The Road to Isengard

by Nefertiti

Rating: G; most chapters, NC-17

Pairing: (Series) Gandalf/Saruman, Gandalf/Erestor; individual chapters 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: Many thanks and hugs to Sarah for taking over as beta early on in this, my longest series, and seeing it through to the end, as well as for her encouragement and the innumerable wonderful suggestions she has offered.


Epilogue

September 29, 3021 The Grey Havens

Gandalf and Erestor were strolling along the beach a few miles west of the quay at the Grey Havens, holding hands. The early autumn air was not cold, but a breeze from the Sea made it brisk. The Elf, being unaffected by the temperature, was barefoot, and he walked on the fine, packed sand just within the limits of the area washed by the highest waves. The Wizard, still in his mortal body, wore his boots-"Probably for the last time," as he had remarked when pulling them on that morning.

Gandalf suddenly laughed as he watched Shadowfax capering in the waves. The horse had crossed many a river and stream in his life, but until their arrival a few days earlier he had never encountered surf on a beach. Initially Shadowfax had been suspicious of the breakers. Shortly after reaching the Havens, the lovers had taken a walk on the beach, and the horse had followed them. At first he stood stiff-legged, watching the roiling water and sniffing at the foam as it glided up the strand. Finally he had ventured in and immediately changed his opinion. Now he loved letting the waves wash around him as he ran and jumped in the shallows.

"Obviously I shall need to live in a place near the Sea," Erestor remarked with a smile, "for I assume that you will leave him with me when you are in your more natural state, disembodied."

"Yes, of course-though he will hardly require much care. He certainly has taken to the water, hasn't he? I presume a coastal location would suit you well, too, despite your having lived among dells and mountains for so long. But of course you must choose as you wish. After all, I would hardly cater to a horse's whims and favor his preference of a dwelling-place over yours!"

"I cannot imagine that any place in the Uttermost West would be displeasing, especially if you visit me frequently."

"I think you can depend upon that!" the Istar replied, squeezing the Elf's hand. "Well, shall we turn back? Evening approaches, and if all has gone well, so do our friends."

Gandalf whistled to Shadowfax, who wheeled about and trailed behind them, still sporting in the waves.

There was a silence between the pair as they walked. They had not spoken of Saruman since the night in Bombadil's house nearly two years earlier, and yet Erestor realized that the absence of all the other Istari as they prepared to depart Middle-earth would naturally invade Gandalf's thoughts. He hesitated before saying, "I hope that your delight in taking ship will not be marred too greatly by regret."

The Wizard turned and looked into his eyes briefly before replying, "To be frank, I shall always regret what happened to Saruman-and I suppose I shall always miss him. Him as he once was, long ago. I shall try to treasure the memory of our happy times together and not become too bitter over what happened later. I hope knowing that will not prey upon your mind."

Erestor leaned over to kiss the tip of his sharp nose. "No, I can accept that knowledge. It would hardly be natural if you did not. I realize that you miss him not simply as a lover but as a colleague and friend. We must all regret his fall because of the harm he did to our cause and because a great and wise being has been lost to Arda. Yet, to be equally frank, I suspect that deep down I shall always be glad that he did not remain your loyal colleague and lover to the end. I cannot help it, now that I have you to myself."

Gandalf kissed his cheek. "I can accept that, too. Wishing that he instead of you had me now would be carrying selflessness to absurd lengths! Well, the whole thing has played out to its end. Let us not speak of him again unless it be during talk of the history of events during the struggle against the Shadow, between ourselves or with others."

They finished their walk back to the quay near Círdan's sprawling dwelling. Their luggage was already aboard, and they watched the sun dip toward the horizon. Soon they heard dim sounds of voices and movements from the direction of the house and saw its master walking with a few other Elves to welcome the newcomers at the gates.

Erestor watched with his keen sight as Círdan admitted the Elves and Hobbits, escorting them down the slope toward the ship. The Elf said, "I have already parted from Sam in Imladris, and I know you and Frodo and Bilbo will wish to say 'Farewell' to him in private. I shall join Elrond and the others as they go aboard and let you have a little time alone with them."

Gandalf nodded and chirruped to Shadowfax, who allowed himself to be drawn away from his play to stand on the quay with the Wizard. Erestor walked over to greet his friends, but as they passed quietly along the gangplank and onto the deck, he paused and watched Gandalf, though he was too far away to hear the conversation.

