The Grey Shores

by Nefertiti

Disclaimer: No rights claimed, no income earned.

Feedback: Yes, please, but don't bother to tell me that Gandalf having sex squicks you. I am unrepentant. (If you tell me that Gandalf having sex squicked you before but no longer does, you will make my day.)

Summary: After the Council of Elrond, Mithrandir tells Glorfindel what happened during his imprisonment at Orthanc, and they face their impending separation.

Disclaimer: I have no rights; I gain no income.

Author's note: Book-canon. The action begins on October 20, 3018 of the Third Age, with Glorfindel's arrival at Imladris bearing the wounded Frodo, and covers the slightly more than two months before the departure of the Fellowship on the Quest. (Basically the chapters "Many Meetings," "The Council of Elrond," and the beginning of "The Ring Goes South" in The Fellowship of the Ring.)

Immense gratitude to Elanor for betaing, for guiding me through some particularly risky shoals, and for giving her expert seal of approval to the angst at the end. Thanks as ever to Sarah and River Woman for help and encouragement.

Chapter 5

Glorfindel and his companions rode down the last stretch of the winding paths into Imladris as quickly as they dared. The light was beginning to fail, and Asfaloth, though surefooted, was tired and might well stumble after dark. Frodo, however, was fading rapidly. At times Glorfindel thought he had died and had to search anxiously for a faint sign of life in the Hobbit. The fleeting minutes were now far more dangerous than any potential fall from a horse.

At last the group of mounted Elves reached the level path leading over the bridge, through the belt of trees surrounding the Last Homely House, and across the broad lawn. Asfaloth halted before the steps leading up to the main entrance. At once the Elves who had been escorting Glorfindel and the stricken Hobbit from the Fords of Bruinen dismounted, and one came forward to receive Frodo into his arms and carry him quickly into the house. Dusk had fallen by this point, and the golden light from within streamed out suddenly as the door was opened. Glorfindel slid down from Asfaloth and turned the horse over to a groom before hurrying wearily up the stone steps. Now that his mission had been accomplished and Frodo had reached Imladris alive, Glorfindel allowed his mind to turn fully to Mithrandir.

After the flood that swept away the Black Riders had subsided, Glorfindel had crossed and mounted Asfaloth once more, taking Frodo as Aragorn handed the unconscious Hobbit up to him. Before he could move on toward the valley and the House, however, a group of mounted Elves had arrived. Some undertook to escort Glorfindel quickly back to the House, while others lingered to guard Aragorn, the other Hobbits, and their pony as they made their way more slowly along the last part of their road.

As soon as they set out, Glorfindel moved close to Elrohir, who had led the rescue party, casting a beseeching look at him. Before the blond Elf could utter a word, Elrohir reached out to rest a hand on his shoulder and said softly and quickly, "He has arrived and is safe. Mithrandir is awaiting us at the House."

Glorfindel closed his eyes and gasped raggedly. He had not realized how much he had contained his fear until it was relieved. He had tears in his eyes as he looked at Elrohir again. "When did he arrive? Where was he? What kept-"

"He arrived two days ago, on foot. He had journeyed far out of his way to lure the Black Riders away from Frodo and the others, but he took no harm from them. He asked me to tell you that he will explain all and that he longs to see you."

Glorfindel drew a deep breath and smiled shakily. "Then it only remains for me to deliver this brave little fellow to him alive. Let us make haste."

Now, as Glorfindel entered the Last Homely House, he scanned the small group clustered in the hallway. Elrond was lifting Frodo to carry him to a room where he and others could begin to try and draw the Hobbit back from the brink of death. Behind him, Glorfindel spotted the familiar mane of white hair. The Istar was a good six inches shorter than the Elves surrounding him, and Glorfindel had to crane his neck to try and catch his lover's eye. As the small group began to move away with Elrond, Mithrandir noticed Glorfindel and smiled regretfully, gesturing toward Frodo. Glorfindel smiled in return and nodded, and the Istar hurried away beside Elrond.

The Elf felt weak with relief and joy, and he breathed slowly and deeply, then leaned his back against the wall, not caring who witnessed all this. After a few minutes he walked wearily back to his own room to collapse onto his bed, moving quickly into the state of waking dream that passes for sleep among Elves.

Five long, tense days went by, with Mithrandir remaining at Frodo's bedside. At last, after much probing Elrond located the splinter that the Istar had insisted must have remained in the wound, and Frodo at once began to improve rapidly. Eventually late one morning the Hobbit woke, and the Istar had a chance to talk with him. They talked for over an hour, and Mithrandir felt reassured to find that Frodo was already stronger than he would have believed possible. Once Frodo fell asleep again, the wizard felt confident enough about his recovery to leave the sickroom and go to Glorfindel. It was just getting on for noon when Mithrandir knocked quietly at the Elf's door and entered. Glorfindel could see the fatigue in his eyes and took his hand to lead him to a seat by the window. The October sun had warmed the air, and a breeze stirred the white hair and the golden as they embraced and sat quietly in each other's arms for a long time. Finally Mithrandir drew back and looked into Glorfindel's eyes with a tender smile.

Glorfindel found it impossible to smile in return. "Do I need to tell you that I have been frantic with worry over your disappearance? What happened to you? No one I have been able to question since my return seems to know much about it. Such a thing has never happened in all your two thousand years-you, the soul of reliability and punctuality!"

Mithrandir sighed. "It is a long tale, and I cannot possibly tell it to you now. It involved Saruman and a lengthy enforced visit that I paid to him at Orthanc. You shall hear a longer account of my fellow Istar's treachery tomorrow at the Council, my dear Elf. Let us just say for now that our earlier worries about him were more than justified."

Glorfindel stared at him, but clearly the wizard was not inclined to talk further. The Elf laughed quietly. "I find it difficult to believe that we both have been in this house for nearly six days and we have not even kissed properly."

Mithrandir reached up and ran one hand through Glorfindel's hair, pulling the Elf's mouth gently against his own. Instinctively Glorfindel pressed his tongue against the Istar's thin lips, begging for entry, but Mithrandir pulled back. "I am sorry, my sweet Elf, but I am exhausted." He leaned forward heavily against Glorfindel, with his head on his shoulder and his face pressed against his neck, making soft, contented moaning noises every now and then as Glorfindel suppressed his own desire and stroked the wizard's back and shoulders.

At last the wizard sat up and yawned. "I have napped in the chair by Frodo's bedside these five days, to be sure, but I have not had any real sleep during that time. Otherwise-"

"Yes, yes, I am well aware that otherwise you would have been on top of me by now-"

"Yes, or you on top of me." Mithrandir rose and moved to recline on the bed.

Glorfindel lowered himself to lie beside the wizard, supporting himself on his shoulder as he pushed Mithrandir's thick white hair back from his face. "How did you know that there was a splinter in Frodo's wound?"

Mithrandir had closed his eyes, but now he opened them again and shrugged slightly. "I know Hobbits. Frodo would have begun recovering right away if the wound had been thoroughly cleaned. Surely as you brought him here on Asfaloth you sensed his strength."

"Truly, there were many moments when I wondered if he was dead or at least close to it, and I was astonished at how he continued to struggle on."

Mithrandir yawned again and murmured drowsily and affectionately, "Yes, well . . . Hobbits."

Despite himself, Glorfindel pressed the length of his body against his lover's, his penis rapidly swelling. He murmured, "I wish I could make love to you while you sleep, so long have we been apart."

The Istar opened his eyes partway and grinned. "Don't do that! I want to be awake to enjoy that experience. After ten weeks at Orthanc, an arduous journey to reach here, and five days by Frodo's bedside, I assure you, I shall be ready for you-soon."

Glorfindel raised his head to look down into the wizard's face. "Don't worry. I shall strive to be content to lie here for as many hours as you wish, just enjoying having you here and not, for a change, having to agonize about your safety."

Mithrandir raised his head slightly and pulled Glorfindel's down until they could brush their lips together softly, then settled back into the pillow and quickly drifted to sleep.

Lying there beside his sleeping companion, Glorfindel realized suddenly and painfully the full depths of his love for Mithrandir. They had occasionally acknowledged to each other that the hopes that they had so long delayed and tempered were indeed love, but neither dared to think too far about what that meant. Now, however, Glorfindel had gone for months with no news of the Istar. Elves visiting Rivendell from the West had all brought the same story: Mithrandir had vanished in June, mysteriously and completely. The coincidence of the vanishing with the reappearance of the Ringwraiths had left Elrond and him terrified for the Istar's safety.

