a sudden breeze that swept through the dell, blowing away the haze of smoke.

They both breathed in the cleaner air. After these words from Gandalf, Saruman's words seemed like hubris. “If the good of orcs, could it be found, is like the good of other folk...then the evil of orcs might be judged the same as well,” said Elladan.

“And if it were a tribe of men who had done ill to our mother...” Elrohir said. Neither of the brethren finished the sentence, but they met each other's eyes, each with their hunter's fire rekindled.

Gandalf glanced from one to the other. “So you will keep to your path of vengeance,” he observed.

“Yes,” they replied, in rare unison.

“I cannot say if you are wrong or right. But,” Gandalf noted, reaching for his belt pouch, “I venture far. I suppose it's good enough to talk about redeeming orcs if you have no peril from them. Myself, were it not for you two and your oath, I might have been orc-meat long before now, with my beard a trophy on some chieftain's spear. You know, the Rangers around Bree act as you do. They get rather more thanks, I think, there being more folk about.”

The twins both blinked, and their shared glance this time was wry, as if each thought: Why didn't he say so in the first place? But Gandalf was speaking again. “Since you are here, I think I will have a little bit of Bree myself. That is, if you think it wise to risk it,” he said, holding up his pipe.

“Smoke away,” said Elrohir, merry again. “Perhaps some orcs will find us, for a change, instead of us having to find them!”

Elladan opened his mouth to chide both of them, then thought better of it, saying instead, “Just let me move upwind of you first, Gandalf, that I might enjoy your gift, and you your smoke.” He moved from where he sat and bit into the honey-cake he held. Relieved and clear-headed, he noted that the humble, dry cake tasted better than the food at Saruman's tribute-laid table. He let the thought pass, listening with quiet contentment to Gandalf bantering with Elrohir as the clear evening fell.

It was not until long years had passed that the brothers wished they had recognized foreboding in their own unease. By the time they knew that their counsel in Isengard had sown more terrible fruit than Saruman's anxiety and their own summer's doubting, it was far beyond redeeming.


Lots of the small bits of information throughout this story are from the essays "The Istari" in Unfinished Tales and the two "Orcs" essays in History of Middle-Earth:Morgoth's Ring. The author has indulged in some original ideas about orcs' ecology which are not sourced from Tolkien.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Tyellas

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/13/04

Original Post: 02/27/04

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