Thrice Returned

by Nefertiti

Pairings: Gandalf/Saruman (he wishes!), Gandalf/Frodo (latter absent; established relationship), Saruman/Frodo (threatened).

Summary: Saruman reveals to Gandalf why he has kept him prisoner atop Orthanc.

Warning: No sex, but lotsa nasty talk. Threatened non-consensual sex and rape. Angst.

Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to these characters; this story is offered purely for the enjoyment of fans

Author's note: Book-based. This story assumes that Saruman has long been in love with Gandalf. (There is some motivation for this in Tolkien's "Concerning Gandalf, Saruman and the Shire" in Unfinished Tales, where Saruman's intense jealousy and hatred of Gandalf could be interpreted as some sort of warped love). The action takes place on September 18, 3018, the evening when Gwaihir rescues Gandalf from Orthanc. (The wizard had been imprisoned on July 10.) The basic situation of the imprisonment comes from Gandalf's description of Saruman's treachery in "The Council of Elrond."

This series began with a sequel to Poncing Ponies' lovely story, "Twice Given"; my thanks to her for welcoming a sequel by another hand and being so encouraging and helpful. Many thanks also to Elanor for betaing, encouragement, wonderful suggestions, and general wizard-slash discussions.

Part 4: Full Moon over Isengard

Gandalf stretched his legs and tried for perhaps the thousandth time to find a comfortable position. He was seated on the hard surface of the pinnacle of Orthanc, his back against the bottom of one of the four great horns of stone that topped the tower.

Was there any more deadly combination of emotions than stark fear and utter boredom? he wondered. He had been Saruman's prisoner now for 71 days exactly. One of Gandalf's gifts was always to know the precise time and date (according to any calendar in use in Middle-earth), just as he could always tell which direction was north-even on a cloudy night or in a cave. Why in Arda had Saruman not sent him to Barad-Dûr yet? That had seemed to be his intention when Gandalf first arrived and they had their memorable argument about the Ring. Surely Sauron was only too eager to get Gandalf into his dungeons for perpetual torture-especially since Saruman would presumably have told Sauron that their prize prisoner knew where the Ring was. And just as surely Saruman must have some foul reason of his own for delaying or avoiding dispatching his prisoner to the Dark Lord. Presumably the transfer would involve sending messengers to Mordor to announce the capture of one of Sauron's most powerful and persistent opponents, and arrangements would have to be made. Yet messengers could have gone back and forth between Isengard and the Dark Tower several times by now. What was Saruman up to?

Gandalf pushed his dread of Sauron's wrath and cruelty to the back of his mind and tried to concentrate on devising a method of escape. He had run over the same slim set of ideas so many times. He had long since ceased to add any new plans to the small stock of impossible ones he had replayed endlessly. There just seemed to be no way to remove oneself from a 500-foot pinnacle of solid rock with nothing to aid one. No rope, no tools. No way to overpower the guards who delivered his meager meals, since more guards always waited outside the door, blocking the head of the long stairway. The door itself was so hard that it hurt his knuckles to rap against it, and there was no crack under it, no keyhole-nothing. Saruman had not bothered to take his staff. It was rendered useless in this fell place, engulfed in the immense power that the treacherous wizard had patiently woven about his fortress and himself. As a slender length of wood, it was not of much use. He had pondered whether he could draw upon the power of his Elven Ring, Narya. But those Rings had been made for healing and protection, not aggression. Besides, its special strengths lay in the domain of fire, and there was nothing here to burn. He had briefly considered attacking Saruman with flame, but Saruman's own magic would undoubtedly protect him. Gandalf had not forgotten the ring Saruman now wore, though he had no way of knowing whether it actually conferred any significant abilities on its wearer. Clearly, Saruman had been accumulating power in ways that were forbidden to the Istari, and Gandalf had no wish to test the other wizard's limits.

What was Frodo doing? He returned to his third and final subject of contemplation. Ideally his lover was safe in Rivendell by now, but if he was not . . . He winced at the thought of the Black Riders arriving at Bag End, or intercepting Frodo in Bree, or coming upon him and Sam in the long stretches of wilderness between there and Elrond's safe haven.

