Safe In Isengard: 4. A Fitting Reward?

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4. A Fitting Reward?

And now, this story poses a question: once down a certain path, how difficult is it to find one's way back? In other words, could someone like Saruman really see the error of his ways and change in time? Or is there a point beyond which there is no returning?

 

Here are two possible versions of what happened next…and the eventual outcome of those next crucial moments. You, dear reader, can decide for yourself, which outcome seems more preferable… and more likely…

Version One.

The Company chose a cleft of rock, high in the wall of the Vale of Isen, hidden from searching eyes that might look from below, but within sight of the Gate of Isengard. Close enough that the keen eyes of the Elves could pick out individual guards as they paced in their ceaseless patrol, but far enough that the shuffling and low tones of speech of the three Dunedain, three Elves and two Hobbits were well-muffled by the wind.

Aragorn stood at Glorfindel's side as they watched for any sign of the wizard. Hours passed, and the steep walled vale was shadowed by the coming of evening. Yet they saw no sign of the setting Sun, nor did Star or Moon shine through the thick mists. Dull gloom pressed down upon them, pushing their already wary and fretful spirits even lower.

"What say you, Glorfindel?" Aragorn muttered,as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Company's unofficial second-in-command. "Does your heart speak the same warning that does mine?"

The Elf-Lord seemed to glow with an inner fire that could not be obscured by the darkening air. Yet his mood did not match his appearance.

"I have never trusted Curunir, I will admit it," he replied gruffly. "Indeed, Mithrandir and I have spoken of little else for many leagues and many days… I fear the worst, if you would know what my heart says."

"What, then, should we do?"

"We can but wait, until the hour he named has come…"

"And if that time passes with no word…"

"Then we should away from this place with all haste…with or without him…"

"Agreed."

The minutes passed as slowly as it seemed it was possible, and every member of the Fellowship watched the shadowy form of the gate with breaths held and muscles tense. But their fear that the deadline set by the wizard would come without a signal—and force a harsh decision upon them—was not realized.

A sudden flash of light appeared in the darkness, and the eyes of three Elves, three Men, and two Hobbits were fixed upon it.

Two torches emerged from the Gate and floated through the darkness toward the cleft, aiming as surely as if the bearers of those lights knew precisely where the Fellowship was hidden. Glorfindel and the Elves of Rivendell pulled in a breath of surprise as one; they glanced at one another with looks of curiosity. Another few moments passed before the mortal members of the Company could all plainly see who now approached.

Two robed figures with sweeping beards and long hair made directly for their hiding place. The White and the Grey Wizards held torches aloft in one hand and gripped their respective staffs in the other.

"Come, my friends," Gandalf called. His uplifted face was beaming with pleasure. "Join us! Join Saruman and myself, in the safety of Isengard… for he has proved true to his word. Worthy indeed was our journey here. Come! Hear what he has to say—and what he proposes to do on behalf of our shared task. Come!"

***

Three hours later, everyone in the Company and both wizards had their eyes fixed on Frodo as they all sat together around a large oval-shaped table of shining black wood. The golden light of hanging lanterns pooled about them, and the remains of a pleasant and nourishing hot meal were scattered about upon the table. Sam and Beleg had taken it upon themselves to ensure that the various goblets were constantly replenished with the beverages each favored. Sam paused at his Master's left elbow, waiting to pour another quantity of the finest ale either Hobbit had ever tasted.

Gandalf, who sat on the Ring-Bearer's right, smiled and laid his hand on Frodo's shoulder.

"Go ahead, my friend," he said softly. "Bring It out. It is perfectly safe, here, in the heart of Isengard."

Frodo swallowed the lump in his throat and reached beneath the collar of his shirt. He tugged on the gold chain and slid it over his head. Reluctantly, he placed the One Ring upon the table before him. The gold object shimmered in the lantern-light as the room fell silent.

