Chapter XVIII: The Palantir

Chapter XVII: Shelob’s Lair

Part One

“Meriadoc Brandybuck!” Merry heard a voice call to him, seemingly as though from underwater, or some far off place. “Merry! Come back!”

Then the hobbit felt some force take hold of him, whether physically or mentally he could not say, and carry him out of the dark mists he was embalmed in. And then suddenly his eyes were opened and he saw nothing but a wizened face, kindly yet stern gazing down at him.

The hobbit relaxed and fell back, clinging to the wizard’s hand. “Gandalf!” he cried. “Gandalf! Forgive me!”

“Forgive you?” said the wizard. “Tell me first what you have done, can you remember?”

FFG- The Palantir“I, I saw the ball and looked at it,” stammered Merry; “and I saw things that frightened me. And I wanted to go away, but I couldn’t. And then he came and questioned me; and he looked at me, and, and that is all I remember.”

“That won’t do,” said Gandalf sternly. “What did you see, and what did you say?”

Merry shut his eyes and shivered, but said nothing. After a breath he looked around him and saw he was still in that same high room they had apprehended Saruman. They all in that room met his eyes and stared at him in silence, except Saruman who turned away. But Gandalf’s face was still hard. “Speak!” he said.

In a low hesitating voice Merry began again, and slowly his words grew clearer and stronger. “I saw a dark sky, and tall battlements,” he said. “And tiny stars. It seemed very far away and long ago, yet hard and clear. Then the stars went in and out-they were cut off by things with wings. Very big, I think, really; but in the glass they looked like bats wheeling round the tower. I thought there were nine of them. One began to fly straight towards me, getting bigger and bigger. It had a horrible – no, no! I can’t say.

“I tried to get away, because I thought it would fly out; but when it had covered all the globe, it disappeared. Then he came. He did not speak so that I could hear words. He just looked, and I understood.

“‘So you have come back? Why have you neglected to report for so long?’

“I did not answer. He said: ‘Who are you?’ I still did not answer, but it hurt me horribly; and he pressed me, so I said: ‘A hobbit.’

“Then suddenly he seemed to see me, and he laughed at me. It was cruel. It was like being stabbed with knives. I struggled. But he said: ‘Wait a moment! We shall meet again soon. Tell Saruman that this dainty is not for him. I will send for it at once. Do you understand? Say just that!’

“Then he gloated over me. I felt I was falling to pieces. No, no! I can’t say any more. I don’t remember anything else.”

“Look at me!” said Gandalf. Merry looked up straight into his eyes. The wizard held his gaze for a moment in silence. Then his face grew gentler, and the shadow of a smile appeared. He laid his hand softly on Merry head.

ffg-baradur-howe.jpg“All right!” he said. “Say no more! You have taken no harm. There is no lie in your eyes, as I feared. But he did not speak long with you. A fool, but an honest fool, you remain, Meriadoc Brandybuck. Wiser ones might have done worse in such a pass. But mark this! You have been saved, and all your friends too, mainly by good fortune, as it is called. You cannot count on it a second time. If he had questioned you, then and there, almost certainly you would have told all that you know, to the ruin of us all. But he was too eager. He did not want information only: he wanted you, quickly, so that he could deal with you in the Dark Tower, slowly. Don’t shudder! If you will meddle in the affairs of Wizards, you must be prepared to think of such things. But come! I forgive you. Be comforted! Things have not turned out as evilly as they might. But come now, we need to take counsel together.”

The wizard stood, and wordlessly Aragorn lifted up the hobbit in his arms and, led by Grima, the party left the room. Saruman, who silently gave up the Keys of Orthanc to Aragorn, came behind their guide with Guthwine at his back, but it was not needed. All his power seemed to have parted from him, and on hearing Merry’s report his strength and vigour too departed. Saruman walked in silence with his head bowed, eyes downcast and hands clasped behind his back. Eomer followed, and Aragorn came after, gently carrying Merry in his arms. Last of all came Gandalf, leaning heavily on the strength of Legolas who walked with him.

Part Two

FFG- Keys of OrthancAs in such manner they came to the great doors of that tower and, setting Merry gently onto his feet, Aragorn took the Keys of Orthanc and threw them open. The sight that greeted them was one of ruin and destruction. Part of the plain of Isengard was underwater, swamped from the release of the Isen by the Ents. The other half was wreathed in the flame and smoke of the Rohirrim’s destruction of Isengard’s machines and industry. Mounds of Orcish bodies were already being piled into great pyres, and the few Men remaining in service of Saruman were corralled into groups guarded by bowmen.