Gandalf had to give Saruman credit. He had learned about the Shire long before Sauron had. Saruman had had spies there for many years now. He had even gone there occasionally himself once upon a time. Gandalf used to laugh at Saruman's petty jealousy and haughty disapproval of his own interest in such trivial beings as hobbits. Whatever the original motives for such obsessive prying had been, however, Saruman had picked up news of bigger doings in the Shire. Now, Gandalf realized, Saruman could pose nearly as great a threat to the Ringbearer as did the Dark Lord himself. How to protect Frodo?

Once again he returned to the thought of escape. No rope, no tools . . . Pointless!

Ordinarily when Gandalf was alone-and he often was in the course of his travels-he could relax and call upon the vast resources of his memory to entertain himself. Now, though, all those events seemed unimportant and failed to occupy his mind. The only thing that diverted him from his dismal reflections was his recollections of the precious days he had spent with Frodo since they had become lovers: only a total of a few months over the past seventeen years. In fact, only three days earlier they had passed the seventeenth anniversary of their first time together. He wondered if Frodo had remembered it-but of course he had. He always remembered such things. Gandalf felt a bit less desperate as he thought back over their days of making love, sitting in the warm kitchen at Bag End, walking in the fields and woods of the Shire, making love again . . .

These healing thoughts were interrupted by the ponderous grinding of the heavy door. His meals came irregularly and at annoyingly long intervals, so he hoped that this was simply another delivery-until he saw Saruman's white hair and shimmering robe emerge from the open stairwell. "Pretentious fool!" Gandalf thought, as he always did when he saw the absurd robe, multi-colored and indicative of Saruman's blind ambitions to gather the powers of all wizards to himself.

Saruman looked around the large area of the pinnacle. It was dusk, and Gandalf was difficult to notice against the dark stone, dressed all in grey and sitting motionless with lowered head in the shadows. Gandalf did not rise as Saruman walked over and stood before him, for that would look like a sign of respect. He hated these occasional visits from Saruman. The other wizard had never again tried to persuade Gandalf to become his ally, either in league with Sauron or in a conspiracy against him. He knew now that Gandalf could never be persuaded. Saruman seemed, however, unable to refrain from taunting his captive, reveling in his fallen state. At least, Gandalf reflected, he had not turned to torture-yet.

"Well, Gandalf, are you thinking interesting thoughts? It is not very comfortable up here, is it? You probably miss your agreeable days in that little rustic Shire of which you are so fond. I never have understood why someone with your mind would be content to sit by the fire in a common pub, sipping ale and trading petty gossip with a passel of simpletons."

Gandalf raised his head to glance at Saruman from under his hat brim, then lowered it again. Stiff from sitting so long, he struggled to his feet and strolled away from Saruman, surveying the distant mountains as the last tinge of the sunset faded from their peaks. This daily reminder of his home in the Uttermost West always brought a longing to his heart, even when he was in the Shire with Frodo. He wondered if Saruman ever thought any more about the West, the Sea-

Saruman chuckled softly. "There is no place for you to go where you cannot hear me, Gandalf, much though you pretend to ignore me. As I was saying, you must miss all those trivial diversions, the pipeweed, the generous meals, the randy little hobbits, so willing to join you in the private rooms at the inns."

This was a new twist, Gandalf reflected. Saruman had made barbed comments about his smoking at the last Council meeting, but he had never mentioned his sex life. "Really, Saruman, your spies have been very thorough. Why have you bothered to set them to follow me all these years? Such small doings can hardly interest a vast intellect like yours. It's confusing. I can hardly tell your spies from Sauron's."

Saruman smiled with quiet triumph. "Spies who look long enough for trivial matters may inadvertently uncover more important ones-as I learned when they found indications about the Ring. And frankly, it amuses me to hear of your dalliances with these little creatures. It's quite funny, when you think about it."

