Merry sat on a crude wooden stool in the dreary makeshift kitchen and stirred a foul-smelling mixture at the fire. He would rather not know the ingredients of the Orcs' drink. The one taste he'd had on the march to Isengard told him all he cared to know. Yet here he was, cooking it up for his captors. A waste of good talent in the kitchen, he thought.
Hopping off the rickety stool, he went off to finish his other regular chore, hauling firewood. The ever-burning fires needed to be fed wood constantly. Struggling with the heavy load, he took the corridor that ran opposite the one he last took. Though darker, he was fairly sure it led to the other end of the same cavern. Along the path were dim openings he ached to investigate. Having cautiously tested how closely the Orcs watched him, Merry had found that Orcs were not good at minding. And so now the hobbit took every opportunity to wander in the hopes of finding Legolas and Gimli and, most importantly, finding their escape.
Three doorways here, two on the other side. Most openings seemed to lead into empty darkness, but he would brave the dark and whatever horror lay at the other end. First to deliver this pile of wood to the ovens, then to investigate. Dumping his burden with a satisfying grunt, he began to retrace his path back to the kitchen.
"There he is! That's the halfling, my servant! See what he's doing? I told him to bring the wood. That's his job, a job I assigned him to, 'cause he's my servant!"
"Since when do you got a servant, Norgry?"
Merry made an effort to keep his pace steady, though he wanted to run. He did not want Norgry to take more notice of him than he already had.
"Well, the lads ain't gonna like it! You lucky Mauhúr took care of Grishnákh on the march. He might've had something to say about it."
Norgry narrowed his eyes. "Wasn't luck. Just weren't no reason to stop him." He chuckled gruffly. "Let me worry about any rabble that gets it in their head to say something. Just you get back to work! Halfling! Get over here!"
Merry pulled up just as he reached the corridor, his stomach dropping. Reluctantly, he turned to the Orc who would be his master. He tried not to think of him as such, but he could not deny that he took orders from Norgry.
"Yes, what would you like?" He bit back the automatic 'sir' he nearly added. He would not give this Orc that much.
"Get over here, I said!"
Merry approached the knot of Orcs, his desire to continue his investigations beckoning him into the darkness behind him. He halted just out of hands' reach of the Orc, but Norgry started to scowl, and so he took the last few steps.
Norgry grabbed him by the collar and dragged him along. "Come on! Why are you so slow?" Merry tried to keep up with the long-legged creature, wondering at their destination. Soon they were in a cavern deep in the center of the Pit, where Merry had dared not stray. Fires burned within a multitude of forges, lighting the area considerably more than where they had been. Before each forge, Orcs worked with heavy hammers, pounding on what sounded like metal, likely soon to be weapons. The center of the large space was open to below, from where Merry heard strange growls and shrieks.
His attention was drawn back when Norgry began laughing as he approached a small group of Orcs in one corner. "That's right, Lugdush. This is my halfling. He's my servant!"
Merry's stomach twisted in knots. Showing him off to the other Orcs was only going to make them cross. Soon they would start resenting him and that would mean trouble for Merry.
Sure enough, Lugdush narrowed his eyes at the hobbit before returning his glare to Norgry. "So what? You think you're special now?"
"When was the last time you had a servant?" As Norgry said this, he lifted Merry by his collar. Merry felt like a prize Norgry was displaying, as he tried not to flail his arms too foolishly. He just hoped the Orc didn't release him too suddenly.
As they argued, Norgry continued to hold him up, until Merry became bored, so he looked about the cavern. Weapons lay in heaps beside most Orcs. Some piles looked like armor or helmets. He tried to avoid looking below. Something told him he didn't want to know what growled down there.
The cavern was bigger than he realized. The ceiling was somewhere beyond the light, and tunnels leading to who knew where ringed the room. There was a dark recess to their left and Merry wondered why there weren't any ovens there. Then a pair of Orcs walked into the space and faded into the darkness. As Merry stared, his eyes adjusted to the dark and he could make out some lighter shapes, but the Orcs blended into the murk and he could not see what went on.
He turned back to Norgry's conversation with Lugdush and saw that the group of Orcs had grown larger. Their conversation was getting heated, and Norgry, still holding Merry aloft, now took to shaking him on occasion.
Suddenly all their attention was drawn away when the huge Orc Uglúk drew near, shouting and cursing. He was moving towards the dark recess, calling back the two wandering Orcs.