As time passed, Glorfindel had gradually had to acknowledge in a little corner of his mind that his lover might well be dead. The Elf had volunteered to search the road west of Imladris for Frodo and his companions, for he reasoned that if Mithrandir were alive, he would try to join them. Once he met Aragorn and the Hobbits and learned that even the Ranger had no idea of the Istar's whereabouts, he was near despair. He had clung to hope and focused on helping the Ringbearer reach the safety of Imladris. He realized, however, that if news ever reached him that Mithrandir had indeed been killed, he would plunge into the same dark, fathomless grief that he had felt for Gil-galad. It was supposedly to avoid such grief that he and Mithrandir had made their agreement, not to exchange their hearts too hastily but to hide them away, waiting for the slim chance of a happy outcome to their respective missions.

At this point, all the advice that he had given the Istar about not losing his heart in Middle-earth seemed naïve. His own heart had long since been utterly given. He wondered if Mithrandir's had as well, and whether the Istar was aware of it. Ironically, his own realization came at the worst possible time, and he even felt as if he had betrayed the wizard in a way. Mithrandir was undoubtedly now facing the most dangerous situation of his entire mission in Middle-earth-worse even than his visits to Dol Guldur. A complete declaration of Glorfindel's love at this point would perhaps be too great a burden to place upon Mithrandir, who would soon have to endure a long separation from the Elf. One more worry, one more longing, one more reason to turn back and abandon the Quest.

Inwardly he vowed he would keep quiet, not declaring his love openly now. They had nurtured their hopes for two thousand years, and a few more years should not matter. Yet Glorfindel knew that he would soon see his lover walk away, with more chance than ever that this time he would never return. He ached to pour out his love in dramatic, romantic words and to hear such words from the wizard. He longed to know that, if Mithrandir died while on the Quest, he at least would do so with the Elf's name on his lips. Tears stood in Glorfindel's eyes, but he struggled not to shed them. He lay quietly for three hours as the Istar slept, striving to forget the future and be content with what they could share now.

At last the wizard stirred slightly, and immediately Glorfindel slid closer to him, gently moving his lips over his lover's neck. Mithrandir moaned softly, struggling up from the depths of sleep, and Glorfindel could see the bulge where his erection was rapidly swelling. He brushed the backs of his fingers softly across it, and the wizard gasped. His eyes opened slightly, and he smiled at the Elf. Glorfindel continued his feathery caresses with his fingers as he leaned on his elbow and flicked his tongue delicately into the wizard's ear, not sure just how awake his lover was.

The Istar grinned and stretched, luxuriating in the sensual pleasure, turning his head slightly and presenting his ear more fully to Glorfindel's open mouth. "Now why could it not have been you who lured me away from my duties and locked me up on top of a tower for ten weeks?"

Glorfindel rose to straddle the wizard's slender waist, pinning his wrists gently to the bed at either side of his head. "That's a thought. Elrond hinted that you may be here for weeks or even months. Maybe I shall lock you in this room and make passionate love to you day and night." He leaned down and sucked at the side of Mithrandir's neck.

The Istar could feel Glorfindel's erection pressing against his stomach. He sighed and writhed slightly. "Do so, my good Elf. I am yours for the taking."

Glorfindel straightened up and looked down into the wizard's flushed, aroused face, gently rocking his hips against the hard belly. "But did you have no companionship all that time? You didn't become desperate and seduce Saruman?"

The Istar pulled his hands free to run his fingers up the sides of Glorfindel's thighs, looking up at him with mock seriousness. "By the end I was beginning to entertain that idea. Even the orcs who brought me my meals were not looking quite as ugly by that point."

Glorfindel laughed and leaned down to kiss him deeply and wetly. He pulled up slightly. "Do you mean that I am about to make love to a wizard who has not had anyone in months? A heavy responsibility."

"In a way, though as you can imagine, it would not take much work or skill on your part to bring me to a thunderous climax." Glorfindel shifted until his buttocks were pressing down on the wizard's cock. Mithrandir closed his eyes and whimpered, thrusting gently upward to make certain that the Elf was aware of his rapidly growing desire.

Glorfindel brushed the Istar's beard aside and unbuttoned his shirt, licking his fingers and pinching both nipples. "Oh, I am not afraid of a little work where you are concerned. Maybe it would be more work-and more interesting work-to hold off that climax for a while. Don't you want your return to such pleasures to be memorable?" He pulled the erect nipples up into little peaks.

The Istar half-opened his eyes, panting and looking up at him with a frown. "It will be quite memorable, I am sure, however it happens. Right now, though, I would rather it be rapid and quite . . . lively." He wrapped his arms around Glorfindel's neck and pulled him down into an eager and demanding kiss, humming with arousal into the Elf's mouth. His hands clutched their way down the Elf's back until they were cupping his buttocks and pressed the spread fingers deep into the flesh as he ground Glorfindel's hips against his own. Their erections met and rubbed each other, swelling rapidly to an aching hardness. The Elf realized that his threat to tease Mithrandir during a long, slow build would be absurd. He had been able to enjoy such pleasures many times at Imladris during the previous months, but the wizard had long been deprived and now simply needed relief, intense and quick. He moved down to suck at one nipple and pinch the other. Mithrandir groaned with desperation, demanding satisfaction. He thrust so frantically upward that Glorfindel's torso, although larger than the Istar's, was lifted slightly each time.

Carried away by the wizard's need, Glorfindel reached for the small jar of lubricant on the table beside the bed and rose, pulling the Istar up and turning him to kneel facing the headboard of the bed. Mithrandir gripped it as the Elf quickly knelt between his spread knees. Glorfindel reached around with one hand and unlaced the wizard's trousers, pushing them quickly down to bunch around his knees. The Elf dug a large dollop of the ointment onto his fingers, more than he had intended, spreading it generously over the small puckered opening. He placed the jar back on the table and began to work one and then two fingers inside while stroking the wizard's quivering erection. He saw the Istar's head loll back and his hands clench the edge of the carved wood until his knuckles turned white as he felt Glorfindel touch his most sensitive place within. "Yes . . . yes," he whispered softly.

Glorfindel hurried freed his own swelling member and leaned forward, hugging the wizard's back against his lower torso. He pulled his fingers out of the wizard's opening and slid his erection between Mithrandir's thighs until the upper side became coated with the ointment as it rubbed into the cleft and the tip bumped against the back of the wizard's testicle sac. Mithrandir's gasps urged him on as Glorfindel's moist fingers rubbed over the underside of his own member to coat it as well. He curled his fist around the shaft and placed it at the entrance, pressing the end against the relaxed ring of flesh to signal the wizard that he was about to go inside. Mithrandir groaned hoarsely and pushed firmly back onto it until the tip slid suddenly in. The wizard began to ride Glorfindel's cock, pulling himself up toward the headboard and then bending his knees to drive himself onto it. The Elf gulped at the jolts of arousal as he felt himself slip effortlessly into the hot, clinging passage, then began to thrust hard in time to the wizard's movements. Soon Mithrandir stopped pressing down and steadied himself, his arms outstretched, his hands still clutching the edge of the headboard tightly. "Hard!" he begged through clenched teeth as he strove to spread his knees further, though the trousers stretching between them prevented it.

Glorfindel tightened his arm around the wizard's waist until their torsos were pressed firmly together, then began to thrust quickly and deeply, arching his back slightly so that his cock's tip rubbed firmly against the wizard's prostate. Mithrandir dropped his head forward and keened with impending bliss. The Elf stroked his throbbing shaft rapidly, and at once the wizard groaned loudly as his hot seed jetted over and over against the dark, shiny wood of the headboard and ran slowly down over its carved surface. Finally the wizard collapsed forward onto the headboard, supporting himself by resting his forearms along its upper edge. Glorfindel edged his knees forward to follow the wizard and thrust a few times more as the Istar gasped in total completion, then shot his own come deep within Mithrandir. He fell against the wizard's back, catching himself with his hands on the edge of the headboard to either side of his lover's elbows. As soon as he regained his breath somewhat, he nuzzled into the wizard's hair to kiss his neck softly. They waited awhile, moving as little as possible, beyond the Elf languorously shifting and rubbing his body slightly against Mithrandir's back.

At last Glorfindel reached for a cloth to clean them both as he pulled slowly out of the wizard. He lowered his lover to the bed, then lay beside him. After another brief interval during which their breathing returned to normal, Glorfindel asked, "Did you enjoy that?"

Mithrandir opened his eyes and stared at the Elf quizzically. "Did I seem indifferent, my dear Glorfindel?" His lover shook his head with an amused smile. "Did I seem bored, distracted, listless?" Another shake of the head. "I thought my reactions would be indication enough, but yes, I think it is safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed that. A trifle quick from your point of view, no doubt, but we shall have plenty of time after dinner."

Suddenly Mithrandir sat up. "That reminds me. I imagine that Frodo will be awake soon, if he is not already. I should go and see what the Hobbits are up to and make sure they find their way to the banquet. I shall see you at dinner, and we can talk further."