Gandalf definitely wanted to keep the conversation away from the Ring, so he replied lightly, "Saruman, you dislike my smoking pipeweed, you scoff at my drinking ale, you disapprove of my sex life. Are you going to criticize all of my little pleasures? I recall telling you that you should try smoking yourself-and in fact I know you secretly have done so. I might add that if you indulged in a bit of sexual activity once in a while, it might improve your disposition and perhaps even your mind-which seems to be straying into narrow, muddy paths."

Saruman stood staring at Gandalf, then moved slowly toward him until he had backed the other wizard up against another of the tower's pointed horns. Quietly but intensely he said, "Maybe I will take your advice, Gandalf. Perhaps I do need a bit more pleasure in my life." He was staring at Gandalf with a strange, cold glint of rage in his eye, and Gandalf's heart began to race. Was this it, finally, the moment when Saruman would torture and question him about the Ring?

He was wholly unprepared for what happened next. Saruman stepped up to him, pushing his body hard against the rough stone and pinning it there with his own. Gandalf's hat, which he had so often used to shield himself from Saruman's gaze, fell to the pavement. A powerful hand gripped Gandalf's jaw and forced his mouth wide open. Clumsily Saruman pressed his lips against Gandalf's and pushed his long tongue deep inside, moving it insistently as Gandalf struggled to break away. Although Gandalf was still quite strong, ten weeks of short rations and physical inactivity had left him distinctly weaker than Saruman, whose other hand held his arm in an iron grip.

At last Saruman pulled back and stared into Gandalf's face. Despite his revulsion and shock, Gandalf tried to keep his voice steady. "Well . . . I must admit, I had absolutely no idea. Such an absurd notion would never occur to me. Here I assumed you set your spies on me because you considered me dangerous in some way. I suppose I should feel flattered. But as you may have sensed, your tender affection is not reciprocated." He managed a contemptuous little smirk, though his lips ached.

Saruman replied with carefully contained fury. "You should not be so insolent, Gandalf! You are utterly in my power. I can do with you whatever I want."

This time he grasped Gandalf's head on both sides, spreading the long, powerful fingers out to hold him fast as the thumbs pushed his chin down once more. The kiss was even more invasive and savage than before, and it seemed to go on for minutes. When Saruman finally withdrew again, Gandalf touched a finger to his lower lip and found blood on it. "I can't say much for your seduction techniques, Saruman. I told you you needed to get more pleasure in Middle-earth. Your inexperience and desperation are showing."

Saruman suddenly raised his arm, his hand poised to strike Gandalf across the face, but he mastered his rage and lowered it again. Gandalf shook his head. "Really, you're too easy to tease, Saruman. You should develop a thicker skin and a sense of humor. I've always thought so. Odd, how I'm always telling you things you should do, and you're always telling me things I shouldn't. You've never discovered the little joys of this continent that we are supposed to be protecting, have you?"

Saruman took a step toward the other wizard, his face lowering. Gandalf looked into his eyes with calm contempt. "You can force me if you wish, obviously. But be warned, Saruman, I shall resist to the best of my ability to the end, and though you would undoubtedly overpower me-especially if you are coward enough to have your minions help you-it would be a nasty, painful business for you as well as me, I assure you. Unless you enjoy that sort of thing, I would advise against it. I suppose you could drug me, but you won't, will you? You want me to be aware of every single thing you do to me . . . Yes, I thought so."

To Gandalf's surprise, Saruman's face assumed a tiny, dangerous smile. "Yes, you would be strong enough to make it unpleasant for me. But I don't fancy taking you in front of grinning orcs and soldiers. And I don't want just to take you. I want you to do things for me, to me, anything I tell you. And you will, without fighting me, Gandalf. I can wait. There is another way." He paused, savoring the other wizard's puzzled little frown. "I have just learned that there is one in the Shire who is particularly dear to you. Isn't that true, Gandalf?"