"Did I say it was time for play?" Uglúk punctuated his question with his fist against their heads. "You do nothing until I say you can! Now get back to work!" He used his fist again for emphasis and sent them on their way.
"We just wanted a little break, Uglúk!"
"We're still getting the work done! What are you worried about?"
"Never mind, let's go, Fagrod," said his companion, holding his head.
A sick feeling coalesced in Merry's stomach. He peered into the dark recess again, but he could make out little and wished Norgry would release him.
As if the creature had heard his thoughts, Norgry suddenly put him down. "If you touch him, I'll make sure you regret it-by separating your head from your body. Do you hear?" They were coming dangerously close to blows, and Merry thought it was best he step away, regardless of what lurked in the dark beyond.
As they shouted and hollered, Merry crept closer to the recess, until the lighter colors coalesced into firm shapes. Figures. Bodies. That weren't orcish bodies.
He had found Legolas and Gimli.
He had thought the sight of them would gladden him, but he'd never imagined this sight. They were hanging by chains attached to cuffs about their wrists. Their bare backs were a mesh of red strips and purple blotches. Those Orcs, Merry realized, had gone to torture them - to play, they had called it! Their heads hung down against the wall. They were not aware of him, or anything much at all, it seemed.
"Norgry!" Uglúk's voice boomed out suddenly. "You letting that halfling roam free now? He's not supposed to be in here!" He stalked over and cuffed Norgry, who ducked before he could land another blow.
"All right, all right!" Norgry looked around, just realizing Merry had wandered off.
Merry saw his cue and ran up to the other side of Norgry. "I'm right here."
"There you are! Come!" He grabbed Merry roughly by the arm and dragged him off again.
Merry let him drag him, looking back into the dark alcove that was his friends' prison, his heart breaking.
Back in the kitchen, Merry's plans for sneaking about ruined, Norgry attempted to reprimand Merry. "What did I say about wandering? Now do your work!"
"I was doing my work!" Merry said with indignation. "You dragged me away to show me off."
Norgry's eyes narrowed and Merry thought he'd gone too far. "You watch yourself, rat." He bent close to Merry's face. "Or you'll be hanging with your friends, see? If I get tired of you, there'll be no use for you then. Nothing but playtime!"
As Norgry left, Merry stood there, chilled. Playtime. Legolas and Gimli were toys for the Orcs. He had been so anxious to find them, and now he wished he could wipe from his memory the sight of them. Despair washed over him as he wondered if he'd get another chance to look for escape or to approach his friends. He grimaced again at the memory and sighed as he climbed back onto the stool, his desire to see the two leaving him entirely. Recalling clearly the cuffs from which they had hung, he knew he had no way to free them. As he stirred the disgusting broth, he wondered when they last had taken any food or drink. Surely Gimli was in danger of dying of hunger and thirst by now. Anger surged in him briefly over his helplessness, but his despair soon overwhelmed it.
Then suddenly, there was the incongruous chirp of a cricket, and his dismal discovery was nearly forgotten. He looked about furtively, listening for heavy booted steps. All was relatively quiet. He peered behind him where he'd heard the sound. "Pip?" he whispered.
The "cricket" chirped again, and Merry followed the noise, grabbing a handful of wood along the way, in case he found himself suddenly in need of a purpose.
A hand reached out and pulled him round the corner into the stairwell. "Merry! How are you?" Merry grabbed his captor in a fierce hug, reluctant to let go even when Pippin pulled away. "Are you all right?"
"I - I'm fine, Pip," he said, swallowing hard and suddenly wishing he had no news to tell. How could he describe what he had seen? How could he not?
"Have you eaten?" Pippin looked at him with some concern. "I brought some bread and more fruit. They're somewhat fresh."
"You are a wonder!" Merry said gratefully. He bit into the apple immediately. "It's not so bad, not too old at all. How are you, Pip?"
"I'm fine, Merry, really. Don't worry about me. Just listen."
Merry reluctantly shut his mouth, holding on to the questions that filled his head. How did Saruman treat Pippin? He wanted news on Aragorn and how he fared. Did he suffer much under Saruman's watch? These would go unanswered, for he could tell Pippin had news and they had little time. He worried Pippin was trying to avoid telling him something, but he was too distracted by his own omissions to pursue it.
"I haven't much time. There's something you must know." Pippin peeked up into the stairwell, listening for his own need to escape. "I've heard something. From Saruman. I've heard his plans, Merry. We've got to do something - soon." He checked the stairwell again.