"How very difficult this has been for you, my young Hobbit," Saruman intoned in his deep baritone. "Each one of us, I deem—I know it is true for me—has been aware of that Voice nagging at us, whispering evilly, digging inward, sowing doubt and mistrust… For you who are nearest to It, I fear, how much louder and more insidious must that Voice be… The burden you have borne is nearly unimaginable. And yet, if you remain willing to be the Bearer of It still, I would do my part to lighten your heavy load…"

"As would I," Gandalf said softly. "Will you allow us to attempt what we have discussed, Frodo?"

Frodo looked up at his friend and guide, and all could see the fear and longing in his eyes. "Are you certain it will work, Gandalf?"

"Not certain, my boy… not certain at all… but I cannot see any harm in it…"

"…and if my proposal does work, it will be so much easier for all… and especially for you, Frodo Baggins," Saruman said.

Frodo's fingertips lingered on the gold chain as he stared at the Ring. How I hate that Voice, he thought. Even now, he heard it whispering, insinuating the worst—do you dare to allow these two to have their way with such a treasure? How can you be sure of their motives? Perhaps they would mar the flawless contours, or the smooth and shining surface… or do they simply wish to steal from you? Don't trust them, they only seek to enhance their own powers… No! Gandalf wouldn't suggest this unless it was best, for me, for all of us…

 

The Hobbit scooped up the Ring with Its gold chain, pushed away from the table and stood up. "Let's proceed, then. The sooner that Voice is silenced, the better…"

As the Ring-Bearer walked from the room between the two tall robed old men, the wizards' whispered words could be heard.

"I make no guarantee of silence, Master Baggins… but I vow to make my best effort…"

"As do I, Frodo…as do I…"

***

The changes in both Istari were profound. But more astonishing was the sense of relief that every member of the Fellowship felt.

"I had no idea how permeating that Thing actually was," Halbarad muttered to Aragorn as he sat beside his chieftain in the massive library and map room of Orthanc. "Not feeling It has shown me how awful It was making me feel…"

"Yes," Aragorn whispered. "I have not felt so light of spirit since we joined Gandalf and the Halflings in Bree…"

Once again, the Company had gathered around a table, this time a thick, carved oaken rectangle. Maps and scrolls were strewn about on the surface, and lanterns and candles stood about, illuminating drawings of incredible detail and maps of remarkable accuracy. Glorfindel, Ovoramdir and Nimdoron huddled together, studying an expanded drawing of the passes of the Mountains of Shadow upon the western boundary of the Black Land. Frodo and Sam sat close together, peeking shyly at the documents in the Elves hands. Before Halbarad, Aragorn, and Beleg upon the chieftain's left, the long-ago words of Malbeth The Seer of the Dunedain of Arnor were written upon an unfurled scroll, and nearby lay a map of the White Mountains with a sketch of the Door of The Dead beneath the peak of the Dwimorberg.

Gandalf sat on the opposite side, his head bowed onto his chest, and his eyes closed. At the head of the long table sat Saruman, and even the White Wizard seemed the picture of weariness. Both their faces were lined with exhaustion. Frodo looked up from his study of the map of Mordor's boundary to examine his old friend, and as if he could feel the Hobbit's gaze upon him, Gandalf's eyes fluttered open. He met Frodo's eyes for a moment before his gaze dropped to the small object now displayed openly upon the Hobbit's chest.

There, upon the gold chain of Rivendell, sparkled the One Ring, shimmering brilliantly in the lantern-light. But now Its gold was encased in a globe of clear crystal—a sphere no larger than a small plum. The wizard smiled wanly as he regarded It for a few moments, a look of deep satisfaction overlying the fatigue on his face. One brow rose as he looked Frodo in the eye, as if to ask a question.