As the group descended the long obsidian staircase, the gaze of all those on the plain turned to them and beheld the White Wizard in his captivity. At the foot of the stairs, they were met by the sons of Elrond, together with Glorfindel and Celeborn.

“Hail Mithrandir!” Glorfindel knelt before Gandalf and raised to him the blade Glamdring. “This belongs by the side of its rightful wielder. I have kept it as a safeguard against your return to us, and it has served us well throughout our journey.”

“Glorfindel! You are a long way from Imladris,” the Grey Wizard smiled. “In the hands of none other would I see Glamdring held, for I fear my days of swordcraft have been cut short. Keep it, and may the peoples of Middle-Earth continue to be blessed by your use of it. But come now, I would hear tell of your journey here, for I see much has been done since I last tasted the free air.”

And so together they made their way across the plain, with Elrond’s sons relieving Eomer of his guard over Saruman while he went to and fro amongst the men of the Mark, giving instruction and receiving report of all that was undertaken in that place. A camp was established outside the Ring-wall for the host there, and Dunhere’s watch was relieved so that the entrance of the vale was secured.

They came at last, being led by Grima, to a wide door to the left of the great gateway. Elladan and Elrohir volunteered to abstain from their company and keep guard of Saruman away from sensitive conversation. “But take care,” warned Gandalf. “This serpent may have had its fangs drawn, but he has still one tooth left, I think. He had the power of his voice. Pay no heed to anything he might say, bind his mouth if needs be.” Saruman gave the Grey Wizard an ill look but said nothing, knowing better than to try his hand.

The door opened direct into a large chamber, with other smaller doors at the far end, and a hearth and chimney at one side. The chamber was hewn out of the stone; and it must once have been dark, for its windows looked out only into the tunnel. But light came in now through the broken roof. Aragorn set down Merry and busied himself with lighting a fire in the hearth.

“Come, master holbytla,” Grima motioned to Merry to follow. “I will have need of your assistance.” Together they disappeared through one of the inner doors and everyone else sat themselves down at one of the great long tables. “There’s a store-room in there, and well stocked,” said Grima, as they came back laden with dishes, bowls, cups, knives, and food of various sorts.

“Don’t worry yourselves,” said Merry, who seemed very much restored, “this is not orc- stuff, but man-food. Will you have wine or beer? There’s a barrel inside there – seems to be very passable. And this is first-rate salted pork. Or we can cut you some rashers of bacon and broil them, if you like. I am sorry there is no green stuff: the deliveries seem to have been rather interrupted in the last few days! And it would appear I cannot offer you anything to follow but butter and honey for your bread.”

“That will quite do,” said Gandalf, more than a bit relieved to see Merry’s spirits revived. “But now we must talk, and I must smoke. Grima here, has filled me in on some of the goings on in Rohan but his knowledge is incomplete. If one of you could lend me use of your pipe I would be most obliged, and tell me all that has happened, from my capture until now.”

ffg-wizard-pipe.jpgAnd so all that had come to pass was related to Gandalf, starting with Gwahir’s message and the sending out of agents from Imladris. The wizard let ut occasional smoke rings into the room as he digested everything, and even had a small chuckle to himself on hearing of Bilbo’s return to the Shire, but news of the Nine abroad put his mirth to rest. He pressed Merry hard on the burning house they found in the Old Forest, and from that time his countenance grew grave.

Taking it in turns they told Gandalf of Elrond’s Council, each filling in the parts they witnessed themselves. The journey through Hollin was told and the entrance into Moria past the Watcher also. Glorfindel could not bring himself to speak of Durin’s Bane, leaving it to Aragorn to tell of what happened on the Bridge of Khazad-dum. “Long have I feared that Shadow still walked beneath the Dwarrowdelf,” Gandalf shook his head. “And Durin’s folk seemed doomed to tragedy at its hand.” Then Celeborn spoke of their meeting and journey down the Anduin and ambush at Amon Hen, and of their great chase across the plains of Rohan.

Part Three

“Here is where Grima’s account joins your own, save for one thing,” mused the wizard, “though I think I may guess at it, at least in part. I take it, my Lord Celeborn, we have you to thank for Fangorn’s awakening?”

“I can hardly claim credit for their actions,” Celeborn said. “Their wrath has been building for some time, and would have boiled over before too long. Rather than the instigation, our coming was as the falling of small pebbles that would bring down an avalanche.”

“Well we owe a debt of gratitude to you for your part nonetheless. But now we come to the matter at hand,” said Gandalf. “Peril has come to us when least expected, in a moment of triumph. We have had a narrow escape! And this Palantir, for it was indeed the Seeing Stone of Orthanc that Merry handled, we could have found few treasures in Orthanc more precious than this.

