The Road to Isengard

by Nefertiti

Rating: This chapter G; other chapters NC-17

Pairing: (Series) Gandalf/Saruman; individual chapters, Gandalf/Erestor, Gandalf/Legolas, Gandalf/Radagast

Disclaimer: The characters and world of Middle-earth belong to their copyright holders; this series is offered free of charge for the pleasure of fans.

Archiving: Meddling in the Affairs of Wizards; LoM; others please ask.

Author's note: This chapter deals with the actions of Saruman luring Gandalf to Orthanc and locking him on the roof, based on the Council of Elrond chapter and the Appendix B chronology; the scene of the Nazgûl's visit to Isengard derives from the "Hunt for the Ring" chapter of the Unfinished Tales.

Many thanks to Sarah for beta work and excellent suggestions.

Chapter Eleven

March, 3018, Mirkwood

The first of the migratory birds were arriving in the vicinity of Radagast's home. He delighted in welcoming back old friends and wishing them well in raising a new generation. He also diligently kept in touch with the messengers and "spies" that reported to him regularly. The Brown Istar found the notion of "spies" rather odd, but no doubt these birds-especially the eagles and ravens-could travel far and see much, and they provided valuable information that he dutifully sent off to Saruman and Gandalf.

One sunny afternoon, a raven arrived, bringing a message from Orthanc. After a brief conversation with the bird, Radagast opened the envelope and read the missive with growing alarm. It ran:

My dear Radagast,

I know this will come as a surprise to you, but I very badly need you to travel immediately to Isengard. I cannot tell you why in case this letter is intercepted. Suffice it to say that the matter is urgent, or I would not draw you away from the home that you love so much. Please respond with a message confirming that I may depend upon you and then set out as soon as may be. You have an opportunity to play a vital part in our struggle, and I am confident that you would wish to do so.

Kindest regards,
Saruman the White

Radagast struggled to think. There were so many birds returning, so many greetings to extend. And so many young animals soon to be born. But he was well aware that he had given over most of the work that the Istari were supposed to be doing in Middle-earth to his colleagues. True, he had not utterly forsaken their cause, as the Blue Wizards had, but surely he should make the effort to respond to such a straightforward plea for help. He began to think about what he would need on the journey, since it was many decades since he had traveled that far. He must inform the birds and beasts, leaving messages for those who he knew would arrive while he was gone. Slowly and methodically he prepared to set out.

Radagast had a number of domestic animals, not kept in barns or pens but allowed to roam free. These included a few horses. He chose the most rapid of these and set out for Isengard. Reluctantly he decided not to visit Lothlórien on the way. He loved the Golden Wood and the kind hospitality of the Lord and Lady, who were his nearest neighbors among the Wise. But that would take him away from his direct path. Surely, though, he could stop there on the way home. He traveled straight on and reached Saruman's dwelling in less than two weeks.

The Brown Istar had never visited Isengard, and he was overawed as he rode up to the gate in the thick wall surrounding the great tower that had loomed before him during the last half hour of his approach. The guards admitted him at once, and one ran ahead to inform Saruman of his arrival. Radagast urged his horse forward, and as he went along the main path toward the tower's entrance, he looked about himself with a puzzled frown. In the past, Gandalf had told him of the beautiful gardens and woods that surrounded Saruman's home, and yet there was no evidence of them to be seen. Instead there was barren stone, with great pits at intervals. Steam and smoke rose up, and there was a dull clank of forges echoing through the heavy air.

There was not a bird or animal or living plant to be seen. Radagast felt almost ill at the emptiness and the isolation from nature, but he went on toward the entrance. To his relief, as he arrived, Saruman appeared at the door and waited at the top of the tall flight of shiny black steps to greet him. A familiar face in all this desolation was reassuring. The Brown Istar ordinarily would have asked the groom who approached him to allow the horse to wander freely, but there seemed to be no grass or pleasant places where it could do so. Reluctantly Radagast explained to the horse that he would have to stay in the nearby stable-and tried to ignore the sad look in the beast's eyes as it was led off.

Radagast's first impression of the tower's interior was almost as little to his liking as that of the exterior, but he allowed himself to be led to a chair in Saruman's study and given some wine and cheese and bread. "Just something to tide you over until dinner," the White Istar said kindly, and he politely asked about Radagast's journey.

Radagast found the study a trifle stuffy, but it was a large, comfortable space otherwise. He strove to pay attention as Saruman sat opposite him and began to explain why he had summoned the Brown Wizard hither. "I believe you have been as aware as anyone of the continued spread of the Enemy's forces toward the north and the west. Your own home in Mirkwood has fallen increasingly under the Shadow. Now, however, a calamity has occurred that requires the combined efforts of all the remaining Istari. The Nine have crossed the River Anduin!"

Radagast stared at him, horrified. "But why has the Enemy made such a move? He has searched so long for the Ring in the vicinity of Mirkwood, and he has readied his troops for an eventual assault upon the West. That much I know. But to send the Nine into enemy territory-that suggests that he is suddenly up to something very different. I do not like it at all!"

Saruman nodded. "None of us likes it, but the main point is that Gandalf must be warned. He is far to the north, in a place called the Shire, and I dare not entrust such news to a bird messenger. You understand, I presume. I must stay here and keep track of the Nine's movements, and yet Gandalf must be summoned to come and consult with me immediately. The vital task of finding him and giving him that message I would like to turn over to you, if you are willing."

Radagast struggled to absorb all this. He dithered briefly, replying, "Well, if you can tell me where I should go. I am not familiar with Shire, and-"

"Yes, yes, but you must make an effort in such a situation. Unfortunately I don't know exactly where Gandalf is. He often spends time in a town called Hobbiton, but he comes and goes quickly. Of course I shall give you a description of the area, directions, money, whatever you need. Really, in such a crisis you cannot simply retreat to your pleasant forest home. Do this at least for me, and then you can return there knowing that you have accomplished something vital for our cause."

Radagast nodded unhappily. "Yes, you are right. I have been remiss. And this is a crisis, to be sure. Yes, of course I shall convey your message to Gandalf. I just hope that I can find him."

"I'm confident that you will," Saruman said reassuringly. "You must do it by Midsummer, or I fear that the Nine will have accomplished whatever deadly mission they have undertaken. When you find Gandalf, say that if he wants help, I shall give it to him, but he should come here quickly. All right? Good! We can talk over the details tomorrow morning, and you can set out after lunch. I shall show you some maps, and I have already made most of the arrangements for what you will need on the road. Now, let me have dinner brought in. I have not forgotten that you do not eat any meat, so I have had special dishes prepared for you. I hope you will not be upset if I myself indulge in a splendid fowl that my cooks have concocted."

Radagast blanched slightly and swallowed hard, but he replied graciously, "No, of course, do as you like." He realized that Celeborn and Galadriel had always made the effort to avoid meat when he visited, though at the time he had never really noticed, merely considering the food grand and elegant.

