1. Part 1: Saruman.
In unspoken consonance, they came to a halt and dismounted. Elrohir was the first to remove his sweaty helm. “Blazing summer riding,” he groused, “and us trapped in our armour, with all this trouble on the road.”
“True-spoken,” Elladan grunted, between removing his own helm and slithering out of his mail-coat. “These paths have not been so plagued by orcs for thirty years, since Dol Guldur and the worm of Esgaroth fell.” He peeled off his travel-stained linen tunic and unfolded a fresh silk one from a saddlebag.
Elrohir did the same. Soon, they were arrayed alike. “And still no message about why Saruman has summoned not just you, who sit on the White Council, but myself as well. What need has he of my counsel? You are the loremaster of us two.”
Elladan gave his brother a fond smile. “Myself, I am well pleased that you receive your due for once.”
“I'd be better pleased if my due didn't call me out to ride in the heat of the year, while trying to be as presentable as a lord going to a feast.” Elrohir fixed his rolled mail-shirt behind his saddle, and drew out a comb. “You do my braid, I'll do yours?”
Elladan nodded and turned around, speaking as his brother untwined and rewove his simple braid. “Saruman the White is the highest of the Istari,” Elladan said. “He is the most elevated and lordly of them all. I do not think he would take well to having us travel-stained, and at Isengard we will enter direct into the tower's great hall. Elbereth knows, I've disagreed with him enough to learn what he dislikes. But it is long since he has sought the wisdom of the Elves. He has been distant from us since Dol Guldur fell, though he aided the White Council then.”
Elrohir was quiet about this as his own dark braid was refreshed. Finally, he muttered, “He's going to go on about us being the sons of Elrond the Half-Elven,” as they swung up into the saddle again.
It was a swift ride to the tree-hidden wall that ringed Isengard. From the wall's balustrade, mortal servants called to the riders with a harsh Dunland accent. “Who rides to the gates of Saruman?”
In the common tongue, Elladan shouted, “We are Elrohir and Elladan of Rivendell. Saruman the White asked us to come and give him counsel. Is he within?”
“Do you bring tribute?”
The two elf-kin looked at each other. “Tribute?” said Elrohir.
Elladan hissed in Elvish, “This is new; but if that is how they would have it, fortune is with us.” Again he shouted to the mortals, “Yes. Yes, we do.” As the gate was cranked open, he said to his brother, “They have not dealt with me so when I visited before. I wonder what has changed in but one generation.” Elladan's mouth was set hard in pride and anger. Elrohir was glad that he was not the only one offended by the request, and he looked forwards to seeing Elladan unleash his sharp tongue at Isengard.
Saruman was awaiting them at the top of Isengard's steps. Elrohir had not seen him for many long years, and eyed him keenly. As before, Saruman was tall and noble to look upon, but the hair framing his long face, once black, was now almost entirely white. The only darkness about Saruman as he stood in the sun was a few stray strands of his beard and his deep, knowing eyes. Grudgingly, Elrohir had to admit that Saruman looked the noblest of the Istari – and then Saruman spoke. “The sons of Elrond ride to me at last, and it is well. Elladan son of Elrond, I am honoured that you spare the time from your warrior's tasks to add to the knowledge of Isengard.”
Saruman turned to Elrohir. “And I am honoured further that I have the benefit of your wisdom as well, Elrohir. Will you not come within?” As his deep and dulcet words, the tall doors of the tower opened without a touch. Elrohir was deeply impressed with his gravity. He even forgot to be annoyed about being immediately addressed as the sons of Elrond.
Elladan cleared his throat, and his own speech was gentler than Elrohir had expected, as if Saruman's honourable greeting had soothed his sharp temper. “We do not come empty-handed. We have brought you goods from Rivendell, to aid your own lore-craft, and new vestments woven in Lorien for you.”
