T.A. 2851, Rivendell
“You know.” Gandalf looked to the sky, as though inspired by Manwë’s sneeze. “I really think we should assault Dol Guldur.”
Saruman gave him a patient shake of the head, commanded the Council’s attention with a cough, and proceeded to outline the reasons, A through H, why it was better to not.
The Council, proud Galadriel down to humble Radagast gave him ear. Even the raven on Radagast’s shoulder cocked its head. Saruman had that affect on people.
But not on Gandalf, it appeared. As point A dragged on, he set himself apart and through a long wooden pipe, puffed smoke. His nostrils billowed like a furnace and his face soon was wreathed in cloud. As Saruman reached point C, Gandalf filled and lit his pipe again. As point E came around, Gandalf blew a series of green rings. And then on point G, Saruman stopped and gave Gandalf a long, cold look.
"When weighty matters are in debate, Mithrandir, I wonder a little that you should play with your toys of fire and smoke, while others are in earnest speech."
Gandalf laughed. "You would not wonder if you used this herb yourself. You might find that the smoke blown out clears your mind. But it is not one of my toys. It is an art of the Little People away in the West. You know of them, I’ve often spoken of them before. A merry and worthy folk, though not of much account, perhaps, in your high policies."
"You jest, Lord Mithrandir, as is your way.” Saruman’s voice was dipped in ice. “I know well enough that you have become a curious explorer of the small: weeds, wild things and childish folk. Your time is your own to spend, if you have nothing worthier to do, and your friends you may make as you please. But to me the days are too dark for wanderers' tales, and I have no time for the simples of peasants."
Gandalf did not answer, but drew in his pipe and emitted another, still longer series of rings.
The remaining members of the Council dared not to meet each other’s eyes.
Saruman, coughing once more, finished point H quickly and wrapped up the morning’s session.
Thranduil alone made protesting noises. But everyone else, as usual, nodded to Saruman’s intoxicating rhetoric, so flawless and so reasonable.
And Círdan, Master of the Havens, still felt intoxicated as he ambled down a woody garden path. “I suppose I’ve always been one to pick at a sore.” He thought of Dol Guldur, far away, a featureless and uninteresting hill in his imagination. “Curunír’s wisdom is the mightier, for I cannot in my way arrive at his conclusions.”
He came to a fork in the path. He studied the two courses and debated with himself. The narrower was brilliant, nigh dizzying, with flowers of every shape and hue, and the wider was dark with untrimmed trees and shrubs. A sweet scent of smoke trickled from it.
Before he could reach a decision, he heard the hard tramp of a focused someone behind him. On the chance that it was another minstrel seeking stories of the Former Days, he ducked behind an expansive old oak.
But it was no excitable minstrel who passed by Círdan’s hiding place. It was Saruman. He held his head down, mumbling, marching straight for the smoking trail.
Círdan popped out beside the Istar. Instinct told him it would not do for Saruman to run into Gandalf.
“Lord Curunír! I’ve only come down that way. One of the children has annoyed a tribe of skunks.”
Saruman hardly lifted his brows. He muttered a thanks and took the narrow flowery path.
Círdan allowed five minutes for Saruman to reach the edge of hearing and then he himself went down the wooded path and into a glade. Gandalf sat on a stone bench, the pipe nestled in his lips. He was boring his eyes into a stone squirrel.
“Círdan! You’ll join me, of course? You wouldn’t care for a smoke?”
“I – no thank you, I couldn’t…”
“Not even a short one? Very well, very well. But you know not what you’re missing!”
Círdan sat down and on weighty matters they spoke.
“You think that squirrel distressing? Have you seen the badger that sits outside the kitchen?”
“Afraid I’ve not had the pleasure.”
“And that otter…” Círdan shuddered.
“The one that stares eternally at waders in the pond?”
Right in the brief post-sentence silence, Elrond entered the clearing. He apologized for intruding, but he did need a word with Mithrandir.
Círdan remarked, “These ornamental creatures are quite charming.”
“Yes, they are impressive.” The Lord of Imladris nodded.
With that, Elrond and Gandalf vanished down the path. Círdan remained sitting. Gandalf had left his pipe, still warm, lying on the bench. Círdan drummed his fingers. The dying pipe gasped out a little cloud, a pitiful ghost of its former glory. He looked around at the still trees. He tapped the pipe and it coughed up another sad cloud. He gave the trees another inspection. He then lifted the pipe to his face, rotating it, as though examining it for its artistry.
