- My element for the challenge, the song ‘Time’ by Libera, on Youtube.
- Lyrics to the song.
Before the Count of Time _______*________ _______________ _______*________
The Music is their sustenance, the halls in which they meet, the fields whereupon they roam, and the welcome or warning in a gaze. It is the pen, the brush, the chisel. The Ainur do not think of it this way yet, knowing none of these things. They know only the Music. It is the space and time which will create dimension within the Void.
Summer Solstice, 3019, Minas Anor
Gandalf sat in the Court of the Fountain, puffing away at his faithful pipe–or ought that to be, puffing away faithfully at his pipe? He wondered abruptly how folk would react in Valinor if and when he and the pipe returned in close company.
“Well, I’m not about to leave it on these shores, and surely smoking was somewhere in the Music!” he mumbled. No one was at hand to hear, as a late post-sunset feast to celebrate the year’s longest day had convened within. The King, the Steward, or an inquisitive hobbit might soon manifest to demand his presence at table.
Gandalf was not particularly trying to avoid proceedings, but it was pleasant to be alone for a time. The Enemy was vanquished, yet there was still much that needed doing, and not much time for a wizard and friend of the Free Folk to sit with his thoughts.
He furrowed his brows at the White Tree, which stood over its reflection like a skeleton both stately and pitiful. This, a nagging whim told him again, was one of the things that needed done.
Summer Solstice, 3019, Orthanc
Saruman leaned his head against the windowpane, took a long drag of pipeweed, and eyed the ever-creeping green within the Ring of Isengard. The Ents never wearied of undoing his work. It occurred to him to wonder what Yavanna Kementári would do if and when she learnt that he had warred with her tree stewards.
He cursed, a wince of dread visiting him, and was glad nobody was at hand to witness these undignified actions. He was alone in Orthanc but for Gríma, whom he usually preferred to ignore.
Saruman typically avoided Treebeard as well, or at least declined to actively acknowledge his recurring presence below the study window. The Ent was wont to stand there declaiming at length. The wizard listened, as there was no other news to be had. There was also little else to fill the time, which stretched itself languidly over Isengard.
Seeing Treebeard at a distance, a dark shape moving among a grove of young rowans, Saruman sighed. He was unused to being without a plan and without an option.
A green mound rises near the splendid gates of Valimar. Nothing grows upon it save a thick raiment of emerald grass. It stands under the stars of Varda which are already old. The world is already old, yet it is young. Much is still to come.
Curumo paces slowly up the hill in a spiral, and nearly trips over Olórin lying prone at the summit. “What–?” both snap.
“How peculiar.” Olórin sits up with a grin.
Curumo’s expression is hard to read, perhaps amused, perhaps annoyed. “To sprawl on a hilltop without stirring? Indeed.”
“No, to be sneaking around so quietly on a hilltop and trampling people.”
“One doesn’t normally expect to find people laying about in strange places.”
“Unexpected but hardly invisible, Curumo! Ah well, I suspect we’re both here for the same reason, to ponder this mysterious hill.”
“Evidently. Did you notice it’s symmetrical?”
“I can’t say I did.”
“The hill exhibits precise radial symmetry, and not one stone or rut to mar it.” Curumo sits down, eyes dark yet bustling under their stillness like a substance conducting an electrical current. “Its slope is exactly forty-five degrees at all points until it begins to level off two-thirds of the way up. It seems also to be rich soil all through, no rock base. The roots of this grass must be almost like a tailored netting, for this thing to hold together. There is no way a landform like this could occur naturally in the midst of a floodplain.”
Olórin raises an eyebrow. “Quite so. It’s always looked unusual. But it has been here ever since the walls of the city were under construction. Yavanna and Aulë must have fashioned it right under our noses, but none of us have suspected it of anything until recently. Why are you only now so interested in analyzing this hill?”
“If you really must know, I lately saw Aulë inspecting it and thought he was up to something.”
“Ah. There is more going on though, under the surface.”
Curumo raises an eyebrow.
“That’s why I was lying here. I can feel or hear something happening under the ground–two somethings, actually, one here and the other just behind you.” Olórin pats the ground beside him with one hand and points with the other, eyes lit with a serene sort of curiosity. “It is difficult to pinpoint the sense precisely. I suppose it’s something like the Music, not really a sound or a vibration, but something beyond all that. You hadn’t noticed?”
