The Old Grey Wizard
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The Kindness of Strangers: 13. Lighter Matters
Saruman knew his own foibles well enough to realize that he could not resist temptation once it began to gnaw at him. At just one hour after sunrise on September 9th, he slipped through the doorway that led to the long staircase of the southwest pillar and began climbing.
He stared through the tinted window with his heart in his throat. In the light of day, the sight of the immobile form of Gandalf the Grey on the platform was nothing short of ghastly. They had left him bound—rope, not shackles, he observed, so that the Urûks could say they had obeyed his orders. But he was almost naked—and look at him! He knew he should have checked on the captive's condition before he ordered his release from the dungeons. Instead, he had trusted that idiot, Muzlúk. Clearly, the Fool was dead. Why, a carrion crow was already pecking at him! Saruman fumbled in his pocket for the keys, his hands trembling as he reached out to unlock the door.
But no—he moved! The bird fluttered away as he moved again. He was alive, after all…just barely. Saruman caught his breath as he took in the full extent of his former colleague's injuries. The White Wizard felt a strange mixture of satisfaction and much more deeply hidden twinges of guilt as he thought on what the Grey Wizard had endured, and must now be experiencing as consciousness returned. Anyone rational, he thought, would simply lie down and welcome death. But the Fool struggled on.
As Saruman watched, Gandalf began to crawl toward where his great sword lay abandoned on the platform. The carrion crow harried him for a while; then it seemed to give up and flew off. When he finally reached the sword, he lay on his side and grappled awkwardly with the razor sharp point, cutting himself repeatedly before he managed to slice through the rope that bound his wrists. He then seemed to ignore what Saruman assumed was a bowl of food and a container of water left by his servants, and crawled in the opposite direction toward his boot, which, as luck would have it, had landed upright and had filled with rainwater again. He picked it up with shaking hands and drank deeply from the makeshift container. Only then did he allow himself to rest.
And not for long. Soon he was crawling again, toward the crumpled pile of garments. As he slowly pulled on each item of clothing, Saruman's attention was drawn to the bowl and flask. He gaped as he realized what he was seeing. He didn't know whether to be furious that the Urûks had disobeyed him or amused at their coarse humor.
Finally, the Grey Fool dragged himself to his feet and staggered to where his staff lay on the floor. He fell as he bent to retrieve it. When he stood again and turned, his battered face was filled with fury. As Saruman watched, Gandalf took aim with his staff at the bowl and the flask. With a streak of green-blue lightning, the foul objects skidded across the smooth stone and flew off the platform. The flask spun and upended, its yellow liquid splattering into the wind as it fell out of sight.
Amazingly, he then seemed intent on bringing order to the scattered objects on the platform. For what purpose, Saruman could not guess, but the Grey Wizard stumbled about, gathering his crumpled hat, his rain-drenched cloak, his remaining boot and a scrap of old fabric that had blown to the top of the pinnacle. He tucked the end of the scabbard into his belt and carried the sword to the northwestern pillar. Finally, he swayed and sat down heavily, leaning against the stone. Once he had cleansed the blade of Orc-blood, he sheathed his gleaming weapon and turned his attention to tearing off a few strips of cloth to wrap around his swollen, bleeding hands.
The White Wizard watched his enemy go about this simple task with great difficulty. His fingers would hardly obey him. His hands, Saruman mused, after having been bound so tightly and for so long, would only now be prickling to life, and probably throbbed intensely. Every few minutes he would wince and stop to rest, clutching his right hand with his left. Meanwhile, the new slashes kept oozing.
Layers of conflicting, tumultuous emotion swirled within Saruman. He had done this—he had done this. For how many centuries had he secretly longed to have the upper hand over this particular rival? How many times had he imagined the prideful, arrogant Gandalf the Grey at his mercy? Delight with his accomplishment battled for supremacy over sickening shame over how it had been done. Pride won.
But even as he savored a sense of daring triumph, it vanished like smoke on the wind. The Grey Fool had received a fitting reward for his insolence, it was true. But absolutely nothing had been accomplished by it, except that Saruman's innermost desires had been ruthlessly revealed. Guilt and horror cried out faintly within his heart. And in response, his heart hardened. Coldly, he assessed his new, precarious predicament.
The White Wizard saw his error clearly. He had been too soft-hearted. He had stopped too soon. The captive surely could have been pressed harder—much harder. His opponent's intransigence had made him seem a failure in the Eye of the Dark Lord. Everything, as usual, was Gandalf the Grey's fault. He began to suspect that the Fool had planned it all, to subject him to this humiliation.
The chance for Saruman to obtain the One for himself had slipped away. The Nazgûl were coming. Even if he were to open the door and begin it all anew, the Nine would claim whatever he discovered.
"Barad-dûr is welcome to him," he hissed. He spun and stormed down the stairs.
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