Angandil's Strange Evening by Huinare

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Story Notes:

 My ‘verse takes “The Hunt for the Ring,” version C, from Unfinished Tales as canon; excerpt from the relevant passages in the endnotes. Events in this fic proceed according to that version, excepting of course the parts pertaining to my OCs. Angandil and Moril have appeared in a few of my Saruman-centric stories on Lotrgfic.com.


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The sun had already ducked behind the mountains, leaving the vale in its premature dusk. Angandil was standing atop the wall, a ways east of the great gate of Isengard, with Moril, reviewing the compass points in Westron.


Angandil pointed with his beak somewhat to the right of the tower of Orthanc. “North-northeath,” said Moril.


“No.”

Moril paused to groom her neckfeathers distractedly. Clearly she was tired and wanted to retire to the rookery.

“Northeath?” she tried.

“No. East. Sssst.”

“Sssst. Northeast?” 

 “No!”

Moril grumbled under her breath.

“Look.”  Angandil stood right next to the younger craban, nudging her head until he was certain she was looking in the right direction.

“Ah!” Moril suddenly comprehended. “North-northeast. Sssst!”

“Good.” Angandil debated whether they should go through the sixteen-point compass one more time. He was feeling tired, himself. After all, he was very old. But that was why he needed to teach Moril to communicate effectively in Westron, because Angandil was very old and someday he would need a successor who could speak easily with both Curunír and the crebain. Very well, once more. He was about to say as much to Moril when a shadow came out of the dusk, north up the road that approached the gate.

It was a shadow felt, before it was seen, in some way that couldn’t be explained but which provoked a terrible fear. Angandil resisted the urge to fly. Next to him, Moril was gaping in alarm as the shadow resolved itself into the dark figures of nine hooded riders. The riders halted a ways back from the iron gate, except for one who came forward and spoke through the hatch to the guards in a quiet, sibilant voice.

“Moril,” Angandil croaked under his breath. “Go tell Curunír: Strange visitors, bad feeling.”

The other craban was only too glad to make herself absent. As she winged back toward Orthanc in haste, Angandil went quietly west, along the inner edge of the wide wall so that the strange visitors wouldn’t see him. Directly above the tunnel that bored through the wall, he sank down with his belly to the cool stone and scooted up as close to the wall’s outer edge as he dared.

The captain of the gatehouse guard could be heard speaking to the leader of the shadow-visitors, and his voice was unsteady. “…’Tis only standard procedure, uh…sir… I’m sure you understand. I’ve orders not to allow–unexpected guests to pass through these gates, it being wartime and all. Never know who’s friend or foe lately, eh?” The captain’s attempt at an amiable chuckle tapered off into an almost eerie giggle.

Angandil winced as that soft, hissing voice replied. Despite its volume, it was the most horrible voice he had ever heard, and now he was near enough to discern its phrases: “We hail with the hand of Mordor. That is all you must needs know. Tell your master, then, that we are here. We shall wait.”

“Yes, indeed, I’ll dispatch a runner right away.”

Angandil heard the captain slide the small grated hatch in the gate closed. He scuttled back to the other side of the wall and dropped down flapping his wings, just in time to nearly scare the life out of the runner who emerged from the tunnel’s inner gate.

“Bloody crow,” gasped the Man, clutching his chest.

Craban,” Angandil corrected, perching atop the first of the copper posts flanking the long, arrow-straight path down to Orthanc.

“Whatever. What do you want? Did you get an earful of them shady characters at the gate?”

Angandil bobbed his head. “Yes. Man need not run. Angandil sends Moril, to tell the master.”

“You sure you’ve got this under control?” the Man said with a skeptical squint.

“Angandil is old and knows many things. Lord Curunír teaches. Angandil is old, when Man is young and crawls like dog.”

“All right, all right. Sorry to offend your highness.” The gatehouse guard sounded vexed, but he made no further protest. Instead he sat down with his back against the wall, produced a small object from a pocket, and drank from it with a sigh. “This’ll calm the old nerves. I don’t suppose you drink?” He proffered the small flask with a halfhearted smirk.

“Lout,” pronounced Angandil, before flying back to the spot on the wall where he’d been instructing Moril. He had earlier bestowed there, held down against the wind with a small rock, a gift which he’d procured that afternoon from the forest outside of Isengard’s walls. Angandil grasped the stem of the large red-and-golden leaf delicately in one talon and flew back down with it, standing on one foot as he repositioned himself on the post.

The trees were just beginning to show their autumn colors, but since there were no more trees inside the ring of Isengard, Curunír was missing out. Angandil remembered that there was a time when Curunír would go walk in the forest, so surely the wizard must miss trees, even though he had felled all of the trees within the bounds of the wall; the gradual disappearance of the trees had upset Angandil, but Curunír explained that he needed them to fuel his great and deep purposes. Perhaps the master would appreciate a colorful leaf the more now, since the strange visitors would surely upset anybody at least a little, even a great wizard.

When Curunír strode up to the wall, he was short of breath from hastening across Isengard. The lout with the flask had made himself scarce when he saw the wizard coming at a distance, and now Curunír leaned against the wall at that same spot, breathing deeply and staring up at the sky. After a minute or so, he collected himself and rapped lightly on the inner gate. It opened just enough to admit him, then closed behind him soundlessly.

Angandil, leaving his leaf under its rock beside the copper post, went again to the top of the wall and hunkered, listening, directly above the gate.

“…for the prisoner on your roof,” the leader of the Nine was saying.

Curunír’s voice, almost as calm as though he were conversing with a dinner guest over pleasant fare, but also oddly resonant as if he spoke through some device, murmured, “Wherefore should you take that one, who is presently secured, many leagues over dubious terrain? Tell me what Mordor would learn of him, and I shall at once gain the information from him myself.”