“I can’t say I had.”
But could it be done? The line of hallowed Galathilion had been broken when the White Tree of Gondor died. Gandalf had lately asked every lord, botanist and historian in the city; everyone agreed that nobody had thought to save any seeds back when the tree had still been healthy.
The wizard set a single smoke ring at liberty. As it slowly rose and faded, it appeared for a moment to frame the dead tree. It would be a shame if Galathilion’s line should be not restored along with that of Elendil.
“Ah,” Gandalf muttered, standing up suddenly. He looked to the mountains rising behind the white towers. “”Not all those who wander are lost…’”
The King had come forth from the wilds, not from high halls. Perhaps the White City was not the place in which to seek.
Was it possible to quit Orthanc now? All escape tunnels had been scrupulously located and blocked by Treebeard and his crew–blocked, no less, with heavy slabs of granite that to Saruman felt suspiciously like the erstwhile walls of Isengard.
Through a beleaguered, smoky exhalation, the wizard glared again at the form of Treebeard. The Ent seemed to be wending his way slowly toward Orthanc. If one were to leave the tower and leave the vale altogether, one would need to get past him.
Saruman took several deep breaths and rose to open the window. The only feasible way to get past Treebeard was to speak with him, to convince him subtly and gradually that prolonged imprisonment of a being was unnatural regardless of grudge or guilt.
It would be humiliating, but not so much as waiting about here. Eventually the ranger-king of Gondor would return to survey Isengard.
Yavanna ascends the hill before the gates of Valimar, flanked by Varda and Nienna. The other Valar watch below. The Maiar trickle in to seat themselves on the grass, a many-hued sea of bright eyes upturned around the hill. It seems all the world is wordless, moveless, waiting for the next thing. The tears of Nienna and the light of Varda seep into the dark soil as Yavanna begins a song to call forth small entities from their hidden seeds.
“Gandalf, you’re still out here, puffing away like a dragon who got his fires quenched in the fountain! The King and the Steward of Gondor have both commanded me to come fetch you indoors.”
“Peregrin Took, how do you think your friend Strider would fancy another hike in the mountains?”
“I thought we all did enough of that. What are you getting at now?”
“All in good time.”
“Well, if I’m going to deprive myself of a round of song just to come out here and listen to you being secretive and wizardly, you might at least give me a pinch of weed for my troubles.”
“What happened to all that Longbottom you rescued from the flood at Isengard?”
“I’ve still got it safe and sound under my bed. But my bed’s not here, and I have used up all that was in my pocket.”
“A most convincing hobbit! Very well, have a smoke with me and then we shall go in.”
“Hoom, what has brought you to the window this evening, Saruman? This window is always empty when I come to it. But this is the summer solstice, you know. The old Elves might say this is a good time for new things to happen.”
“I have sat in this tower, Fangorn, since well before the spring equinox. The time passes, perhaps not so heavily in the slow speech of the Ents, but I have begun to feel it.”
“Indeed, the time falls more heavily when one is not enjoying oneself. Hm. The time of Ents and trees was quite heavy when those axe-bearers of yours were sent among us.”
“That is all? I know you have many more words than that, clever words and infamous. Yet you never said much to me. Always very secretive you were.”
“What would you have me say? I have few words and fewer deeds that would interest an Ent.”
“Not so hasty now, hrum! If by ‘interest’ you mean ‘gladden,’ you may be right. Yet there is much about you that it would have been good for Ents to know, before things got as far as they did.”
“There is a music, old beyond telling, that underpins all the world. I was there when it began. Some sang of leaves. Some sang of water. I sang of stone, minerals. If I am still there when it ends, I would do no differently.”
The saplings emerge golden and silver, delicate at first; but they grow taller and broader and more complex, sending branches arching out beyond the hill, extending vivid leaves and glowing buds to the shimmering gazes far below. None can gauge how long this takes, hours or years, but all watch and hearken.
It shall soon be that the Two Trees of Valinor will serve a twofold function. The three Valier have given them the ability to bring light to dark places, to seize the heart and eye, to awaken the spirit. Yet Aulë has added the quality of order, instilling the seeds with a clockwork nature, that the waxing and waning of the Trees’ light might track with precision the hours, the ages.
And, like all things, these two shall pass.
Before the Count of Time
Chapter End Notes: