4. Chapter 4: Friendship and Foresight
Mithrandir slouched on a chair in his guest chamber with his bare ankles crossed and propped on the edge of his somewhat rumpled bed. His hands were laced behind his head, and the stem of his pipe was clamped between his teeth; the bowl was empty of weed. Every few moments he drew in on it and released a long thin breath. He planned on being invited back to Imladris, and he knew very well how many deep sighs and grumblings he would be forced to hear from Erestor should he actually light his pipe indoors and contaminate the drapery with the smell—"stench" would be Erestor's word for it. So he sat there, pretending to smoke, and stared at the glittering sword that lay diagonally across the blanket.
Glorfindel had left just moments ago. On the way to his chamber, the Noldorian Lord had insisted on a detour to the kitchens where Mithrandir had watched in awe as his companion devoured three slices of savory meat pie, half a loaf of bread slathered with butter and honey and an entire apricot tart. Mr. Baggins, he mused, had finally met his match.
Glorfindel seemed to know what lay hid behind every door in the pantry, for after satisfying his hunger he went immediately to a tall closet, picked the lock with the tip of a cooking skewer and procured two bottles of twenty-five year old brandy and very expensive looking crystal glasses. They had tip-toed through the Last Homely House, Glorfindel whispering warnings to be on the lookout for Erestor. Once they arrived at the wizard's chamber, the Elf had plopped himself down upon the bed, claimed a bottle and glass for himself and instructed Mithrandir to do the same. Those bottles now lay empty upon the floor.
The wizard gave silent thanks for his robust constitution. The volume of intoxicating beverages he had consumed this night had not resulted in overt inebriation, although he had noted an uncharacteristic loquacity. It certainly appeared that Glorfindel was experiencing a similar reaction. They had talked for over two hours with ease.
He had to admit to himself that he had paid little attention to Glorfindel before tonight, finding him unpredictably terse at times and unbearably cheerful at others. He was sorry to have missed his friendship until now. He discovered that beneath Glorfindel's astonishing beauty and mercurial moods was an Elf of wisdom and stalwart loyalty, and one of the few individuals remaining in Middle Earth with whom the wizard did not feel quite as tremendous a burden of age. He had learned that Glorfindel had returned from beyond the seas at the urging of Earendil himself, specifically for the purpose of keeping a close eye on Elrond and his family. Earendil had taken on the rather more complex task of watching out for the many descendants of Elros. Glorfindel had made Mithrandir take a solemn oath never to disclose this knowledge to the Lord of Imladris. He was indeed a warrior to the marrow of his bones, and one of his self-assigned duties in Imladris was to teach such skills, first to Elrond's sons, then to the long line of sons of one slender and vulnerable branch of the tree of Elros. He had already begun the education of young Estel, and found him more promising than most.
Eventually their talk returned to what Glorfindel had guessed might lie before the wizard. The Elf had not asked outright; that, it seemed, would violate some arcane sort of Elvish warrior code of behavior. He had instead simply spoken of a time to come that would involve a deadly confrontation as if he already knew what would come to pass. Glorfindel artfully steered the conversation, and soon enough the wizard found himself disclosing what he had to this night kept entirely to himself.
Mithrandir shook his head and groaned softly. What a fool he had been tonight, how utterly human he had become in two thousand years of existence in this mortal flesh! A decision that at midnight had seemed so very logical, even generous, had been exposed as merely self-delusion. He mused on how irrationally he had tried to trick himself into denying the depth of his fear, on the subterfuge he had so clumsily tried to weave, and with what clarity Glorfindel had seen through it. It was truly embarrassing, and he was relieved at the good fortune that only Elrond and Glorfindel had witnessed the ridiculous scene. He was quite curious about the Elf Lord's remarkably keen insight, and willing to suffer through his "pointers" to learn more from him.
And he had actually learned some things, practical "combat details" and other, more subtle observations. The Elf was entertaining and annoying at the same time, and he was startlingly honest. The wizard had laughed longer and louder tonight than he had in years. Yet he found himself confiding in the Balrog-Slayer with more openness than he had with anyone in two millennia. It was refreshing, although the result of their blunt discussion of the fine points of dispatching Balrogs and the nature of his own foresight was that any thought of sleep in what remained of the night was entirely banished.
He wondered if it would ever occur to Glorfindel that he was the very same sort of creature as a Balrog, different solely in what choices he had made along the way. The Elf Lord might also realize, if he thought long enough, that he, Mithrandir, in other guise and by other names, had been struggling to keep Dark Maia of one form or another at bay since before the stars were made. Perhaps the thought would come to him later, Mithrandir chuckled; doubtless Glorfindel would find it terribly amusing.
