The Road to Isengard

by Nefertiti

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Series, Mithrandir (Gandalf)/Saruman; this chapter, Mithrandir/Legolas (established relationship)

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.

Author's note: Book-canon. The action takes place in 1637, shortly after a great plague has swept through the areas south and west of the Misty Mountains. Much of this series is based upon hints provided by appendices A and B, as well as parts of the Unfinished Tales.

Many thanks to Elanor for her advice and beta job and to Sarah for encouragement.

Chapter Six

2802, Isengard

Gandalf and Saruman were lying beside each other in the White Istar's large, comfortable bed. Gandalf had arrived that day, and they had just finished making love for the first time in over fifteen months. Saruman had been living in Orthanc for nearly 43 years now, and his lover had come to see him every year or two-occasionally more often, occasionally less, but even when he had to stay away for extended periods, he at least sent messages via the system of birds that Radagast continued to maintain. Once Gandalf had spent an entire winter at Isengard, but in general his visits seldom lasted more than two or three weeks.

The long intervals between the Grey Istar's visits were often drearier than they had been when Saruman was living in Minas Tirith. The Wizard had known from the start that his decision to abandon the White City for Orthanc would mean that he was alone far more often. He had not anticipated, however, how much he would miss the convivial meals with the Stewards and other important officials of Gondor. The White Istar traveled to Edoras every couple of months or so, and at similar intervals he received small delegations representing the Rohirrim court. He visited Minas Tirith most years, and messengers came irregularly from the Stewards, depending on Gondor's situation. Such social occasions helped make up for his solitary situation. And when Gandalf was with him, he felt that his sacrifices were worthwhile and that such visits might gradually increase and lengthen, leading to a time when all loneliness was banished.

The White Istar's exploration of Orthanc had taken much longer than he had expected. He had other things to occupy him, spending part of most days in his study. Apart from research, he devoted time to the running of the military and domestic affairs of such a large establishment. There was frequent correspondence with Rohan to be dealt with, as well as reports from scouts and spies that were sent out from Orthanc or Helm's Deep. One or two days a week he set aside for investigating the many rooms that opened off the great spiral staircase as it wound its way upward. Every room had to be checked carefully, since, as he soon discovered, the builders had included many panels, some of which were not easy to find. These concealed shelves and compartments, frequently with their contents still in place. When he found caches of papers or books, he suspended his exploration to go through them meticulously.

When Gandalf was not with him, Saruman sometimes invited handsome young Men from among the soldiery and the serving staff into his study or even his bed. He had quickly realized that in most cases he did not need to coerce them to join him. There were enough who submitted to his desire willingly, for he pampered the ones who shared his bed, exchanging privileges for the delights they gave him. Some were even eager to become his favorite, for he was a far more sophisticated lover than most of these young fellows had encountered. He could give pleasure as well as take it, when he chose to, though certain acts he reserved for the Grey Wizard. Some of these casual partners were also amusing company, but he was careful not to grow too fond of any of them. He wanted no affection that in any way resembled his love for Gandalf to arise. If he found himself too drawn to one of them, he promptly banished him from his bed and chose another.

For the past few weeks, however, there had been no such dalliance, for Saruman wanted to savor his building desire in anticipation of Gandalf's arrival and the glorious satisfaction of that desire. By now the relationship between the two Istari was common knowledge at Orthanc, and when Gandalf was about, these young Men knew better than to give the slightest sign of having been intimate with Saruman.

Now the Grey Istar was nearly asleep. Saruman had recovered somewhat from his post-coital weariness. As Gandalf rolled onto his side, Saruman edged toward him and spooned up against his back, embracing him. Gandalf smiled and made a soft little humming noise of erotic contentment, squirming slightly to press more firmly against Saruman. The White Istar wanted to bring their bodies into contact as fully as possible. He nudged the backs of Gandalf's thighs with his bent knee, and the Grey Wizard lifted one leg so that Saruman could slip his knee between them. It was a familiar position, and once they were as intertwined as they could be, Saruman gently brushed the white hair up and licked and kissed Gandalf's neck languidly, tasting with quiet joy the salty sweat raised by their recent lovemaking.

Saruman reflected that he could hold the other Istar like this for hours. It was wonderful when Gandalf was drowsy after lovemaking. At such moments Saruman had him, as completely as he ever had him, save during the sex act itself. There could be no unwanted mentions of a need to leave soon on some mission to a far-flung place that would keep Gandalf absent for months. There could be none of those occasional little looks of implicit reproach, silently disapproving the White Istar's decision to settle at Orthanc. Gandalf was just awake enough to respond with pleasure to the other Wizard's caresses. Saruman wished that this temporary perfection could last forever, that the Grey Istar would never leave and that they would somehow accomplish their mission here, together.

Saruman wondered how many times he had wished that. Countless times by now, since long before he had actually moved into Orthanc. He was tired of wishing. The dream should finally begin to come true. He had planned for so long and taken so much trouble to create this home for them both. The next step was to persuade Gandalf to give up his other lovers. If the two Istari could pledge themselves to each other, Gandalf would have reason to return here more often. Saruman wondered whether he could finally bring himself to ask Gandalf for that pledge during this visit. It was a daunting idea, proposing such a thing, but his jealousy of Erestor and Legolas-and possibly unknown others-had over the years grown hot and nagging. Yes, he would do it during this visit, Saruman resolved as he rested his cheek against Gandalf's shoulder, kissing it gently before he drifted off to sleep.

Upon Gandalf's arrival late in the afternoon, he had put off reporting what he had been doing in the outer world. "No more progress than last time we talked," he had said with a weary shake of his head. They had devoted the rest of the day to each other. As usual there was a quick, fierce coupling on the floor before the fireplace in Saruman's study, followed by a long, sumptuous meal. Finally they had gone to bed, speaking little and building slowly to lingering and sensual lovemaking.

Over breakfast the White Istar asked for news of what was going on to the north. "You have spent so much time dealing with the Dwarves in recent years, and you seemed somewhat hopeful when last I saw you. Why is there no progress even now?"

Gandalf wiped his mouth with his napkin, tossed it down onto the table in annoyance, and sat back with a sigh. "A more maddeningly stubborn and secretive race I cannot imagine! Well, Dwarves have much reason, no doubt, to keep to themselves and distrust outsiders, yet one would think that in the evil days that have come, they might grasp that they share a common cause with Elves and Men-and Hobbits and Ents and others. All my time these days seems to be consumed in seeking to convince them of that-and in trying to find out what their specific hopes and plans are."