Gandalf blanched and stared at his captor intently. This game had suddenly become far more perilous. Saruman went on, openly triumphant. "You may ridicule my spies, but they are very clever, and the locals are prone to gossip. It was in that way that I learned about your little hobbit friend who disappeared so spectacularly at his birthday party some years back. Obviously he had the Ring, and you used that overly dramatic way to spirit him off to some safe hiding place. You should have been a bit more discreet about it, and it might never have reached my ears. The denizens of the Shire still recount it as a choice story. I must admit, though, that you have concealed his whereabouts very effectively, and my agents are still searching for him. But they will find him, and the Ring, eventually-have no doubt of that. In the meantime, however, they have picked up some fascinating, if rather scurrilous, news about your habits while in the Shire. For a long time your visits there involved only the occasional brief fling. But now there is a little fellow who claims all your time and attention."

Gandalf struggled to hide how much this turn in the conversation frightened him. It was a relief to know that Saruman was on the wrong track in his hunt for the Ring-but if he threatened Frodo . . . . He had always known that Saruman was jealous of him for some reason, but how had he never seen the obsession behind it? He knew the answer: Saruman was brilliant-the only one capable of deceiving him for long.

Despite Gandalf's efforts, Saruman could see how disturbed he was, and he began to taunt him more openly. "I'm sure you would be delighted to be reunited with your lover. It could happen very easily-here. Yes, I would like to meet this hobbit of yours. I'm told he is very pretty. And if he can hold the attention of a mighty Istar, then he must be quite talented as well."

By this time Gandalf could barely contain his rage and fear. He stood rigid, staring at the floor, his teeth clenched and his arms folded. Surreptitiously he dug his fingertips painfully into his upper arms to restrain himself from replying to Saruman's jibes, which would only inflame him further. How had that great mind, once so admirable, come to this?

Saruman's delight and excitement were mounting, and he went on with glittering eyes, "Do you find his body irresistible, Gandalf? What is his secret? Does he have tiny pert nipples? Does he know how to pleasure you especially well? Does his little tongue make you squirm and cry out when he licks your cock? Does he taste good when he comes in your mouth? Hmmm?"

Gandalf was silent for a moment, then said steadily, "I will pay you this one compliment, Saruman, though it will be the last you ever get from me. I had not thought you capable of sinking so low. Obviously I was mistaken. Again, it's odd how the only mistakes I have made here in Middle-earth turn out to be entirely due to you."

Saruman laughed. He was finding it immensely exciting to speak about such things to Gandalf and to watch him fume. He had never used some of these words before, but he knew them well from the coarse talk of the Orcs and men he had constantly about him. He found they came easily to his tongue now. "My spies have told me much, Gandalf. Of course, they can't see everything, but there are apparently rumors that you have quite a generous endowment. I shall find out for myself eventually, of course. I hope it's true-I would enjoy that. But in the meantime, tell me this. Isn't your size rather inconvenient for your poor little hobbit? How much can you force inside him? Do you ram the whole thing into his ass? Do you make him squeal when you do it? Or perhaps, despite being so short, hobbits have special capacities in that regard. Maybe it's very easy to bugger them, eh, Gandalf? . . . Well, you don't need to answer my indiscreet questions. I confess, I'm simply curious to find out what can make a great mind like yours turn to straw when a mere hobbit climbs into bed with you. But I will curb my curiosity for now, and soon enough I will experience for myself the delights that this little chap has to offer. And while we await his arrival, I can visit you and enliven your weary hours by telling you about all the ways I will take him, over and over. His ass must be a joy to ream, wouldn't you say? Tight beyond imagining, I should think. Hot and moist and tiny, yes? But I'm forgetting-you're not answering my questions, are you? Well, I'm sure you miss him inordinately. Soon, however, you'll be able to see a great deal of him. I'll make sure you have an excellent view of everything I do to him."

Gandalf was trembling by this point, thinking how easy it would be for Saruman's agents to lure Frodo away from Bag End, pretending to bring a message on his own behalf. If Frodo thought someone would take him to Gandalf, he would follow him eagerly. He could probably even be enticed away from Rivendell. Gandalf had mentioned Saruman to Frodo as being his superior, and Elrond would probably not discourage the hobbit from responding to a message purporting to be from the two wizards. Provoked out of his usual caution, Gandalf lashed out at his tormentor. "Saruman, I swear, I shall escape, and I shall protect him! He will never come within hundreds of miles of you or your accursed tower! By threatening him, you have made a terrible mistake-worse even than if you had forced yourself on me!"