The move was unforeseen and as he recollected, instinctual. He put the pipe between his lips and drew it with a short breath. His eyes widened. A flame entered his chest. It seemed to roll through his whole being, down to his toes, up to his ears. It roared through his mind and seemed to burn out all the cluttering cares and wither out even the silky web of Saruman’s voice.
He considered taking another draw, when leaves across the glade rustled. At the same moment he heard voices approaching from the reverse direction. He set the pipe down, carefully aligning it as he had found it, spun around, and hummed a nonsensical fisher-song.
Gandalf and Elrond strolled back into the glade, toward the bench. Gandalf completed his remarks to Elrond as he dumped his pipe and stowed it into his robes. The stone squirrel watched them all sorrowfully.
The bells at the house started their clamor.
Círdan ended his ditty. “Ah, let’s return together, shall we?”
They took their seats once more at the council. Círdan studied the faces of all the lords and ladies of the Wise and each one looked innocent as the last… but he couldn’t help but notice a stray leaf in Glorfindel’s hair.
Three Weeks Later, Mithlond
The council had turned out well, if one held Saruman’s point of view. The Dol Guldur policy was to remain hands-off. Thranduil had stormed out and swore to have nothing to do with them again. And Galadriel had made everyone keepsake handkerchiefs. Yes, a pleasant time.
Nonetheless, Círdan entered his office with a large weight on his mind. It bowed him over and he paced back-forth and back-forth to ease it up.
It took him three minutes to notice Galdor, his lackey of two and a half long Ages, slumped over a pile of papers that sprawled over a desk.
Círdan made a scrupulous noise.
Galdor unstuck his forehead from a parchment. “My lord, I didn’t know you’d arrived…” He waved the parchment. “The shepherds and the foresters are at it again. The sheep-people can’t seem to see that our ship timber grows best on those slopes and only those slopes. And let’s face it, sheep will eat anything, anywhere… ”
He jumped to his feet. “Yes, my lord?”
“I’ve a mission for you, in the Shire.” Círdan dropped his voice. “A secret mission.”
Galdor listened and nodded and mentally scratched his head.
T.A. 2941, Lothlórien
After a hurried ride down the Anduin Vale, shadowed by a disturbingly large bear, Gandalf came at last to Cerin Amroth. Fortunately not too late for the council, but less fortunately, too late for the refreshments.
“I am sorry, I told them not to eat it all.” Radagast wrung Gandalf’s hand in his unsquashable good humor. Two sparrows flew out of his sleeve. He wondered aloud how they got in there. The raven on his shoulder shrugged.
The pair landed on Saruman’s combed head and began to warble. He waved them off impatiently. “Well, lord Mithrandir, what have you been up to? You’ve far too many other high matters to attend to rather than take your seat at the council, I suppose. I gather you’ve been frolicking amongst those merry and worthy Halflings again. And Durin’s Folk to boot, only the latest of your fascinating specimens?”
“Yes, I have been frolicking,” Gandalf said, and Saruman darkened, thinking to see a twinkle in Gandalf’s eyes at his use of Halfling. “I abandoned them at Thranduil’s borders and I hope we can get this over with quickly…”
“Dear, dear,” Círdan said with real pity. “And Thranduil never did get over the Imladris vote.”
The White Council spread over the green lawn and in turns debated. Hearts were stirred at Gandalf’s assurance of a fail-safe plan in motion to oust Smaug the Dragon. Saruman’s interjections were small and swatted aside, and the Grey Wizard continued to speak, bubbly and brusque. Elrond, Círdan, and Galadriel jumped on with Gandalf’s resubmitted suggestion – attack Dol Guldur and drive out the sorcerer. And he got his way.
It could be divined that Galadriel had invited them all to Lothlórien with its convenient view of the evil fortress to make such a point. And that did not escape Saruman. His voice today seemed diminished, but perhaps he had his own reasons. However it was, he sat quiet the remainder of the council.
“Then let’s have at ‘im now!” Glorfindel gamboled about the lawn, golden scalp capturing the sun, cutting demons of air with his ancient sword.
But Things had to be done and Arrangements made and Papers signed. When, much, much later they assembled with archers, spearmen, cavalry, and all the workings of a good assault, Saruman was still quiet.
The Wise marched to the black hill in an atmosphere of brittle tension and, in the silence, stoked up their powers. The Necromancer was said to be a sorcerer of some potency.