Saruman nodded sympathetically as Gandalf paused with a little snort and resumed. "It has been thirty-two years since Smaug seized Erebor. About twelve years ago Thrór was slain by Azog, the leader of the orcs of Moria. Do they pay the slightest bit of heed to my claims that the dragon and the orcs are merely tools of a far greater Enemy? Of course not! I hate to think of how much effort I have spent over the past decades traveling to the far-flung places whither the Dwarves have scattered-the Iron Hills far to the east and now to the Blue Mountains to the west. That latter move has happened since last I saw you. Yes, some of them have managed to find a home even further away than the Grey Havens! It's as if they were trying to make my work harder. Fortunately there are some very pleasant places and dear friends along the route in between or I should have given up on the Dwarves altogether, I believe!"

Saruman did not want to linger over the thought of who some of those friends were, and he asked, "I should think that they must trust you more than virtually anyone else outside their own clans. Will they not listen to any of your advice?"

"Oh, they listen, and I suspect that they vaguely recognize that I am right and that in the long run they might have to join in the common battle against Sauron. What worries me is that in the short run they think only of vengeance against their own specific foes-and they have finally succeeded, as you well know, against Azog."

Saruman pressed his lips together and said bitterly, "Yes, the great battle that took place before the East Gate of Moria. I have every reason to know. In the three years since, bands of orcs fleeing that catastrophe have begun to plague the northern borders of Rohan. The Dwarves have certainly stirred up a fine hornets' nest!"

"Yes, and sacrificed half of their own host in defeating the orcs. 'Defeating,' I say, but it is only temporary. Azog is dead, to be sure, but the Dwarves have not retaken Moria. It is nearly as dangerous and inaccessible as before, under the control of Sauron's remaining orcs-which I'm sure he will replenish. By acting alone against one small part of the Dark Lord's strength, they have hurt their own cause and our broader one. I think all but the most fanatical among the Dwarves realize how dearly they paid for that vengeance. And one of the most maddening aspects of that battle was that they did not give me the slightest hint that they were planning it-despite the fact that the organization must have taken many months, during which I visited and met with some of them! Now that it is over they have scattered again to homes in exile, to eke out a poor living by mining and working iron."

Saruman frowned. "Do you believe they are lost to us, then, and will be of no use if the struggle against Sauron turns into open war?"

Gandalf sighed again and thought for a moment. "I don't know. It depends when that happens-and believe me, it is a matter of 'when,' not 'if.' There might be time to somehow reorganize the Dwarves in a purposeful way, but it will not happen soon. They are not finished with their thoughts of vengeance, of that I am sure. We must assume that they harbor thoughts of returning someday to Erebor, to drive off or slay Smaug and regain their treasure and home. It would be marvelous if they could do so, but they have not the power to make the attempt, let alone return to their former stature and once more participate in our greater struggle." He threw up his hands in a gesture of frustration. "And precisely because they are so secretive, I cannot hope to influence their plans in anything but the most marginal fashion. I feel that I have been wasting much time, and yet I dare not simply give up on them. We do not have so many allies that such a powerful race is expendable. And as you say, little influence as I may have with them, it is still greater than anyone else has."

They fell silent. Gandalf toyed with the silverware lying across his plate, staring abstractedly at the tablecloth. Saruman silently cursed the Dwarves, not just because they had stirred up the orcs of the Misty Mountains but because their recalcitrance was keeping Gandalf occupied in the northern areas and hence far from Orthanc for longer stretches than he otherwise need be. "What will you do about them?" he finally asked.

Gandalf shrugged. "Continue to travel, visit them, monitor their activities-to the extent that I am able. To try and persuade them to confide in me what they are planning. To help them if I can, of course. If I could aid them in some way, perhaps they would finally begin to take me more into their confidence. And if that does not work, perhaps the worsening situation across all of Middle-earth will convince them that they can no longer stand apart from the other races. By then, of course, it may be too late," he added with a wry little smile.

An hour later the two Istari were seated on a small padded bench in Saruman's study. They were reading the same book. Saruman had his left arm around his lover, embracing him so tightly that he had gradually drawn Gandalf partway onto his lap. Saruman's eyes soon left the writing and strayed to the Grey Istar's profile. Gandalf eventually reached the last line and sat for a moment waiting. Soon, however, he said, "Aren't you finished with this page yet? You read at least as quickly as I do."

Saruman brushed his lips against Gandalf's neck. "Yes, but I get distracted."

Gandalf laughed softly. "I thought we were supposed to be getting some work done. You teased me often enough about that in the old days at Minas Tirith." He turned to look into Saruman's face. "We can't spend all day, every day, making love with each other."

Saruman waggled his eyebrows. "No? When we're apart we spend all day, every day, not making love with each other."

Gandalf laughed harder and then leaned his head on Saruman's shoulder, whispering in his ear, "Do you want to go back to bed so soon, you randy fellow?"

Saruman grinned, savoring the surprise he was about to spring upon the other Istar. "No, I have something else to show you. I know we had begun to think that I would never find a way to get onto the roof of Orthanc, but I have at last succeeded."

Gandalf sat up and asked delightedly, "Really? After all this time! How in Arda did you manage it? Did you smash through the door?"

"No. Come, now that we have had a chance to digest that large breakfast, let's go up. It's a long climb. I'll answer your questions as we go." The two went out of the room, beginning to mount the stairs as Saruman resumed, "Well, you remember the cabinet of keys that I found in the small room off the kitchen when I first moved here."

"Of course, but you said that none of those keys unlock the door to the roof."

"No. Eventually, at the very top of the stairs, I found a room with a locked panel in the wall-one of the many I have found. The panel was a large, stone door that had a keyhole in it. One of the keys I had fit the hole, but although I could hear the lock click when I turned the key, I could not get the thing to budge. It could not be pushed or pulled or slid to either side. It seemed unlikely that a shutting spell had been put on it, since to the best of my knowledge, I was the first Istar to visit here. Even so I tried a few counter-spells, but to no avail. The problem quite baffled me for a long time."

"And you finally solved the mystery, I take it."

"Yes, though I'll admit it was largely by accident. One day about a year ago I decided to try again. At first I had no success, as before. I was pushing it this way and that. In my frustration, I must have pushed slightly upward, for suddenly it rose quite smoothly and easily. The door had been ingeniously hung with a counterweight. I had never run across anything quite like it. Through the wall, I could hear it moving downward, attached with a chain. Amazing that after all these years it still is in working condition! More indication of the builders' great craft. Inside I found several shelves and another rack of keys. Obviously it was a storage space for especially precious items. The keys seem mainly to open the various other panels and passages that the rooms in the upper stories contain, but one of them opens the great door out onto the roof."