The two Istari lingered over the splendid meal, and Radagast tried his best not to pay attention to Saruman slicing apart and devouring the carcass of a wild guinea fowl. The dishes that had been especially ordered for the Brown Istar were lovely, almost as good as any he had ever tasted, except in the Elvish enclaves. Saruman regaled him with accounts of how he had opened the long unused tower of Orthanc and slowly furnished it to suit his needs. The place still seemed alien to Radagast, though he had to admit to himself that the huge study in which they ate and spent the evening was a reasonably pleasant place, almost a home unto itself. Gandalf had told him something of Orthanc, and now, seeing the place for himself, he realized that the Grey Wizard's accounts had been very accurate-apart from that strange business about the gardens.

The next day the two discussed Radagast's mission. Saruman ended by emphasizing that the Brown Istar was not to come back to Isengard with Gandalf. His mission was simply to convey the message to him and send him to Orthanc. The White Wizard said carefully and clearly that Radagast was to return to his home directly after speaking to Gandalf. "We will need you to be ready to coordinate messages from there through the usual system of birds."

Radagast nodded. Those particular instructions suited him well. As soon as he had heard about the Riders, he had been keen to go back to Mirkwood. He had to admit to himself, such matters were beyond him, and the White and Grey Istari would be able to handle them far better than he. Besides, he had to catch up on so much news from the birds and animals who were his friends. The two sat down for lunch early, to allow Radagast more time on the road. Though he felt anything but cheerful, the Brown Wizard smiled in response as Saruman lifted a glass to thank him and wish him luck on his mission.

Late June, between the South Downs and Bree

As Gandalf rode northeast up the Greenway, heading for Bree, he pondered the news that he had gained further to the south. Earlier, messages had arrived in Hobbiton, telling of war and defeat in Gondor. The Wizard had quickly traveled in that direction. Beyond the Shire's border he learned that, as he had long feared, on June 20, only a little over a week before, Sauron's forces had attacked Osgiliath. With the chief of the Nazgûl leading the troops, they had easily taken the ruined city and now controlled the entire eastern shore and the sole bridge across the Anduin. A few refugees who had fled in terror had already reached Eriador, and they recounted their tales in halting words, reluctant to speak of the Black Shadow that had driven all before him. For the present the Enemy had held back from attacking on the western bank. Gandalf suspected that that was because this first offence had merely been a test of the might of Gondor's military. He hoped that the failure of the Dark Lord's troops to push beyond Osgiliath meant that Sauron had found his enemies stronger than he had expected. Still, further invasion would surely follow eventually.

For now the Istar had two primary thoughts. Since he was so near to Bree, he must alert the Rangers who helped him by guarding the Shire, warning them that they might expect Men from the south to be coming that direction, some merely seeking escape, but others with less friendly intentions. Second, he considered whether he ought not return to Hobbiton and suggest that Frodo should set out for Rivendell earlier than they had planned. If so, he must try to contact Aragorn to let him know that he should be watching for Frodo in Bree well before the date they had agreed on.

Gandalf was drawing near to Bree. His thoughts turned to the tasty meal and mug of good ale that the Prancing Pony always afforded and afterwards a comfortable bed in which he could sleep and forget his worries for a short time. Suddenly he noticed a traveler up ahead, sitting on a bank beside the road with a large horse grazing nearby. The Man looked weary and discouraged. As Gandalf drew nearer, he also began to look familiar. "Radagast!" he cried, in a voice that mingled joy and astonishment. The hunt for Gollum and other concerns had kept him away from the other Wizard's Mirkwood home for many years now. He quickly slid off his horse's back.

"Gandalf!" the Brown Istar responded, standing up so that they could embrace each other. As they pulled apart, he went on, "I was seeking you. But I am a stranger in these parts. All I knew was that you might be found in a wild region with the uncouth name of Shire."

Gandalf chuckled at Radagast's phraseology. Given that the Brown Istar lived in the shadowy depths of the forest of Mirkwood, it seemed odd that he would find the calm, rural Shire "a wild region." He replied with good humor, "Your information was correct, but do not put it in that way, if you meet any of the inhabitants. You are near the borders of the Shire now. And what do you want with me? It must be pressing. You were never a traveler, unless driven by great need." Perhaps Radagast had more to tell him about the attacks far to the South, Gandalf speculated inwardly, but why he would come himself instead of sending messages was a mystery.

"I have an urgent errand," Radagast replied. "My news is evil." He looked around, and Gandalf wondered if the Brown Istar thought the hedges might have ears. "Nazgûl," he whispered. "The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken on the guise of riders in black."

Gandalf stared at him and sighed. This was worse even than his vague fears of attacks in the future.

Radagast shook his head in puzzlement, looking around at the bucolic landscape. "The enemy must have some great need or purpose, but what it is that makes him look to these distant and desolate parts, I cannot guess."

Gandalf frowned. "What do you mean?"

Radagast again looked around and leaned in to speak softly. "I have been told that wherever they go the Riders ask for news of a land called Shire."

Gandalf closed his eyes for a moment and clenched his teeth. He strove to keep his voice light. "The Shire," he corrected, adding, "Who told you, and who sent you?" Galadriel and Celeborn, he guessed, and that would suggest that they were ready to make some decisive move.

"Saruman the White, and he told me to say that if you feel the need, he will help; but you must seek his aid at once, or it will be too late."

Gandalf felt hope dawning. Certainly Saruman had been an enormous help in the attack on Dol Guldur, but in the 77 years since he had again withdrawn and concentrated on his ominous project to make a Ring of Power. Had Saruman finally seen that he had gone astray from their mission? Was he now belatedly trying to rejoin his fellow Istar in the struggle? Perhaps the great power and many resources that he had revealed at Dol Guldur had been enhanced since. The very fact that the White Istar had turned to Radagast and even persuaded him to lend his aid was encouraging. Maybe the three of them could unite and stand firm against the Nine.

"I will go to Saruman," Gandalf responded.

"Then you must go now, for I have wasted time in looking for you, and the days are running short. I was told to find you before Midsummer, and that is now here. Even if you set out from this spot, you will hardly reach him before the Nine discover the land that they seek. I myself shall turn back at once."

"Wait a moment! Won't you at least come with me to Bree and spend the evening there? It is so close, and we could have a relaxing chat over a nice dinner." Gandalf's troubles weighed so heavily upon him that he even considered trying to persuade Radagast to share a bed with him again, just this once, so that both of them could find sweet distraction from this latest grim news. And even if they slept separately, it would be pleasant to spend part of the evening talking. He added, "After all, you have a long ride ahead of you."

Radagast continued to cast nervous looks around at the innocent fields. "Yes, but my way lies south and east, not north. At this time of year the pass of Redhorn Gate will be free of snow, and I can travel directly over the Mountains and make my way home quickly." With that he leapt onto his horse.

Gandalf managed to grasp the bridle, however, preventing such an abrupt departure. "Stay a moment! We shall need your help, and the help of all things that will give it. Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc."

