3. The Ring Goes South
Sam Gamgee was the first to speak aloud what every member—with the possible exception of the wizard—of the Nine Walkers felt as they walked up the mist-filled valley of the River Isen.
"I can't say why, exactly, but I got a real bad feelin' about this place, Mr. Frodo," he whispered. But his words, meant for the ear of his Master alone, echoed loudly off the damp, dark rocks.
Frodo winced and his face flared with red. Aragorn stiffened, and at his side Halbarad frowned as his grip on the hilt of his sword tightened. Beleg looked over his shoulder anxiously. Ovoramdir and Nimdoron exchanged pointed and silent glances, and simultaneously nocked arrows on their bowstrings. Only Glorfindel, at his usual position as rearguard, and Gandalf, striding at the front of the party, gave no indication that they had either heard the young gardener's blurted words, or felt the same sense of dread. The Elf-Lord's tread was steady and his face was a study in serene calm. The wizard was scowling and muttering to himself under his breath, but as he had been carrying on in the same manner for weeks, none could say whether he felt any differently today, as the shadows of the Vale of Isen fell coldly upon them.
Their journey from Imladris had been singularly uneventful, which had made Aragorn and the Dunedain singularly nervous as they constantly awaited the fall of the proverbial sword above their heads. If the Elves felt the same, they weren't forthcoming. At every campsite, Glorfindel and Gandalf had stood together a few dozen feet from the others, whispering and gesturing in what sounded and looked to Aragorn like one long and heated argument. But he—and the rest of them—had not been taken into their confidence. It was the first time he had traveled with Gandalf and felt completely shut out of every discussion, only privy to decisions after they had been made. His uneasiness—and his anger—had grown inexorably worse.
And now they were within five miles of the Gate of the grim fortress of Isengard. If he were to have a chance to speak his doubts, he must do so immediately.
The Ranger Chieftain increased his pace and caught up with the Wizard in moments. The others, seeming to comprehend exactly what was happening, drew back and gathered into a knot of five very tall and two very short figures huddled in the mist.
"Are you sure, Gandalf? Are you absolutely sure of this?"
"Of this decision… to enter the stronghold of Isengard…"
"By that, I must assume you mean to question whether Saruman the White can be trusted!" the wizard hissed angrily. "Think, Aragorn—think of who he is, of who I am! If he cannot be trusted, then neither can I…"
"Nay—you are not he. The proof of your trustworthiness has been amply given throughout the lands of the West, for two millennia… But Saruman… I am not at all certain of him…"
Gandalf 's brows drew together as he stared at his companion. "Whence come these doubts?"
Aragorn searched his old friend's eyes. "From my heart… I feel intense foreboding: as strong and as dark as when one of the Nine stalks the night shadows…"
One grizzled brow rose with alarm. The wizard glanced about with a frown, as if to assess his own inner sense of warning. "Hmm… I would be a fool to ignore a sense of threat, coming from you, the most skilled huntsman and warrior of this Age…" His eyes flickered to the group of their companions, all of whom were trying not to stare too openly. "Glorfindel certainly agrees with you… As does, apparently, our young Samwise…"
"I know not what the Elves of Imladris sense, but I know that Halbarad and Beleg are both as tense as drawn bowstrings…"
Gandalf's narrowed gaze turned north, up the valley, where a vague black shape rose behind the steams and curling fog. "And yet… I feel no such threat... And Saruman is very wise… The information he pledged to gather shall be of vital import to us… And I did promise to return…"
At last, the wizard turned, his face stern. "I have decided. The rest of you, wait here—or farther down the vale, if you like, in some hidden place that you deem safe. I shall go on, as planned… but with great caution." He gripped his staff and looked up toward the thickest swirl of fog. "I shall send word… or come myself… by no later than tomorrow noon."
Aragorn's heart sank as his old friend and mentor continued up the paved way on the bank of the river, toward the Gate of Isengard. What would it take to prove to him that which all others can so clearly sense: that the White Istar has a heart of metal and stone, and cannot be trusted?
Aragorn rejoined his other companions, and the Eight Walkers stood and stared as the wizard disappeared into the mist.
...to be continued...
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.