"What are you talking about? What can we do about Saruman?" Merry was struck by the new seriousness with which Pippin spoke.
"I don't know what we can do, but we can't just sit by and let him go!"
"Go? Saruman? Where is he going?"
"To Edoras, to see the King of Rohan. King Théoden he is called, and I think he's an ally of Saruman. Saruman seems to think he'll agree to anything he asks, at any rate. And he's going to tell Théoden to team up with Strider, it seems, with Strider leading them all to Gondor and making a big army to fight Mordor. But Saruman really means to be the one in control of it all. He aims to take over Rohan. Maybe he thinks he'll be king of Gondor, too. But now he's planning to go out to Edoras with Strider, and he's bringing an army of Orcs with him!"
Merry took a moment to sift through Pippin's ramblings. "Saruman is trying to make an army to fight against Mordor? I thought he was on Sauron's side. And he wants Strider to fight beside the King of Rohan?" He tried to put what Pippin said into a strategy Saruman might make.
"Oh! I haven't told you the worst of it! Oh, Merry! That's what he's told Strider, but really, he's planning to give Strider to Sauron! They've arranged a meeting with an army from Mordor coming across Rohan. Except Saruman thinks his plan is better. I think he's trying to double-cross everyone so that he comes out on top. I'm not even sure which plan he intends to go through with." Pippin stopped to catch his breath.
"You tell me all about Saruman's battle plans but you forget to mention he's supposed to hand Strider over to Sauron!"
"Yes, but, Merry, don't you understand? I don't know what Saruman truly intends for Strider, but it's even bigger than Strider now. Saruman is bringing an army of Orcs to Edoras. If they refuse to fight for Saruman, they'll be attacked with no warning. They'll all be destroyed! He might attack Gondor when they refuse to fight for him, too!"
Merry was surprised at Pippin's understanding of Saruman's battle strategy. He hadn't presented the scenario clearly at first, but he understood the greater implications of what was happening. "Wait, you said Aragorn might command an army for Saruman. Why would he do that?" He paused as he thought on what Pippin had not said. "Pippin, is Strider under Saruman's spell?"
Pippin glanced away at the question and Merry's heart sunk. "Well, not exactly." He sighed. "You see, well..."
"Pippin, you don't have much time. Now out with it!"
"He lays Strider's hands on this Seeing Stone, a palantír."
"Palantír? What the plague is that?"
"It's this awful-looking, black-as-night stone. But when Saruman makes Strider touch it, which is often, it begins to glow like fire. He sees things then, like the Rohirrim fighting - and dying - in a battle with Orcs. Strider says the Stone can't make up its own visions, so I think he's come to believe what he's seeing is real. And then once there was - Sauron." Pippin's voice dropped to a whisper.
"He spoke to Strider through the Stone. That's when he decided he wanted him, I suppose. Because after that, Saruman started with these plans." Merry shuddered, but then Pippin continued, serious as Merry had ever seen him. "After he's finished with Strider, the man's just worn out, more tired than I've ever seen him. And, well, he doesn't know where he is for a while. I have to help him see that he's out. But every time he does it, it lasts longer. His mind is tiring, and so now when Saruman talks to him, I think he's starting to believe all that Saruman tells him."
Merry was horrified. He understood why his cousin hadn't been more forthcoming, and he now appreciated what Pippin had been doing above. He said he'd been looking after Strider, but he was actually trying to keep the man from going mad. "What's he starting to believe?"
"What Saruman says about not being able to win the war. He's trying to get Strider to give up, and he's winning, Merry. I think he's figured out a way to use Strider somehow, against Rohan or maybe against Gondor. Or maybe he will give him to Sauron," now Pippin frowned in thought, "so Sauron won't be mad at him, or maybe so he won't suspect when Saruman tries to fight him. However he uses him will be awful, but now all of Rohan is in great danger. They must be warned!"
The anguish in his cousin's eyes tore at Merry's heart. He never did have much defense when Pippin got this way. But they had to get out of this Tower to do anything. Couldn't Pippin see that? "Pip, I've done my best to find an escape. But I've had no luck yet. Without a way out, what can we do?"
"Well, we must, Merry, and now. More than our friends are in need of us."
Merry looked at his cousin. He had worried so much about him, how he would bear these trials, if he had enough to eat and drink. But aside from the physical sufferings, Pippin had managed something Merry hadn't expected. His view of the world had widened farther than the Shire, farther than his friends. His young cousin had suddenly grown up.
