20. Nan Curunir
The filthy Dunlendings had left a mess behind when they had gone off to war, and their deaths. The vile houses could be burned though, and all other traces of the Men would vanish with age. There would be no more need of houses and buildings around the great locked tower of Orthanc.
For a new master had come. A master with the keys to the tower given to him by the steward of Gondor himself.
Saruman smiled and spun the keys. One to Orthanc, and the rest were to the various locked rooms and chambers within. It would take nearly a man's lifetime to look through it all, but Saruman had already lived hundreds of such lifetimes.
He shut the door of Orthanc behind him, shutting out the ugly ruins of Isengard. He would need to rebuild it, but where could he get the men?
They need not necessarily be Men though.
No, no, Saurman reminded himself. It was not time yet. The time was drawing closer, but it had not yet arrived. He couldn't compromise his position by using goblins and orcs for his work. Not yet.
A thick layer of dust covered everything in the tower. Saruman frowned and coughed as great clouds of it sprang up at his every footstep. The stewards had forgotten Orthanc and left it to rot. That suited Saruman just fine.
He ascended a flight of stairs, walking until he thought he would collapse. How terrible for a Maia such as he to be trapped in this frail body!
At last he reached his destination. Opening the door with another one of the keys, Saruman walked into a large round room. In the center was a pedestal, upon which rested a large, dark orb. To the ignorant eye, it looked like crystal. Crystal with a strangely dark center.
The Dark Lord has one of these now, Saruman thought as he approached the palantir. I must be careful how I use it.
But Sauron is not the only one. There is a palantir in the White Tower as well, and it would not be good if the steward were to learn of the true reason I wanted Orthanc. To protect Rohan? Ha! To conquer Rohan! That is my goal, but I need Isengard and the palantir to do it.
As he studied the palantir, Saruman wondered where exactly he had taken the fatal turn. Where had he gone wrong? When had he begun to stray from his purpose to the Valar?
From the beginning, perhaps. He had come to Arda because he wanted power. Power to shape the denizens' lives. He had always felt that way, but being in Valinor with the Valar had suppressed his longings. In Arda, among such talentless, worthless scum, he found he was one of the mighty. He was to this rabble what the Valar were to the elves.
It had all gone downhill from there.
After learning of the One Ring, Saruman had hunted ceaselessly for it. First in the Gladden Fields where he had found the Elendilmir, and then all down the Anduin. At last he had conceded that it had been washed out to sea, lost forever. Then, like his fellow Istari, he had traveled the world, learning the ways of Men. They were weak, pliable, and ready to be manipulated and exploited.
Starting with their steward.
No. Not yet. Sauron would have an interest in breaking the steward's mind, and Saruman should be content to let him do it. No sense in compromising himself. He must keep up the facade. He must continue to be the wise leader of the White Council.
But Galadriel suspected him.
Ah, but no one listened to Galadriel. Who would listen to an exiled Noldo? It did not matter that she was the eldest on that Council, that she carried the ring Nenya, that she was a powerful sorceress to rival Melian of old. No, she was an exile, and the young lords – Elrond and Glorfindel chief among them – thought they knew better.
Well, Saruman was perfectly content to leave them in their ignorance. Let them continue to think of him as their ally. He would not dissuade them. At least, not until he was ready to strike.
Imagining the expressions on the gullible elf lords and his own kin, Saruman smiled. He tossed a cloth over the palantir and picked it up. He wasn't ready to commune with it yet.
All the way to the top of the tower he went, the palantir clutched to his chest.
Four mighty fangs adorned the corners of the top of Orthanc. The fangs had given the tower its name: Mount Fang. There was a second translation of the name: Cunning Mind. Appropriate, Saruman thought with a smile.
He commanded a view that not even the eagles could hope for. He could see for miles and miles in every direction. The peaks of the Misty Mountains to the north, the White Mountains in the south. Was it his imagination, or could he see the mountains of Mordor as well? The faint glow of Orodruin lit the southern sky.
Saruman shivered. Sauron was still alive and well, but he had not returned. Not yet. Orodruin would alert him as well as the rest of Arda when Sauron made Mordor his home once more.
Saruman looked back north. He could just barely make out the dull red slopes of Caradhras. Gandalf had once spoken to him about the mountain. Apparently it had foresight. The White Wizard had dismissed this, but then he recalled Orodruin. That mountain knew things as well. But the One Ring had been forged in its depths. Caradhras was merely home to a balrog.
Perhaps the balrog has leaked some magic into its roots, Saruman mused. An interesting course of study. Perhaps he should travel there while he waited…investigate.
Saruman gasped suddenly, the palantir nearly slipping from his grip. The thoughts had hardly been thought when black clouds began to gather around the peak of Caradhras.
The mountain is powerful, Saruman thought in astonishment. It can only speak when one is on it, but it can communicate its intentions other ways. I cannot go there. The mountain will not let me live if I do.
With a sigh, Saruman uncovered the palantir. It is said that one can only see through them, he thought. One may speak with other palantir as well, it is rumored, but not with anything else. Ah, but a Maia never used one. And not even Sauron has such skill as I in the art of magic.
A foolish claim, for the Dark Lord had been a Maia of Aule in his early days, and he had forged the One Ring, a vessel of nigh unlimited power. Still, Saruman had seen the creation of the palantir. He had spoken with Feanor himself on the subject. There was not anyone living in Arda that could use the orb better than him.
Taking the palantir in both his hands, Saruman focused all his will on it. Colors swirled, but he did not get dizzy or disoriented.
The power of the mightiest of the Istari, backed by the power of Orthanc itself! Shapes appeared in the orb. They were shambling, ugly, hideous shapes. They laughed and snarled. Filthy orcs.
Saruman's mind traveled quickly through the orcs' den, finally finding the one he wanted.
You, he thought, and bent all his malice, all his power on it.
The orc stumbled and staggered into a wall. It growled and clutched at its head as Saruman broke into its mind.
I will let you go, the White Wizard promised the howling orc. But you must do something for me.
Get out of my head, wizard! the orc screamed. Its true, spoken voice was guttural and deep, but its soul's voice carried hints – echoes – of the elf it had been. This was an old orc indeed. Saruman wished he could take the beast back to Isengard for study rather than sacrifice it.
But the sacrifice was necessary. It would set everything up. And then everything would fall, tumbling into oblivion. And Saruman would be the last man standing.
A dwarf is coming, Saruman warned. He is at your gates.
We will kill him!
No! That is not enough.
The orc was puzzled and its determination to drive Saruman from its head wavered, letting the wizard dig deeper in.
Mangle the body, Saruman hissed. Gouge his eyes out, cut off his beard. And put some coins of little worth in his mouth.
Why would I do that? the orc demanded.
Because I told you to.
Confident that the orc's mind had been suitably impressed, Saruman withdrew. The palantir fell from his hands and began to roll across the top of Orthanc. Cursing, Saruman chased after it, seizing it just before it fell over the edge.
His plan had worked, he knew. The orc would desecrate the dwarf's body. The dwarves would be incensed.
And the world would fall.
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