The Grey Istar shook his head in wonder as Saruman concluded. "And were there valuable or useful items hidden in those panels and storage areas in the upper rooms?"

"Well, fascinating material, in a way. Heaps of papers and notebooks. Much the sort of thing that I had shown you from the rooms lower down. Documents salvaged from the wreck of Númenor, records of the occupation of this tower and of hostilities in which its garrison was involved, correspondence with both the North and South Kingdoms through many hundreds of years. From the handwriting, I think there must have been two or three scribes living here at any given time. All invaluable stuff if one wanted to write a history of Númenor in exile. I have found much of it engrossing reading, but almost nothing of practical use in our current situation. In my opinion it would be more appropriate if most of these documents could go to the archives in Minas Tirith. Unless you have any objection, I intend to offer them to the Steward on my next visit."

Saruman was tempted to tell his lover about one of the most spectacular finds. In a niche in the secret storage-space behind the counter-weighted door had been a carefully wrapped sphere that had proved to be the palantir of Orthanc. Upon uncovering it the White Istar had been profoundly moved, seeing a major piece of history before his eyes. It was a beautiful object, a shiny, perfect globe. It seemed transparent, somehow, and yet nothing at all was to be seen in its inky depths.

As soon as he had touched the palantir, it suddenly occurred to Saruman to wonder whether another might survive. If he looked deep into the globe, there was perhaps a faint chance that he would see an image of a room where another palantir was situated. If somehow he or Gandalf could find it, the Grey Istar might possibly be able to carry it about on his travels. They could see and talk with each other daily, even when they were hundreds of miles apart! They could dispense with the slow and occasionally unreliable system of bird messengers. The very thought briefly made him lightheaded. Drawing a deep breath, Saruman had turned the globe this way and that, staring into it with a vague sense of unease and hope-but there was nothing to be seen. Not surprising, of course, given that all the other palantiri were lost. One was of no use, since the "seeing stones" could look only between each other.

Disappointed, Saruman had reluctantly rewrapped the palantir. After brief reflection, he hid it away in a locked secret panel in the wall of his study. He kept the key to that panel in a little velvet pouch at the back of a drawer in his desk. The palantir was of no use, he realized, and yet he kept it safe and secret. Now he was oddly reluctant to tell Gandalf about it. Really, the discovery of such a useless item did not seem the sort of impressive revelation that he wanted to make to the other Istar. It certainly would not help draw him to spend more time at Orthanc. Saruman decided that it was better to concentrate on the roof-which was a splendid addition to the tower's attractions.

As they climbed, they passed the dozens of empty rooms and finally reached the chamber where Saruman had found the panel and the keys. Various objects obviously for use on the roof were now stored there: folding chairs, a small table, and a cabinet full of dishes and glasses and a rack of wine bottles. The White Istar picked up a large but light rolled mattress and with Gandalf's help carried it as they left the room. After only a few more steps they reached the landing outside the great iron door, which Saruman opened with the recently discovered key. A short flight of straight steps led up to the center of the pavement. As they went up, Saruman pointed out the ingenious drainage system that the builders had contrived to draw rainwater out of the stairwell.

The pair emerged onto the broad, hard black platform, ringed by a low wall that was interrupted at intervals by the four tall horns that extended upward and gave Orthanc its distinctive shape. Gandalf made a slow circuit of the edge, gazing out across the astonishing view. As always when the Grey Istar was introduced to some impressive aspect of their "home," Saruman followed a short way behind him, delighting in his lover's reactions.

Eventually they were back where they had started, and Gandalf turned to face the White Istar. "Amazing! I'm so glad that you were finally able to find out how to get onto the roof. What a view!" His eyes dropped to the slightly glistening pavement. "There seem to be carvings of some sort here."

"Yes, ancient reliefs," Saruman replied, "I have studied them at some length. These shapes represent stars, and the whole thing is quite a learned series of plans of the night sky at different times of year. I have spent many pleasant hours in the evenings comparing the maps with the sky itself, and I have never found a mistake."

"Fascinating! If the weather remains this clear, we must come up again tonight, and you can show me how to read them."

"Certainly, certainly," the White Wizard replied happily.

They wandered slowly around the perimeter again, holding hands and looking out in every direction, taking more time over the views. Not too far to the north the last peaks of the Misty Mountains loomed, and the foothills and ridges that extended south from them split and seemed to embrace the great natural shallow bowl in which Orthanc stood. All about the grounds and the areas outside the vast surrounding wall were the gardens and trees, now restored to their former glory and lushly colorful in this season. In front of the tower, the vale stretched away, with a widening visible at the distant end that spoke of the vast grasslands of Rohan.

Finally Gandalf remarked, "Already this is definitely my favorite part of Orthanc. I can think of few places where one can see so far. Ecthelion's Tower atop Minas Tirith, perhaps."

"Not Dol Guldur? As I recall, you went to the top of that at least once."

"Yes, more than once. But the view from there is often veiled by the unpleasant mists and smoke that linger around it. I went up on the clearest day during my visit, and the panorama out over the forest is impressive, no doubt. I think Dol Guldur must be roughly as tall as this. Yet one can see all too plainly the shadow that obscures the trees for many miles around it, and only in the distance is the foliage relatively free of it. Even so, Mirkwood no longer looks anything like the bright, pleasant woods down there." Gandalf swept his free hand to indicate the trees far below them. "Besides, this scenery has far more variety." He looked around and added, "I am surprised that it is not all that windy so high up in the open."

"Well, when the wind blows from the north off the mountains, even in the midst of summer it can be quite chilly and breezy. But when it shifts to the south, as now, it becomes very pleasant up here. On such days I choose something to work on that I can bring up, and I often sit for hours reading or writing." Saruman stretched slightly to kiss the other Istar's cheek. "Today it is even warm enough that one could undress and not be uncomfortable."

Gandalf turned his head with a smile, and their mouths slid teasingly against each other. As they parted, the Grey Istar glanced across the roof at the mattress resting by the stairwell. "Yes, it was no great mystery why you fetched that along with us."

Saruman nodded. "On the nicest days, I sometimes nap up here." The White Istar did not mention it, but one of the most pleasurable aspects of finally gaining access to the roof had been to bring his current favorite along for some open-air lovemaking. Somehow the breezes and the view enormously enhanced such activities, and he had keenly anticipated at last being able to bring Gandalf up for the same purpose. He added, "We are very lucky in having such splendid weather upon your arrival."