He nodded to Pippin. "You're right, of course. We must find a way out. How is beyond me. But I will figure something out." That brought back a glimmer of hope to Pippin's eyes, and Merry felt some small relief. As they had suspected days ago, escape was up to them. If they managed it, such a feat would truly be fit for song. "Our friends need us and many others, too. We can't fail them. We won't fail them."
"That's right, Merry. That's right." He paused for a moment, glancing up the stairs once more. "No sign of Legolas or Gimli?" Merry could see the tentative hope in Pippin's face. Would truth strengthen that hope or dash it? To know where they were was great news indeed, but their poor state might dishearten the young hobbit. Then Merry recalled Pippin's look of purpose when he decided they must stop the ambush of Rohan. He returned that look of purpose now to his cousin. "They're alive, Pippin. I've learned that much."
Pippin's eyes grew wide then stopped. "Have you seen them, Merry?"
He hesitated before answering, swallowing hard. "Yes." He stared back at Pippin, willing him not to ask for more.
Pippin's gaze was intense, and Merry saw his comprehension. Finally, Pippin nodded, swallowing hard as Merry had done. "They're alive."
Gimli resisted the pull to consciousness after he hit the hard stone floor. Longing for that numbing sleep, he was instead faced with the nightmare he could not escape with waking. His head pounded, and his back was on fire. His arms screamed when he tried to lower them as he looked about. He was in a small dark niche carved roughly into rock. He had thought he had been held in a much bigger room, but he could not be certain. Had not Legolas been beside him? He could not remember. His thoughts were a jumble that resisted straightening.
More insistent than any pain was his thirst. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and tasted as though he had kissed an Orc. He could not recall the last drink of water he'd taken. Too long, he was sure. Days - or weeks - ago, Aragorn had foreseen the lack of water to be their greatest danger. He wondered if Aragorn were still alive. Was he receiving the same treatment somewhere? Was Saruman interrogating him, thinking to wear down a man easier than an elf or dwarf? Or had Aragorn succumbed to his thirst? He grieved for the man, whatever his fate, guessing they would not meet again. After all, Gimli's thirst would soon prove fatal for himself. He regretted and dreaded this manner of death; he would much prefer the honor of death in battle, not to mention the mercy of its swiftness.
Why they had taken him down from the wall was his next question. Had they something else in mind for him? Something worse than hanging about as a toy ever at hand for Orcs, worse than their knives and whips and other tools of their recreation? Had Saruman given up on obtaining information from them and allowed the Orcs their full measure of brutality? Until now, though their treatment was cruel, even Gimli knew it had not been life-threatening. The cuffs that attached him to the chains on the wall remained on his wrists, so perhaps he would be returned for more of the same.
Suddenly, a jug was placed before Gimli, startling him. He frowned. Orcs were not quiet, but he never heard footsteps. "There!" a rough Orc voice said. "I've given him water. Are you happy now?" Orcs for certain. He must truly be dazed.
"No! I'm not happy! If he dies, it falls on me. And I'll make sure it falls on you then. The blade that is! It's your head, got that! Every day he has to have water or he dies!"
"Stupid mortals! Too much work having prisoners, I say! If they're not for killing, what good are they!"
"Ask Saruman yourself, why don't you? It's he who gave the order! Now get back to work!"
Gimli listened to the steps fade in the distance. It was nice for once to get his questions answered. And in such a timely manner. At least he was going to get some water, though he wondered what 'water every day' meant. But the Orc in charge had been clear - no plans to kill him just yet. What did Saruman have in mind for them?
It struck him then: There had been no mention of Legolas. Had they truly left him hanging with nothing for days on end? How many days had passed? Or had it only been hours? He knew not, but if an elf could survive this without water, he would readily admit theirs was the superior race.
So, it seemed all of his questions had been answered. Legolas was not with him. Likely he still hung from the wall, wherever they had been held. Why had he been taken to this place? A question not to be answered. It did not matter much. The important thing was there was water before him.
Picking himself off the floor took nearly all he had. He paused to catch his breath before moving to grab the jug. Surprisingly, it was full, so again it took most of his remaining strength to draw it to him. Looking into its black depth, with no light to reflect off the water, he could not judge its cleanliness. Probably for the best. He would have to drink it regardless. Slowly at first, but he would drink all of it. He knew not when he would be given more.
After what seemed an age yet not long enough to drink his fill of water, he heard the steps of an approaching Orc. "Water time is over. And you best not die on me!" the Orc threatened as he leaned over the dwarf, giving him a sample of his fetid breath. The Orc grabbed him by the arm and hauled him from the room.
