25. The Wise Decision
"The Necromancer is Sauron."
The stillness of the Council erupted into chaos. Several members jumped to their feet. All were shouting.
Saruman raised a hand and gradually silence fell. "Are you certain of this?" he asked.
"Beyond any doubt," Gandalf said. "I have walked the paths of Mirkwood and entered Dol Guldor itself."
There were gasps of astonishment at this mighty deed.
"You saw him then?" Saruman asked. "You saw the Necromancer?"
"No, but –"
"You did not see him, but you are sure it is Sauron?"
"Yes," Gandalf said. "I am certain of it."
"What proof do you have then?"
"I spoke with one of his servants. They swore it was Sauron."
"You trust a servant of the Necromancer?" Saruman asked. He snorted. "Orcs and Men lie."
Argonui, Chieftain of the Dunedain, shifted in his seat and cast a baleful glare at Saruman.
"Gandalf speaks the truth," Galadriel said. "The Necromancer is Sauron. We must act, drive him from Mirkwood, before he becomes stronger."
"Such an attempt would cost thousands of lives," Saruman said. "And we are not even certain that it is Sauron."
"I know it is him," Gandalf said.
"Yes, but you did not see him. His servant could have lied. This could be a trap. Perhaps the Necromancer had word of Gandalf's coming and set this cunning snare for him. His servant tells Gandalf that the Necromancer is the Dark Lord, and then the White Council sends forth an army, which is met by some terrible creation of the Necromancer's."
"Should we not drive the Necromancer from Dol Guldor though?" Glorfindel asked. "His evil has polluted the land too long."
"We could be walking into a trap," Saruman said. "We must investigate this course of action thoroughly before acting."
"Yes," Elrond agreed. "That is wise. The Necromancer has showed himself to be of great cunning. He has effectively crippled Thranduil by the hordes of spiders and wolves that infest his forest."
"Let us have a vote," Saruman said. "Shall we rush headlong into danger and nigh-certain death? Or shall we send forth spies and gather information to make a reasoned decision?"
There was no need for a vote; Saruman had already decided the outcome.
"It is a shame you only got three votes," Argonui said as he and Gandalf left the chamber. They were both going the same way back to their lands. Argonui would probably stop at Bree, whereas Gandalf would continue on to the Shire. It was a pleasant place, and he had need of the green fields and bright flowers after dark Dol Guldor.
"It is sad that one of those votes was my own," Gandalf said. "Will you be going by Bree on your way? I could use a drink at the Prancing Pony."
Argonui shook his head. "I head north. There are rumors of large wolves roaming the land."
"There are rumors of wolves everywhere these days. It is the work of Dol Guldor. If only – !" Gandalf sighed. "Perhaps in time."
"Not in my time," Argonui said, running a hand through his graying hair. "Not in my time."
The Fell Winter came with a vengeance. White wolves descended from the north, slaying animals and men alike. Dunedain fell by the dozens, whether to cold, illness, or the wolves' sharp teeth. Argonui was among them, found frozen to death one morning.
By the entrance to the Redhorn Gate, another shrine crumbled under the weight of ice and snow. Three remained.
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