“To my knowledge, of the six other Palantir only the Anor-Stone remains not yet lost, and that buried deep within the vaults of the White Tower. Will you, Aragorn, take the Orthanc-stone and guard it? It is a dangerous charge.”

“Dangerous indeed, but not to all,” said Aragorn. “There is one who may claim it by right. For if this assuredly is the palantír of Orthanc then it is from the treasury of Elendil, set here by the Kings of Gondor. Now my hour draws near. I will take it.”

Gandalf looked at Aragorn, and then, to the surprise of the others, he stood and lifted the covered Stone, and bowed as he presented it.

“Receive it, lord!” he said: “in earnest of other things that shall be given back. But if I may counsel you in the use of your own, do not use it – yet! Be wary!”

“When have I been hasty or unwary, who have waited and prepared for so many long years?” said Aragorn.

“Never yet. Do not then stumble at the end of the road,” answered Gandalf. “But at the least keep this thing secret. You, and all others that stand here!

“And as for you Meriadoc, alas! You has handled it and looked in it, as should never have happened. You ought never to have touched it in Orthanc, but there I should have been quicker. My mind was bent on Saruman, and I did not at once guess the nature of the Stone. Then I was weary from my captivity but now I know!’

“Yes, there can be no doubt,” said Aragorn. “And last we have removed the link between Isengard and Mordor.”

“Strange powers have our enemies, and strange weaknesses!” said Eomer. “But it has long been said: oft evil will shall evil mar.”

“That many times is seen,” said Gandalf. “But at this time we have been strangely fortunate. Maybe, I have been saved by this hobbit from a grave blunder. I had considered whether or not to probe this Stone myself to find its uses. Had I done so, I should have been revealed to him myself. I am not ready for such a trial, if indeed I shall ever be so: But even if I found the power to withdraw myself, it would be disastrous for him to see me, yet – until the hour comes when secrecy will avail no longer.”

“That hour is now come, I think,” said Aragorn.

FFG- Isengard Steam“Not yet,” said Gandalf. “There remains a short while of doubt which we must use. The Enemy, it is clear, knows that the Stone was in Orthanc – why should he not? And that therefore the hobbit was captive there, driven to look in the glass for his torment by Saruman. That dark mind will be filled now with the voice and face of the hobbit and with expectation: it may take some time before he learns his error. We must snatch that time. We have been too leisurely. We must move. The neighbourhood of Isengard is no place now to linger in. We must depart this place by nightfall.”

“I then will ride ahead at once with Meriadoc,” said Aragorn. “It would be good to get him hence from this place before messengers are dispatched here to retrieve him.”

“Our paths must now separate then,” Celeborn spoke. “I have tarried too long from the Golden Wood, and I fear war already marches on its borders.”

“I cannot go with you either, not immediately,” Gandalf spoke as though a sudden weariness washed over him. “Saruman was not a cruel captor, yet captive nevertheless he kept me. My strength is not whole and my pace needs must be slower. I shall follow on behind with Eomer King, if it pleases you.”

“Nothing would gladden me more. My eoreds here shall camp in this valley for tonight,” said the king. “They shall ride with me at early day. The rest of our company may go with Aragorn and ride as soon as they have a mind.”

“As you will,” said Gandalf. “But when we depart in the morn, we ought to make all the speed you may to the cover of the hills, to Helm’s Deep!”

At this Grima motioned to his king Eomer as though to beg leave to speak, and he nodded his assent. “At this time my Lord Aragorn, it seems befitting to offer up to you with another of Orthanc’s hidden treasures that are yours by right. Though not as potent as the Seeing Stone, my hope is that it would nevertheless grant you cheer and courage in the receiving of it.”

From within his robe the son of Galmod produced a parcel of black silk, and out of that he took fillet of mithril, and there in the crown of it was set a white crystal from which came a faint luminescence. And Aragorn was struck dumb and could only gaze at it with wonder, though tinged with sorrow.

“What is it?” asked Merry. He turned to Glorfindel who sat by him.

“That is the Elendilmir,” said the elf-lord in a hushed tone. An heirloom of the line of Elendil that came out of Numenor before it sank beneath the waves. It was thought lost when Isildur fell many hundreds of years ago.”

“How came you by this?” The voice of Aragorn was quiet yet strong and Grima bowed his head as he answered.