Not long into the march, either from the pressure or the tedium, Gandalf rummaged out a pipe and stuffed it with leaf. Smoke soon drifted over their heads and filled their nostrils. Saruman pushed on ahead, his head low.
Círdan fell behind and watched Gandalf, blowing in and releasing rings. With a twitchy eye he followed each grey circlet into the air, one by one, as it expanded and disbursed in the breeze. He rubbed his sweating palms on his cloak. At last he threw back his head and announced, “I’ve a great affair I must deal with!”
He dashed into a tangle of shrubbery.
“Too much of that fish dip, poor bloke,” said Radagast. A chicken hoiked her agreement.
“You know,” Erestor said, hopping one foot to another. “I believe I partook too greedily in the dip as well.” He ran into the untamed weeds alongside their path.
“Then it is best we halt here for a time,” said Galadriel, setting herself down on a clean patch of grass with her knitting basket. The others followed suit.
Saruman sat apart from them, lids closed and body motionless, as though in deep meditation. No one dared approach, for fear of fracturing his focus.
Dol Guldur, yet miles off beyond sick grasses and black trees, frowned at them all, sending wishes of unwelcome and disruptive digestion.
The hill did not depress Radagast’s friends much. The starlings nesting in his beard hopped out to their wings. The raven took off after them. The chickens, though, remained close and scratched the bountiful dirt around his feet. One hen pecked patiently at an unyielding and rather deformed stick; Radagast squinted and picked it up. No mere stick was it at all; it was a pipe. A G was engraved on the bowl.
“Ah, Mithrandir, yours I believe?”
He handed it to Gandalf.
“Thank you!” Gandalf made to pocket it, then gave it a closer inspection. “Mithril mouth and a floral pattern. No, that is not mine. Sorry.”
Radagast took it back with a shrug and stowed it away.
At this point Glorfindel lapsed back into a fidgety, sword-squeezing state. Possibly if he didn’t slay something soon, he would explode.
That event was averted, however, by Círdan’s announcement:
“My business is complete!”
He emerged with an herbish smell a-clinging and a spring in his step, Saruman, lids cracked millimeter-wide, couldn’t help but notice.
Gandalf gave Círdan the most fleeting glance. His ring-blowing never missed a beat.
Glorfindel ducked the train of rings as he inched ever closer to the Brown Wizard. “Um, Lord Radagast, might I inspect that utensil? I think it is of Gondolin-make, but I can’t be sure…”
The gold-headed lord gave it a quick look-over and emitted a sigh. “Oh no, that is definitely not.”
Elrond slipped away while Glorfindel mopped himself with a mithril hankie. The Peredhil strode cautiously downhill to a concealed stream, looked back to ensure his secrecy, and then forward again, only to come to a halt nose-to-nose with Erestor, puffing away on a black pipe.
Erestor detached it just far enough to speak. “You can keep a secret?”
“Should I have shame for adopting a habit of my foresires’ people?” Elrond whipped out his own, and Erestor offered him his leaf.
So the keen eyes of the White Wizard spotted a fine grey stream of smoke from the dell yonder. And they beheld too Elrond and Erestor loping from the self same dell a minute later. The Elf-lords noticed his stare and gave him respectable bows.
A crease formed between his eyebrows. Now Saruman’s gaze swiveled between them all – Radagast and the chickens, Glorfindel and Galadriel, Erestor and Elrond, and Círdan.
“They do this to taunt me,” thought Saruman, enraged and humiliated. His pouch of dried herb burned on his chest. His eyes narrowed finally on Gandalf, the ringmaster of the whole circus, he knew. He must not be allowed to steal the glory of this venture.
And so Saruman, once the most reluctant to assault Dol Guldur, sprung up and charged, galloping faster than the highest-strung stallion of Rohan, in gainsay to his white beard, chanting loud and clear in Quenya.
The faces of the Wise were astonished and their minds awed at the power of the White Wizard unleashed.
“But ought we to tell him that is the wrong way?” Círdan asked.
“Better that we let him figure it out and pretend not to notice,” said Gandalf.
While the others’ eyes were thus averted, Galadriel slipped the pipe from Radagast’s pocket and tucked it into her knitting basket.
T.A. 2851, Rivendell
Chapter End Notes:
The opening scene of the Council was adapted from “The Hunt for the Ring,” Unfinished Tales. Saruman’s lines are word-for-word; Gandalf’s close, but not quite.
My business is complete! – Stolen rather shamelessly from the episode “A Room With A Moose” of Invader Zim.