“Can you, Saruman? Can you extract such intelligence, by guile or torment, from one of your own order?”

A beat. “He has set himself in opposition to Mordor. He is the enemy of my ally; nor ever have I borne him any love.”

This talk about the grey wizard on the roof of Orthanc went on for a while, before the shadow-visitor assented, “Then do as you will. Yet if you bring not back to us the intelligence our lord knows this prisoner to possess, we must take custody of him.”

When the inner gate opened again and Curunír passed back through, he carried himself with a regal and collected air. But no sooner had the gate shut behind him than he went unsteadily over to lean on Angandil’s post. The craban vacated it quickly, settling back on the wizard’s shoulder.

“Curunír?”

Curunír paid Angandil no mind, but took several rapid breaths and mumbled to himself unintelligibly before turning on his heel and striding back toward Orthanc. Angandil again retrieved his gift and followed.

In the tower, Curunír went straight to the small room which went up and down. The room could carry two people. It was quicker for human folk than the many winding stairs, but it also required some exertion. Angandil alighted on the floor of the up-and-down room just before the wizard slammed its door closed and began turning a large handle in repeated circles. Gears clicked, chains rattled, and the small room started to ascend with more starts and jolts than usual while Curunír cursed at it.

Angandil, learning to speak Westron as a fledgling long ago, had been recriminated by Curunír any time the craban echoed curse words. Those words were impolite. But this didn’t seem like a good time to point out to the wizard that he was being rude to his up-and-down room. By the time they reached the roof, Curunír was even more out of breath than he’d been before the ascent. He paused, eyes closed, shaking.

Angandil was very concerned now. He hopped over and tugged at the hem of the man’s white cloak. “Curunír!”

“Shh!” the wizard rebuked him. Then he muttered to himself as if rehearsing something, “I have erred indeed. How can I–may I– What recompense… I know many things for which you may have some use. Yes. Many things, have some use. All right.” He sighed loudly, trying to replace his anxiety with exasperation. “I cannot believe this. But no solution is ideal, now.”

Visibly steeling himself, Curunír lifted several latches and opened the small hatch. As he peered out onto the roof, a look of disbelief fell over him. “What–?” He threw open the door, brandishing his staff. “Olórin!”

There was no one on the roof.

Curunír staggered out onto the platform. The night was now deep and full, with glittering stars and flying clouds, but that was no concern of the wizard’s. He looked only at the large, pale moon, against which the silhouette of a massive eagle with a human figure on its back was growing smaller by the moment. He swore once in a strangled voice and sat down heavily on the dark, smooth surface of the roof. He stared at the silhouette until it vanished, and then he suddenly yelled, “You bloody meddling idiot! You couldn’t have stayed two minutes longer?”

Angandil approached tentatively, wondering if the master’s wrath might turn upon him next. The wizard glanced over with a weird gleam in his dark eyes and spoke with an air of confidentiality, “And to think, I was about to come groveling to the fool, coward that I am.” He started snickering, and for a time was overborne with a quiet, hysterical laughter.

The craban paced around and muttered fretfully. He had never seen Curunír so strange and miserable. What was to be done? Angandil retrieved his gift, which was a little battered now but still very pleasant, and brought it over to the wizard. He ducked his head politely, holding the leaf’s stem in his beak, and stretched his neck out to proffer it. Curunír did not see the leaf because he was too busy keeping his face in his hands. Angandil waited a few moments, while the wizard still quaked with unwholesome laughter, then croaked solicitously.

Curunír looked up blearily. He saw Angandil, but he did not appear to note the gift. He got hold of himself and remarked to the craban, “Well, I suppose this affirms that it would have been a mistake to repent of–” He gestured vaguely around him. “–this. If Mithrandir ever bemoans my treachery again, he’d do well to keep in mind that things could have been different, had he only stayed a little longer. But, my mind is clearer now. I shall contrive somewhat to conciliate the Nine and speed them on their way.” He rose to his feet with the aid of his staff. “Can I not do this thing?”

Angandil, who had difficulty grasping the concept of a rhetorical question and wasn’t sure if this question was rhetorical anyway, opened his beak to answer, “Curunír does many things.” His gift fell from his beak. 

“Indeed,” the wizard grumbled. He departed from the roof, never noticing that he trod on the leaf.

 


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Chapter End Notes:

Endnote: Selection from Christopher Tolkien's summary of “Version C” of “The Hunt for the Ring" (Unfinished Tales):
‘[T]he Black Riders arrived at the Gate of Isengard while Gandalf was still a prisoner in the tower. In this account, Saruman, in fear and despair, and perceiving the full horror of service to Mordor, resolved suddenly to yield to Gandalf, and to beg for his pardon and help. Temporizing at the Gate, he admitted that he had Gandalf within, and said that he would go and try to discover what he knew; if that were unavailing, he would deliver Gandalf up to them. Then Saruman hastened to the summit of Orthanc – and found Gandalf gone. Away south against the setting moon he saw a great Eagle flying towards Edoras.
‘[N]ow he was left alone to deal with the Nine. His mood changed, and his pride reasserted itself in anger at Gandalf's escape from impenetrable Isengard, and in a fury of jealousy he went back to the Gate, and he lied, saying that he had made Gandalf confess. He did not admit that this was his own knowledge, not being aware of how much Sauron knew of his mind and heart. "I will report this myself to the Lord of Barad-dûr," he said loftily, "to whom I speak from afar on great matters that concern us. But all that you need to know on the mission that he has given you is where 'the Shire' lies…”



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