Saruman laughed, almost lightheaded with joy at having at last found a means of triumphing over Gandalf. His agile mind was leaping ahead. Of course it would be amusing to rape the hobbit in front of Gandalf-but that was not really the point. He would attain something he wanted far more, for surely Gandalf would buy his beloved's safety with his own body. He would have Gandalf without a struggle. He would be able to demand that Gandalf pleasure him in any way he wished. He stared at Gandalf's thin lips and imagined the other wizard docilely knealing before him, closing those lips around his cock. He was becoming aroused at the thought, but it would not do to press his advantage too soon. No, he would have to be in a position to humiliate Gandalf for all those insolent remarks at the Council meetings, embarrassing him before the other members. And if Gandalf's hobbit was really as pretty and talented as he suspected-he could have him as well, later on. Gandalf would be powerless to stop it.

Aloud he simply said unconcernedly, "How could you possibly escape? If there were a way, you would have found it after more than two months."

Gandalf was again cold and silent, refusing to respond to Saruman's jibes. Saruman knew he should leave on that note, but all his threats concerning what he would do to Frodo and to Gandalf were definitely making him harden. His body wanted the other wizard then and there. Irresistably drawn to make a final effort, he moved close to Gandalf once more. Gandalf tensed as he heard Saruman's labored breathing and felt the heat of his body. "Of course, Gandalf, I would not have to carry out my little plan if you submit to me now."

Gandalf rapidly considered his options. Would Saruman keep his word? If he thought there was the least chance of it, he would do what he asked, revolting though the thought was. But surely there was no reason to think Saruman would keep faith. He would almost certainly kidnap Frodo anyway. What about escape? True, he had not found the means in ten weeks. Yet he must escape, he must save Frodo. If he refused to submit to Saruman, the treacherous wizard might become impatient-he was clearly aroused to a dangerous level even now-and force him anyway. Surely a man capable of raping a defenseless hobbit-or of even talking about such a thing-would not have any compunction about having his servants subdue Gandalf-perhaps tying him down and leaving him for Saruman's private pleasure. But Saruman wanted Gandalf's subservience as well, and he was probably capable of controlling himself until he could coerce it. If indeed Saruman waited and brought Frodo to Orthanc, Gandalf could offer his own body to Saruman then. On the whole, defying Saruman and hoping against hope to escape seemed the only real option.

It took only a moment for Gandalf to think all this through, and he knew Saruman had considered all the same possibilities.

As if to confirm this, Saruman smiled. Already very close to Gandalf, he moved around to position himself behind the other wizard's shoulder. He stared at Gandalf for a moment, then reached around and slipped his fingers under the grey cloak and between the buttons of the shirt underneath until they found the nipple. Gandalf hear Saruman's breath catch in his throat as he encountered it. He began to pant as he rubbed his fingertips delicately over it, feeling its shape and the way it hardened involuntarily under his touch. His arousal was growing as he continued to pull and twist the little nub. He began to speak into Gandalf's ear, and the grey wizard realized with a shock that Saruman had abruptly switched tactics. He was putting forth all his effort to use the almost magical appeal of his voice to seduce his victim. Saruman watched Gandalf's face for any sign of reaction, either to his fingers' movements or to his words.

"Does that feel good, Gandalf? It has been a long time since you have had anyone, has it not? More than two months since you left your delectable little hobbit. You must need it very badly by now. And from what I hear, you have not been the sort to turn down such pleasure when it is offered to you. I'm afraid I have been overhasty in my eagerness, but I'm sure I could give you the joys that you so sorely miss. I grant that I am not as experienced as you, far from it, but I learn quickly. I think you would enjoy some of the things that I have in mind for us to do together. You must admit that your willingness to bed such creatures as hobbits is a bit embarrassing to the mighty order to which we both belong. You are meant for better things, Gandalf. Only you and I are really worthy of each other . . ."