"Without a doubt. We are to sit to Elrond's right and left, and he and I can fill you in on what has been going on here."

"Oh, I have heard much of it from Elrond during the anxious hours by Frodo's bedside, and I had been here two days before you arrived. But I am sure that there is much more to tell." As Mithrandir was talking, he rose, moved to wash quickly, fastened his clothes, and crossed to the door. Before opening it, he turned back. "By the way, thank you for saving my Ringbearer."

Glorfindel smiled. "No need to thank me. He is the Ringbearer for us all, is he not?"

The Istar nodded gravely. "If things go well at the Council tomorrow and I can persuade the others to adopt my plan, yes. Elrond and I have talked a great deal about that, too, in the long watches of the night, and we are agreed."

"And what is your plan?"

Mithrandir hesitated. "Frankly, I would rather not tell you. I want to hear the arguments and positions of everyone tomorrow, yours included, of course, and I wish them to be honest and spontaneous. If people have objections to my plan and alternatives to offer, then I want them brought forth without bias."

Glorfindel grinned. "Before you insist on us following your own plan."

The Istar smiled wryly. "Only if I can persuade the group of its superiority to other plans-nay, to its inevitability."

Glorfindel's grin softened into a fond smile. "Well, I know you to be a very persuasive fellow. Now that Saruman is no longer among us, I have no doubt that you will prevail."

Mithrandir sighed, his smiled fading. "Probably. Yes, I have gained some considerable skill at coaxing and persuading and making eloquent speeches."

Glorfindel was now also serious. "Yes, as I have said before, you are not the brilliant but naïve wizard that stepped off the boat with such boundless enthusiasm at the Grey Havens so long ago. You have learned to discern the beliefs of others and to couch your ideas in very carefully chosen language."

"Yes, well, one has to be careful in dealing with politicians and trying to bring together races who have such divided interests. I had not realized, though, that I had changed so very much. As you have pointed out before, I have inevitably lost my naivete and some of my patience. Now, though, you almost suggest that I have become cynical. Are you disappointed by the result?" For the first time he seemed almost afraid of the answer that he might hear.

Glorfindel's fond smile returned, and he shook his head. "Never. Your passion and enthusiasm may be less evident than at first, but they are still fully there, joined by a level of knowledge and skill and understanding that fulfill all the promise that you showed during those first weeks. I would be a fool to be disappointed."

Mithrandir stared at him unmoving during this, then looked at the floor and pursed his lips slightly. "You exaggerate, my dear Elf, but at least you give me some hope that I am not entirely inadequate to the new and yet more vital tasks that I must take upon myself tomorrow." He looked up into Glorfindel's eyes as his hand grasped the door handle. "Whether anyone could be equal to those tasks is another matter. Well, until dinner, then.

As the banquet was ending, Mithrandir leaned over and whispered to Glorfindel, "I shall take Frodo to the Hall of Fire. He is well enough now to meet with Bilbo and to sit a while and listen to the songs and stories, as he has long wished to do. I'm sure the two of them will want to spend some time together alone after that. Why don't you go to your room, use the interval to digest this magnificent meal, and I shall join you there in a little while."

Glorfindel nodded happily and broke off from the main party of Elves as they exited the dining hall, moving quickly along the corridors to his room. There he lit some candles and stoked the fire, which had burned low, and soon the place was warm and comfortable. After about half an hour, the door opened and the Istar slipped quietly in. They went to bed and made love, now taking their time, tantalizing and tormenting each other, delaying release until neither could bear to hold off the final pleasure any longer. Afterward the pair lay in each other's arms, lazily kissing and caressing for many minutes, whispering briefly at intervals, but largely content to remain silently united in the intense afterglow of their bliss.

Suddenly Mithrandir pulled away and sat up. "What is it?" Glorfindel asked with amusement. "Hobbits again?"

"Yes, I should make sure that Frodo realizes how late it is. Hobbits can gossip endlessly, believe me, and he and Bilbo might lose track of the time. I must say, they take a deal of looking after, especially once they leave the Shire-as Tom Bombadil and Aragorn both learned. Still, they have managed to survive in the face of unthinkable dangers, and Frodo is far braver than one would think to look at him. Well, this should not take long, my darling Elf, and I shall return to see if you are ready to continue this very pleasant reunion."

The wizard dressed and hurried down the hall toward Bilbo's room. Before he had taken more than a few steps, however, he saw Sam pacing slowly along the hall, clearly killing time rather than heading anywhere in particular. "All to the good," Mithrandir thought. "Let the Hobbits take care of each other as much as possible. I should not try to run their entire lives just as they have gained a bit of self-reliance."

"Sam! Well met. It is time for Frodo to go to bed, and I wonder if you would go and see that he does so."

"Yes, Master Gandalf. I'll take care of it and report back to you once I've seen him safely tucked in, sir."

Realizing that that process might take some time and involve his returning to his own bedroom rather than hurrying back to Glorfindel, the wizard replied, "Um, don't bother to report to me. I'll trust you to make sure that he does not stay up reminiscing all night with Bilbo. And Sam?"

"Yes, Master Gandalf?"

The Istar sighed. "Don't call me 'Master Gandalf,' would you? I think we have got to know each other well enough over the past five days that you can shorten it to just 'Gandalf.'"

Sam blushed and nodded, clearly not quite sure if he could bring himself to obey this particular order, and hurried away. Mithrandir shook his head and turned back to re-enter Glorfindel's room.

"That was quick."

"I was able to delegate my duty to Sam. He has turned out to be a most loyal and reliable companion for Frodo. I assure you, I shall not be popping up after each time we make love to play nursemaid to the Hobbits. It is only today, when Frodo has just got up for the first time. They do not need constant rescuing-although the younger ones are a bit . . . unpredictable." Mithrandir stood looking for a moment at Glorfindel lounging in the bed, his naked torso glowing in the firelight and the sheet failing to cover quite all of the curling golden hair of his lower belly. The wizard smiled. "Delicious," he murmured, and moved toward the bed, shedding the clothes that he had hastily assumed for his abortive errand. Glorfindel moved aside to make room for him, throwing back the sheet entirely. The Istar slid into bed beside him and embraced the Elf, pulling him into a deep, eager kiss. Soon his open mouth was moving over Glorfindel's neck and chest, and one hand slid down to stroke the Elf's reviving erection.

"Don't forget," Glorfindel whispered with a soft laugh, "that there is an important Council meeting tomorrow morning." He moaned as the wizard's fingertips rubbed softly over his erect nipples.

"Exactly. And I do not want to sit there while important matters are being debated thinking, 'Ah, why did that entrancing Elf and I not make love just one more time last night when we had the chance?' Besides, I want to gloat a little more over the fact that I have you and Saruman, that wretched, misguided fellow, does not. The sooner you satisfy my desire, the sooner I shall be able to sleep in preparation for that important Council meeting."

Glorfindel whimpered blissfully as the wizard sucked eagerly at his nipples. "Well, now that you have begun that, I know it is hopeless trying to get you to stop."

Mithrandir pulled his lips away only briefly to mutter against the Elf's chest, "Why would you want to?"

"Why indeed?"

The day after the Council was warm for late October, and Mithrandir strolled out onto one of the many broad porches that surrounded the House. He found Frodo seated on a bench, staring out across the lawn with vacant eyes. He seemed quiet and withdrawn. The wizard stared at him for a moment, hoping that the moodiness resulted more from worry over the upcoming Quest than from a worsening of the Hobbit's physical condition. He sat down by Frodo and was delighted to see that the Hobbit perked up a bit and smiled at him.

"Good morning, Gandalf. I have been meaning to ask you. Glorfindel is the Elf that you've been in love with all this time, isn't he?"

"Yes, the one I told you about during my long visit to Bag End last spring. It pleased me that he should be the one to rescue you and bring you here. It seemed fitting, somehow. He is a wonderful Elf," Mithrandir said with a fond smile.

"And a beautiful one. All Elves are beautiful of course, but in many different ways. Glorfindel seems so serene and yet so powerful beneath, and wise. He's . . . well, he's radiant, if you know what I mean."

Gandalf nodded with delight to hear his lover so described.

Frodo grinned teasingly. "But how did an old man like you manage to make him fall in love with you?"

Gandalf glanced at him in mock annoyance. "You are very complimentary this morning, my dear Hobbit. Yes, I realize that going by appearances we make quite an odd couple. Still . . ." He looked around to make sure that no one was nearby to overhear their conversation, then murmured near Frodo's ear. "I did it by simply asking him to take me into his bed."

Frodo uttered a surprised chuckle and stared at him with a skeptical smile. "Really? That was all you had to do? And he agreed?"