"I will do that," Radagast said, and immediately he urged his horse into motion. They were soon rushing off into the distance. Gandalf looked regretfully after him. Sad that he should have had both of the other Istari as lovers and now be thinking back so nostalgically to the earlier days with each. Still, he thought, trying to cheer himself up, this message is a good sign. It appeared that Saruman was making amends and trying to help. Perhaps the odd behavior and false ambitions that the White Istar had developed were finally fading as he saw the threat of Mordor grow, with the Black Riders suddenly spreading evil over the land. Perhaps, too, in working together they could renew the love that had in recent years become like dying coals covered over with ashes for the night, which fade but linger long, offering a potential to reignite.

Gandalf rode his tired horse slowly into Bree. He ordered dinner in his room, being too exhausted by a long day's travel to join the lively group in the taproom, where the local people would most likely expect him to entertain them. The Istar had seldom been less inclined to innocent tales of adventure or comic misunderstandings. He ordered paper, pen, ink, and sealing wax as well, for he had one more task before he could try to get a decent night's sleep. The Wizard had decided not to return to Hobbiton and personally arrange for Frodo's immediate departure. The mission to consult with Saruman was vital and pressing, and Gandalf would instead simply send a letter to the Hobbit and set out directly for Isengard. Mentally he calculated the time it would take to travel south and see Saruman and then return, given the speed and endurance of his current horse. With luck the Nine did not yet know where the Shire lay. The letter would reach Frodo within a few days, well before the Riders could arrive in the Shire. The Hobbits' postal system did not extend as far as Bree, but surely his friend Barliman Butterbur, the Pony's owner, could find a trustworthy messenger.

It occurred to the Wizard that he should also try to contact Aragorn about the change of dates for Frodo's arrival in Bree. The problem was, he had no idea where the Ranger currently was. Still, the Man seldom strayed far from the Road during his rounds, and since he was guarding that crucial east-west conduit, he was likely to meet Frodo and Sam somewhere along it.

Gandalf wrote the letter to Frodo and blotted it, realizing as he read it over that he had not conveyed the urgency and danger of the situation. He added a PS. warning Frodo not to use the Ring again or to travel by night, and he initialed it. It also occurred to him that Frodo, inexperienced as he was, might not take proper precautions to make sure that "Strider," as the Ranger was called in these parts, was actually the friend that Gandalf had mentioned to him. The simple physical description was hardly enough. He wrote a PPS., telling Frodo to be cautious, giving the Ranger's real name and quoting a poem that Bilbo had written about him. If Frodo used what intelligence he had-not a huge amount, admittedly, but surely enough to make this simple connection-he could read part of the poem and ask Strider to complete it. The Wizard initialed that passage as well. Finally, he felt a last pang of doubt as to whether he should trust Barley to see the message delivered or return to the Shire himself. He scrawled a PPPS., expressing that doubt and threatening revenge on the landlord if he should fail. Pointless, he thought to himself, since if Barley fails me, Frodo won't see the letter. With a frustrated shake of his head he blotted the text again, waved the page to completely dry the ink, folded it, and slipped it into its envelope. He addressed it to Frodo at Bag End and poured a dollop of the hot wax over the point of the flap before pulling out his stamp and sealing it.

The Wizard frowned and stared for a moment at the letter, lying on the table before him. Finally, with another shake of his head he rose and carried it to Barley's room, opening the door and walking in. Butterbur was seated at his own desk, concentrating hard as he slowly wrote up a list of supplies and costs. He looked up, startled by Gandalf's abrupt appearance, and he rose to find out what his guest wanted.

Gandalf held up the sealed envelope and said, "Barley, I'm off in the morning. Will you do something for me?"

"You've only to name it," the innkeeper replied with a jovial smile. Gandalf was a regular customer at the Pony and had been for generations of Barliman's family. Though he had heard that Wizards could be dangerous-and Gandalf certainly had a bit of a temper at times-the innkeeper counted him as a friend.

The Wizard nodded and went on, "I'm in a hurry, and I've no time myself, but I want a message taken to the Shire. Have you anyone you can send, and trust to go?"

Butterbur pursed his lips as he thought. "I can find someone, tomorrow, maybe, or the day after."

"Make it tomorrow," Gandalf replied earnestly, handing him the letter. The innkeeper placed it carefully on the side of his desktop, and the Wizard added, "And Barley, this friend of mine from the Shire may be coming out this way before long, he and another. He'll be calling himself Underhill. Mark that. But you need ask no questions. And if I'm not with him, he may be in trouble, and he may need help. Do what you can for him, and I'll be grateful."

"Of course," Butterbur said, glancing at the address on the envelope, where the name did not match the one the Wizard had just mentioned. "What does he look like?"

"He's a stout little fellow with red cheeks." Gandalf chuckled, "That won't help you much; it goes for most Hobbits. But this one is taller than some and fairer than most, and he has a cleft in his chin: perky chap with a bright eye."

Butterbur listened to this description carefully, as if it were some complex set of orders. At the end of it, he nodded.

Gandalf smiled. "Good! Now I can go and try to get at least a short night's sleep. I have a long and urgent journey ahead of me. Breakfast in my room at dawn, if you please."

July 10, 3018, Isengard

As Gandalf rode closer to the circle of Isengard and the great tower, he tried to suppress his personal trepidation about meeting Saruman face to face after several years. He had no idea whether the other Istar would use this occasion to try yet again to lure him into resuming his visits or even settling in Orthanc. Gandalf hoped that they could concentrate on the crisis facing them: the invasion of the West by the Black Riders. Saruman had not mentioned the Shire to him in decades, and yet now the Nazgûl were looking for that little land. The White Istar presumably knew that, for he must have been the one who had told Radagast. Gandalf wondered how much Saruman would be able to read into the Riders' quest and how knowledgeable his spies had been over the years. As he had many times during his journey to Isengard, Gandalf fervently hoped that Frodo had received his letter and set out for Rivendell immediately.

Soon Gandalf came within sight of the great gate that closed off the outer end of the tunnel into the tower's broad enclosure. Despite the long days of summer, he was so late that already twilight was fading as he approached, but he could see by the torches on the walls that there were many soldiers about-far more than he remembered as being on sentry-guard when he had visited in earlier years. They did not wear the uniform of Gondor either. Their garments were of a strange new design embellished with a white hand. He felt a frisson of unease but rode on. As he came into the torchlight the guards peered at him. Their leader quickly stepped forward and bobbed his head in respect. "Lord Saruman is expecting you, Lord Gandalf. Please go in, and he will greet you at the tower."

Gandalf nodded and rode on. As he entered the tunnel, lit only by the outside torches and the dim lights that lined the road within the circle, he heard the gate close quietly behind him. At once it came to him that he had been a fool to come, that Saruman was planning something that was far from friendly. He had no idea what, and yet he was tempted to ride back again and leave at once.

Nonsense! he told himself. The main consideration here is to find some defense against the Black Riders. Saruman's offer of help is a good sign. Besides, the Grey Istar half-wondered if the guards would allow him to leave so soon. Continuing forward, he emerged onto the road to the tower's entrance. The lamps that stood at intervals along it softly illuminated the white stretch of flagstones, but everything beyond them was invisible. Gandalf urged his horse to a trot, and they soon arrived at Orthanc. As always, a groom appeared from the stables area off to the left. After he had dismounted and handed over his horse, Gandalf looked up at the closed door and remembered sadly how Saruman had always come out to meet him, eager to embrace and kiss him. Now there was no such greeting, and instead a servant opened the door, addressing him deferentially and admitting him to the great hallway inside.

