1. Many Colours
After he'd worried long enough about the state of the world, and the Shire in particular, and Frodo especially, Gandalf began to worry that he was going to get frostbite. It had grown dark and cold on the roof of the tower before he awoke, and although days must have passed while he watched the earthworks below and vainly tried to conserve heat, the gloom never lifted. Now he knew it for true night only by the full moon hanging in the sky - true night and too late in the month, far too late for him to meet the young hobbits and Aragorn at Bree. Saruman, or some power stronger than his fallen brother wizard, was working the weather, and Gandalf was damp as well as miserable, although the half-hearted rain at least washed some of the blood away.
The grey wizard was astonished and sickened by the speed with which the grounds about Orthanc were brought to ruin: trees that had stood for hundreds of years, or perhaps even longer than he had walked upon Middle-earth, were torn down in instants. Orcs and goblins swarmed across the ground below like flies over a rotting carcass. All that he could see had lost its life and colour, turned black and grey or the red-orange of an unnatural and choking fire. How had he missed a corruption that was set so deep?
Yet he was not the only Istar who had failed to see a great power right under his nose. After many hours of rubbing his hands together, Gandalf began to worry that he was not going to get frostbite. Eventually, Saruman would deduce the reason that the freezing air, although unpleasant, did him no true harm.
For the thousandth time, he wondered if he should have used the ring of fire to protect himself from the master of Orthanc, and for the thousandth time he told himself that it would have been profoundly foolish. The Three had been created as shields, not weapons, and although he might have escaped with the aid of Narya, he would have revealed it before dealing finally with the corrupt Istar. The less Saruman knew about the location of any of the rings, the better. No-one but the other Elven bearers, and Cirdan the shipwright who had given it to him, knew that Gandalf possessed such power himself. It would be wise to keep it that way.
Again, he saw the ring of gold and the lidless eye in his mind, and wondered if he should have claimed the One after all. Surely he could have kept it safe, would have been a better master than Saruman ...? But in that direction, madness lay. He went back to fretting about his friends and allies, and the cold, and the absence of pipe weed.
Saruman's arrival was, initially, a welcome respite from those internal tortures, although his cracked bones flinched away from another encounter with the more powerful wizard.
"Have you thought further upon my proposal?" he asked. Gandalf got to his feet; conscious that his face was still dirty, and that - unlike his own - Saruman's robes were pure white, miraculously free from the pollution that surrounded the tower.
"I have thought of many things," said Gandalf cautiously. Saruman seemed calm, with none of the vicious hostility he had displayed earlier on show. "I have thought, too, of many questions. Tell me, before I answer you: why you have chosen this path?"
Saruman turned away, and looked out across his ruined domain; an incautious arrogance, Gandalf thought, when he stood in an unprotected high place with an enemy. "Do you not hate it?" he asked softy. "This prison of flesh, this prison of a world, that binds you to a single form and keeps you from nine tenths of your power?"
Gandalf relaxed fractionally. He liked explanations. A Maia himself, he could understand the apprehension that having a mortal body instilled. Before he had been sent to Middle-earth, he had been ill-accustomed to any physical shape, taking a visible form only when necessary. The spirit Olorin had been a substanceless creature. Yet eventually he had come to accept his life in this shape, even to enjoy it. Perhaps that was what had saved him from corruption.
"I do not despise the world, Saruman the White, and feel no desire to harm it. In truth, power has never been a great love of mine."
Gandalf had also grown attached to Middle-earth, its mountains and forests and tea and tobacco, and above all its people. He would miss his shell of flesh when he returned home; the little delights and pains that were so much more manageable than the great joys and sorrows of the West. After two thousand years, the shift of the leaves from green to red and gold every autumn still astonished him.
He, too, had altered in that time - although the body he wore had never been young, he remembered when its hair had been darker, when its fingers had ached less in the winter. Saruman, it seemed, had watched the slow shift of his hair from black to white with distrust and disquiet, failing to understand that Middle-earth was the realm of change, or that change itself could be beautiful.
"You are proud in your humility, Gandalf the Grey. I wager that you wish now you had taken the leadership of the White Council when it was offered by Galadriel. Yet you preferred to have no ties to the realms of this world, no demands on your time or allegiance."