His legs unused to supporting him, they buckled immediately. The Orc simply pulled him up, not bothering to break his stride. Gimli tried to gather his feet beneath him, but it took too much effort. He gave up and let himself hang from the Orc's hand. He did not feel his body dragged across the stone.
Aragorn shook his head as the images before him blurred and faded. Where was the balcony outside his childhood bedroom? Where were the bodies that had been strewn about it? Had the Orcs destroyed them?
He looked down beside him: a stone floor. About him all was dark, with shapes standing out grey against black not far from him. As his eyes focused, he recognized one shape as the wizard Saruman. He was speaking, but Aragorn could not hear the words.
He panicked for a moment. Where were the bodies? Elves dear to him since childhood had been slaughtered in a one-sided battle unbalanced by a massive force from Mordor. He had watched his brothers fall, then his foster father. When Arwen had been pierced by arrows he thought they had pierced his own heart. All had lain quiet in death. He had been helpless to offer aid, but at the very least he could see them to proper burials.
No... no, that was not right. Something about this was not right. He looked at Saruman again. Saruman. Isengard. The palantír. He had witnessed the battle through the Seeing Stone, which vouched for the truth of the vision... But something was not right. His instincts raised an alarm, but they had betrayed him in recent days, and he was reluctant to heed them again. More likely, Aragorn's weary mind was working to create an answer that would deny what he had seen. The palantír could not lie, after all.
Saruman was certainly powerful enough, however, to manipulate the palantír, distort the truth somehow. Was the latest slaughter simple truth or truth distorted into a nightmare? Neither Saruman nor Sauron could use the palantír to create images as they wished. At least, he knew not the magic that could do so. Saruman was learned in old lore, though, and may have discovered old power that Men had forgotten. Perhaps he had learned to twist reality into that which he desired. Had Saruman learned to create images with no truth in them?
As Aragorn struggled to separate truth from tale, what was to come mixed with what was, Saruman's fantasies mixed with reality, and he was left with a desolate world. In his growing weakness, the world of the palantír lingered longer. He yearned to sleep and be beholden to none. At least in sleep, he would not know the reality he could not escape.
Escape - a hope he had abandoned when Saruman took him into his keeping. As he had expected, he was rarely left alone. His only plans awaited opportunities that never arose. To make things worse, he had not eaten since the day they'd arrived, whenever that was, and his body grew weak.
As his mind cleared, Saruman's slippery tones crept into his consciousness, and he remembered to steel himself against another onslaught - of what? He only knew he must keep his mind occupied, so as to not hear the seductive voice, but in the end, it was a waste of precious energy.
"You do know that it need not be as you have seen it, do you not? The destruction of so many lands is but one possibility for the future. There is time yet to spare some. Of course, for others, it is indeed too late." Saruman circled Aragorn as he leaned against the wall, head on his knees. Was Saruman saying that he had indeed created these images? Were they designed as some sort of threat? "Which would you save, if you would save half of them? Three? Two? One? I have the power to do such a thing." Aragorn gave no response, though he was sure it pleased the wizard. At their previous meeting, he had paid for his protests with more time looking into the fires of Orodruin. Now he would be silent and ruminate on what power Saruman could have acquired. "Hm? Which would it be? The Shire and its witless halflings? Mirkwood and its backward wood-elves? The cherished home of your youth? The home of your elusive and mayhap unrequited love?"
Aragorn's eyes widened and he shot Saruman a look full of emotion, unable to hold back the reaction. Struggling to hide his fear amid the shock and anger, he knew he had failed when Saruman chuckled. "Do not wonder on what I know; your mind is not so closed to me as you would have it. And I say there are those you would save. Would you then stand back, refuse to take up arms because the battle is not as you had imagined? Do you yet insist on fighting only a battle that you command? Or would you submit to another for the sake of your kin, your comrades, your beloved?"
Aragorn hid a smirk. Saruman knew so little of him. The coming battle was not about who led the army, or what shape the battle took. He cared not who led them into battle. Then why would you not fight with Saruman, if it would save those whom you love? Because Saruman was a traitor at best and an agent for Mordor at worst! Whatever battle they fought would be fought to his advantage. Saruman would win, not Gondor, and Aragorn was sure to lose. But is it about winning, or about saving lives? Aragorn shook his head, struggling with the voice within and the voice without.