Together they unfastened the ties around the mattress and unrolled it. For a moment they stood side by side, glancing down at it and up at each other with amused smiles of anticipation. Saruman leaned in to whisper near Gandalf's ear, "Lie down."

The Grey Istar turned his head, and their moist lips clung to each other, stretching as they released, only to cling again. An inadvertent little slurping noise amused them both, and they moved apart, grinning. Gandalf whispered, "All right, I'll lie down and see what it gets me." His eyebrows waggled slightly. He lowered himself and stretched out on his back, looking up at the other Wizard with an expectant smile.

Saruman sank to sit beside Gandalf's hips. He brushed the long beard aside and ran his flat hand lightly over the Grey Istar's chest and belly, circling and returning. He stopped as his fingers encountered a stiff nipple, and delicately he scratched it with his nail through the cloth. Gandalf twisted slightly, his eyes dropping halfway shut, His hips gave a small, involuntary buck as Saruman continued to rub his fingertip over the sensitive nub. The White Istar's cock squirmed within his trousers as he surveyed this reaction. He pinched and rolled the nipple until he could not bear to delay further exploration. Pulling Gandalf's shirt out of his trousers, he lowered himself to his elbow and dragged his tongue slowly over the smooth skin of the hard, wiry belly. Saruman was rewarded with faint, sharp, gasping moans, and he untied the trouser laces, pushing the loosened cloth down until the curly white clump of hair was just visible. Nuzzling into it, his nose brushed the base of the half-engorged member still trapped in the trousers and lying at an angle along the join of the belly and thigh.

Gandalf's hand stroked down Saruman's head and along his back. "Lovely," he whispered. The hand continued around the White Istar's waist and down to feel the swelling erection under the taut laces. He continued to manipulate it with his fingers as Saruman moaned and jerked Gandalf's trousers down, seizing his member and sucking it hungrily into his mouth. The other hand slid back up to resume pinching his lover's nipple.

Gandalf gulped as the damp heat engulfed him, and he struggled to undo the laces of the elegant white trousers. He chuckled breathily. "To think that there was a time when you were reluctant to do that! Now I can hardly keep you away from there."

"No," Saruman whispered, after drawing back. He examined the tip as it gradually became suffused with the familiar deep-purple color. He swirled his tongue around it before running it up and down the shaft, tracing the rough veins slowly while returning to the top. He laved the row of little creases that converged upward below the tip. The White Istar started as Gandalf pulled his cock free and began to lick it.

Saruman flicked his tongue hard, back and forth, across the ridge on the underside of the Grey Istar's member. He felt Gandalf do the same to his. The White Wizard moved down to suck little patches of the loose skin of the testicle sac between his lips, and Gandalf imitated him in that as well. Saruman ran tickling fingers over the rigid sex, and his lover followed suit. The White Istar raised his head to smile at Gandalf and see his answering smile before they resumed slowly exploring and pleasuring each other with hands and mouth, each caress from Saruman drawing forth exactly the same one from the other Istar. Soon they were humming with arousal and eventually little whimpers and moans erupted as they drove each other gradually closer to bliss.

At last the enjoyment became frustration, and Saruman glanced at his companion, his smile gone now and a pleading look in his eyes. He said hoarsely, "Now, please!" and drove his mouth far down the Grey Istar's upright cock. He paused, and his whole body twitched as Gandalf took his erection deep in. They began to suck frantically, their heads moving up and down in unison, their tight fists pumping hard along the lower shafts. Both emitted a muffled moan with every stroke. Having come twice the night before, they lingered just short of ecstasy for longer than either would have wished, and they strained toward it, sucking and pumping as fast as they possibly could.

At last Gandalf's member sprang free as Saruman threw his head back suddenly and groaned, grimacing in rapture. His fist jerked at the Grey Istar's erection as Gandalf drained the seed from him and waves of pleasure surged along his member. As they slowly ceased, Saruman licked the other Wizard's rigid sex, still panting too hard to wrap his lips around it again. The White Istar's shrinking penis slipped from his lover's mouth. Free to move now, Saruman shifted his body and was able to moisten his long central finger and reach around Gandalf's thigh to slip it inside him. Saruman covered the purple tip with his mouth and resumed sucking as he pushed the finger inward. Almost at once it encountered the little gland, and he rubbed it hard. Within seconds Gandalf stiffened and uttered a strangled moan, shuddering spasmodically as he sent gushes of come down Saruman's throat. Finally, after a final series of tiny twitches, his entire body suddenly went limp, and he rolled onto his back.

They lay panting, glorying in the lingering pleasure of their climaxes. Saruman stared up into the sky, feeling giddy. Somehow being alone on this roof, hundreds of feet above the ground where many soldiers and servants were working, made the lovemaking and its aftermath seem even more wonderful. He could remember few other times when he had been this happy. Then suddenly a vision of the last time Gandalf had had sex came to him. With Erestor, probably, given what the other Wizard had told him of his travels. He glanced at the Grey Istar's shrinking member, close beside his face, and he saw a vivid image of the lovely Elf's lips drawing it inside. He pictured too Gandalf's mouth kissing and licking and teasing Erestor to erection. That such things should still be going on after all these years seemed beyond bearing.

Without further thought Saruman suddenly sat up and seized his lover's hand, looking down into his contented face. He blurted out, "Gandalf, I adore you! I want finally to pledge myself only to you, and to have you do the same to me."

Gandalf's eyes flew open, and he too sat up, staring with a startled little frown into Saruman's eyes. He looked around, puzzled, and then rose to his feet, pulling his trousers up and fastening them as he began to pace slowly around the pavement. Saruman watched him anxiously, also doing up his clothes. He sensed that Gandalf was angry and was struggling to word his reply carefully. Saruman already regretted having spoken and yet hoped against hope that the other Istar would calm down and agree-reluctantly no doubt, but still ...

Finally Gandalf replied, "I really don't know what to say. I adore you as well, but I had never thought you would ask this of me, that I should voluntarily make my life even more difficult than it is now! Do you imagine me spending luxurious months at Rivendell and Thranduil's city, eating well and sleeping with my beautiful lovers? Hardly! Such visits are few and far between and usually last all of a week or so. Well, admittedly I do stay somewhat longer at Rivendell, because it is so central, because it is still my main base of operations, and because there are so many people there I need to consult-but I seldom spend anything like the amount of time there that I would like to. And lately I have been spending more time with you than with either of the others."