FFG- Death of Isildur“Saruman had been searching the Gladden Fields for decades, the place where it is said by Ohtar the Squire that Isildur fell. There he searched and there he found the remains of Isildur together with this heirloom, which he took for his vaults.” Bowing his head lower still, Grima raised his arms toward Aragorn, offering up the recovered heirloom. “And now upon Orthanc’s fall and in anticipation of your return, it is returned to its rightful owner.”

Aragorn received it, and carefully wrapped it back into its silken coverings. “This is a great gift, Grima son of Galmod, one not lightly accepted. This day you have truly proven your friendship. And though I shall not take it up publicly, for the time has not yet come to declare myself openly, know the hour comes swiftly when all secrecy shall fall away as chaff in the wind. But tell me, what was done with the remains of Isildur? What did the traitor do with him?”

“At that I can only guess, my lord. When word came of a discovery on the Banks of the Anduin he rode west himself and returned only with this. There was no mention of any remains that were found.”

Part Four

Eomer broke the silence that followed, “Portentous as these times may be, the question of our next move now presents itself. It is clear that open war with Mordor cannot now be put off any further, whether it comes to us or we ride to meet it.”

“True are your words Eomer King,” Gandalf mused. “And Rohan must gather together her full strength before the storm breaks, and the clouds are almost brought to their fullness.”

“But it is not here the Dark Lord would strike first,” Grima spoke up. “It was Saruman’s task to make war on Rohan, the chief blow must be intended for elsewhere.”

“Indeed, and I have a suspicion where that may be,” said Gandalf. “But where ever it may be that calls for aid, you must be ready to ride to them at all haste.”

“Summons have been issued, and all men able to bear arms are to be assembled at Edoras,” Eomer reassured Gandalf. “It will not matter from whence the threat comes, Rohan shall stand ready.”

At that moment a shadow fell over them. The bright sunlight seemed to be suddenly cut off. Those within that chamber ran without and saw there that several of the Riders had cried aloud, and crouched, holding their arms above their heads, as if to ward off a blow from above: a blind fear and a deadly cold fell on them all. They looked up and saw a vast winged shape passing over the sun like a black cloud. It wheeled over the valley once, and then again and went east, flying at a speed greater than any wind of Middle-earth. And it seemed to those there as though even the sun quailed before its prescrense. And then it was gone.

They stood up, rigid as stones. Gandalf was gazing up, his arms out and downwards, stiff, his hands clenched.

“Nazgul” he cried. “The messenger of Mordor. The storm is coming. The Nazgul have crossed the River! Ride now Aragorn, ride! Wait not for any cause! Let not the swift wait for the slow! Ride!”

Aragorn sprang away, calling for Merry to follow as he ran. Glorfindel and Legolas came after, with Gandalf taking Merry along behind.

Gandalf spoke to Merry as they went. “You must go with Aragorn,” he said. “And I am sorry Meriadoc, I really am sorry for your role shall not be a pleasant one. For the Enemy has seen your face and will seek you out, and so we must keep his gaze upon you.”

“I know the Enemy is searching for me,” Merry panted as he ran, for even in his infirmity, urgency gave strength and speed to Gandalf’s limbs. “But why must I go with Aragorn?”

“Haven’t you been paying attention?” Seeing the fright written over the hobbit’s face, Gandalf immediately repented his harsh tone and softened his words. “The Enemy knows a halfling bears The Ring, and he knows Saruman sought it. He has seen your face within the Tower of Orthanc itself, and so will assume Saruman’s treachery cuts both ways. This will buy us time, precious and fleeting time in which we may move our strength, such as it is. But now a Winged Messenger has seen Orthanc in its ruin, and the armies of Rohan gathered about it. Once word of this returns to the Dark Tower the assumption must be we have his prize, which is as we wish. For every day we hold his gaze is another that Frodo gains to achieve our goal. And the best way to distract him so is to provoke his attack, wherever you may be. And so you see, my dear hobbit, the true gravity of your role now.”

ffg-timely-aid.jpgAs they went, Aragorn returned to them, mounted now on that same horse given him by Eomer on the Eaves of Fangorn, which carried in its saddle both Aragorn’s and Merry’s bundles. And with him came Glorfindel and Legolas, and the twin sons of Elrond also, all on horseback. “Come now Merry,” Aragorn reached down and pulled up the hobbit, setting him before himself on the saddle.

“I had hoped that we should ride to war together,” Eomer said as he approached, “but if our parting is come, and it is little likely that we shall ever meet again under the Sun, then I am saddened for it though realising the need of it.”

“Yet nonetheless we must part,” said Aragorn. “BI say to you, Eomer King, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between.”

