The Old Grey Wizard
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The Kindness of Strangers: 7. Fortune and Misfortune
Fortune and Misfortune
"I was in an evil plight. And those who know me will agree that I have seldom been in such need, and do not bear such misfortune well."
FotR, "The Council of Elrond," 254.
Saruman was anxious. He hated feeling fretful, and the worst was that he did not know which of the many worries that beset him was the most likely to materialize into a real threat. Nothing was working out as he had planned. He was supposed to have the advantage--yet at every turn, that Fool and his damnable good luck presented another obstacle to his success.
He had been peering through the dark-tinted glass of Orthanc's marvelously engineered window when the rain began. He watched as Gandalf removed his hat and tilted his face to the sky, laughing with pleasure at this turn of good fortune. With cupped hands as his only vessel, he soon drank his fill. The rain continued, and the Grey Wizard seemed to regain some of his lost vitality. Despite the torrential downpours, lightning and swirling winds, he fairly danced about the platform with renewed energy—in bare feet. Those weather-beaten boots of his were brimming with stored water. Saruman cursed his own carelessness. He should have ordered his enemy stripped of all possessions, including his boots.
In no time, of course, constant exposure to lashing rain proves less attractive, even to one whose thirst is great. Saruman noted his rival's growing discomfort, as the days went on and the storms did not relent. The Grey Wizard wrapped his thoroughly wet cloak as tightly as possible about his shoulders, and huddled beneath the brim of his hat, seeking some shelter from the rain, but to no avail. The White Wizard even came to the secret chamber as night fell and the frigid winds came pouring from the peaks, solely to enjoy the entertaining sight of his prisoner's uncontrollable shivering.
And water alone was insufficient to fully sustain life. Before long his vigor once again began to flag, as this seemingly endless summer dragged on and the oppressive heat returned. Saruman began to wonder whether his captive had truly lost his mind. He often observed Gandalf apparently talking to himself. The Grey Wanderer was well known for his habit of muttering his thoughts aloud; but to Saruman, it appeared that he conversed with an imaginary companion. He would nod and laugh before speaking again, seeming to direct his comments to the skies above. Saruman attempted to read his lips, but he could not make out what language he was speaking.
The White Wizard was aware of the toll that prolonged deprivation took on the human body and brain. It had been almost four weeks since the Grey Wizard had last eaten. Perhaps his captive was finally falling prey to starvation's effects. Should he wait and allow the Fool to deteriorate further? Should he risk facing his enemy in single combat and confront him now, when he seemed weak? Or should he have food brought to him before his mind was damaged beyond recovery? He could not decide, and so he continued to watch.
And then there was the Palantír. Saruman avoided it, afraid to report his dismal lack of success in prying information from his captive. But the stone called to him, with greater urgency each day. He felt it as a nagging pain behind his eyes. He was unable to rest, and his appetite—for everything—was replaced with revulsion for all pleasant diversions, even the Khândian woman, and her delectable cooking. He sent every servant away from him with a snarl. When Gríma returned with an exceptionally dull report on the petty politics of Rohan, he commanded him to turn round and ride back to Edoras immediately. His spy whined in protest, and Saruman had to threaten him with his staff to get him to leave.
Finally, the White Wizard could bear the pressure no longer. He entered the small, secret chamber adjacent to his study and closed the door. The room was empty but for an ornately carved, circular black pedestal. With a flick of his hand, three lamps hanging above sputtered into flame. Saruman approached, staring at the rounded object that sat in a recess at the exact center of the pedestal, hidden beneath a cover of embroidered black silk. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. His fingers trembled. Then he yanked the fabric away and gazed down.
Later that night, Saruman commanded that the Khândian woman be brought to his private chambers. Wearing a loose robe of snow-white velvet, with nothing beneath it, the great wizard reclined on an overstuffed chaise with his feet up and one hand thrown across his aching eyes.
"My Lord," she whispered, as she crept quietly to his side, "What is thy pleasure tonight?"
He sighed deeply. "My head...ah, my head is throbbing..."
She stood behind him and began to massage his temples. He groaned and frowned. She paused. "Do you wish me to stop, Lord?"
"No, no...feels good..."
Her fingers found and loosened the knots in his scalp and shoulders, and he sighed and grunted with pleasure. She reached beneath the robe and began run her hand through the curling white hair upon his chest. He reached up and grasped her wrist tightly.
"Not tonight," he snarled. He pushed her away and sat forward. The woman shrank back in fear and dropped to her knees.
"If I have displeased you, my Lord, I did not mean to..." she whispered.
"Don't be ridiculous. You haven't displeased me," he snapped. "But you must do something else for me."
She glanced up with apparent coyness. "Whatever my Lord commands."
"Prepare a meal, for...a guest. He has eaten nothing in a long time...because...of illness." He looked at her. "Something easily digested. Nothing spicy, or too rich."
She smiled eagerly. "I know just what to prepare! A nutritious stew, and cooked grains...fresh fruit..."
"Yes, yes...whatever is appropriate. Call the steward when you are ready, and he will see to it that it is delivered. You will do this twice each day until the steward instructs you otherwise."
"Of course, sire." She rose and bowed low, and turned to leave the chamber.
"One more thing," he said as he fingered his beard. "Come back, tomorrow night." His dark eyes bored into her retreating back. The woman paused without turning around. She bowed her head once before continuing on her way.
Saruman rubbed his tired eyes, lay back on the chaise and reviewed everything that had transpired in the Palantír. He could hide nothing from the Eye, and could no more resist Sauron's will than he could stop his heart from beating on command. One thing could be said of the Dark Lord: he was never uncertain. After tormenting his mind for his failure, he had directed Saruman to revive the captive immediately from impending starvation. His instructions were explicit—including precisely how long to allow him to recover before proceeding to the next phase of the plan.
Exactly five nights later, when a layer of cloud obscured the waxing moon, Saruman watched through the window in the southwest pillar as a horde of Orcs suddenly burst from the opposite doorway. Though caught asleep, Gandalf managed to snap to alertness in time to mount a fierce resistance. Black blood stained the stones, and screaming Orcs spun off into the night. But more came, and more. Saruman had equipped them with weighted nets of heavy rope, which they flung over their foe. His weapons were soon entangled, and the Orcs clubbed his hands and arms until his grip loosened. Glamdring clanged to the floor. His staff was caught in the nets as he was dragged to his knees. The bravest of the Orcs plucked the staff from the net, and yelping with fear at touching the terrible thing, he tossed it aside. Then they wound more ropes around him, binding him tightly within the net, and pulled him down the stairs.
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