He clenched his teeth, glanced at Saruman, and went on, "In the meantime, you dwell here in considerable comfort. Oh, I realize that you sometimes journey on important missions to Edoras and Minas Tirith and that there are no inns between here and those cities. But tell me, what are your conditions when you camp? I would wager that soldiers accompany you, set up a commodious tent for you, and cook you pleasant meals, albeit less elaborate ones than you enjoy ... at home."

Saruman nodded in confirmation of this guess. Even in his misery he noted the faintly sarcastic emphasis on the word "home," which Gandalf had never applied to Orthanc, even in reference to Saruman's dwelling there. The White Istar was terrified. Gandalf had never expressed anything beyond mild annoyance or reproach to him. Anxiously the White Istar sought something that he could say to stem his lover's recriminations, to try and reassure him, to withdraw the request for mutual pledges, but Gandalf went on before he could speak.

"Moreover, you are asking me to choose among the people I love. Erestor and Legolas had both been my friends-well, very close friends-for centuries before I even met you. I see them so seldom, especially Legolas. Years go by sometimes. And they both live far from here-in places where I visit on journeys when I must be away from you for a very long while. I know that by normal standards my love-life seems very peculiar. Believe me, the thought of settling down and staying with someone I love is very appealing. Being lonely so much is not something I enjoy! But you know as well as I that, given my situation, such intimate friendships are all I can hope for.

"Of course I don't ask you to remain celibate for such extended periods apart. And I don't believe that you do. Given that you live almost exclusively among mortals, I imagine that you face the grief of seeing your lovers die eventually, but still, you would have them for decades. For all I know you have a favored lover here or in Minas Tirith-or in Rohan, for that matter. Maybe all three. I have always sensed that you are more ... well, less inclined to talk about such things than I am. I have had no desire to make you feel uncomfortable by prying." He paused and looked uncertainly down at the White Istar.

Saruman was relieved to see that the other Istar seemed to be calming down. He rose quickly, hoping to regain some control over the conversation. He absolutely did not want Gandalf to think that he had been in love with anyone else since they had met! The few relationships that involved what Saruman considered real love had been long ago, in the East. Only one had lasted until the death of the Man, and the grief of it had helped convince him that such extended affairs with mortals were not desirable. The White Istar decided that at this point honesty would be best. He replied in a conciliatory tone, "No, I am not celibate when you are gone. I lie with ... well, frankly with some of the Men that I have about me-servants, soldiers. They are definitely not people that I love or even consider close friends. And such relationships do not last for decades, but rather weeks or at most months. I have no one on a long-term basis, and I assure you, Gandalf, there has been no one whom I care for in anything like the way I feel about you," he concluded earnestly.

Gandalf stood staring at the pavement for a while and then looked up at him with a doubtful little frown. "Well, that may suit you, but I don't see that it's more admirable--as you seem to think. Are numerous casual relations of that sort better than my small number-and it really is quite small-of dear friends who gradually became closer to me? They have given me support of all sorts. Not just love and pleasure by any means, but companionship, advice, aid in my tasks, news, shelter. I would care deeply for these people even if I never slept with them. You may think it strange, but I have always been rather proud of the fact that none of those relationships has ended-even the one with Radagast, though he and I are no longer intimate in the old way. I think it shows the depth of the friendship that underlies them."

The Grey Wizard hesitated long, pacing again, before adding, still with a distinctly reproachful tone, "I must say, now that I know that you have no other lovers in the sense that I think of them-well, forgive me, but you would not have to surrender much of anything to commit yourself solely to me. Physical pleasure, yes, but apparently you are willing to make that sacrifice. But I would give up a significant part of my long-established relationships with two people I love, hurting them both in the process. I would condemn myself to a life where I might go for years without the sort of intimacy that I crave, that helps sustain me, and that everyone naturally needs. Given that you knew about these other lovers when you seduced me, I assumed you accepted the circumstances as they were and have done for these hundreds of years." A tiny, ironic smile twisted his lips briefly. "In fact, I have always been grateful to you for your forbearance when it came to my having these other lovers. Believe me, I have thought deeply and often about other ways that I might arrange my life, to make it easier without betraying my mandate. It is hard enough to do everything that I feel I must without jealousy coming into it in this way. I had no notion that you would suddenly make this a condition of our love."

Saruman moved quickly to stand before the other Wizard, not yet trying to touch him. The White Istar had long since learned during his diplomatic dealings that his voice had an uncannily persuasive power, and now for the first time he consciously sought to use that power on his lover. "Wait, Gandalf, wait! Do not be angry with me. You are right, of course. It's just my great love for you that prompts me to mention such a thing." He forced a smile. "I suppose I was just testing the waters, really, finding out what you thought of the idea. It's true that I would prefer it if you bound yourself to me alone, but ... well, knowing now how strongly you feel about it and hearing your reasons, I can accept that things will go on as they have. I certainly don't make your breaking off with the others a condition of our remaining together." He gently put a hand on the grey sleeve, and Gandalf raised his head to look into his face. The Grey Wizard's frown had faded, but he still looked dubious.

For a moment Saruman wondered if by being so impulsive he had destroyed forever his chances of achieving his goal. He felt tears threatening to spring to his eyes. He realized that he could never again ask Gandalf to part with his other lovers. It was just too risky. He would have to find another way to separate the Grey Istar from them. How, he had no idea, but he would have to figure something out.

Mastering himself, he stared pleadingly into Gandalf's eyes and gently stroked his cheek. Saruman leaned forward, and his lips drifted across the other Wizard's neck and up to his ear. But Gandalf pulled back and looked into his eyes. "Then you really are reconciled to the situation as it is now? Or at least, you can live with it?" he added with a rueful little smile.

Saruman cupped the sides of Gandalf's head with his long hands, stroking the other Wizard's cheeks soothingly with his thumbs. He nodded in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. "Yes. Nothing has changed, and nothing needs to change. I... I have been jealous of the others, I admit, but I have always tried to hide it, fearing to burden you with knowledge of it as you go about your immensely difficult tasks. And I shall try to hide it again in future."

As Saruman stared into Gandalf's face, he realized more forcefully than ever that Erestor had been right. Those who loved the Grey Istar so feared alienating him that they let him have his own way. How well the Elf knew Gandalf! Saruman reflected. He spread one hand against the back of Gandalf's white mane and put the other around his body, drawing him tightly against himself. When he felt the other Wizard's arms slip around his waist and Gandalf's warm lips on his cheek, he sighed with relief. The terror slipped slowly away. He would have to make sure that he controlled his jealousy in future and never provoked such an argument again.