A familiar concern, if sharper now, and an accusation the wizard had no easy response to. There was a fine line between the freedom that let him walk his own ways, and the freedom that came of a distaste for responsibility. Saruman continued, heedless of the bite his words held. "It seems to me that had they wanted a reliable servant, the powers should not have chosen a follower of the Dreamer."
That cut, too, but there was an easy counterstroke open to him: "It seems to me that had they not wanted a traitor, they should have kept well away from the servants of Aule."
Saruman only smiled. "My master taught me the value of things, as he once taught it to Sauron. But I can see that means nothing to you. Had you asked, they would have clothed you in gold or in silver to show the nobility of your master, but I see you preferred to wear your lady's favour."
Gandalf felt his fist tighten around a staff that wasn't there, and struggled to keep his temper. Saruman could needle a fellow Istar to his black heart's content, but an insult to the honour and dignity of his teacher was another matter. "It is true that I choose to wear grey in part to venerate the lady Nienna. I have ever believed that it is she who possesses the greatest wisdom of the Valier, and the qualities that may yet triumph in the coming war."
Saruman laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. "Pity and mourning shall make poor weapons, Olorin. Save them for when your allies crawl beneath the yoke of the dark lord, for then they shall doubtless serve you well."
Gandalf drew himself up to his full height, and spoke with the prophetic voice of command. "We shall see how well treachery and pride serve you, when I break your staff and cast you from the brotherhood!"
Paying little attention to the display of power, Saruman gestured dismissively with his staff. Gandalf fell, wincing as his head struck the stone. The price of pride, including his own, was often pain. "It is hardly a brotherhood now, with only you and that simpleton Radagast remaining," said Saruman.
Gandalf had always liked their soft-spoken, sensible companion, and breathed a sigh of relief when he realised that Saruman had slipped up and revealed to him that he was not entirely alone. He had been afraid that the entire order had fallen into corruption around him.
Although he had a reputation for greatness among the elves, Gandalf was wryly aware that in certain circles - among the eagles of the mountains, the Beornings, the Ents, and the less talkative beasts and trees - he was known as 'Radagast's slightly disreputable cousin.' The woodspeople of Middle-earth, quick to anger and slow to trust, knew which of the Istari was most to be relied upon. He had been right to send the tiny moth to the brown wizard for help.
"Do not underestimate Radagast - for all that his wisdom is not so showy as yours, it is deep. I should sooner have his friendship than that of one more powerful but less trustworthy. From this moment forth, I no longer consider you numbered among our ranks." It was a poor time to be making pronouncements on behalf of the Istari, but some things needed to be said.
Once more, Gandalf flinched as his fallen brother flipped him over effortlessly. "A friendship with Saruman is not lightly thrown aside. One ill-turn deserves another."
Gandalf gasped as he shot through the air, to find himself resting at the edge of the tower with nothing but Saruman's power to hold him there. "It is over," said the Istar. In spite of his unenviable position, Gandalf had to conceal a smile of triumph as a very familiar insect indeed fluttered past his face. "Embrace the power of the ring, or embrace your own destruction." Like a cat toying with a mouse, the wizard tossed his prisoner back onto the roof yet again.
Gandalf raised his head with difficulty. For good or ill, he had little to lose. He could afford defiance. "There is only one lord of the Ring," he said, watching over Saruman's shoulder as the shadow of an eagle crossed the moon, "only one who can bend it to his will. And he does not share power."
The last dash to the edge of the tower, the fall on to Gwaihir's broad, feathered back lasted a moment and an eon. He had seldom been so aware of both the weight and the fragility of his physical substance, and the heart beneath his cracked ribcage was pounding as the eagle king carried him away from Orthanc and its master's parting words. They left him standing there, white, clean, untouched and unmoved by the chaotic world around him.
Even so, Gandalf felt no sense of hopelessness as the air around them lost the stink of Saruman's foul work and the snow spread out below. He might have lost an ally and gained a few bruises, yet he had managed to escape from peril once again. Soon, he would ask Gwaihir to set him down, so that he could summon his staff back to him, and then set forth for Rivendell and the task ahead. He feared neither death nor weakness, and the cold that bit at his fingertips where they gripped the eagle's feathers only sharpened his wits.
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.