Mithrandir nodded smugly. "Yes, well, a certain wizard is perhaps a little more lively than you give him credit for. Glorfindel agreed immediately and indeed took me into his bed--and as a result, of course, he fell madly in love with me. And I with him, of course."

Frodo's smile faded. "If you go on the Quest with me, will Glorfindel be able to come too? I assume you would like him to."

Mithrandir sighed. "We shall consider it, but I suspect he will not ultimately make one of our party. He and I have faced long separations from the start, and this will likely be another case where he stays here to help Elrond defend Rivendell and the north in general. I wish he could go, but . . ." He shook his head.

"I didn't mean to make you sad. I know something that might make us both cheer up. It's such a nice day. Could we take a picnic up into those pine woods that I told you yesterday I wanted to explore? All of us Hobbits and you and Glorfindel? And Strider?"

"Aragorn has already set out to try and see what happened to the Black Riders after the flood. As to the picnic, it sounds a splendid idea-if you really feel strong enough to climb those steep paths."

The party was quickly organized and set out northward from the House. Bilbo had declined to accompany them on such a strenuous outing, but the other four Hobbits hiked and laughed and talked as they climbed the footpaths leading up toward one of the side dells of the huge valley. For now they tried to forget what lay ahead and behave as if they were on an excursion in the Shire-an unusually hilly and rocky version of the Shire.

The Istar and Glorfindel walked a short way behind them. They were glad for a chance to get outdoors and away from their worries after the long meetings of the day before. After the Council and the lunch following it, Mithrandir had visited Frodo's room, trying to calm the Hobbit's worries a little by suggesting that he was probably going to act as a guide on the Quest. Then the Istar had been closeted with Elrond for the rest of the afternoon, assessing the outcome of the Council and going over the requirements for a group to accompany the Ringbearer.

Now Glorfindel sniffed the crisp autumn air appreciatively and turned to the Istar. "The time has come, my darling Mithrandir, to tell me of Saruman and Orthanc. You have been very tightlipped about that time. Am I right in suspecting that your fellow Istar had more on his mind than information about the Ring?"

"Well, I must admit, your insights about Saruman during that meeting of the White Council have been proven most accurate. I thought it quite plausible that he would lust after you! Indeed, however, he lusted after me as well. Bizarrely enough, I think that his initial offer to share the Ring with me if I would help him to find it was a sort of attempt at seduction or even courtship. I did not realize it at the time, but I later came to understand that by turning down his proposition, I was apparently, in his eyes at least, scorning his offer of-well, for want to a better word I shall say, his offer of love."

"Really? Well, he should have come to me for a lesson in seduction. One of the first things I could tell him is that one should not threaten to imprison and torture the person whom one is attempting to lure into bed."

"Yes, I think Saruman came to regret those threats once he had time to cool down a bit. He left me to my own solitary devices on the roof for a few days, perhaps hoping that my physical desires would begin to build to an unbearable level-"

"He seems to know you quite well, then."

"Thank you very much for that contribution, my darling Elf. Helpful as usual. May I go on? I must say, once he had me as a prisoner, Saruman offered me an impressive vision of domestic bliss with him. A fine, lavish establishment to call our home. Who would not find a 500-foot-tall impregnable tower a charming and regal dwelling? And a Ring to share-perhaps not on an equal footing, but still . . . as long as I bowed to his authority, a Ring that would bind us together in dominance over Middle-earth."

"Wait, my dear wizard! Some details, if you please. How did you manage to spend ten weeks at Orthanc and not give in to such blandishments? Or did you, indeed, resist? Did Saruman have his wicked way with you? Must I count him as another among my many rivals for your affection?"

Mithrandir laughed heartily. "You have grown either extremely jealous or extremely unsure of yourself if you fancy that Saruman could possibly supplant you in my affections, even for a moment. Still, preventing him from having his wicked way with me, as you put it, was quite a touchy business. If you want some lurid details, I shall supply them."

Glorfindel's teasing grin faded. Suddenly he realized that he might hear some disturbing things that Mithrandir had managed to conceal up to then, both from him and from the Council members.

"As I say, I did not see Saruman for a few days after that nasty little argument. Naturally I was at first terrified that he would carry through on his threat to torture me until I revealed the whereabouts of the Ring. He seems to have thought, though, that he could make me forgive that threat if he could persuade me to fall in love with him-or at least to give in willingly to his lust. I suppose he assumed that love would follow. The man has tremendous powers of persuasion, of course, given his voice, but he has become overconfident about how much he can accomplish by persuasion alone. I suppose that memorable meeting of the White Council left him with the impression that he is unstoppable. He certainly seemed quite buoyantly happy by the end of it, apart from the unpleasant exchange about my smoking. By the way, I later realized that Saruman had already taken up smoking himself-but in secret, can you believe it? That gives you some sense of his rather warped outlook.

"At any rate, I learned something of his intentions a few days later when he visited me. When first he appeared, I braced myself against one of the great horns of stone that rise up from the platform, expecting that he would order his minions to drag me off someplace to begin the torture. He was alone, however, and making an effort to be agreeable. Had I not already been familiar with him, I might indeed have taken him to be a likeable fellow.

"'So, Gandalf, I hope my servants are giving you all that you need,' he said, and I could tell that he was trying to appeal to me through the heady persuasion of his voice. He sounded quite the genial, concerned host, not the jailer that he was.

"I tried to keep my own voice level and neutral until I could assess what he was up to. It had not yet occurred to me that he wanted me as much as the Ring. 'Enough to eat and drink that I am not in danger of wasting away and dying, certainly. And I am given water to wash and so on. I don't know whether that adds up to "all that I need." At least you have not yet carried through that last very unfriendly threat that you made the other day. I gather that you have not come now for such a purpose.'

"He laughed in a calculatedly offhand way. 'Oh, that! You should not take that seriously, Gandalf. At the time, I was admittedly most disappointed at your attitude toward what we were discussing, but I have no plan to torture you. I do apologize for my lack of self-control. I assure you, I do not want to damage your body in any way. Far from it.'

"His eyes flicked down over me for a moment, just enough to make it quite clear what he meant. I suddenly recalled your remark after that meeting of the White Council, that Saruman lusted after me, and I realized that you were right. All my assumptions underwent an abrupt switch, and I struggled not to betray any emotions as he went on.

"'So, you are getting enough to eat and drink, and perhaps I can arrange for the quality of your sustenance to improve significantly. Some books, perhaps, to wile away the time more agreeably. And eventually, some comfort of a different sort.'

"It was rather amusing. He glanced down at my trouser-front, perhaps thinking that I was so desperate already that I would get an erection just from his presence. Needless to say, he was having no such effect on me.

"My mind was racing, of course, trying to adjust to this idea of Saruman actually courting me. It would seem prudent not to reject him out of hand. Pretending to consider his wishes and to gradually succumb to the lure of his voice might buy me precious time-and prevent his resorting to torture. I could not, however, seem to give in too easily, or he could not possibly take my apparent surrender seriously. I had to keep up the rather edgy bantering that had long been our mode of communicating. So I said, in a teasing way, 'Oh, are you offering me the company of one of your guards, those Dunlanders? I imagine that you use them for your own pleasure fairly frequently. It's very kind of you. Not at the moment, thank you, but if I spot one that strikes my fancy, I may accept after all. Some of them are not bad looking.'

"He knew that I was teasing him, of course, for he put on that familiar, tolerant little smile that I think he reserves just for me and my foibles. I could also, however, see anger in his eyes, and shame to learn that I knew of the uses he made of his guards for his own pleasure. He seemed about to deny it, but he realized that that would demean him even further in my eyes, for I knew that it was true. I expected that he would linger on and press his insinuations on me further-but my little teasing had had its effect. Shame won out, and simply shaking his head, as if amused, he left without another word. Again days went by before I saw him."

Glorfindel remarked, "Saruman seems not to have pressed you very hard for what he wanted if he left you alone so much."

"Well, it probably took him a long time to conquer his shame-and what I suspect was his fear of looking foolish in the face of my broader sexual experience. Not that I think Saruman has not had a great deal of sexual activity over the years, but ordering some good-looking young soldier to kneel and such your cock or to drop his trousers and bend over hardly requires any great skill at seduction or lovemaking."

Glorfindel wrinkled his nose. "Do you really think that he is that crude-and callous-about it?"

"Oh, on many occasions I'm sure it was exactly that impersonal. I had plenty of time to hear talk among the guards and even in a few cases to converse with them briefly. I gathered that some of the more favored ones occasionally shared his bed for a semblance of lovemaking, but if he was in a hurry, well . . .