There Saruman stood, at the foot of the long, broad inner stairway. He smiled, but to the Grey Wizard, the expression suggested triumph rather than pleasure. Without coming forward or attempting to touch Gandalf, the White Istar gestured for him to follow and turned to climb the steps to his study. Gandalf looked around as he entered the room, remembering so many visits here, at first rapturous and eagerly anticipated, and later clouded with doubt but still yielding much love. Now there were no cushions scattered before the hearth, and Saruman gave him only a brief, polite embrace. The White Wizard gestured toward the table where they had eaten so many sumptuous meals. It held a crystal pitcher of fine wine and some bread and meat and fruit. As Saruman's hand went up to point to it, Gandalf noticed that there was a golden ring on one finger, set with a large gem. He had never seen the other Istar wear any jewelry, let alone such an ostentatious ring. His disquiet grew.

Having as usual endured sparse meals during his rapid journey, Gandalf helped himself liberally to the food and drink before sitting down to eat and listen to what Saruman had to say. Neither of them had spoken a word so far, and it seemed to Gandalf that they were assessing each other as combatants do on the battlefield. He noticed that the other Istar withdrew to stand behind his large desk before he finally spoke.

"So you have come, Gandalf," he said gravely, but it seemed to the Grey Istar that there was a white light deep within his eyes, as if a cold laughter lay within his heart.

It was a light that Gandalf had never seen before, and yet it did not surprise him. He prepared himself to react calmly to the other Wizard's words, whatever they were. He replied with equal formality, "Yes, I have come. I have come for your aid, Saruman the White."

At once the light in Saruman's eyes flashed, and Gandalf realized with renewed fear that it was the light of dawning madness. The other Istar said scornfully, "Have you indeed, Gandalf the Grey? For aid? It has seldom been heard of that Gandalf the Grey sought for aid, one so cunning and so wise, wandering about the lands and concerning himself in every business, whether it belongs to him or not."

Gandalf stared at him, appalled. The cumulative strangeness in Saruman's behavior over the years had not prepared him for this. Clearly in the time since they had seen each other, the White Istar's dominion within his great, isolated tower had warped him still further. Gandalf's travels still obsessed him. He strove to probe whether he could possibly draw Saruman into aiding their cause in even a small way. "But if I am not deceived, things are now moving which require the union of all our strength."

Saruman shook his head with a scornful little smile. "That may be so, but the thought is late in coming to you. How long, I wonder, have you concealed from me, the head of the Council, a matter of greatest import? What brings you now from your lurking place in the Shire?"

It was the first time that Saruman had brought up the Shire since his promise over 150 years ago, after their argument during the White Council meeting. Gandalf had known that Saruman continued to keep spies in the Shire-which he termed Gandalf's "lurking place." The White Istar obviously had harbored strong jealousies and hatreds that he had ceased even to hint at.

Gandalf refused to rise to the bait, again speaking calmly. "The Nine have come forth again. They have crossed the River. So Radagast said to me." He thought back over his conversation with the Brown Istar on the road to Bree and wondered if Radagast had been tricked or had knowingly cooperated in Saruman's scheme.

Saruman laughed and said with open scorn, "Radagast the Brown! Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the simple! Radagast the Fool! Yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him. For you have come, and that was all the purpose of my message. And here you will stay, Gandalf the Grey, and rest from journeys. For I am Saruman , the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!"

Gandalf looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered. The Grey Istar's heart sank. This posturing was not mere jealousy or envy or desire for power. It went beyond reason.

He spoke softly. "I liked white better."

Saruman shrugged, saying dismissively, "White! It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."

The Grey Wizard strove to contrive a way in which he might leave again. He had wasted the week and a half it had taken him to get here, as well as the two weeks or more that it would take him to return to Hobbiton. He would receive no help at Orthanc, and any hope that he had had for Saruman becoming again the Man he had loved dissolved utterly as he listened to this pointless rant.

"In which case it is no longer white," Gandalf replied wearily, "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." He rose to help himself to more food. If he was going to leave immediately, he reflected, he might as well be somewhat prepared for it. He had few supplies left, having assumed that Saruman would provide for his needs. The Grey Wizard had seldom felt less like eating, but a full belly would take him further along the road. As he moved to the table, he prudently tucked his staff under his arm rather than leaving it leaning against his chair.

Saruman had rolled his eyes in response to Gandalf's reply, and he stared sardonically as he replied, "You need not speak to me as to one of the fools that you take for friends. I have not brought you hither to be instructed by you, but to give you a choice."

Gandalf did not look at him but took his time in refilling his plate and glass before returning to sit and resume his simple meal.

Saruman stood up straighter and began to declaim-as if, Gandalf thought, he were making a speech long rehearsed. "The Elder Days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see."

Gandalf continued to eat with outward calm. He thought of his long journeys with Aragorn, who would be the true ruler of the world of Men, which indeed would someday come-with much work and bravery and good fortune. He wondered if Saruman had any conception of what Men were really like, despite having lived so long among them. Presumably the other Istar saw himself, not the heir of Isildur, as taking over the rule of Gondor from the Stewards.

To his alarm, Saruman slowly walked around the desk to him. He loomed as he said softly in the Voice that Gandalf had slowly come to recognize as the device that Saruman used to lure and persuade, "And listen, Gandalf, my old friend and helper, I said we, for we it may be, if you will join with me. A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in the means."

Gandalf's mind was racing during this speech. Saruman had denied in the past that the Grey Istar would ever be a mere helper or assistant to him, and yet clearly Saruman now thought of him in that way-and perhaps he always had. And how did he come to have any hope that the Dark Lord would reward the White and Grey Istari if they were to betray their cause and go over to his side? How did he know that joining Sauron was even possible? Perhaps this was all some wild delusion on the other Wizard's part.

Gandalf said firmly, "Saruman, I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Mordor to deceive the ignorant. I cannot think that you brought me so far only to weary my ears." He was tempted to simply walk out of the room and leave Isengard, but he was all too well aware of the distance between the tower and where his horse was now stabled, and from there to that well-guarded, undoubtedly locked gate. He could not lose his temper or do anything precipitate that would provoke Saruman's already unbalanced mind.

To his surprise, Saruman was looking at him out of the corner of his eye, pausing and assessing his reaction. At last he smiled slyly and nodded. "Well, I see that this wise course does not commend itself to you. Not yet? Not if some better way can be contrived?" Now Saruman was not just giving a prepared speech. He was about to reveal why he had really brought the Grey Istar here.

Gandalf was even more alarmed at Saruman's insinuating, suddenly friendly manner and these mysterious hints than by the overt invitation to join the Dark Lord's cause. He finally looked Saruman squarely in the eye as the other Istar came close and laid a long hand on his arm. Gandalf struggled not to recoil, waiting anxiously to find out what new mischief Saruman had conceived.