Upon seeing the Wizard, the three Hobbits had left the Elves and walked to meet Gandalf as he came up the slope from the quay. The Istar held out his hand to the Ring-bearer, who peered closely at it. Gandalf must be showing Narya to him at last, Erestor thought. Revealing that he, too, bore a Ring. He felt sympathy for Sam, the only one of the group who would not be taking ship with them. The Hobbit looked shocked and sad as the understanding of what was about to happen sank in.

Yet at that moment, the sound of hooves became audible, and Merry and Pippin rode quickly through the gate and up to the little group. The Elf smiled. He knew that Gandalf had informed them of the time of the ship's departure, for the Wizard did not want poor Sam to endure the long ride back to the Shire with only his grief as his companion. Clearly Merry and Pippin had underestimated how long the trip would be, but at least they had arrived in the nick of time. Besides, Gandalf had become friends with all the Hobbits, especially Pippin, and they, too, should have this opportunity to see him one last time.

Erestor reflected that Gandalf had befriended many Hobbits over the centuries. During most of that time, the Elf had never thought much about Gandalf's affection for these little creatures. Indeed, he had shared to some extent in the general amusement felt among the inhabitants of Imladris at the apparently whimsical interest that the Istar had shown in this provincial, isolated race. Yet abruptly, after all that time, Gandalf had become utterly convinced that Frodo was destined to be the Ring-bearer. Erestor had been puzzled by that notion, as had the other Elves at Imladris. It was really only Frodo's arrival there and the Council of Elrond that the Wise among the Elves had accepted Gandalf's view. Even then, Gandalf's discussion with Elrond over whether three other Hobbits should be included in the Fellowship had seemed very odd. Four Hobbits out of nine members, and they by far the weakest, least experienced of the lot. Yet the entire plan had worked out, and Gandalf had led the West to triumph.

The Elf realized as he watched Gandalf embracing Sam, Merry, and Pippin that much of what he loved in the Istar was reflected in his interest in Hobbits, long and unwavering, despite considerable teasing and even mild annoyance from others of the Wise. And Saruman, whose vast differences from Gandalf had been revealed at the end, had been very suspicious and jealous of the little people. Gandalf had none of the innate mistrust in other races that had persistently bedeviled the peoples of the continent, especially, he had to admit to himself, the Elves and Dwarves. Erestor had come to find his lover more attractive than any Elf, perhaps partly for that openness and curiosity, as well as for his eagerness to experience the joys and pleasures that Middle-earth had to offer. Now the Istar was leaving that continent behind, but he clearly delighted in taking his two closest Hobbit friends with him.

Erestor suspected that Gandalf would return to Middle-earth at intervals, though not necessarily in physical form, to check on the Shire and other lands in order to learn how they were faring in the Fourth Age. He himself would not be able to accompany the Istar, but he could hardly grudge him the time away. Not that it would be much time, he thought with a little smile. A maia could travel instantaneously from place to place. Having a lover with such powers occasionally inspired awe in the Elf, but the feeling seldom lingered long in the face of the Istar's casual behavior and good humor. And though Gandalf, or Ólorin as he would soon again become, might leave occasionally, the Elf would enjoy welcoming him back and hearing about what he had learned and experienced.

After a brief exchange, Gandalf took a few steps toward the ship and paused to wait as Frodo kissed the three Hobbits who were to remain. Then the Istar, Bilbo, and Frodo walked to the quay. Erestor joined them at the gangplank, and the group boarded the vessel. The mooring ropes were cast loose, and the ship slipped away toward the distant mouth of the Gulf of Lune. Soon most of the Elves went below for a late supper, but Frodo and Bilbo still leaned against the railing at the stern, gazing back at the three forlorn Hobbits huddled on the shore together. Gandalf and Erestor stood beside them, and they all waved one last time as the twilight faded to darkness.

The Istar surveyed the receding shores of Middle-earth and the pine forests dimly visible in the moonlight on the slopes around the Havens. He put his hand on Frodo's shoulder and said, "Do you remember what you said to me two years ago, my dear Hobbit, on that lovely Midsummer's Eve when Arwen and the others arrived in Minas Tirith?"

Frodo frowned in thought and then shook his head. "No, what was it, Gandalf?"

"You said, 'Now not day only shall be beloved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear pass away!' It was a very wise and true remark. Seeing this peaceful landscape, I am reminded of how different Middle-earth was not so long ago. I recall the many times when I hiked through woods like those and camped beneath their trees. So often there was a sense of danger and dread. Especially in Mirkwood."

Bilbo nodded. "Giant spiders."

Gandalf smiled, "Exactly, and worse. But now, beneath the trees of Middle-earth, the shadows no longer hold terror ..." He turned and whispered into Erestor's ear, "... and you and I can go home."

The End

This series is dedicated to Lilith.