"I have no doubt, though, that I would have received far more attentive treatment than that if I had eventually given in to him. The next time he actually had me brought to his study-the same room where he had received me upon my arrival. Again he sized me up, as if trying to calculate how susceptible I might have become to his desires. He even offered me a drink. After so much deprivation, sitting in a comfortable chair and sipping quite a pleasant glass of wine, I thought it was rather remarkable how my situation was improving without my having held out the slightest hint to Saruman that I would ever have any romantic or sexual interest in him. Whether he was being overly confident again, perhaps, or naïve, or desperate, I had no way of telling. I determined to find out, however, for there was a chance that I could exploit his need. I had no objection to accepting his wine or any other little luxuries, as long as he refrained from being too insistent in his demands or even using force. I tried not to think about what I might need to do to stop him if he renewed his threats of torture. I suppose it would have been worth submitting to him in order to prevent that. I like to think that I would never reveal the whereabouts of the Ring to anyone, even under torture . . . but one never can truly be sure of how much one could endure under the circumstances."

"Wait, I thought that Saruman was attempting to seduce you, and yet now you bring the Ring back in as his motive for torture. I don't understand."

"No, well, Saruman's mind was working in convoluted ways, as I discovered over the next weeks. Indeed, I quickly began to wonder if he had not gone a little mad. The fantasies that he seemed to have harbored and the apparent belief that he might make them come true do not suggest rational thinking. His two objectives apparently were linked in his mind: to obtain the Ring and to seduce me. It did not particularly matter which goal he accomplished first, for the other would, he thought, inevitably follow. If he could seduce me and make me fall in love with him, then presumably I would take him up on his initial offer, revealing the whereabouts of the Ring and agreeing to hold it in common with him. On the other hand, if I rejected his propositions and he managed to find the Ring, he could use it to break my resistance and make me as enthralled with him as ever he could wish. The one problem he had was that Sauron knew he was holding me prisoner. I have no idea how he knew, but I later learned that he did. Still, the point is that eventually he would grow inconveniently curious about why Saruman was not rendering me up to his messengers. Saruman may have thought his plan foolproof otherwise, but he had to accomplish his goals quickly. As to finding the Ring, certainly he had kept numerous spies in the Shire for many years, and he would already have narrowed the possibilities down to Hobbiton, probably to Bag End. If he assumed that Bilbo still had the Ring-and no one had ever voluntarily given it up, so Saruman would not imagine that he would pass it on to Frodo-his agents might be spending all their time fruitlessly searching for the wrong Hobbit. Elrond and I had long since virtually ordered Bilbo to stay in Imladris, where he would be safe.

"At any rate, during that second conversation, he definitely became more open about his plans for me. Once he had settled me opposite him, he began in a quiet tone that suggested mild reproach, 'I regret that I left you so suddenly the other day, my dear Gandalf, but I must say that I was somewhat shocked that you should mention your . . . your needs so openly with me, even in jest.'

"I found it quite amusing that he should put the blame for his embarrassment over his own secret sexual doings squarely onto my shoulders!" Mithrandir laughed briefly. "Despite his abilities to manipulate people, however, his shame in this one area made it remarkably easy to manipulate him as well, at least in the short run.

I decided to try being conciliatory and see what that got me. "'I regret in turn that I would say anything to shock you, Saruman, but you must realize that I was only joking. I had no intention of asking for such favors from your soldiers.'

He smiled and nodded, apparently willing to pass over as mutually forgotten my reference to his demanding such favors from them-something about which I had not been joking at all. He went on, 'I suspected as much. I know that you have had many liaisons over the years with a great variety of people of different races-but still . . . common, ignorant soldiers?'

"I wanted to avoid seeming too friendly that soon, so I said with a touch of annoyance, 'Yes, I am well aware of your spies and have been for hundreds of years. I realize now that you have them hunting for the Ring, but long before you could have been aware of its survival and rediscovery, you have had me under nearly constant watch. For what purpose, may I ask?'

"He smiled in quite a good semblance of friendly amusement. 'Let us just say that I have always admired your brilliant tactics and strategies. I want to learn from you if I can.'

"This was utter nonsense, though he undoubtedly did want to keep close track of my strategies-and my smoking and other little quirks, including my lovers. I didn't believe him for an instant, but I simply nodded, hoping that I looked as if I did.

"'Very flattering. My taste in lovers, though, has little to do with my mission and how I go about accomplishing it. Why so curious about such trivialities, Saruman?'

"He gave a little snort of laughter and replied in a tone of friendly reprimand, 'Such affairs are not wholly unconnected to our mission,' he responded, stressing the 'our' where I had said 'my.' 'Lovers, if chosen unwisely, can distract one from one's goal and can even prove to be treacherous. I am surprised that you put yourself in such a position, and so often.'

"I gave a little self-deprecating smile, determined to hint just faintly that I might have weaknesses that he could exploit, and replied, 'Perhaps, but I find it difficult to avoid such relationships, given that I am on the road so often. I do not, alas, have a beautiful home like yours,' I said, looking around rather wistfully.

"He noticed the look and smiled with what appeared for the first time to be genuine pleasure. 'No, and I have long wondered why you persisted in a wandering life that at times must be quite uncomfortable. Still, I am glad that when you have a choice, your preference is for lovers of a higher sort. Your dear Glorfindel, most notably. Quite a suitable alliance for an Istar, I must admit. And trustworthy, no doubt.'

"For an instant I was surprised to hear him praising you in this fashion, since he would presumably regard you as a rival, but I quickly realized in what direction the conversation was tending. He was simply implying that if I wanted a suitable lover, he would be an even more worthy one for me to aspire to. I had been right: Saruman might well believe that I envied him his sumptuous home and possessions, his settled existence. I might gain some advantage-some privilege that could offer me a chance of escape. At the very least I could obtain some little luxuries that would not be forthcoming otherwise. My meals had indeed improved slightly since Saruman's first rooftop visit, and I definitely wanted that trend to continue. I tested his tolerance by holding up my empty glass inquiringly. Saruman nodded and gestured toward the carafe on his desk, and with that permission I rose and poured for myself. It was a trivial thing, but I felt for the first time that I had some tiny ability to control him.

Saruman hesitated for a long time, then went on. 'Now, however, you and I have the opportunity to make the most suitable alliance of all. We are the two most powerful of the Istari, Gandalf, and I want you to stay here with me and share both our lives and our mission. You need not be constantly on the road. I am offering you the possibility of sharing this luxurious and well-fortified place. I . . . I am not ashamed of the desire I feel for you, but you are mistaken if you think I would feel drawn to lesser beings.'

I realized as he spoke that earlier he had only been making a slight effort to control me with his voice-just testing my attitude. Now his voice changed noticeably, and I must admit that it had a remarkably powerful effect. I am still mystified as to how he does it. Images came into my mind unbidden, images of he and I ruling Orthanc, living in a way which I had experienced only rarely during my travels. I struggled to remind myself that all of this was entirely opposed to our true mission-but he worked to undermine even that belief.

"Much though I despise his treachery, I must admit that he was remarkably persuasive as he went on. 'I know, Gandalf, that you are admirably dedicated to defeating Sauron. I am, too, I assure you. The Ring cannot simply be hidden forever. If the Nazgul find the one who bears it, our cause will be hopeless. We would have to admit defeat and leave this continent that we both love so much. By using the Ring together, however, we stand a very good chance of defeating him and then of having the means to restore Middle-earth to order and prosperity. We are both enormously powerful. Surely we could resist its corrupting influences for that long, and then . . . destroy it or keep it safely hidden away, unused.'

"It was bizarre, but while he was talking, I think I did despair of my plan for a moment. Sending a Hobbit to Mordor-for of course I had long known that Frodo is fated to be the Ringbearer to the bitter end-seemed lunatic. Saruman must have read that despair in my face, for he was clearly suppressing a look of jubilation. I put forth a great effort, however, reminding myself of those threats of torture, of the fact that we could never wield the One Ring jointly, of the dreadful corruption that it would inevitably force into our minds long before we could accomplish the things that he described. I thrust aside the visions induced by his voice, but I pretended still to be in their thrall. I was not quite sure how to behave as if I had given in to his voice, but I sat silent for a while, staring at him uncertainly and with a fascination which I was far from feeling in reality. He was watching me avidly, and I fancy that I managed to deceive him into thinking that I had yielded to him just a trifle. I decided that this was the time to hint further at my susceptibility.

"I said hesitantly, 'You . . . you may be right, about that and about my wandering life. I admit that I have somewhat low tastes-for smoking and the like. And, I might add, rather a low sense of humor, which you must forgive. Long ago, however, I began to weary of life on the road. I have wished for a home, and now to be offered one as fine as this is tempting indeed. Yet you too have sacrificed much for our great mission. You must lead a lonely existence here, wrapped up in your work.'