The Hobbit smiled and shook his head. "It's still quiet, Gandalf… I hear only the tiniest little voice… a squeak, like a mouse…"

Saruman's dark eyes opened and the ghost of a smile creased his face. "Yes… just an annoying little thing, and no longer capable of influence…" His voice was ragged and hoarse, and had lost nearly all of its former power of persuasion.  "Much, much safer, for any and all who must be near the Thing… I predict that small, irritating voice shall grow more irksome with time… And that may prove useful, in the end, for such a thing shall be a relief to be free of… easier to let go, as it were…"

Frodo fingered the crystal sphere imprisoning the Ring, now so much lighter in weight and so much easier to bear. He recalled the terrifying display of the combined powers of the wizards necessary to momentarily override that Voice for the instant needed for the Fire to congeal itself and surround the Ring. He wondered how much of their strength had been consumed in the process—and whether they would ever recover from it.

Gandalf was frowning as he stared at the encased Ring hanging on Its chain. "Make no mistake, Frodo," he said quietly. "The power of Sauron's Ring is only contained, for a time. Neither Saruman nor I have sufficient strength to hold it at bay for very long. The Quest must still proceed, and as quickly as possible…"

"Indeed," Saruman rasped. "Eventually It shall break free, I fear… and Its anger shall be all the greater for this time of Its captivity…  And thus should my recommended actions unfold as soon as can be…"

At those words, the murmuring voices of the Fellowship fell silent. Each member of the Company looked up. One by one they exchanged glances with one another and with the two Istari, until all had nodded their assent.

"To a night of rest, then," Glorfindel said as he rose from his place by the table. "For tomorrow, the real work begins."

***

The next few months were spent in intense, secret diplomacy. Glorfindel and Mithrandir traveled to the hidden realm of Lothlorien, Saruman, Aragorn and Halbarad journeyed to Minas Tirith, and Ovoramdir was sent with messages to Fangorn, Radagast and Thranduil. Only Nimdoron and Beleg remained in Isengard with the Bearer and his servant, and they spent their time in training the two inexperienced Hobbits in preparation for the task ahead.

In later years it was told how the unlikely friendships formed during those months would prove immeasurably valuable, for the bond forged between wise, quiet Nimdoron and Frodo on the one hand and true-hearted, humble Beleg and Sam on the other eventually bore the most remarkable fruit.  And, it was said, unlikely friendships were perfectly fitting for the end of the Third Age, the Age of The Unlikely Alliance.

In February of the following year, The Enemy was assailed on three fronts at once. An invading army of Elves, led by Celeborn and Mithrandir, laid siege to Dol Guldur, intent on breaking the dark enchantments that protected it and destroying the Nazgul who commanded there. Simultaneously, the Black Gate was assaulted by the combined forces of Gondor, Rohan, the Army of The Dead led by Isildur's Heir and his lieutenant, a battalion of the Onodrim, and under the command of Saruman, the most unlikely of allies: ten thousand Uruk soldiers utterly loyal to the Lord and Wizard who had bred them.

Third, and secret, was an infiltration over the highest and least known pass over the shield of mountains that ringed the Enemy's land: Cirith Ungol. Glorfindel and Ovoramdir led the way, and engaged the great Spider in combat, allowing Frodo, Sam, Nimdoron and Beleg to pass through into Mordor unseen by the eyes of any foe.

And when the Ring—still encased in the solidified powers of the two most powerful of the Istari—went into the Fire, an Elf of Rivendell and a Ranger of the North were there to carry the two Halflings through the treacherous, flaming and erupting landscape of the horror that was Mount Doom unleashed.

When the tally of loss was taken, among the many thousands who were lost were the two Wizards, Gandalf and Saruman, who fell in their respective battles, and Glorfindel, the great Elf-Lord, who gave his life in combat with Shelob. All three powerful beings found rest and Healing in the Halls of Mandos before finding fitting rewards. The Truest Friends, Beleg and Nimdoron, died of wounds and burns obtained in their astonishing feat of bringing the Hobbits to safety.