Finally, pulling back, he tried not to let the depths of emotion that their conversation had stirred in him show in his face. "Shall we go down to my study? It will soon be time for lunch, and I have several things to show you that I have discovered since last you visited-though nothing remotely as splendid as this view."

Gandalf nodded, and after a long kiss during which their tongues softly circled each other, they turned and went down the long, silent spiral staircase together.

That evening after dinner the pair sat in the comfortable chairs in Saruman's study, reading in the lingering light of high summer that came in through several tall, narrow windows that opened out in a southwesterly direction. The White Istar found it impossible to concentrate on his book, though he pretended to peruse it. Everything Gandalf had said was true, and yet the thought of Erestor and Legolas was more maddening than ever now that Saruman knew Gandalf would never allow himself to be lured into giving them up. He stared at his lover's face out of the corner of his eye and suddenly wished that he could somehow put Gandalf into a trance and make him reveal everything about his other lovers: how often he had lain with each and how good each was in bed. How had they touched him and given him the greatest pleasure? Of course he would never know such things. He would not dare to ask, and he would no doubt be miserable to hear them even if somehow he could induce Gandalf to give him such intimate details.

He wondered if Gandalf longed to know the same things about the White Istar's past lovers. If Gandalf ever did ask, Saruman realized that he would be reluctant to speak of such things, but he would be reasonably honest and tell his lover about his past partners-though not about how some of them had been induced to pleasure him. He knew well, though, that Gandalf would never ask. The other Wizard didn't care. He took lovemaking so casually. Well, no, to be fair, not casually, not lightly. Gandalf was extremely devoted to his lovers and treasured everything that they shared. But he apparently didn't feel that deep hunger to be with just one of them, shut away from the world-a hunger that by now was consuming the White Istar. It would never occur to Gandalf to be jealous.

Saruman clenched his teeth hard and looked unseeing at the pages of his book. Suddenly he realized for the first time that one could love someone intensely and yet hate certain things about him.

Something else bothered the White Istar nearly as much. He still had never found out to his satisfaction why Gandalf spent so much time in the Shire. Of course now that the other Wizard was monitoring the situation of the Dwarves living in the Iron Mountains, he would naturally pass through the Hobbits' land on the way. Yet it was not duty that took Gandalf there so often. The Grey Istar was always eager to talk about the Shire and had told him a great deal about it by now--though nothing that would explain its fascination for him. Indeed, the more that Saruman heard about that bucolic land, the less he could imagine its being so attractive.

Gandalf was always so honest that it had never crossed Saruman's mind that the other Wizard would hide something from him. Yet might Gandalf not have some great secret relating to the Shire? The White Wizard could not imagine what sort of secret it could be, but he decided that it was finally time to find out.

Just as Saruman was ruminating darkly about such things, Gandalf looked up and smiled at him. He smiled fondly in response, and the other Istar rose and came to sit on the arm of his chair, one hand resting on his shoulder, and leaned over so that their faces were close together. "You really are very sweet to me," Gandalf whispered.

Saruman stared at him. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, just that you treat me so well when I am here. You feed me such marvelous meals and give me so much of your time and just take such good care of me in general. It always gives me something to console myself with, when I am camping alone in bad weather or frustrated after dealing with reclusive Dwarves. I can remind myself that a stay at Orthanc makes up for so much and gives me a little opportunity to relax and let myself be pampered."

The White Wizard was long used to thinking of showering Gandalf with luxury and devoting time to him as strategies to make the other Istar eventually act against his own beliefs and goals. Saruman was silent for a moment, thrilling at the idea that his lover so looked forward to these visits to Orthanc. Maybe his plan was working, and Gandalf was thinking of the place as a sort of home! Finally Saruman said softly, "I enjoy doing such things for you. It is so wonderful having you here, and besides, you have earned them."

Gandalf chuckled. "That I have! But still, it is sweet of you to give me what I so deserve. Not all my hosts do."

Saruman's elation receded slightly. "I am not your host. I-"

Gandalf brushed his fingertips over the other Istar's mouth to silence him. "Oh, not just my host, of course! You are far more than that. Friend, lover, colleague-"

Saruman shook his head and insisted, "I am not your host at all. This place is yours as well, an occasional home, as it were, and I don't think of you as a guest."

Gandalf stared into his eyes for a moment before replying, "Well, however you think of it, I am grateful for your kindness." He stretched his neck to kiss the other Istar's cheek gently and repeatedly.

Pondering this exchange later while lying in bed, Saruman concluded that, despite the "host" remark, overall it had been a sign that his plan was slowly working.

2803-2828, the Shire

About a year later, Saruman made his first visit to the Shire. He had received a message from Gandalf saying that the other Istar would stop there for a short time during the spring, following another of his many frustrating visits to the Dwarves. The White Wizard set out immediately, traveling on horseback, for once without an escort of soldiers.

It was a miserable journey, since he had to seek lodging in extremely modest inns or private homes in Dunland. At times the region was so barren that he was even forced to camp. It all reminded him of how grim traveling could be. How does Gandalf put up with it? he wondered. He couldn't understand why the other Wizard resisted spending at least a little more time in the luxury of Orthanc.

On that initial trip Saruman had not gone very far beyond the southern border of the little land. At first he had intended to camp and go about as inconspicuously as possible. He quickly discovered, however, that Hobbits were not as primitive as he had imagined them to be. They had inns that were more comfortable than what he had encountered further south in Eriador, and some had one room with larger furniture for any "Big People" that might be traveling through. The food they served was simple but reasonably pleasant. Saruman decided that he would utilize such inns. After all, if he hoped to gain information about Gandalf's doings, he would have to question the locals.

On such trips the Istar did not use his right name, of course, and he did not wear his usual white clothing. His hair by now had as much white as black in it. There were streaks of pure white at the temples and in the beard, as well as many single strands salted through the rest. In a low light, he thought, it might be mistaken for grey or even white. Saruman made no attempt to closely impersonate Gandalf or Radagast, but he wore grey or russet cloaks and adopted a pointed hat. Many who just glimpsed him on the road or across a crowded barroom mistook him for Gandalf, which was fine with him. Those who got a good look at him or spoke with him realized that this was a different Wizard-a far less social one.