"As I listened to myself talking, I could not believe that he would take anything I said seriously, and I feared that he would become angry with me and send me back to my bleak existence on the roof. I had not, however, reckoned on the extent to which even a brilliant wizard can delude himself when it comes to love-and no, my dear Glorfindel, that remark was not aimed at you or at our relationship! I am fairly confident that I have not needed to delude myself in any way over you. At any rate, Saruman had seen the effect that his voice had on me-though I know he underestimated my ability to resist it. Nevertheless, I was very pleased that Saruman could be played upon when it came to his desires-and his supreme confidence in his voice.

"Indeed, he simply nodded solemnly at my compliments on his dutiful and abstemious existence, clearly approving of my attitude. He undoubtedly had noticed that I said, 'our mission' this time. He sat silent for a while, nodded slightly, and looked at me with a faint smile. Finally he rose and moved over to stand beside my chair. 'I am afraid that I cannot change your place of imprisonment from the roof into more comfortable accommodations. I must first learn whether I can trust you, and that will take a long time. You could of course prove that I can trust you by telling me where the Ring is. Think about it, Gandalf. I shall, in the meantime, try to make your stay up there somewhat more pleasant.'

I stared back at him as if in some confusion. He rang a small bell, and my guards entered to escort me back to the roof. I gave Saruman one last little puzzled frown, as if wondering what had come over me, and went out. Once I was back on my bleak rooftop, I realized that, in a way, my situation was still quite dire. I had little hope for escape, but at least the prospect of torture or rape had receded considerably, for the present. How long Saruman would remain patient with my reticence was another matter.

"Again he gave me a few days for thought. And again my living conditions improved distinctly. Then he had me brought back for another little visit to his study. The whole thing went much the way the other visit had, with some nice wine and a seductive speech picturing our life together with the Ring and how his plan was the only possible hope for achieving our mission in Middle-earth. The same maddening visions of easy success and physical luxury-and even romantic bliss with Saruman-went through my mind. I strove to thrust them away, however, and was relieved to discover that his repeated temptations had no cumulative effect. I was able to resist them with no greater difficulty than before. This time I made no teasing remarks but only stared at Saruman, as if taking in everything he said quite seriously. As he talked, I stood up and moved around the room, looking at every book and every strange instrument, every map and splendid decoration, as if I were trying to picture them as my own. He watched me with barely suppressed glee.

"At last he finished his persuasive speech and smiled at me. Clearly the meeting was drawing to a close, and I tried to move to the door, as if ready for my guards to take me away. He intercepted me, however, seizing my arms and forcing me to face him. It was quite apparent what he wanted, but as he moved even closer to take me in his arms and kiss me, I held him off with one hand, dropping my eyes from his as if in embarrassment. 'You must realize, this whole notion is still new to me. We know each other well , in a sense, but to prepare for this new relationship . . . well, I need more time to become accustomed to it.'

"He looked quite disappointed but to my amazement, he simply nodded and let his guards take me up to my rooftop prison. I had acted like a coy village maiden in the Shire, and he had let me get away with it! I waited until I was back on the roof and the door closed before I laughed out loud. Apparently I had acted in accordance with Saruman's peculiar notions of propriety."

Glorfindel had begun laughing quietly at intervals during this, amused and also relieved that apparently he was not going to hear a grim tale of coerced sex. "Really, I find it difficult to believe that Saruman could have taken you to be sincere in any of your words or behavior."

Mithrandir thought for a moment. "True, but he had obviously been fantasizing about all this for hundreds of years. He had become accustomed to his notion of what he wanted me to be to him. He must have had some belief that it could all come true if he would go to the lengths of luring me there and imprisoning me. He would greatly fear that I would reject him, but he would seize upon any sign that he was succeeding. And, as I said, I am not sure that he was entirely sane by that point."

"Did you go on being coy, my dearest Istar?"

"Dreadfully, yes. Well, why not? It was working. Those two conversations definitely improved my situation. I was given a chair, some books, and so on. It wasn't much really, but in my stark situation it was most comforting. The problem was that I was still imprisoned on the roof, and to have any real hope of escape I would have to induce Saruman to move me to some spot lower in the tower. A few more days went by and I received an invitation to dine with the great Saruman. Apparently he had sensed at the end of our last meeting that I was ripe for a conversion to his way of thinking, and he had also been giving me time to become accustomed to the honor he was doing me-and perhaps to become even more desperate for his attentions. I quite looked forward to that dinner. Apart from having a decent meal, I would gain a chance to gauge how seriously Saruman had taken my gradual change in attitude. He obviously considered Orthanc the one thing he had that I would envy, so my professed admiration of it during both my visits to his study had clearly rung true. Naturally I still found it difficult to believe that he thought I was seriously considering his generous proposition. Of course there was also the risk that he would become impatient with my slowness in accepting him as a lover and just use force-but that risk was always there anyway."

"And what was that extraordinary dinner like?"

Mithrandir chuckled. "Very romantic. Saruman definitely does well for himself in that tower. Superb food served by candlelight, splendid wine. He was clearly making an effort to be, well, at least pleasant. Indeed, I think I had by that point half convinced him that I had been considerably subdued by the power of his voice, and now he thought he was being terribly seductive. It would have been quite funny if my situation had not been so precarious. At any rate, the meal was such a change from my grim diet up to that point that I almost thought it would ultimately be worth a kiss-a reluctantly given kiss, of course. I did not believe that I could really put Saruman off yet again without at least some physical hint that I was eventually going to be his."

"You didn't!"

"Wait, don't jump ahead! Let me give you some of the detail you insisted upon.

"After I had eaten a great deal of the wonderful food that was served at that very peculiar dinner, Saruman inquired tolerantly, 'Are you enjoying the books and other things that I have sent to you, Gandalf?' So peculiar that, as if he had been generously providing for me in a situation that I had got myself into!

"I had long since ceased to tease him or be mocking in any way. By now I was acting in a most docile fashion. And I noted that he was not bothering to put much effort into using his voice to divert and cloud my mind. That very fact led me to believe that he felt me largely in his power by then. I decided to act in a far more servile manner, confirming his notion that he had subdued me. 'Very much. I am grateful indeed. In fact, it encourages me to take the liberty of asking whether I might now be moved to a bedroom inside the tower. Locked, I realize, but still, inside out of the weather. The sun is quite scorching in these summer months, on that black stone.'

He clicked his tongue sympathetically. "No doubt, but I am afraid that the roof is far and away the safest place for you. I have lived here long, and I know all of Orthanc's strengths and weaknesses. There is, however, one bedroom that you will always be welcome to visit.' He actually smiled and lifted a glass as a toast to that entrancing announcement. I pretended to be a trifle embarrassed at that and touched glasses with him. Oddly enough, it obviously still very much pleased him that I should be embarrassed at the thought of having sex with him. Probably he thought it very fitting. Why he thought I should have suddenly developed this shame over such things I have no idea, except that it suited his fantasy of what he wanted me to be."

"More like him, in other words."

"Exactly. Do you know, my dear Elf, I've never wanted to you be more like me in any way. I find you quite fascinating just as you are. No doubt, though, Saruman thought himself the ideal role model for his errant fellow Istar." He shrugged. "And I seemed to be playing right into his hands.

"I was tempted to ask him about his research on the method of making Elven rings, but that seemed a bit too blatant, so I simply asked if he had any interesting experiments underway. I think he doubted whether he should tell me, but I looked so earnestly interested and he was so proud of his accomplishments that he told me about some of his work. It was rather disturbing news, in fact, about breeding tests he has tried, hoping to increase the strength and endurance of certain types of orcs. Very worrisome for us, if half of what he boasted of is true, and I imagine it is. Why would he lie, since, after all, he presumably thought I would eventually aid him in such experiments, once he had fully won me over. At any rate, the rest of the meal passed with me struggling not to let my face betray my disgust with everything he said."

"Mithrandir, I had no idea that you had this talent for deception. You are always scrupulously honest."

"Well, oddly enough, I discovered that all the flattery and rhetoric that one must use in persuading kings and chiefs and other powerful people to follow the right course can be very easily twisted into deception."

"Sadly true, I am afraid. I trust that you made Saruman believe you."

"Yes, apparently, at that point anyway. Finally the meal was over, and we sat talking a bit. Eventually though, his eyes grew dark and intense, and I knew that I had best take some initiative to end this cozy little evening. Getting back to that rooftop had never looked better! I stood up rather suddenly, and he rose as well, startled. He moved around the table as if to take me in his arms, but again I held him off. Before he could express annoyance or impatience, I put on my best coy-Shire-maiden manner and shook my head. I recalled something that a potential lover had once said to me, long, long ago.