But the stubborn will of Denethor the Steward of Gondor was overruled by popular demand and the unanimous voice of the Council of Gondor, and Aragorn son of Arathorn and the King of the Dead was crowned King of Gondor and Arnor. And though the Fourth Age was not without its difficulties—war between Lothorien and Moria; never ending invasions from Khand into the realms of Erebor and Dale; and constant skirmishes between Umbar and Gondor—the lands knew peace as had not been seen in Middle Earth in many an age.

And a certain Hobbit-gentleman settled down in Bag End, married Pearl Took, and employed his friend Sam Gamgee until the end of both of their days.

***

Version Two.

The Company chose a cleft of rock, high in the wall of the Vale of Isen, hidden from searching eyes that might look from below, but within sight of the Gate of Isengard. Close enough that the keen eyes of the Elves could pick out individual guards as they paced in their ceaseless patrol, but far enough that the shuffling and low tones of speech of the three Dunedain, three Elves and two Hobbits were well-muffled by the wind.

Aragorn stood at Glorfindel's side as they watched for any sign of the wizard. Hours passed, and the steep walled vale was shadowed by the coming of evening. Yet they saw no sign of the setting Sun, nor did Star or Moon shine through the thick mists. Dull gloom pressed down upon them, pushing their already wary and fretful spirits even lower.

"What say you, Glorfindel?" Aragorn muttered,as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Company's unofficial second-in-command. "Does your heart speak the same warning that does mine?"

The Elf-Lord seemed to glow with an inner fire that could not be obscured by the darkening air. Yet his mood did not match his appearance.

"I have never trusted Curunir, I will admit it," he replied gruffly. "Indeed, Mithrandir and I have spoken of little else for many leagues and many days… I fear the worst, if you would know what my heart says."

"What, then, should we do?"

"We can but wait, until the hour he named has come…"

"And if that time passes with no word…"

"Then we should away from this place with all haste…with or without him…"

"Agreed."

The minutes passed as slowly as it seemed it was possible, and every member of the Fellowship watched the shadowy form of the gate with breaths held and muscles tense. But their fear that the deadline set by the wizard would come without a signal—and force a harsh decision upon them—was not realized.

A sudden flash of light appeared in the darkness, and the eyes of three Elves, three Men, and two Hobbits were fixed upon it.

The mists had parted, and the black Tower of Orthanc was abruptly illuminated by a jagged, green-blue spear of light that seemed to come from halfway up the tower. It was gone in an instant—but an instant later, reappeared.

"There!" Halbarad said sharply. "What was that…"

"That was made by Gandalf, I would swear by it," Aragorn growled as he drew Anduril from its sheath and shoved his way forward.

Glorfindel was leaning from the precipice at the edge of the hidden cleft. "Listen!" hissed.

A deep, booming voice came from the darkness, echoing upon the valley walls. But the source was so far off, they could catch only a few words.

"…fly… you… fools…"

***

Gandalf had seized his one chance to warn his friends, and lunged through the doors that led to Saruman's high balcony. Tossing two lightning bolts, one immediately after the other, he momentarily beat back the horde of Orcs that Saruman had unleashed upon him. He ran to the rail and shouted as loudly as he could into the darkness.

"I was wrong, you must fly from here, my friends! All of you were right! I was a fool!"

His next words were cut off as Orcs overwhelmed him.

"Place him upon the high platform," Saruman said icily, "where he can see the results of his arrogant insolence..."

***

The Eight Companions tried mightily to follow Gandalf's final command. But two thousand Uruks thundered out of the gate of Isengard, and within hours they were all in chains, imprisoned in the dungeons of Orthanc. Before dawn Saruman was wearing the One Ring upon his hand. He came but once to the high platform.