Early in the evening Saruman would come to the inn's bar, however, in order to buy rounds of drinks, trying to hear gossip of the Grey Wizard. Fortunately, he discovered, Hobbits loved gossip almost as much as ale. There was plenty to be had, for Gandalf was popular, but often the news was long out of date, with the tellers having forgotten details. Besides, nothing he heard gave Saruman any indication as to what Gandalf did while in the Shire-apart from sitting around in pubs entertaining the local populace and enjoying the hospitality of his friends and presenting the occasional fireworks display. The White Istar sat impatiently through endless rehashes of some of Gandalf's silly stories or elaborate descriptions of what his fireworks had looked like-or arguments about exactly which day it had been when the other Wizard had dined at the mayor's home. The whole process was most frustrating-though at least the ale was excellent.

Innkeepers unanimously praised the other Wizard, since when Gandalf came to town, people quickly gathered in the bar and stayed late into the evening. Saruman was not inclined to tell stories or jokes or do little magic tricks for the group. Once the White Istar had heard what he could of his lover, he retreated to his room for dinner and a quiet evening. Not that the innkeepers minded that, since he ordered only the finest that the house had to offer and paid generously for his food and lodging. The one bit of solace that Saruman took from all this talk was that the Grey Wizard apparently always slept at inns while in the Shire, and seemingly he always slept alone.

During that first visit, Saruman had learned to his disappointment that the Grey Istar had already left the Shire, heading east. While he had not wanted Gandalf to know he was in the Shire, he had at least hoped to follow the other Istar at a distance, to track his movements and get fresh gossip from the locals. As a result, Saruman had not stayed long himself, remaining in the South Farthing and trying to learn enough about the area to understand why Gandalf loved this little country so. Although the place was more attractive than he had imagined, it all seemed to be sleepy and rural and dreadfully dull. He remained baffled.

Over the next 26 years, Saruman traveled to the Shire half a dozen more times to explore it more systematically. On each occasion he visited a different area, not wanting the Hobbits to get the idea that there was a second Wizard frequently about. On three of those visits he had managed to be there when Gandalf was. Naturally he did not reveal himself to his lover, in these cases actually camping so that he could be near the town where Gandalf stayed without the citizens or the other Wizard being aware of it. In this way he was able to pick up very fresh gossip, and once from a distant place of concealment he even observed Gandalf sitting outside an inn talking with some Hobbits on market day. Still, nothing revealing came to light. If the Grey Istar was concealing some great secret in the Shire, nobody there seemed to know about it.

From his first visit to a Shire inn, Saruman had been struck by seeing that virtually everyone present was smoking pipes. It certainly was a popular pastime here! The atmosphere in the barroom could become quite hazy. Initially the Istar regarded this quite contemptuously. How annoying that these little fellows should be able to lure his lover into adopting so ridiculous a practice! By his third trip, however, he had to admit to himself that the enjoyment that he saw all about him tempted him to at least try it. Sitting in the corner of the tap in a small inn, he chatted with some Hobbits, failing to draw forth any particularly interesting tidbits. After a short internal debate, Saruman finally signaled to the waiter and quietly requested a pipe and some weed. These were quickly fetched, and his tablemates enthusiastically and elaborately instructed him in the correct way to snap off the used end of the stem, fill the bowl, and light the weed.

The first few puffs gave no hint as to why anyone could possibly want to smoke, but he persisted, determined to understand what all the fuss was about. Gradually he relaxed and found the taste less unpleasant. By the end of that particular trip, he had purchased as much pipeweed as his horse could carry. As he set out southward, it occurred to him that his lover would undoubtedly tease him about this, given how often he himself had reacted scornfully when the Grey Istar lit up. And Saruman could not get past the idea that this was a practice for country bumpkins, not worthy of an Istar. He would refrain from smoking when Gandalf was at Orthanc. If-no, when Gandalf finally moved into the tower permanently, Saruman could pretend to allow the other Wizard to teach him how to smoke, since he could hardly continue to do so secretly after that point.

Eventually Saruman decided that his trips to the Shire were not worthwhile. They were difficult and undignified, and he was little closer to finding out why Gandalf spent so much time there. Besides, each journey made it more likely that the other Wizard would find out about his spying missions. In 2828, he finally made arrangements that would allow him to keep contact with the Shire without actually visiting it himself. He spent an unusually long time there and went to Bree as well. Having by this point identified some of the greedier and more unscrupulous people in the area, he plied them with money and thus organized a small group of spies scattered through the area, especially in the southern and eastern portions. These spies would report to two leaders, who would take it in turn to visit Orthanc with the information that had been gathered. The Shire's postal system, Saruman reflected happily, would make all this easier than he had anticipated. The White Istar also spent lavishly to set up a steady supply of the finest pipeweed the South Farthing had to offer, to be sent in barrels regularly to Orthanc. There were plenty of places where he could store it, safely hidden from Gandalf.

With all his elaborate arrangements made, Saruman gladly turned his back on the Shire and headed south once more. As he rode, his cogitations continually returned to the idea that he must find a way stealthily to control Gandalf. By now it was clear that the other Istar was not, as he had briefly thought, gradually coming to want to live in Orthanc. More inducements could be added, of course, but there was a limit to what Saruman could do to make Orthanc more attractive, and he was running out of ideas. He was making only very slow progress in trying to discover how to make a Ring of Power of his own, but every now and then he ran across a scrap of information that seemed to provide another piece to fill in the puzzle. The White Istar felt quite discouraged, but he had no choice but to keep trying and in the meanwhile enjoy whatever time he was able to spend with Gandalf.

2828 TA, the Shire

The sound of talk and laughter filled the bar of a small pub in the South Farthing. The place was crowded with Hobbits, partly because Gandalf was paying a rare visit to this particular area of the Shire and partly because he had brought with him two local lads who had actually journeyed with the Wizard outside the borders of the Shire. In recent years Gandalf had occasionally taken a few young Hobbits away on "adventures," as the Shire folk called them. The word always amused the Wizard, since their activities were far from dangerous or even noteworthy to the world at large. They were instead educational, since Gandalf was pursuing a harmless little policy of trying to introduce the provincial Hobbits to peoples outside their ken. In doing so he hoped that they would grow a bit less isolated-and possibly less vulnerable as Middle-earth grew more dangerous. Ideally the ones who had these "adventures" would inspire others to venture abroad on their own, and the Hobbits would come to have regular contact with other races-apart from gawking at the Dwarves who passed through the Shire, paying its citizens little mind.