Saruman whispered, "And why not, Gandalf? Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us. That is in truth why I brought you here. For I have many eyes in my service, and I believe that you know where this precious thing now lies. Is it not so? Or why do the Nine ask for the Shire, and what is your business there?"

Gandalf lowered his gaze to the floor. So this was the result of all the spying and concern for the Shire. Saruman had somehow caught wind of the Ring's presence there, and he lusted after the Enemy's great weapon. That had been visible in his former lover's face. Abruptly he stood up, pulling away from the other Wizard's grasp and beginning to pace as he replied, "Saruman, only one hand at a time can wield the One, and you know that well, so do not trouble to say we. But I would not give it, nay, I would not give even news of it to you, now that I learn your mind. You were head of the Council, but you have unmasked yourself at last. Well, the choices are, it seems, to submit to Sauron, or to yourself. I will take neither. Have you others to offer?"

By the end of this speech, Saruman's expression was utterly cold, and Gandalf saw how perilous he had become. The White Istar responded, "Yes, I did not expect you to show wisdom, even in your own behalf; but I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly, and so saving yourself much trouble and pain." He paused slightly to allow that to sink in.

Gandalf closed his eyes briefly, despite his attempt to keep any hints of his reactions from his face. That Saruman should be capable of torturing or even just threatening to torture one whom he had loved seemed beyond comprehension.

Saruman went on, "The third choice is to stay here, until the end."

Gandalf frowned, mystified. "Until what end?"

"Until you reveal to me where the One may be found. I may find means to persuade you," he said with a foul, insinuating smile. "Or until it is found in your despite, and the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey."

Gandalf was very frightened by this point, but he would not let the other Istar see that. He said with a dismissive little smile, "That may not prove to be one of the lighter matters."

Saruman simply laughed and rang the bell, ordering some of his troops to escort Gandalf up to the roof and lock him there. When one of the soldiers grasped the Grey Istar's arm and pulled him roughly toward the door, however, Saruman scowled and reprimanded him brusquely. "I said escort him, not drag him. I'm sure our guest will go peacefully."

Gandalf glanced back toward the other Wizard as, surrounded by a circle of guards, he walked to the door. A "guest," he thought bitterly. Saruman had always claimed that Isengard belonged to them both. Unless he could think of a way to escape, he was likely to become a long-term guest.

At least, Gandalf reflected, Saruman had not taken his staff. Probably he realized that trying to do so would only force the Grey Istar to defend himself. With the aid of his own powers and supported by his many soldiers, Saruman almost certainly would win in a physical fight, but he might well be injured in the process. Gandalf wondered whether the ostentatious ring upon the other Wizard's finger conferred any real powers. Eventually Gandalf might be forced to try and fight his way out of the tower, but he would only do so as a final resort.

Mid-September, 3018

Saruman poured himself a second glass of wine. He was pacing quickly around his study, trying to calm down after having spoken once again with the Enemy through the palantir. This conversation had been like none of the others, though, and he was still shaking half an hour after it had ended. Always in earlier exchanges, Sauron had lured him with promises of power and reward and gradually woven his spell so that the White Istar would never be free of the obligation to use the seeing stone whenever his "master" demanded it. Now the Dark Lord was angry, threatening, and vengeful.

The White Istar had to admit that he had brought this on himself. He had sought to work against Sauron in secret ways. He had sent agents to waylay the messengers going to Mordor with news of Gollum's escape from Thranduil's captivity. He had kept secret his own suspicions about where the Ring might lie hidden. He had taken Gandalf prisoner without informing the Dark Lord.

Now the Enemy had discovered all this, and he racked Saruman's body with excruciating pain. It was brief, and as it faded from his senses, Sauron told him that this was only a little taste of what he could inflict upon him if the White Istar failed him. Saruman had quickly promised to do what the Dark Lord asked: to give his Nazgûl, who were even then traveling to Isengard, access to Gandalf. They would force him to provide them with directions as to where they might find the Shire. Once they returned from there, Saruman was to turn Gandalf over to them, and they would convey him to Mordor.

As he gradually regained control of his emotions, Saruman sought to think. How could he avoid having to submit Gandalf to the Riders' cruelty, let alone send him into Sauron's dungeons? He could not bear to do that-not unless it was absolutely the only way of saving his own skin. But the two Istari could still use the Ring to avoid all those horrors. The Grey Wizard must agree! By putting them both in such danger, Saruman had unintentionally made it vital for the two Istari to cooperate.

Gandalf had been a prisoner now for over two months. They had talked at intervals, with Saruman setting forth every argument he could think of, sometimes silkily persuasive, sometimes angry and threatening. Gandalf had often simply refused to speak. At other times he tried questioning Saruman about what he had been secretly doing and how he had come to lust after the Ring so. And occasionally he spoke of the past, their love and their longing for Valinor. That was the worst. Eventually Saruman could barely force himself to visit the Grey Istar again, yet he had to keep trying-and despite his worries and anger, in some deep, hidden way Saruman still enjoyed simply being with Gandalf.

He poured a third glass of wine and drank it quickly to get up his courage, and finally, feeling distinctly lightheaded, he climbed the many stairs to the roof. He stopped briefly in the little storeroom to get chairs for himself and Gandalf-who had been allowed no furniture. He noticed the rack of wine bottles and opened one, pouring himself another drink and downing it before carrying the bottle and two glasses, along with the light folding chairs, out into the hallway. He unlocked the door and mounted the short staircase to the great open platform.

It was late afternoon, and under other circumstances, the view would have been spectacularly lovely and romantic. The snow of the Mountains was beginning to show a hint of pink, and the shadows were long and dramatic. Saruman looked around and saw that Gandalf was sitting against one of the tower's great horns. The Grey Istar had nothing but a thin pad and single blanket, and he had doubled the pad over to sit on. The empty plate and mug from his noon meal were still on the floor beside him, since they would only be taken away when supper was brought up. Despite everything, Saruman felt a pang of pity for the other Wizard. If only Gandalf would cooperate, he would shower him with food and comfort and love. Yes, all this was as much for the Grey Istar's sake as for his own, Saruman reminded himself.

Walking across to Gandalf, Saruman put down the bottle and glasses and clumsily set up the chairs side by side, touching each other so that they formed a sort of bench. Gandalf watched him warily, making no move to help. Once the White Wizard sat down, he gestured for Gandalf to take the other seat. The Grey Istar considered briefly before rising somewhat stiffly and moving to join him. Saruman poured him a glass of wine, which he also accepted after a short hesitation.

The White Istar dreaded having to beg Gandalf again for information about the Ring, and yet the pain and terror of his latest conversation with the Dark Lord were too vivid to allow him to give up without another effort. "Gandalf, I have received news that the Enemy has made great gains against us. You are in imminent danger from him. He threatens to send the Nazgûl to take you to Barad-dûr-and you know what that would mean. He would torture you more cruelly than you can imagine, and eventually you would give him the information about the Ring that he demands. Yes, even you, Gandalf, could not bear it." He paused and swallowed hard, tears standing in his eyes. "Far better now for you to tell me where the One is to be found and for us to go together to its hiding place and then use it against him. After that, we can decide what is to be done with it in the long run."