Saruman smiled a little. “The Fair Folk are too generous to an old man.” Saruman snapped his knobbly fingers, and a young black-clad esquire, who had been behind Saruman on the steps, came forwards. “Grimá. Take the bags from these lords' horses, and bring them within. Then see the horses brought to grazing. You need have no fear,” said Saruman, addressing the twins again. “Grimá is of the folk of Rohan, and will deal well to your beasts.”
Elrohir followed his brother inside, with a glance back for the ill-favoured esquire. The lad was both pasty and dark, and his clever eyes were unpleasantly narrow. He saw his young horse, Forty-Three, snort and twitch her tail, but she let the lad touch her. Elrohir left them and went within Isengard's alluring coolness.
Saruman progressed through the tower's heart and past its great throne, leading them into a study with mullioned windows. The chamber was what Elladan would have called “a clean mess,” a disorder of papers and books. Elrohir's eye lit on several tall jars, with half-dissected creatures floating within. Saruman noted his glance. “Specimens sent as a courtesy by my colleague Radagast.”
Elrohir's memory was jogged at that. “By the words of the men who guard your gates, it seems that you receive more than specimens in courtesy. They asked Elladan and I if we brought tribute.”
Saruman raised his brows. “Tribute! What a curious phrase. A misunderstanding of dialect on their part, I am sure; my deep apology. I do but accept some offerings to aid in the keeping of Isengard. Gandalf and Radagast do the same, do they not?”
Elrohir regretted his own words instantly. Elladan observed, “At need. Perhaps it is different for you. So many men help you keep Isengard now.”
“They do but guard this tower and the knowledge I keep here. Perhaps you have noticed that the lands about are not as quiet as once they were. Evil is abroad. The darkness grows and strengthens.” Saruman sat in a tall, dark chair, sinking back into shadow. “Tell me, were you much troubled on your ride...by orcs?”
Elladan said, “More than usual, yes. But we have troubled you enough with trivialities of dialect. We are curious to know why you have called us here.” Following Elladan's lead, Elrohir sat. He allowed himself one longing glance at a carafe of wine that sat by, but Saruman's voice commanded his attention again.
“Would that it were but an idle word to a rider. But no; orcs are why I have need of your counsel.” Saruman's voice deepened. “Of all the Wise, none have dealt so much with the orcs as you twain. You harry and hunt them ever, do you not? In your mother's memory.”
Both twins inhaled harshly, remembering Celebrían's torment at the hands of the orcs. “Yes,” said Elrohir.
Saruman mused aloud, “Huntsmen must know their prey, inside and out...must understand it in every site and season, know it to its very core. And you are orc-hunters, mightiest in Middle Earth, none know the orcs like you.” Saruman met Elrohir's eyes. “I asked you here to see if you might share your wisdom with me.”
Stunned by this plea, Elrohir looked at his brother. Elladan appeared equally shocked, but mastered himself to say, “What do you want to know about orcs?”
“Orcs are evil's hand. You fight them as is fitting for warriors of your stature, hand to hand, sword to throat, on your noble quest for vengeance.” Elrohir sat up a bit straighter to hear that, feeling himself and his brother every bit as noble as Saruman would have them. “I too am a hunter, in my way; of higher foulness, the marring of Arda that Sauron has wrought. And I hope even to see if the foulness of Orcs might be undone. To begin, tell me; how is it they live?”
Elrohir saw his brother hesitate, and knew full well why after hearing Saruman's voice, the distilled sound of wisdom, it seemed. For how to describe the base crudeness of orc-ways to this elevated being?
Saruman perceived their unease and opened his hands up. “We are practical, you and I, folk of the world. We may speak bluntly here, outside the White Council, without evoking old grief for your kin, your father and grandmother.” Saruman inclined his white head respectfully.
Elrohir relaxed. If he could speak with some frankness, it would be all right. “Well. You ask of us how the orcs live. They are hunters and scavengers, husbanding little. A band of orcs with a home den can ravage an area, eating every beast, hewing wood without heed nor purpose. They never think of the future, you see, beyond living through the next winter and plotting for dominance within their clans.”