He would have continued, but the unfamiliar and intimate feel of Gandalf's skin under his fingers made Saruman close his eyes and gasp raggedly. As the blood rushed in his ears, he wondered whether it was worth waiting. Did it really matter so much if Gandalf submitted to him? The thought of pinning the other wizard and pushing into him inflamed him until he felt dizzy. Even then, however, he remembered what Gandalf had said about resisting. The grey wizard might be thin, but Saruman could feel the compact, hard pectoral muscles under his fingers. Subduing Gandalf would not be easy, he realized, and he might be badly hurt in the process. The thought dampened his passion somewhat.

Gandalf had taken a deep breath and held it during much of Saruman's speech, gritting his teeth. How could Saruman delude himself that his seductive voice could make Gandalf forget all his threats against Frodo? How could he possibly think that Gandalf might actually find any of this appealing? The whole thing was ludicrous. Saruman's fingers were awakening nothing but a deeper sense of revulsion. Gandalf suppressed his desire to whirl and strike out and defend himself. Instead he simply said quietly and firmly, "You shall not have me, Saruman. Not now, not ever."

Saruman's fingers stopped moving, then pinched hard for a moment, and Gandalf could not suppress a brief grimace of pain. Slowly Saruman withdrew his hand and walked to the stairwell. The door below opened, and a shaft of light picked out his figure against the darkness as he turned back and calmly said, "I know why you are doing this, Gandalf, and it will not avail you. There is no way of escape. The Men of Numenor did their work well when they created this tower. Even an Istar cannot find a flaw. I know-I have lived here many, many years, and I have spent countless evenings on this roof. For my amusement, I have thought long about what I would do, if I were a prisoner here myself. I would hardly leave you up here alone if I thought there were any possible means of escape I have never found a way. Neither will you. There is still time for you to protect this silly little creature on whom you dote so. Submit your body to my desires, Gandalf. If you satisfy me in all the ways I want, then I shan't bother sending for the hobbit. I could, but I would not. You are what I really want. I shall have you, and not by force, sooner or later, whatever you may say-and you know it."

As he disappeared down the stairs, Gandalf sank to sit against the hard stone once more and wait until his breathing and pulse slowed to normal. He was as near to sheer despair as he had ever been. He had underestimated Saruman. The wizard was more powerful than he had thought-perhaps enough to defy the gods themselves and throw their plans and hopes for Middle-earth off course forever. How could he counter such malevolent power? He had been only one of five sent to guide Middle-earth through its dangers. Now he was deserted by all the others. How could he do the work of five, especially when opposed by the most powerful of them all? Perhaps this was truly the end; after two thousand of years of struggle, perhaps he would have to admit defeat.

But he could not give up. The one thought that he clung to was that at all costs he had to reach Frodo. And if he could manage that, the quest to destroy the Ring would still have to go forward-assuming he and Elrond could persuade others among the Wise to follow that course. Now there would be one more powerful and malicious force against which he would have to protect Frodo. But he would face that when he came to it.

At least he finally understood the answer to his question about Sauron. When he first arrived at Orthanc, Saruman had said he would be tortured until he revealed the whereabouts of the Ring. Gandalf had simply assumed that the torturer would be Sauron. What had Saruman said at the end? "Until the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey." He had taken the "Ruler" to be Sauron-the Ruler of the Ring. But what if Saruman had been referring to himself? At some point he had decided to risk keeping Gandalf for his own carnal purposes. Perhaps it had been when he first learned that the Ring might be in the Shire. That must be it. Now he was somehow stalling Sauron, making excuses not to send the prisoner. Part of Saruman's plan in summoning Gandalf to Orthanc had been to find the Ring. Even if he could not force Gandalf to reveal Bilbo's whereabouts, Saruman could keep him from protecting or warning the hobbit while the wizard's agents searched for him. Once he had the Ring, he could keep Gandalf for himself in defiance of Sauron, who might well be helpless to oppose him-assuming that Saruman knew how to wield the One. He probably did to a considerable extent, having studied the great rings so thoroughly.