Gandalf stared at him curiously. "Just how do you know all this? How long have you been in contact with Sauron?"

Saruman could not look him in the face. "I receive regular communications from him, as head of the White Council, of course. He obviously feels confident enough in his powers now that he can threaten us directly. Somehow his spies have found out that I have you here, and he insists that I allow the Nazgûl access to you, so that they can gain the news about the Ring that he desires. Later, I would have to turn you over to him so that he can extract more information from you-and wreak his revenge upon you. Do you not see that you have no choice? If you and I do not take the Ring and use it, sooner or later I would have to yield you up to our Enemy. Surely he will find the owner of the One. A mere Hobbit? You will not be there to protect him. Already the Nine are on their way here, bound for the Shire."

Gandalf frowned as he listened to the other Istar. "But surely you have built up and fortified Orthanc precisely so that you can withstand even the Nine if they appear at your gate. You have an army of your own. How can Sauron take either of us for questioning? Even if we are long trapped here under siege, there are others who can help the bearer to deal with the Enemy's great weapon. I have not spent so much time building up alliances with the various peoples only to have to deal with it all by myself. Certainly I shall not turn it over to you and thus set up another Dark Lord in his place."

Saruman shook his head and tossed back the last of the wine in his glass, refilling it immediately. "I have not become so deluded that I imagine Orthanc could long hold out if Sauron chose to send a great force against us. It would take some weeks at least to send an army here, but ultimately he would triumph. If I tried to defy him and protect you, I would eventually suffer the same fate: torture in the dungeons of Barad-dûr. Believe me, I do not intend to let that happen."

Gandalf gazed toward the setting sun. "Obviously you could not simply free me and let me escape his wrath as best I could. His anger would fall upon you."

The Grey Istar wondered if, without his aid, Aragorn and Elrond and the others could possibly manage to help Frodo take the Ring to the fire in Mordor. It was beginning to look as though they might well have to try. He felt near despair. "You are right. Who knows whether I could endure the torments of the Enemy and keep all information about the Ring from him? I dare not take that chance, and besides, the prospect of endless torture is unthinkable. A quick death here would be preferable. I realize that I cannot ask you to kill me before they can take me away. Sauron would blame you and punish you horribly."

Gandalf paused and looked around. "On the other hand, in one sense you have put me in an ideal spot. If Sauron's messengers come to fetch me, I shall throw myself off the tower. Perhaps Sauron will blame you for being imprudent enough to use the roof as my prison, but I doubt that he would harm you in any serious way."

Saruman stared at him during this, his tears spilling from his eyes. Then a trace of hope crept into his face. "At least I ought to be able to keep them away from you when they arrive. The Dark Lord knows that the Ring is in the Shire, for the Nazgûl are seeking that land. They will probably be here very soon, and they will ask to see you. They would think to torment you until you told them where the Shire lies. I could tell them where it is and pretend that I tortured that information out of you."

Trying to put aside the revulsion that this plan caused him, Gandalf strove to think objectively about it for a short while. "I suppose that you could. If Sauron's minions believe you, he might credit you with trying to help him. As for the Ring, it is, I trust, now far from the Shire, and neither you nor he will ever find it. Even if you could bring yourself to torture me-and I give you enough credit that I don't believe you could--I could not tell you much. Indeed, I am not at all sure where it is at the moment."

Saruman stared at him, dismayed, and set his empty glass down beside his chair. His eyes were reddened and slightly swollen. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "Why, oh why were you given Narya?" he said suddenly, clearly not expecting an answer.

Gandalf looked at him in surprise but waited as the White Istar went on, "If I had had it, maybe I wouldn't have wanted the One. So much might have happened differently."

"Perhaps, but it might simply have fueled your ambitions for yet more power."

Saruman opened his eyes and looked at the other Wizard. "The Ring of Fire might defend its bearer against even the Nine. Give it to me, Gandalf, or at least loan it to me when they arrive!"

Gandalf snorted and replied, "You seem to want us to do nothing but share Rings these days."

Saruman frowned. "No, I want us to share more than that. As we used to. I want things to be as they were." He reached out clumsily to embrace Gandalf, but the other Istar fended off his groping hands easily and rose.

The Grey Wizard said quietly and firmly, "Saruman, you are deluding yourself." He paused and began to pace as he went on, "Things could never be the same. You alone have caused our breach. Right now I cannot imagine ever being able to forgive you for what you have done to me and to our cause." He saw the bleak despair in the White Istar's eyes and said, "Your own hopes of finding the Ring have shrunk from faint to none." He hesitated and then went to sit beside his companion again, continuing earnestly, "There is another way, Saruman. The best, the most logical way."

Saruman stared at him, as if fearing to hope. Gandalf saw this and said more urgently, "Renounce your ambitions, Saruman. Return to our cause. Pledge yourself to helping me deal with the Ring in the ways that I and the others of the Wise see fit. Surely you are not wholly corrupt, and you could find and rekindle the qualities that I once found so admirable in you. It is the right course to take, and the only one that offers you a real chance." He paused to think and sighed as he finally resumed, "If you would join me as I have urged and help us succeed in our great struggle, perhaps I could ... someday begin to forgive you. It would no doubt be many years ere I could trust you again. Then, perhaps we might be able to recapture at least a part of our former joy, but that possibility now depends entirely upon you and how you respond to my plea. You know that I say this not to lure you into aiding me but because I truly believe it." He paused and looked into the other Istar's eyes with a hint of tears in his own. "After all, I miss you the way you were."

For a moment Sarurman sat with an intense, eager expression, seeming to consider this excitedly, but almost at once he slumped down. "He would know," he muttered. "He would never let me go."

Gandalf was baffled and searched the other Istar's face. "'He,' Saruman? Whom do you mean? If it is Sauron, I shall help you defy him. He need never know what happened here. We could be far from Isengard before he finds out that you have betrayed him."

Saruman uttered a short gasp of mirthless laughter and scrambled to his feet. "You don't realize," he muttered. "You can never understand."

"Understand what? What have you done? To yourself and to all of us?"

Saruman awkwardly grasped the wine bottle and his glass with one hand, waving the other as if to ward off the Grey Wizard's questions. Quickly he descended the steps, and Gandalf heard the iron door clang shut. He sighed and looked around. At least Saruman had not taken the two chairs with him-nor the remains of his glass of wine. For the first time in months, he could sit comfortably. As he slowly sipped the exquisite vintage, he sought to fathom what had caused the look of such terror and despair in the White Istar's face. Unless he could divine that cause, he had no chance of trying to help Saruman escape from whatever danger he was in. The other Wizard had somehow managed to imprison himself inside Orthanc as effectively as he had imprisoned Gandalf on top of it.

September 18, 3018, Orthanc

Saruman was sitting at the desk in his cluttered, comfortable study. A book was open before him on the table, but he was staring over it into space. His mind was in turmoil, as it had been ever since he had locked Gandalf on the roof. Ever he sought arguments he could make to finally persuade the Grey Istar to join him, to reveal the Ring to him, and to lead the war against Sauron with its aid. He knew, though, that nothing he could say would convince Gandalf. Their conversation of a few days earlier had made that clear.