The young fellows who had traveled with him this time had been away from home for a couple of months. They had gone westward, since Gandalf had some business in that direction. The Grey Istar had taken this pair past the famous White Towers that lay just west of the Shire and then on to the shore of the Sea-or at least the long Firth of Lune that led to the Sea. They had met the Elves of the Grey Havens and taken a short and thrilling-if a bit frightening-voyage in a ship! Gandalf had taken them even further, to see the Dwarves in their homes in the Blue Mountains. There the Wizard had been busy with meetings, but he took the time to hike with them partway up real mountains! Now that they had returned, the pair had many tales to tell. For once Gandalf sat off to the side, content to listen rather than be the storyteller himself. Questions flew back and forth, and it was clear that the curiosity of the locals would keep the conversation going well into the evening.

Initially Gandalf had hoped to teach the Elves and Dwarves something about Hobbits, but they remained uninterested or dismissive. They seemed to view the little people as servants or, worse yet, some sort of pets of the Grey Istar. Gandalf had not pressed the matter, since he had far greater issues to deal with. Still, he felt that at least the Hobbits were learning something by accompanying him.

As Gandalf puffed quietly on his pipe, a mug of ale at his elbow, the innkeeper found a moment to come over and greet the only Big Person in the room. "Gandalf! I hear tell that you passed this way a week or so ago. I'm disappointed that you didn't drop by then and have a drink and a talk with us."

Gandalf frowned slightly at him, puzzled. "A week ago? I was off west with these two fellows then, not in this vicinity."

The Hobbit's grin faded. "Really? The chap who told me seemed sure it was you. How many Wizards are there around these parts, after all? Though come to think of it, he said that he called a 'Hello' to you, and you hurried away without looking around. It's true, though, how could it have been you? That's an odd thing, now. Who do you suppose it was?"

Gandalf was quite sure that he knew who it had been, but he didn't want to embarrass Saruman. "Well, there are other Wizards in Middle-earth, though assuredly they seldom come through these parts. I expect it was one of them, in a hurry, and less partial to a friendly conversation and a pint than I am."

The innkeeper nodded. "I suppose. Well, I'm glad that you like to visit us occasionally." He glanced around the crowded room with a satisfied smile. "After all, we never lack for custom when you're around. I think half the village is here tonight!"

Indeed, several of the patrons were gesturing for refills, and the host hurried away to assist his harried waiter. Gandalf stared thoughtfully after him. This was the fifth time that someone in the Shire had mentioned seeing or hearing of another Wizard-or claimed that Gandalf had been seen someplace when he had actually been elsewhere. In most cases where the Hobbit assumed that it was Gandalf, the Grey Wizard did not disabuse them of that belief.

The White Istar had never spoken to Gandalf of these visits, which had apparently been going on for over twenty years. Gandalf had hesitated to press the point when he visited Orthanc, for obviously his lover was for some reason reluctant to admit to traveling to the Shire. The White Wizard had even taken up smoking, Gandalf had heard. He had arranged for regular shipments of pipeweed to Isengard-paying very well for them at that. Presumably having teased Gandalf so often for his interest in these little folk-and for smoking--Saruman was ashamed to admit that he was doing the same. In a way, Gandalf was amused by all this and was glad to hear of the visits. Perhaps Saruman was becoming more interested in some of the peoples of Middle-earth that he had ignored for so long. Somehow, though, it seemed unlikely that that was the reason. Moreover, it was distinctly annoying that Saruman should take such long trips away from Orthanc and yet do it in a way that did not assist his fellow Wizard in his labors. If he wanted to visit the Shire, why couldn't the White Istar-still head of the White Council, after all-take over some of the dealings further west?

For decades now Gandalf had sensed that something increasingly was wrong with Saruman, but what it could be eluded him. The White Istar had always been somewhat restrained in his manner, and he obviously had learned and thought much that he had never confided to Gandalf. At first that had not seemed particularly worrisome, since Saruman was at least quite open in expressing his love, and Gandalf assumed that the other Wizard would not withhold any discoveries or ideas that were important to their cause. He was well aware that Saruman often gathered information for its own sake and that much of it was simply irrelevant and hence did not need to be communicated to the Grey Istar.

Deep down, though, Gandalf suspected that Saruman's visits to the Shire were connected to his growing jealousy-not just sexual jealousy, but a certain competitiveness that occasionally surfaced. Whenever Gandalf visited Orthanc the White Istar was as affectionate and attentive to him as always, still showering him with every conceivable luxury, and their lovemaking was definitely as passionate as ever. For a moment Gandalf recalled that first wonderful meeting with the other Wizard, centuries ago, in Lothlórien. How easily they had been able to talk then! They had been so open with each other, sensing a kindred spirit. They had spoken of their longing for the Uttermost West and of their hopes for their mission. Saruman never brought up the subject of returning to Valinor any more, and his contributions to their great tasks sometimes seemed esoteric and narrow-and possibly misguided. The two talked endlessly when they were together, yet Gandalf realized that he had no idea what his lover thought about some topics that seemed vital to what they were here in Middle-earth to accomplish.

With his errands to the west finished, Gandalf had been intending to spend a brief time in the Shire and then travel to visit Saruman at Isengard. Now he almost wondered if he should skip the swing south to see the other Istar. This new behavior was increasingly troublesome. Going east to Rivendell would be more peaceful. He could always depend upon the tranquility and wisdom of Erestor.

Then immediately he berated himself. He was Saruman's close colleague and lover. If something was going wrong with the White Wizard, he should try and find a way to help him, not withdraw and avoid him. Besides, he deeply loved the other Istar and missed him when they were apart. However much Saruman might hide many of his thoughts behind a wall of cheerful love, generosity, and wise remarks, Gandalf could forgive him much. One thing that the Grey Wizard hungered for most during his travels was simply affectionate physical contact. He smiled slightly at how eager the other Wizard was to embrace and touch him during his visits to Orthanc. After many weeks or even months of loneliness on the road, it was bliss to sink into Saruman's arms and finally hold and be held by someone he loved. Even when they sat opposite each other eating the exquisite food that his lover always provided, they would frequently reach across and their fingers would play together or entwine. Yes, there were definitely compensations for the occasional signs of jealousy and secretiveness that Saruman betrayed.

If the problem was just jealousy, then Gandalf would have to deal with it as he had for some time now, making it clear to Saruman that he had no intention of forsaking his other lovers and settling down with the other Istar at Orthanc. It was simply not fair for the his lover, leading such a luxurious and stable life, to try and make the Grey Wizard's dreary stretches on the road even more difficult. Luckily Saruman had overtly brought up the idea once and dropped it quickly when Gandalf firmly resisted, and since then he had not mentioned it at all-though he continued to pressure the Grey Istar to stay longer and longer at Orthanc.

If the problem was something other than jealousy, something that affected their mission, then he must try his best to discover what it was. Gandalf decided that he would travel directly to Isengard.