"I'm . . . I'm afraid this is still a bit too fast for me. I'm sure if we have further-' I was about to say 'meals,' but that seemed a little too obvious, so I said, 'conversations like this, I shall continue to warm to the idea.' I decided to risk even stronger measures in order to prevent his seizing control of the situation. I stared briefly into his eyes, as if fascinated despite my reticence. 'Already I find myself . . .' And I slid my hand around to the back of his neck and pulled him forward into a kiss-don't look so disgusted, my dear Elf, it was really not nearly as unpleasant as I expected, though of course I did not enjoy it. Fortunately Saruman very much did. I fancy I gave him quite a tantalizing little sample of what he wanted. Not that I let it become too deep or go on very long. Just enough to be convincing. Then I moved away toward the door, as if a little flustered. For a moment he stared after me, and when I turned back to him, I feared that he had seen through me at last. Then he smiled, and I realized that in a sense, I had behaved just as the proper wizard should, in his eyes.

"Well, this story is becoming overlong, but obviously Saruman would not wait much longer. He did not have me brought down to his rooms again, but visited me a few times on the roof. And these visits came each day, each ending, of course, in a kiss-each time longer and more passionate, and I realized that my attempts to buy time were rapidly running out. Foolishly though he was behaving in some ways, Saruman took enormous care never to allow me the slightest chance for escape.

"Then, all too soon, one of Saruman's visits led to a kiss that did not end when I tried to withdraw. He was clearly becoming too aroused for me to prevaricate plausibly any further. Finally, he took my arm and started to lead me to the door, obviously to retire to his bedroom. I gave up any pretence of cooperation and abruptly switched tactics. My hope now was to humiliate him, so thoroughly and painfully that if he retained a shred of self-respect, he would never try to have me. I halted and jerked my arm out of his hand. He turned to me in surprise.

"I poured as much cold contempt into my voice as I could and deliberately spoke so coarsely that he would be revolted and ashamed. "Saruman, have you really sustained this pathetic fantasy that I would willingly come into your bed? You've dreamed about me, haven't you? For a long time. About fucking me. About having me kneel and suck your cock. About me lying, completely passive, in your bed, while you force yourself into me. But of course, no matter what you did to me, you imagined that I'd want it, didn't you? In your fantasies, I'd be aroused and I'd come, very hard, harder than I ever had with Glorfindel, and I'd be so grateful that I'd fall in love with you and become your willing helper. You'd have me in your bed; you'd brush me aside in the Council's debates over policy. I would submit to you in every way, in your dreams of power. Well, now you know that those dreams will never come true.'

"I managed to laugh, for contempt would grind into his heart more painfully than fury. 'Under ordinary circumstances, I would never say this to anyone, but you have forced me to it: Saruman, I don't find you at all appealing. Do you know . . . I have never had any fantasy, no matter how fleeting or silly, about kissing you or touching you or fucking you. I suspect that being in bed with you, even willingly, would not be terribly rewarding-not for me, at any rate. Doesn't it occur to you that if I did submit to you, all the time you were making love to me, or whatever you call it, I would be thinking about Glorfindel and the Elves and the others that I have had and remembering how good they were in bed? Because you don't want to rape me or hurt me, do you? You want me to tell you that you were the best fuck I ever had.'

I stopped and shook my head with one last tiny snort of contemptuous laughter. He had gone deathly pale during my tirade, and I thought it perfectly possible that I had gone much too far and that he would beat me or call his guards to torture me. Disappointment and shame, however, drove him away, and he disappeared down the steps quickly, slamming the heavy door behind him.

I never saw him again during my stay. Clearly he decided to let others exact his revenge. My living conditions reverted to the grubby, barely adequate meals of the early days. Saruman made sure that the guards informed me that messages had gone back and forth between Orthanc and Barad-dur, arranging for my transfer to the dungeons of the Dark Lord, and that Sauron's most trusted guards were on their way to escort me. It was a grim and frightening wait, and I often wondered whether I should have submitted to Saruman and gone docilely to his bed. It was too late for that, though. Very fortunately for me, only a short time before the escort from Mordor was due to take custody of me, Gwaihir arrived-and the rest you know."

Glorfindel shook his head, struggling to rid his mind of images of his lover imprisoned in Sauron's Dark Tower and undergoing eternal torment. He slipped his arm around Mithrandir's waist, and they finished the long climb up to the pine woods in silence.

The Hobbits had gone on ahead, somewhat more slowly on the steeper parts than usual in deference to Frodo's weakened state. By now, though, they were exploring and looking at the views back out over the valley. Mithrandir and Glorfindel paused on the path, leaning against a railing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a particularly beautiful vista. They smiled as they turned and watched the Hobbits running and shouting among the slender trunks of the tall trees.

Glorfindel said, "After a few days of their acquaintance, I begin to understand why you enjoy the company of these little people. They are indeed delightful, and, as you say, surprisingly strong and determined."

"Yes. 'Stubborn' some might say, I suppose. That strength will serve Frodo and Sam well during the Quest. I know it seems absurd to pin our fates upon two little chaps like that. After all, though, if our strongest ally has turned traitor, then perhaps our seemingly weakest friend will prove loyal to the bitter end."

After a short silence, Glorfindel said reluctantly, "I have been thinking about the possibility of making one of the Fellowship. I would dearly love to travel with you again. The last time we were able to journey together was during that return from the Battle of Fornost, so many years ago. I think I know the answer to what I am about to ask, but could I conceivably be of any use to the group that no one else could?"

Mithrandir considered carefully for a time, then said reluctantly, "I doubt it. Not in comparison with the use you could be here. Sauron will attack on several fronts, and one of my greatest fears is that we should somehow, against all odds, triumph far to the south, only to find upon our return that the north has been devastated. A burned and ruined Imladris would make our victory hollow indeed. No, I am all too tempted to ask Elrond to make you one of the group to accompany Frodo-but this is one of those cases where we could risk seeing our long patience come to naught because of personal temptation. And I am all too well aware of how tempting you are, my sweet Elf. All too well aware," he added with a fond smile.

Glorfindel smiled sadly in return. "That is the answer that I expected, for I too feel that it is my duty, as always, to remain here and protect this splendid place." They looked out over the huge valley, glowing with autumn colors in the full sun of the early afternoon. "The thought of Imladris vulnerable to the Enemy's forces would hover over me every step of the way toward Mordor. I dread parting from you yet again, for this will be the most agonizing of all our separations, but I trust to you and Aragorn to guide the Ringbearer and to Elrond to choose the rest of the Nine Companions well."

"Yes, Elrond wants to have a meeting soon to fill out the list of the Nine Companions. Will you come to it, or shall I simply present your wishes as my own?"

"I think I shall not attend, if you don't mind. It is one thing to know that I should not make one of the Fellowship. It is another to have to be present at that meeting and know that I shall have to watch you depart on such a perilous mission, one that will see a conclusion to our hopes, for good or ill."

"Very well, my dearest Glorfindel. I shall convey our decision to Elrond and draw him into choosing some other Fellowship member in your stead. Still, though you may not participate directly in the Quest, you have already contributed vitally to it. In saving Frodo, once again you were face to face with your old nemesis, the Witch-King. That must have been quite a bizarre experience, confronting him at the Ford."

"Yes, knowing that I could not defeat him and yet having to keep him at bay in order to save Frodo. The flood commanded by Elrond worked wonderfully, sweeping our enemies away for now-but once again he has only been temporarily disposed of-and not 'by the hand of man.'"

"Yes, well, you need not gloat, my dear Elf. I have long been convinced that your prophecy is accurate. I shall be more impressed when you prophesy how he can be disposed of."

Glorfindel laughed quietly. "That is the great difficulty, of course."

Mithrandir sobered at once and said quietly. "I must confess that I also think it would be best for you not to be a member of the Fellowship because there is the distinct possibility that you might be tempted by the Ring. I have just had all too vivid a demonstration of what such temptation, even from afar, has done to Saruman."

"No doubt, but might you yourself not be corrupted by it?"

Mithrandir was silent for a long time. Finally he said, "That, of course, is why there is a Ringbearer. A brave, admirable, but simple little fellow who could never wield the Ring effectively if he did seize it. It remains a distinct possibility, however, that I might fall into that evil. I must deal with that temptation myself, but for the Fellowship to contain two members who are powerful enough to seize the Ring and wield it effectively-well, it simply doubles the danger! And if, as also seems quite possible, we both fell victim to the Ring's corruption, we would grow to hate each other as rivals for its possession. It could destroy our love, as it can destroy anything else."

"I cannot deny what you say. Still, if anyone can fight off the temptation of the Ring, it is you."

"Yes, 'if.' I remember long ago, when we first discussed our feelings for each other, I said that many "ifs" lay between us and the fulfillment of our tasks. The lure of the Ring is, for me, I fear, one of the biggest 'ifs' of all. Well, enough of worries. Let us call the others and have lunch. And I should warn you, when dining with Hobbits, do not hold back politely in taking your own portion or you will find yourself with nothing to eat!"