It was evening, and he had finished his solitary dinner an hour earlier. As he had eaten, he had longed for the days in which Gandalf would have been seated opposite him, so eager to talk and ready to laugh. It was ridiculous, really, that his lover was even now so close, and yet Saruman could not invite him to share this meal.

As the White Istar pondered his extremely limited options, a knock came at the door. He called out for whoever it was to enter. A guard from the gate of the wall around the tower's grounds came in, pale and shaking. "There are ... Men, riders at the gate, my lord. Nine of them. They demand to speak to you. They terrified us, what with their hoods hiding their faces and their hissing, evil speech. We did not admit them, and indeed, some of the others fled. I locked the doors and promised them that I would tell you of their arrival. Their leader said you would know who they are and why they have come."

Saruman sighed and closed his eyes briefly. Then he steeled himself and donned his cloak and picked up his staff. He walked to the door and paused as the Man stood aside, fear in his eyes.

"My Lord, forgive me, but I cannot face going back. May ... may I stay here in the tower until they have gone?"

The Istar stared at him for a moment and then simply gave a single nod and swept out and down the steps. Terrified though he was himself, Saruman realized that his guards could not defend him. His only hope lay in his own persuasive abilities.

Quickly Saruman made his way out of the tower and strode toward the gate. He was determined not to let the Nine inside the wall. As he walked the half mile to the gate, he perceived the full horror of service to Mordor. Every step plunged him further into fear and despair. He had never imagined the miasma of terror that the Riders generated around themselves, and he could barely force himself to walk through the short tunnel to the gate.

Drawing himself up, Saruman opened one leaf of the door and confronted the horror without. He found himself staring into faces entirely concealed by hoods, with invisible eyes that he knew were fixed upon him. The Istar was trembling, but he spoke with apparent calm. "Greetings, my lords. I know whence you come, but I know not why."

"You have the Grey Wizard here," their leader said in a cold, gasping voice that sent a chill through the Istar. "He knows where Shire lies. Our master and yours demands that you let us question him."

Saruman struggled to keep his mind fixed on the story that he would tell his fell visitors.
"True, I have the Wizard here," he said as calmly and authoritatively as he could. "I knew that our master would wish to have information from him, and so I detained him. Our master has ordered that I myself should go now and question him and try to discover what he knows about this matter that has brought you here. If I am not able to persuade him to talk, then I shall yield him to you, and you must try for yourselves to break his resistance. I am confident that I shall succeed, though. During his imprisonment I have already tortured him into telling me many useful things. You are to await me here."

The Riders' leader gave a single nod, and Saruman inwardly congratulated himself on having maintained his calm and used his Voice successfully. He tried not to move too hastily as he went back through the gate and bolted it behind him. Though he was short of breath from the horror of the conversation, he hurried back to the tower and up the hundreds of feet of spiral staircase. He must convince Gandalf to help him deal with the Nine. It was simply beyond him. He had overestimated his own ability to deceive Sauron. But with the Grey Istar's cooperation-and how could he refuse to help foil the Nine?-there was still hope.

Briefly the White Wizard stopped in the little storeroom and fetched the key to the iron door. In a few moments he had it unlocked and stepped out onto the roof of the tower. He surveyed the empty pavement in confusion, and then again, sure that he had somehow overlooked Gandalf in the dark. His heart skipped a beat as it occurred to him that perhaps the other Istar had realized what was happening, that the Nazgul had come, and had feared that they would bear him off to Mordor at once. Might he have carried through his desperate plan and jumped off the tower to avoid the eternal tortures of Sauron?

Just as the White Istar felt grief overwhelming him, he glimpsed a movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he saw in the light of the full moon a great dark bird in flight, heading south toward Rohan, and the glint of what could only be Gandalf's snowy hair as a spark against the darkness.

Saruman stamped his foot in rage. "Now just how did he manage that?" He leaned back against one of the great horns that projected upward from the roof, letting the breeze cool his flushed face as he struggled to think. Soon the answer came, along with a sense of the bitter irony of it all. "Bird messengers!" he gasped. He laughed quietly and without mirth and then tilted his head back against the stone, clenching his teeth. "Radagast, you fool!" he snarled, realizing as he spoke that it was not Radagast who was the fool. It was he, for not asking the Brown Istar to return to Orthanc along with Gandalf. No, Saruman had sent him on his way, free to interfere, to resume his ordinary little task of keeping watch on Mirkwood and dispatching what news he could to his colleagues. What message had the great eagle come bearing to Gandalf when he appeared out of nowhere and by chance became the Grey Istar's means of escape?

Chance? the White Wizard thought miserably. That the eagle should appear just as the Nazgûl were at the very gate of the tower-it was an unbelievable coincidence. But then Gandalf had always had strangely good fortune. A sign of the favor of the Valar, perhaps, who now took this opportunity to rescue their darling from the treachery of his fellow Istar. He tried to glean a scrap of good from this ruin of his plans, sought at least to be glad that his ex-lover was safe, if only for the time being. It occurred to Saruman that Gandalf's escape might just possibly mean that Sauron would never get the Ring and would be defeated. For a moment his old admiration for his fellow Istar returned, and he experienced an aching regret that he could never help in the struggle that might lead to that defeat.

For now he himself, however, was in profoundly deep trouble. His admiration for Gandalf vanished, and he was furious that the other Istar had escaped and left him to deal with the Black Riders. Was the situation unsalvageable, though? The Nazgûl might have noticed the great bird, but it seemed unlikely that they would discern that they were witnessing Gandalf's escape. He could pretend that Gandalf was still on the roof, and they might well believe him. After all, the Nine were not interested right now in taking the Grey Istar back to Mordor. Not when they had a far more important mission in the Shire. They would stop on their way back, planning to take Gandalf then. That could be weeks hence, though, and then he might fob them off by telling some story of other messengers having come from Mordor and taken Gandalf there. In the meantime, he could perhaps buy time by carrying through his plan to tell them where the Shire lay.

He had kept his fell visitors waiting too long, Saruman realized. They might insist on entering the tower to find him. He hurried down from the roof and thought frantically as he descended the many stairs as quickly as he could. By the time he reached the tower's hallway and reopened the door, he had his speech planned. He walked with long strides back to the gate. As he neared the short tunnel, the sense of dread again overwhelmed him and almost made him turn back. How could anyone hope to defeat such horrific and powerful beings? he wondered. He had been mad to ever have plotted to do so.

Drawing a deep breath and then another, he unlocked and opened the gate again. The Riders seemed not to have budged during his lengthy absence. The full moon shining down on the landscape only made the dark voids that were their faces all the more monstrous. Saruman summoned every bit of power he had over his Voice to placate and dismiss them. "I apologize for having kept you waiting so long," he said respectfully. "I had to torture Gandalf for a long time before he would give up the information that you seek. As you no doubt know, the Grey Istar is very devoted to his mission. He could not hold out against my methods, however, and he has told me where the Shire is."