"No…Saruman, no! Don't be a fool… No one but He can wield that Thing! It is utterly subservient to His will…"

"A fool? You call me a fool?" Saruman laughed wildly, as he held up the shimmering Ring that flashed upon his finger in the rising sunlight. "You are the fool—but had just the wit required for my ends. You played your role perfectly, and right into my hands!" With a swish of his robes he yanked the door behind him and vanished down the stairs into the Tower, leaving Gandalf alone upon the pinnacle.

From that high place he watched in horror as Glorfindel, Nimdoron, Ovoramdir, Halbarad, Beleg, and Sam Gamgee were driven out onto an open place within the walls of the fortress of Isengard. Thousands of Uruks, Wargs and Orcs circled around them, gloating and taunting them. Samwise lasted but an hour. Beleg died next, then Halbarad. The Elves of Rivendell managed to survive until near to sundown of that day, encircled by the bodies of their slain foes. Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower fell just one hour before dawn, after nearly an entire day of battle. The bodies of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring were dismembered and mutilated, and displayed on pikes in full view of the Tower.

That Frodo and Aragorn had not been among those driven to their deaths was no comfort to the wizard. It was left to his own vivid imaginings to wonder what miseries they were enduring at the hand of Saruman, the basest and vilest traitor that had ever lived. And yet the fault lies upon my head, he whispered to himself over and over. Why was I such a fool? Why did I ignore warning after warning…

 

Two months passed, and nothing happened: no word came of the fate of the Ring-Bearer or the Heir of Isildur; no food or water was brought to the high platform. Then everything exploded at once.

A massive army appeared, filling the hillsides and thronging out as far as Gandalf could see from the pinnacle of the Tower, in black livery and carrying the standard of Mordor: The Fiery Eye in red upon a field of black. Nine Dreadful Riders rode in the vanguard. Within three days Isengard's impregnable walls shattered and fell under the force of the stone-breaking spells cast by the Nazgul. The armies poured into the gaps and scoured through Isengard. Fire blasted through the valley, blackening everything in sight. Every stone that stood upon another was thrown down. The Tower itself they could not destroy; but not so what was within it. Every living being they encountered was slaughtered—save for three.

Saruman, Aragorn, and Frodo were taken in chains and placed into barred cages upon carts. As the brutal caravan rumbled away toward the East, the Witch King appeared at the doorway to the platform upon the pinnacle of the Tower. He held a bundle wrapped in black silk cradled in one hand.

His hissing laughter stabbed through the air like a frigid wind.

"We have not forgotten you, Old Fool," he hissed. "Soon, the Dark Lord's conquest shall be complete, as His stolen property is at last brought to Him, and His Power is restored fully. The traitor, Saruman, and two others—the ragged Heir of an abased House of wandering vagabonds, and the hapless, witless little sniveling creature unfortunate enough to have had you as a friend—shall now be brought to a greater Black Tower. There, they shall live out their days in torment, for as long and as slowly as the Arts of Barad-Dur can devise…and they shall have you to thank for their suffering, Old Man…"

The wizard was nearly crushed with anguish. His fists were clenched at the sides of his head and his eyes were squeezed shut as the Witch King approached him.

"My Lord and Master is generous of spirit," he whispered gloatingly. Gandalf flinched at the closeness of the Nazgul's icy breath. "Take this… and ever and anon, look within… and see what you have wrought."

With trembling hands, Gandalf took the bundle—already knowing what was within it. His last hope quailed within him and a dark despair fell over him.

As the Witch King spun on his heel and left, he whispered over his shoulder. "Thus shall be a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey…"

As the door slammed shut, the wizard fell to his knees upon the platform, alone.

***

The Tower of Orthanc rose like a spike of shadow against the whiteness of October upon the peaks of the Misty Mountains. Winter had come early to the Mountains—indeed, Winter had come to stay. Spring had died, and Summer had withered, never to return. The skies were always dark now, with heavy clouds full of ash and the threat of yet more snow. Fierce, icy wind tore at the tower, but to no avail. The stone was unmoved, untouched. At its summit, between its four pillars, stood the high platform where men seeking wisdom and knowledge had once peered up at the skies, studying the movement of the Stars. But no one had sought wisdom from that place in a long time. All about the Tower, the vale was black. Nothing moved. Nothing lived. No one had entered or left Orthanc in nearly a year.