His smile faded. So, he thought, another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. He had been given a proper sword; all that remained was for the particular opponent and the arena to come into view. For of course, he knew, as did Curunir, and Aiwendil, and the others—wherever the Blue Wizards were—that more than one Balrog remained in Middle Earth. They—the Istari—could sense them, as the Dark Maia could undoubtedly sense the Istari.
There were two left, at least in these lands of north and west Middle Earth. One, that troublesome one-eyed malcontent "of southern Mirkwood," as Glorfindel put it. And the other, long forgotten by nearly everyone, hidden, perhaps sleeping--but not gone. The Istari still recalled the nature of Durin's Bane, even if all the Dwarves and nearly every remaining Elf had lost this bit of lore. And his foresight was clear enough on this: his opponent could only be one sort of creature, a being that Glorfindel had described with horrible accuracy. Which one would it be? Which Dark Maia would he confront, only to die in the process?
The foresight had come at first as simply a strong surety of what was to come. As time passed he saw flickering images in infrequent dreams that over the years came more often and more vividly. Then he began to see the images in his waking mind's eye, with growing complexity and focus. Very recently—indeed, just this year, since he had felt a sense of something awakening--other senses were engaged in these visions until now it was as if he truly lived them. If he resisted with an effort of will, he could turn them aside; yet the cost in weariness was almost as great as if he did nothing and let them take him where they would. If he allowed it, the vision would let him experience fragments of his future. This process had become increasingly difficult—indeed, painful--but slowly he had gleaned small clues that might well help him to prepare for what he must face.
He drew in and slowly exhaled a long breath. Time, he thought, to see if he might learn something new. He closed his eyes and stiffened, for the vision came at once. He plummeted headlong into it.
It always began the same: fire sprang from the darkness, a fire alive with purpose and a ferocious hatred that was focused directly upon him. The thing knew who had invaded its domain, and it wanted to destroy him. Next, the fire was very near, and he stood fast and defied it. That image was followed by roaring as if a great wind engulfed him, or as if he was rushing with tremendous speed directly toward the flames. Then came brief flashes of awareness: cold and spinning confusion as he struggled to right himself and find air to breathe; the muscles of his legs aching as he climbed endlessly; and fighting with a huge being of incredible strength, that sought to crush him in its grip, or to smash his body against the stones.
Next the vision took him to a place of bitter cold and wind; yet fire and a great storm raged all around him. Lightning was unleashed, and was answered by blasts of flame. He was armed with a powerful and deadly weapon that outmatched whatever his foe carried, but to use it he must enter the fire. He hewed and thrust at his enemy, unable to shield himself from the harm it inflicted on him. His face, hands and upper body bore the brunt of the fire, and of the lash. Night fell, and they fought on. The dazzling sun rose, but day brought no respite from the cold, or from the endless battle.
It was night again. Ice rained from the storm-ridden sky. A creature of flame and shadow fell away from him, crashing and tumbling until its flame was extinguished. Its body had been destroyed, and its spirit would be dispatched to the Void, for it had bound itself to Melkor and must follow him there.
He staggered away from the edge of the precipice. And then he too was falling, stumbling to his knees and collapsing forward. He clutched something hard in his right hand. In the vision he gazed at his hand, saw that it was charred and the skin was split and oozing, but still he gripped the object. The snow was stained red beneath his clenched and trembling fist. The hideous sight of his own blackened and bloodied hand was always the last image he saw before darkness took him. It was not death, he knew. It was not given to him to see the moment of his death, nor to know for how long he must lie there alone, broken, burned and flayed, waiting for it.
As the vision released him, he found himself gasping. Only an instant had passed here, in Imladris, he knew; but in his mind he had lived through hours of agony. His brow was beaded with moisture. Then memory faded and the pain subsided. Mithrandir opened his eyes. His pipe had fallen into his lap. He picked it up; his hand shook. He stared at his right hand, now whole and familiar instead of ruined. He gazed at the pipe lying in his palm. In the vision he had never been able to see clearly what that thing he held in his fist was, until now. It was Glamdring's jeweled hilt . And he had never before noticed snow.