"I have the power to save them. I have a king at my command; armies await my word. Would you not join that force if it were the only recourse? Instead of mourning the future you had envisioned, release that vision and embrace the present. You are a Ranger, are you not? Rangers are said to be a practical breed. Practicality would dictate that you work with the situation at hand."
Yes, the Rangers prided themselves on practicality. What would Saruman know of practicality! Aragorn reined in his emotions; he seemed to not even have the strength left for such simple discipline. If you would be practical, then would you not take the only recourse and work it to your liking, to produce your desired outcome, rather than sitting here with your head in your hands like a stricken woman! The thought of joining forces with Saruman chilled the man, but his resistance was losing ground as he saw the reasoning within the arguments in his mind.
"The situation at the present is this: We shall go to Edoras and meet with the King of Rohan. He will readily take up arms with us. You and King Théoden will lead the Rohirrim across the fields of Rohan. Orcs traverse the plains as we speak and stand in our way of reaching Gondor. For Gondor is our destination. The Steward will hardly deny us when we come with such an army, ready to fight against Mordor."
Aragorn leaned back against the wall; his body felt as heavy as stone. Simply to listen to Saruman seemed to drain him of strength. He tried to gather his faculties and consider fighting beside the King of Rohan. He had not met the present King Théoden, but had served his father, Thengel. Surely he was respectable. He did not object to fighting with the noble Rohirrim. Then Aragorn frowned. Saruman spoke now of fighting against Mordor? That was not right. Was he not fighting for Mordor? So many thoughts jumbled over each other in his head. Aragorn was unaccustomed to such confusion and it angered him. He would not fight beside Saruman! But the King of Rohan, he must concede he would not object to fighting alongside him. But then... Saruman wanted him to fight with King Théoden - this he knew to be true - was it not? So to fight with Théoden, would it not mean fighting for the wizard? He wanted to question Saruman to clarify his thoughts, but he was so weary, it was a great effort merely to breathe. He looked to the dim entrance of the alcove for his hobbit-caretaker. It seemed his head was clearer when Pippin was near. Perhaps after he slept, all would be clearer. He eased himself down onto the floor.
"Do you give up so easily, Dúnadan? What sort of Ranger are you? Surely you see the sense in my words. None know what the future holds. You have been told much of your 'destiny' but none could say what was to be, what direction fate would take. I give you the opportunity to fulfill some of that destiny. Better this than to forsake it in its entirety, no?"
The barbs aimed at his identity as a Ranger struck, despite himself, and Aragorn bristled. What did this wayward wizard know of his destiny? Of who he was to become? Or all he stood to lose? You lose less if you accept his offer... Brushing aside the voice that betrayed him as much as Saruman, he marshaled his strength and sat up once more to respond with a raspy voice, "What part of that destiny would you have me fulfill? And what part would you have me forsake?" Leaning back against the wall, he looked on Saruman with steady eyes.
Saruman straightened, peering at him curiously. Aragorn steeled himself for the next verbal onslaught. "You waste much needed strength, Dúnadan. You have but two choices before you. One may seem distasteful to you, beneath you even, for I see that you consider yourself above me - me, a wizard, and you have the delusion that you are my better?" The wizard huffed softly. "Such a choice as I offer may be in your best interest, as your other option is to come face to face with Sauron himself." Aragorn willed himself to neither clench his jaw nor take a breath in response to the wizard's words. "Yes, Sauron has his own plans for how to use you. I have decided I have a better plan. He expects me to hand you over to his Orcs on the plains of Rohan. I would use you more where your strengths lie. You would easily command an army, and even Gondor would follow you, with Rohan behind you."
"And Saruman before me," Aragorn added. Is your pride so much more important that you would begrudge him that, if he could give you Gondor? Gondor safe, if not at your command? Aragorn desperately wished to silence the traitorous voice, but it seemed to have a will of its own. You might yet take steps toward your destiny, even if they were steps in boots you do not recognize. With this, Aragorn found little to argue.
"Those are your choices. Command an army under my authority, or test your will with Sauron. How long do you suppose you will last in his hand? How long do you believe you would keep your secrets to yourself?" Aragorn's eyes widened. He had not forgotten the feel of Sauron's touch. He was not foolish enough to think facing the Lord of Mordor was preferable to anything Saruman offered. Saruman knew this, naturally, but as the wizard said, he was the one who must accept the present for what it was and choose.
Whether it be with Saruman or with the incessant voice within him, he could not argue one fact: as poor as his options were, the choice of Saruman fared the least poorly.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.