Upon the platform, a bundle of cloth lay, twisted and tangled. Beneath the rotting grey fabric, a figure was sprawled. If it had once been a living, vital creature, it must have been a Man, for a tangled mat of grizzled hair and a scraggly beard emerged from one end of the bundle of cloth. What remained of a head was shrunken to hardened, darkened skin, clinging to bone. One skeletal hand could be seen, reaching out toward—or perhaps pushing away from—a globe of crystal.

Nearly one full year had passed since the Grey Wizard had vanished from the sight of the remaining Eight Walkers of the Fellowship of The Ring. The Fourth Age—the Age of Sauron—had begun. Darkness had fallen over Middle Earth. The Dark Lord had conquered all resistance. Rivendell had been burned to the ground. Lothlorien was ravished, every tree cut down at the root or set to flame. Mirkwood… Erebor… Dale… Gondor… Rohan… Dol Amroth… the harbors of the Grey Havens… Every realm had been taken; all rebellion had been squashed. What few Elves remained upon these shores now lived hidden, secretive lives in the hollows of deep forests. For producing one who dared defy the Dark Lord and hold His Precious Ring from him, every Halfling had been hunted down and murdered.

Deep in the dungeons of Barad-dur, only one prisoner taken in the brief War of the Ring remained: Aragorn, son of Arathorn. After six months of torment, Frodo had succumbed to the brutal treatment of his captors, and Saruman had found a way to convince his new Master that his skills and knowledge were more useful as assets than as the reason for ongoing punishment. He had slowly risen in the ranks of the servants of the Dark Lord, until now he was one of Sauron's chief advisors.

And it was upon his advice that, periodically, the Stone of Isil was taken to the dungeons and placed in sight of the Heir of Isildur. Care was taken to bring sufficient light so that the grim scene would be illuminated.

Then a spell would be cast—a tremor sent across the miles. Lightning would split the skies about Orthanc, and the ruined earth would rumble and shake. A globe of crystal would rock back and forth, and roll forward with the motion of the trembling Tower.

The globe would come to rest directly in front of what remained of the face of the shriveled creature that lay upon the platform. Deep in the heart of the stone, an Eye would flicker, rimmed with Fire—and the Flames would seem to leap and dance with mocking laughter.

Slowly, painfully, the man's eyes would open. He would look into the Stone and see what was transpiring many hundreds of miles away. He would be forced to witness as one in whom he had placed so much hope, to whom he had given so much friendship, and for whom he took all responsibility for his fate, was tortured, yet again. Sometimes, their eyes would meet across the hundreds of miles. Two old friends—a Mortal Man, and an Istar—would briefly connect, and see one another's profound sorrow and agony, and the knowledge that the other saw and knew served only to increase their pain.

And so he would watch, eyes fully open and mind painfully aware and alert—for to do so was the only thing he could do. It was his only remaining task—to bear witness. He vowed to remain alive to see it through until it ended. It was only for this last vestige of friendship that he still lived… for everything else had failed.

And it was all his fault.

 

…The "Ends"…. And feel free to weigh in through comments on which version is the "right" one!


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: Aiwendiel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/28/12

Original Post: 03/22/12

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Comments

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Safe In Isengard

ziggy - 01 Dec 12 - 10:46 AM

Ch. 4: A Fitting Reward?

WEll... I don't think either one is 'right' because htey both work, but the second is a really bleak and depressing end- but the tragedy works with the meeting of eyes and bearing witness. And hte first works although the amount of action that is in it means you cant give it the depth or emotional intensity that the second has. Both are a treat to read and that exploration of what if...is fascinating.


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