Nearly two months later, the night before the Fellowship was to depart, Mithrandir and Aragorn checked their baggage again, with Sam's help. Everything appeared to be ready, and they said good-night and went to their rooms, anticipating an early start.

As the Istar entered Glorfindel's room, he found the Elf leaning on the mantel, staring gloomily into the dying embers. Glancing curiously at his lover's face, Mithrandir stooped and placed two small logs on the fire and stirred it into flames once more. Rising, he attempted to embrace Glorfindel, but the Elf turned away slightly.

Mithrandir frowned at him, puzzled. "In all the times we have been together-far too few, granted, but still many-you have never withdrawn from me this way. Must I seduce you, my dear Elf? I have got reasonably good at the art, but I did not think I would ever have to use it on you again! Now perhaps you are trying to give me a belated lesson in dealing with a coy lover .. ." He paused as realization dawned in his face. ". . . or a jealous one."

Glorfindel moved away from the fireplace and paced slowly around the room. "I know it is ridiculous, but seeing the nine members of the Fellowship-well, they are handsome individuals, and they come from most of the races of Middle-earth. I know you have had lovers among all these peoples-"

"Never a Dwarf."

Despite being upset, Glorfindel glanced at him curiously. "No? Why not?"

"Dwarves have a strict prohibition on sexual relations with members of other races. Very stubbornly adhered to, I gather. Certainly I gave up long ago."

Glorfindel smiled wanly. "Well, most of the peoples, then. I know that occasionally you have companionship when you are on the road, but somehow, imagining you with this group, traveling long and far from inhabited areas . . . I suppose it is partly the fact that I know these people. Two of them are good friends of mine, and all the others I have grown quite fond of during this time before the Fellowship departs. In the past, I have been acquainted with very few of your lovers."

"On the other hand, I believe I have known many of yours, so I don't see why that should make a difference. Do you picture me as having a different Fellowship member sharing my blanket every night? No, I assure you, my dear Elf, I shall not approach any of them in that way. I go with them in the role of guide and leader, and I would not presume to form such a liaison with any one of them. I shall wait until Lorién, where I no doubt shall find such companionship. In any case, I hardly think that you will sleep alone every night while we are gone. I try not to think about you, here in the midst of a large number of highly attractive Elves, but I know it will happen. That was what we agreed. We may neither of us like it, deep down, but it has been a viable arrangement for a very long time. I have always believed that a little jealousy was better for our relationship than resentment over long and frustrating celibacy would be."

Suddenly Mithrandir grasped Glorfindel's wrist to stop his pacing and gently pushed him against the wall, planting his hands high above the Elf's shoulders, so that he was staring Glorfindel directly in the eyes from only inches away. "But why, after two thousand years of this arrangement, are you suddenly openly jealous, my dearest Elf? I assure you, three hundred sixty-five days a year in every one of those years, I have thought of you! Sometimes I have been in your arms and thought blissfully about how marvelously we can pleasure each other. And sometimes I simply pause in my travels or duties and wish for just a short moment that I could fly across the great expanses of this continent to be with you. Believe me, Glorfindel, for you know that I would never lie to you."

Glorfindel struggled to smile. "You are right. For every time we have been able to make love, there have been many other times when I longed to be with you as well. So many times I have next to someone else and wished it were you." He surprised the Istar by laughing suddenly. "Some beautiful Elf with no wrinkles or beard, so bland and boring!" Mithrandir grinned to see his lover looking more cheerful, but the humor quickly drained from the Elf's face.

Glorfindel spoke slowly and reluctantly. "Perhaps what is really wrong with me is that I now sense the end finally approaching. The Ring has been found, the Quest undertaken, and the vision that was needed to unite the peoples of this continent in a single struggle has emerged. And as a result, the day of which we almost never allow ourselves to speak may finally arrive. The Elf looked at Mithrandir with a sadness in his eyes that made the Istar clench his teeth. "Perhaps . . ." He breathed heavily and looked down for a moment. "I promised myself that I would not mention this, but . . . perhaps tonight we could finally promise our hearts to each other."

Mithrandir straightened up and looked away into the fire. "Glorfindel, I want and need you. All through the Quest, I shall dream of returning to you. The thought of seeing you again will sustain me when little else can. Yet I have also secretly faced the fact that that may never come to pass. When the Fellowship leaves and you and I part, we may never see each other again-at least not in these forms and in the world as it is now. I cannot foretell such things, and even you, with your gift of prophecy, cannot. We both have enormous goals and duties and burdens-no less so than when we first met--and we must accept that they come first, before our love. After all these years and this close to the end, I still dare not risk the possibility that a promise made to you in a moment of passion could affect my judgment in the crucial tasks ahead."

Mithrandir moved to press against the Elf, moving his hands restlessly over his body and soon rubbing a growing erection against his thigh. He murmured hoarsely in Glorfindel's ear, "Believe me, I would love to be able to tell you things . . . things that have nothing to do with mere seduction. Perhaps someday, I shall be able to. But right now, as you can feel, I need very badly to seduce you." He pulled Glorfindel's hand to his swelling member, thrusting slightly against it and panting as he went on, now staring into the Elf's eyes. "What must I tell you? That your lovely hair is like the pale gold of dragons' hoards? It is. That your limbs are as smooth and lithe as a fawn's? They are. That your eyes hold depths of passion that shine as bright as the Silmarilli themselves? They seem to, for me at any rate."

Looking into Mithrandir's eyes, Glorfindel read a wealth of love and desire that made him joyful and confident once more, despite the impending separation and all the dangers ahead. He hugged the wizard's head to his chest, enveloping it in his powerful arms and resting his cheek on top of the white hair. He whispered, "You have learned the art of seduction well, Istar. And for tonight seduction is enough. Someday, as you say . . ."

Mithrandir pulled his head free to look into the Elf's eyes once more, his own glazed with passion. "Yes, forget your doubts, Glorfindel, at least for tonight. This is our last opportunity. Let us not squander it in talk. Be silent now and let me remove those cumbersome clothes of yours-and then I shall show you something that a very dear, beautiful Elf once taught me by the grey shores of the Sea."

Before sunrise on the morning of the Fellowship's departure from Imladris, the nine members assembled in the Hall of Fire to say farewell to members of the household. Gradually the others drifted outside and sat or stood about, waiting finally only for Mithrandir. The Istar had walked with Glorfindel from the Hall to the great front door, but the Elf finally pulled him aside into a small room where heavy winter gear was stored and hugged him close, then released him, looking away and struggling to hold back tears. "I have kept thinking the same thing over and over as I have watched you prepare for this journey."

"What, my dearest Elf?"

"That a little over three thousand years ago I stood almost on this spot, embracing a lover who was setting out for the Land of Shadow-and he never came back. He perished before its gates."

The Istar pressed his hands flat against either side of Glorfindel's head, pulling the blond hair back and the face up to look at him. "You know I must go, as he did. If Sauron regains the Ring, well, then, ere long Imladris will cease to be a shelter that could harbor our love. Middle-earth will be lost to us. And if that happens, it is quite possible that I shall perish far from here. You must promise me that if I do not come back, you will take ship with Elrond and the others and return to Eldamar. I do not want you to sit and mourn in this deserted valley while the leaves sear and fall for the last time and shadow overtakes all. I do not know what would happen to me if this body should die-if I fail in my mission. Perhaps, somehow, long from now, we might meet again upon the other side."

Glorfindel took a deep breath and nodded, "Yes, although I know from my experiences in the Halls of Mandos that that time might be very long indeed, even by the standards of Elves . . . even perhaps by the standards of Maiar." Tenderly the wizard drew him into a long kiss that neither could bring himself to break, for the last excuse to delay their separation would end. Finally Mithrandir pulled free and moved to the door. Turning back, he asked, "Are you coming to see us off?"

Glorfindel stood staring at the floor, his teeth clenched and his arms crossed. He shook his head. Finally he spoke. "There are other ways of dying than falling in battle before the Black Gate. I know that you will be cautious, for the sake of the entire Fellowship and indeed of all of Middle-earth, yet . . . just as there are unsuspected allies in many parts of this continent, there are also unsuspected dangers. Be ever vigilant, for you must come back to me. I could not bear such grief a second time."

Mithrandir sighed. "Fear not, my sweet Glorfindel. You and I shall ride to the Havens together someday."

Glorfindel looked at him with a sad little smile. "I hope so .. . for I find that I am at last suffering from the sea-urge that eventually drives the High Elves westward. I long now to stand again beside you and gaze across the evening waves at the sunset-and then to depart together."