“Ride now!” Gandalf called to them. “Hope is in speed! Fly!” And with that they were away, and such was the might of their passing they appeared in visage as a company from an Elder Time, a great King of Men and together with him went the Eldarin Lords. Fresh from battle they seemed, and yet about some errand more urgent and pressing. So thus passed Aragorn son of Arathorn from the presence of Mithrandir, and he and his companions went thundering through the Vale of Orthanc as the wind through the mountains, and all were silent.

Part Five

The pale sun waned as they rode through the Vale of Isen. Aragorn went first and Merry rode with him, then came Glorfindel and then Elladan and Elrohir, the twin sons of Elrond, and finally came Legolas Greenleaf. Together they rode hard, following the river as it journeyed south, desiring to reach Helm’s Deep under the cover of night, rest and replenish during the day and then set off once again under night’s cover.

They rode in swift silence riding through the dusk. They had not long passed the mounds at the Fords of Isen, when Legolas called up from the rear of their line.

“Aragorn!” he warned, “there are horsemen behind us. As we crossed the fords I thought that I heard them. Now we are sure. They are overtaking us, riding hard.”

Aragorn at once called a halt, drew his sword and set himself in the centre next to Glorfindel. Elladan and Elrohir readied themselves on either flank and Legolas rode to the rear, his bow strung and ready. Merry felt more like unneeded baggage than ever, but drew his sword and tightened his belt.

The sinking sun was obscured by a great sailing cloud, but suddenly it shone out clear again for a brief moment. Then they all heard the sound of hoofs, and at the same moment they saw dark shapes coming swiftly on the path from the fords. The moonlight glinted here and there on the points of spears. The number of the pursuers could not be told, but they seemed no fewer than ten times their number, at the least.

When they were some fifty paces off, Glorfindel cried in a loud voice: “Halt! Who rides in Rohan?”

FFG- HalbaradThe pursuers brought their steeds to a sudden stand. A silence followed: and then in the moonlight, a horseman could be seen dismounting and walking slowly forward. His hand showed white as he held it up, palm outward, in token of peace. At ten paces the man stopped. He was tall, a dark standing shadow. Then his clear voice rang out.

“Rohan? Rohan did you say? That is a glad word. We seek that land in haste from long afar.”

“You have found it,” said Glorfindel. “When you crossed the fords yonder you entered it. But it is the realm of Eomer the King. None ride here save by his leave. Who are you? And what is your haste?”

“Halbarad Dunadan, Ranger of the North I am,” cried the man. “We seek one Aragorn son of Arathorn, and we heard that he was in Rohan.”

“And you have found him also!” cried Aragorn. Dismounting and giving his reins to Merry, he ran forward and embraced the newcomer. “Halbarad!” he said. “Of all joys this is the least expected!”

Merry breathed a sigh of relief. He had thought that this was some last trick of Saruman’s, to waylay them while they were only few in number but it seemed that there would be no need to die in battle, not yet at any rate. He sheathed his sword.

“All is well,” said Aragorn, turning back. “Here are some of my own kin from the far land where I dwelt. But why they come, and how many they be, Halbarad shall tell us.”

“I have thirty with me,” said Halbarad. “That is all of our kindred that could be gathered in haste. We rode as swiftly as we might when your summons came.”

“But I did not summon you,” said Aragorn, “save only in wish. My thoughts have often turned to you, and seldom more than tonight; yet I have sent no word. But come! All such matters must wait. You find us riding in haste and danger. Ride with us now!”

Then the Riders set out again, and Aragorn for a while rode with the Dunedain; and when they had spoken of tidings in the North and in the South, a Ranger named Idraen said to him:

“I bring word to you from Elrond Halfelven of Imladris: The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.”

“Always my days have seemed to me too short to achieve my desire,” answered Aragorn. “But great indeed will be my haste ere I take that road.”

“That will soon be seen,” said Idraen. “But let us speak no more of these things upon the open road!”

And Aragorn said to Halbarad: “What is that there that you bear, kinsman?” For he saw that instead of a spear he bore a tall staff, as it were a standard, but it was close-furled in a black cloth bound about with many thongs.

“It is a gift that I bring you from the Lady of Rivendell,” answered Halbarad. “She wrought it in secret, and long was the making. But she also sends word to you: The days now are short. Either our hope cometh, or all hopes end. Therefore I send thee what I have made for thee. Fare well, Elfstone!”

And Aragorn said: “Now I know what you bear. Bear it still for me a while!” And he turned and looked away to the North under the great stars, and then he fell silent and spoke no more while the day’s journey lasted.

Chapter XIX: The Passing of the Grey Company