It occurred to Gandalf that there was a bright side to all this-a pathetically feeble one, to be sure. Given a stark choice between eternal torment by Sauron and staying here for all time as Saruman's plaything, the latter had to be preferable. Maybe Saruman is right and his technique will improve, Gandalf thought with a reluctant little chuckle. He tried to imagine Saruman making tender, passionate love to him. He had a very lively imagination, but it could not conjure up that scene.

His smile faded as another realization came to him. Saruman had probably desired him for many years. Little taunts and glances at Council meetings might have alerted him that Saruman was, in his own perverse way, flirting with him. Saruman had long known that Cirdan had given Narya to Gandalf rather than to himself-that was obviously one of many perceived slights that had fed Saruman's jealousy. And Saruman knew perfectly well that if he could gain the One, he would control the Bearers of the Three. Saruman could order Gandalf to do anything he wanted, and he would not have to use a bit of force. Gandalf closed his eyes wearily and sighed. Everything made perfect sense now-Saruman's spying, his obsession with the Rings.

The dreadful irony was that in trying to gain possession of Gandalf's body, Saruman might well capture Frodo-intending only to use the hobbit as a means of coercing his lover, and yet inadvertently finding the Ring itself. Clearly Saruman's one failure--so far--was that he had not yet put two and two together and realized that Frodo had that great prize. Gandalf wondered again whether he should offer himself to Saruman, as long as there was the slightest chance that that would keep the wizard away from Frodo and the Ring.

Still, he could not entirely give up all hope of thwarting Saruman. It was just not in his nature. He simply had to find a way. Suddenly he snorted briefly, a bitter little chuckle. If he failed, the punishment would be bizarre indeed: spending the rest of eternity-or at least as long as Saruman wanted him-as the wizard's sex slave. Now there was something he never could have imagined in his wildest dreams! Looking down at his white beard and wrinkled hands, he murmured with a puzzled smile, "Why is it that everyone seems to find me so irresistible lately?" Suddenly he recalled something Frodo had said during that first blissful day together: "You're fun!" Gandalf laughed aloud and said to the night air, "Well, I doubt that Saruman thinks I'm fun! And I doubt that he will ever know the joy of having someone think he is fun."

Gandalf realized that perhaps he was beginning to understand why he had been meant to love Frodo. He had initially liked to think of his darling hobbit as something quite separate and isolated from the rest of his life. The moment when Gandalf had tossed the Ring into Frodo's fireplace, however, that situation ceased to be possible. The most important part of the wizard's tasks in Middle-earth would be to destroy the Ring, and he implicitly believed what he had told Frodo: that the hobbit was meant to have the Ring-though Frodo seemed not yet to have understood Gandalf's hints that he must be The Ringbearer until the end. And the chosen Ringbearer was also the one person in Middle-earth that Gandalf was most desperate to protect. It could not be a coincidence. "And that may be a comforting thought," he remembered saying to Frodo. The poor, frightened hobbit had responded, "It is not!" Really, Gandalf thought fondly, Frodo is not always the brightest little fellow. He reached up and touched his swollen lip again, discovering that it was still bleeding a little. Still, he thought, Frodo is a much better kisser than Saruman!

He laughed again, long and quietly, enjoying a tiny respite from his worries in the sheer delight of recalling Frodo-not in danger, not captured by Saruman, but just at home in his hobbit hole in happier days. Finally he got up again and paced slowly across the far-too-familiar stretch of flat paving. The full moon had risen until it was shining down on the tower from a high angle. The wizard leaned against one of the horns of stone and crossed one ankle over the other. He looked wistfully upward, wondering if possibly Frodo was somewhere-preferably Rivendell-looking up at that same moon. He stood thinking about the hobbit for a long time.

Suddenly a large, dark shape crossed the bright disk-a huge pair of wings. Gandalf blinked and stood upright, ceasing for a moment to breathe. The shape circled lower, and Gandalf inhaled deeply. A shudder of relief passed through his entire body. At least Radagast had not entirely deserted him. He managed to assume a calm demeanor and smile as the great bird landed.

"Gwaihir, my friend! I badly need to ask a favor of you!"

TBC in Thrice Returned # 5: Reunion in Rivendell

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