Saruman sensed their eagerness to know what he had to tell, and he gained confidence. They had believed him, and perhaps they would simply accept the information that the White Istar had long known so well and then leave without bothering to confirm that Gandalf was truly a prisoner in Orthanc.

He said loftily, "I shall myself inform the Lord of Barad-dûr of the outcome of your visit. He and I frequently converse from afar on great matters that concern us. But all that you need to know on the mission that he has given you is where 'the Shire' lies. That, says Gandalf, is northwest from here some six hundred miles, on the borders of the seaward Elvish country." Saruman sensed that even the Witch-king did not relish the prospect of such a long journey into unknown territory. He continued, "You must cross Isen by the Fords, and then rounding the Mountains' end make for Tharbad upon Greyflood. Go with speed, and I will report to your Master that you have done so."

Saruman relaxed a trifle, feeling that his skillful speech had convinced the leader of the Nine that he was still a faithful ally of Sauron's, high in the Dark Lord's trust. "We shall go to the Shire," the Witch-king hissed, and with a loud clatter of heavy hooves, abruptly the Riders turned and rode away into the night.

As soon as the Nazgûl were gone, Saruman stepped inside the tunnel and closed the huge gate behind him, leaning against it in the darkness. He realized that he was shaking with the lingering effect of the terror the Nine could inflict, combined with relief that they were gone. He had much to do, though, and he pulled himself together and hurried back toward the tower, shouting an order to one of the few guards lingering inside that the leader of the troops should be sent to him. Soon he was ordering that wolves and Orcs set out for Rohan, trying to recapture Gandalf. Not that there was much chance that such stupid creatures would outwit the Grey Istar, but it was worth a try. At any rate, the presence of such fell creatures would help create a greater fear of Saruman in the heart of Théoden King. The Orcs also carried messages to Gríma son of Gálmód, the agent who was already carrying out the White Istar's plan of demoralizing the Rohirrim monarch.

At last all was arranged, and Saruman returned to his study, stoking the dying fire and collapsing into a chair to think. Sauron will believe I have cooperated in his search for the Ring, he assured himself. If he triumphs, perhaps he will stay true to his word and throw some scraps as a reward to his loyal servant of Isengard. He brooded. Something might be salvaged from this horrible situation, but it was pathetically little compared to his dreams. For an instant Saruman wondered whether Sauron might be willing to turn the Grey Istar over to him-assuming that Gandalf survived the cataclysmic war that would inevitably come. As a prisoner, a slave. He winced at the idea of Gandalf as a slave in his control. The other Wizard was too good and wise for that.

On the other hand, he thought bitterly as he leaned to lift the pitcher from the small table beside him and pour himself a glass of wine to steady his nerves, Gandalf had deserted him. He had flown away, saving himself and leaving Saruman to face the Nazgûl alone. He deserved whatever he got. The White Istar smiled as he calmed down and the terror of being questioned by the Witch King slowly wore off. He was still the White Istar, the head of the order. If he could someday have Gandalf as his prisoner, he would humble him and make it clear who was the superior in the relationship. And then he would forgive the other Istar. Things would indeed never be as they had been before. Still, they would be together. The many keys of Orthanc would guarantee that. No doubt Sauron would have taken Narya and destroyed Gandalf's staff-and if he didn't, Saruman would. No doubt, too, there would be tensions at first, but Gandalf would eventually have to realize that his only option for a reasonably tolerable existence would be to take whatever the White Istar offered him. The long reconciliation process could be quite enjoyable, he reflected with a little smile. He had heard that prisoners sometimes grew to love their captors. That sounded like a very pleasant possibility.

Immediately a puzzled frown crept over Saruman's face, however, as he slid further down in his chair and stared into the fire. An old worry resurfaced now that the turmoil was over. What if Sauron didn't win? What in Arda did Gandalf hope to do with the Ring? Assuming that Gandalf did seize it for himself, he could wreak a terrible revenge upon Saruman. True, he was not the sort to take revenge-not now. After a few years of wielding the One, he would be quite different.

There was no point in dwelling on that notion, Saruman thought. For now he had to go on pretending to follow through with Sauron's plans. He would continue preparing his army to attack Rohan, disabling the ally of Gondor so that the Dark Lord could finally overrun that country. And at the same time, he could work on his own behalf. It occurred to him that Gandalf might have been wrong. Saruman might still have one faint chance of obtaining the Ring. The White Istar thought of the news of a prophecy that his agents had recently sent him from Minas Tirith-a dream that had come to the sons of Denethor. "Seek for the Sword that was broken/In Imladris it lies ..." The poem said that "Isildur's Bane" would be brought forth. Saruman had no doubt what that phrase referred to.

Gandalf had said that the Ring was probably not in the Shire. He must have sent it to Rivendell. "And the Halfling forth shall stand." Bilbo, presumably, had been told to take it from his refuge in the Shire to Elrond's hidden dwelling. That must be why Gandalf had visited the Shire a few months earlier. It was a considerable distance from Hobbiton to Rivendell, and the Road led through many deserted and fell places. Gandalf would take long to get back to help Bilbo, even if he managed to cajole Théoden into loaning him a horse. Saruman would alert his many agents and spies in the Shire, sending out bird messengers with missives telling them to find any Hobbits traveling east. The White Istar's trustiest agents were in Bree, and anyone going in that direction would almost certainly pass through the town. With great good fortune, he might find the Ring before the Nazgûl did and before Gandalf could warn its bearer of the impending danger.

As he reached to pour himself another glass of wine, he thought of what Gandalf had said. If only he had consented early on to travel with the Grey Istar on his many journeys. At the time it had seemed foolish to duplicate all their labor. Besides, his distaste for camping and mediocre food and the other privations of that sort of life had prevented it. Would it have been worth it? Could he have gone on loving the other Wizard despite the many hardships? Or would such an existence have eventually chipped away at his love for Gandalf until it destroyed it altogether? It was hard to decide, and yet he thought of the extraordinary efforts he had made over the years to secure Gandalf's exclusive love for himself and of the great patience he had mustered, willing to go on trying for as long as it took. Yes, his love would have survived the hardships of travel, he suspected. Even now, after Gandalf's betrayal, he wanted the other Istar. Under any conditions, any circumstances.

Thinking it over, the beautiful study that he had devised for Gandalf would make a wonderful prison, if Saruman ever again got his hands on him. Like the other important rooms in the tower, it had a strong lock and a key that he could hide away. No worries about rescues by giant eagles, he thought with a grim little smile. And that very comfortable daybed for lovemaking. He wondered how long it would be before the Grey Wizard would accept physical love without resistance. If Saruman received Gandalf as a prisoner from Sauron, it might take much time and effort and patience. If instead the White Istar managed to gain the Ring, he supposed it would depend on what sorts of control it would give him over Gandalf. Perhaps in that case it would not take very long at all.

Once he had Gandalf safely hidden in Orthanc, his main reasons for hating the Grey Wizard-his two exquisite Elves, his successes on behalf of the West--would disappear. Saruman would prefer to have the other Istar love him in return, but if that was not possible, he himself would provide all the love in the relationship. The situation would not reach the perfection he had originally dreamed of, but it would be the best he could now hope for.