Elladan nodded in agreement. “Mortals call waste orc-work, and they are right in this.”
“And it is part of why it is so easy for Sauron or other evils, like the Witch-King who once held Angmar, to draw the orcs into service. They will fight for food, or if you arm them,” Elrohir added.
“Do they craft goods for themselves?” Saruman asked.
“Yes – sometimes with an inventiveness we wish they did not have. It is part of their elvish legacy, perverted,” said Elladan, bitterly. “As well as the things they make of humble stuffs, bone and leather and iron, they hunger for treasures, but never use them. Mortals who trade with them can get the better of them easily. Or so it seems; for those who let themselves be lulled by the orcs' simple seeming are often being set up for later treachery. Only a fool thinks that orcs are foolish.”
Thoughtfully, Saruman lit a pipe. “Fascinating. So they have some cunning. Do they use lore? Enchantments?”
Elladan said, “Some orcs, often their caste of messengers, use a few crude runes. But only their great chiefs know some spells of darkness.”
Saruman's deep eyes peered through the veil of smoke winding about him. “Are the great orcs with their magics, then, the ones who create the endless hordes of orcs?”
“Um. No. You get more orcs the same way you get more beasts, through breeding,” said Elrohir.
Hastily, Elladan added, “What he means is, just as wolves have cubs, orcs have whelps.”
Saruman's mouth was pursed as he muttered, “Little orcs.”
Elrohir said, “Sickly looking things, born jaundiced and pinched. They grow viler as they grow older. That is when their faces deform, the skin grows patched, and they gain their scars. The ones who survive grow quickly, faster than a mortal.”
Saruman tapped his pipe distastefully. “Thus, there are orc...women?”
“It's fairly hard to tell at a glance, but yes,” Elladan admitted.
“Usually they're smaller. And they tend to be the slaves,” said Elrohir.
Saruman said, “So the lore is true, then; they are like to the Children of Eru.”
“Not merely like, I fear. The Elves hold that in some dark way, we were once akin! That kinship still holds,” Elladan noted.
Elrohir went on, “As its proof, amongst the woodmen of the North, I spoke once to a mortal woman who had lived after orcs violated her. She had gone with child.”
“What was the child like?” asked the wizard.
“Oh, we never found out. She took a draught of herbs, pennyroyal and rue, and went with child no more,” Elrohir said. He recalled her face for an instant, relieved, sorrowed and strong.
“A pity, that,” Saruman mused.
Elrohir cried out, “What! That she was spared the misery of an orc-child!”
Saruman mulled, “Would the child have been evil? Perhaps it might not have been. Perhaps an orc-whelp might be good, if raised to it. Nonetheless, it is passing strange to me to hear that such...possibilities might be. I will meditate upon it.”
Saruman sat up straighter within his shadows and concluded,” This is the wisdom I would have of you, in defense against evil. I – we - must know what we face.” For one unguarded moment, Saruman's bony hands clenched into fists – a gesture of either anger or fear. Then the instant passed, Saruman's voice as smooth as ever. “But it may wait a little time. You have journeyed far. I owe you hospitality, and, in this fleshly form, I too yearn for some refreshment. Let us set our councils aside until the morrow. The lore of the orcs does not whet my appetite.”
The ill-favored esquire had returned, carrying their bags in, and he showed the brethren to a chamber with linen and salvers. As they washed, Elrohir said, “Explains a lot, doesn't it? Like he says, he's a practical fellow; better away from the Council, I think. And it is good to hear him laud your courage.” He turned to dry his hands and saw Elladan standing preoccupied, looking grave. “Brother, are you well?”
Elladan said, very quietly, “No. I am troubled after hearing him. Do we do wrong to slay the orcs without cease, Elrohir? We told Saruman the orcs are like the other peoples of Arda in many ways, but we ourselves hunt them like beasts. If Saruman the Wise thinks their evil might fade... have we been doing the wrong thing all along?”
Elrohir had no answer to that question.
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