Snow! How obvious! The snow was the clue. Snow almost never fell in the south of Mirkwood. Orodruin would not suffer snow to form upon its sullen peak. He now knew who his opponent would be, and he could guess where. All that remained to know was when. It was very unlikely, after all, to be this year. Whatever else was to come at Dol Guldur, he surmised that he would live to face battle on another day, with a different enemy, in another place.
One more thing. He had, for the first time, felt the presence of others standing nearby, behind him, when the fire first appeared. He felt their fear for him and their horror at what he faced. One in particular--someone brave and yet fragile, and dear to him--must be protected. If he did not stand and challenge the fire and shadow, it would pursue this friend, he knew. That must be prevented. This small friend's success would make any sacrifice worth the effort.
Some of Glorfindel's words from tonight came back to him. What kept him going moment to moment, the Elf had said, when everything, all the pain and exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him, had been his thoughts of the boy. For even then, as a child, Earendil's spirit shone forth like a beacon. The boy was their last hope, and Glorfindel stood alone between the child and destruction. He knew he must triumph, else everything would be lost.
And later, after the wizard had revealed to the Balrog-Slayer a few of the particulars of his premonitions, he had said "I do not rightly know, Mithrandir, if I would have dared to enter Cirith Thoronath at all, had I known what awaited me. Yet, from what you have said tonight, you know the fate you face. You have known it for a long time, and still you go on. That takes more courage than I have."
"It takes more courage than I have, either," the wizard muttered aloud. But, courage or not, he would go on. It would be easier to face it, knowing that in part his efforts might ensure the safety of others who, it seemed, would carry on without him. And, he thought, as he slid his bare feet to the floor and sat up, small distractions must suffice at times when courage is not to be found—such as the details of packing one's bag less than an hour before the sun is due to rise.
In twenty minutes his few personal belongings—a silver neck scarf, a spare pair of grey woolen breeches, a thicker under-tunic for upcoming mountain travel, a few extra pairs of socks, his pipe and dwindling supply of Longbottom Leaf, a flint and steel in a pouch, and a clever folding knife with a handle carved of the tooth of a mumak he had obtained centuries ago in Far Harad—were stowed in his shapeless leather bag, along with a water skin and packets of traveling rations. The wizard pulled on his boots, slung his cloak about his shoulders, tucked Glamdring securely into his belt, and closed the door to his chamber behind him.
He walked down the hallway and stopped at the sleeping chamber nearest to the intersecting corridor. He rapped sharply.
"Bilbo," he said. "Mr. Baggins, awake! Time to get up!"
There was no answer. He rapped and called again, more loudly. He grunted and nodded when the sound of a groan came through the door. He listened until he was certain that the occupant was awake and moving about.
The Grey Wizard went out onto the south terrace of the Last Homely House of Elrond Half-Elven. He placed his pack on the flagstones beside him and rummaged for his pipe and pouch of weed. He looked around; he was alone. He decided not to bother with flint and steel. Whispering a word above the bowl, he smiled as it instantly began to smolder. He puffed and the pipe glowed, lighting the sharp features of his face, had anyone been there to see it.
Mithrandir leaned on the rail of the balustrade and watched the sky slowly lighten. The dawn chorus was just beginning; he always thought that morning birdsong in the high mountains was particularly sweet. If Aiwendil were here beside him, he would no doubt be able to pick out individual notes, identify each bird and translate their musical messages. But, he chuckled to himself, Aiwendil was very unlikely to be anywhere but at Rhosgobel, for he hated to travel. The Grey Wizard knew well how much the Brown Wizard would have to steel himself to join them later this year on their venture to the south of Mirkwood. Perhaps Aiwendil might finally be convinced to give pipeweed a try, for its calming effect on overwrought nerves. But alas, by that time it was all too likely that Mithrandir's pouch would be entirely empty of the herb.
The gruff sound of Dwarf voices and the scrape of booted feet came from behind him. A door slammed and several dwarves very noisily started an argument. Mithrandir shook his head and sighed. Bilbo was absolutely right; no one in all of Arda could make quite as loud a racket as a pack of Dwarves. Then he drew in and let out a slow stream of smoke and enjoyed one last uninterrupted moment in the peace of the valley of Imladris before the next phase of his long journey began.
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Author's note: Glamdring is described as having a jeweled hilt but the types of gems are not noted; I chose ruby for Fire and beryl for the Elves. Its sheath is described as being made of the tusk of a mumak, or of ivory. Sounded very lovely and decorative to me, but highly impractical, since ivory is fragile and as an organic material, would deteriorate over the course of many years. I decided that a useful warrior's sword would have to have a sturdier sheath.
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