Curumo stood before Manwë and Eärendil. What appearance would you have those who accept this duty assume? he asked.
I have asked the Mariner to attend on this to arrive at a better appreciation of what forms would be better suited to evoke honor among Men and Elves both, he was answered. What think you, my lord? the Lord of the Valar asked the Peredhel. What form would Men and Elves of honor both most instinctively honor and respect in return?
Eärendil thought carefully as he examined the shape the Maia had assumed. At last he indicated slowly, Not that of an Elf, for there is too often estrangement between Elves and Men, with Men suspecting Elves of secret motivations for their advice or envying their apparent immortality, and Elves reacting to that envy with suspicions of their own. Nor that of a Dwarf, who are viewed, perhaps too often rightly, of being guilty of greed, avarice, and disdain for those who live on the surface of the earth. Nor is there easy love between Dwarves and Men, while there is all too often outright enmity between the Children of Aulë and the Firstborn. Not that of a Perian, for all would look askance at advice offered by one so small and given to the filling of larders and bellies. No, it would have to be that of a Man.
Curumo immediately took on the aspect of a Lord among Men, tall and straight of carriage, his face fair, his eyes filled with wisdom and authority, his jaw firm. He wore white armor and carried a great sword at his hip, a shining helm under his arm.
Manwë examined the Maia’s new form impassively, but the lips of Eärendil compressed in reaction to the new appearance, and he automatically shook his head. “No,” he said aloud, surprising both Vala and Maia, for he’d not spoken so for well over an age of Middle Earth. This will not do, he continued. I have seen the form Sauron took as one of the Children of Ilúvatar, and this is too close to that form, although this is plainly that of a Man while that of Annatar was more that of an Elf in appearance. Yes, it would evoke respect, but that respect would answer to authority and not to wisdom itself.
The Maia went pale at the perceived rebuke, but straightened when he saw agreement in the eyes of the Lord of Arda. Manwë asked, Should he look more a youth, perhaps?
The Peredhel slowly shook his head. Alas, no, for such would be ignored as one too likely callow and certain of his own perceptions when in actuality his wisdom is untried.
Then perhaps he should take the form of a man well advanced in years, suggested Manwë. With the agreement of the Master of the Vingilot, the Vala turned again to Curumo and indicated such a change in aspect would be in order, and with slight grimace the Maia complied.
Now Curumo appeared a Man of his late middle years, hairs beginning to grey at the temples but overall dark and thick. Again his carriage was proud, his eyes filled with thought, his face full of authority. He wore now a rich robe and still the sword at his hip. When, however, he saw that Eärendil continued to shake his shining head, his lip began to curl with frustration.
No, as with the former aspect this is too strongly that of a lordly Man, and the reaction would be more to the perceived authority and not to the actual wisdom spoken, the Mariner objected.
Older yet, then, Manwë agreed. Nor should you appear a warrior. Your role will not be to lead armies or rule nations, but to guide through your advice.
The Maia looked disbelieving for a moment, but concentrated his attention again on calling upon himself still another form. Now he stood before them a Man indeed advanced in years, his face lined with much experience, his long beard and hair shining silvery white but streaked in places with black. His eyebrows were long, his face narrow, his eyes alert and considering. His carriage was still proud, but the pride was not now perceived as pride in accomplishment but of wisdom garnered and demonstrated. His white robes were simpler although as elegant as ever, but the sword rode still at his hip. Slowly Manwë nodded his approval, while Eärendil merely straightened, not having more criticism he would express openly.
Yes, the Vala pronounced, this is indeed the best form for him to carry. However, he continued as he considered the Maia closely, it would not do to appear an aged Man if you do not appear to be so completely. An aged Man would know some stiffness of the joints— he negligently waved a hand and Curumo felt surprise as just such stiffness could be felt forming in his knees, hips, shoulders, and hands, —and would need to lean upon a staff. Again a wave, and the sword Curumo had worn at his hip became a rod in his hand. Manwë considered the staff for a moment, then gave a nod as a decision took him. Let the staff be the repository for your native wisdom and experience and power as a Maia, and for most of your memory of your time here in Aman, he declared, as he made a gesture of command. Slowly the staff in the hand of what appeared to be an aged Man began to change, becoming an elegant shape, apparently made of ebony and carved at the top with four great flanges between which was held an ivory sphere.
Curumo’s expression became confused and disoriented as much of his memory and power and wisdom were drained away into the staff he carried. He looked at his lord with some fear and even some anger. “Must I be so diminished?” he demanded, then looked appalled as he heard his own voice.
Not diminished, Manwë sought to reassure him. It is merely that you are no longer to appear a Maia, and no Man would have full access to all of the power and wisdom and raw knowledge you have garnered through your experience as a servant to Aulë here within Aman. You will be able to draw upon what is held within your staff at need, but once that wisdom or power is no longer needed it will withdraw again into its resting place. You will need to eat and drink, to relieve yourself and to rest periodically. You will have a Man’s capacity to learn from others and your experiences within Endorë, and thus will add to your basic knowledge and wisdom. As long as you remain true to your purpose you will have full access at need to that which is held within your staff. If you stray from your path, however, the staff will be withdrawn.
I offer you now a choice: a small skiff lies on the shore near the harbors of Tol Eressëa. You may go there now and take possession of it, and sail it upon the Sea. The winds will bring you to the Straight Path, and the barrier that blocks passage from this end will open for you at Ulmo’s command, and you will come in time to the harbor of Mithlond from which you will begin your adventure within Middle Earth. Or Eärendil here may carry you, Aiwendil, and the skiff past the Straight Path and set you both down near the mouths of the harbor there, and during the sailing may impart much of his own wisdom to the both of you.
“And why would I sail with Aiwendil?” demanded Curumo. “Am I not the one of the number to be sent there who goes willingly, having volunteered for this service?”
That is true, came the response, that you have volunteered while he goes on command. However, he, too, carries a mandate to do as and what he can. Also, remember that your Lord supported your claim to oppose Sauron, while Yavanna, his consort, chooses to send her own servant to serve as he has learned from her. It is only right that, if the two of you both agree, you should go together.
“I do not agree,” insisted the newly formed Man. “As I was first to accept the duty, I would be the first to arrive in that land and to announce myself.”
As I indicated, it shall be as you desire. You shall indeed be the first among the newly formed order of the Istari, and as the White you shall be foremost among those who accept this duty. When the others arrive you will know it, but none shall challenge you for primacy—not as long as all remain true to your joint purpose. Each of you, once you enter that place, shall be allowed to advance as you best see fit, and your free will shall not be impinged upon. Is this acceptable to you?
The Istar slowly nodded. “So be it indeed, my Lord,” he said formally, and he bowed, then turned away to seek transport to Tol Eressëa to find the promised skiff.
Once he was gone, Vairë the Weaver entered, her eyes filled with concern. And how has he chosen to travel, my Lord Brother? she asked him.
He has chosen to go alone in the skiff.
She looked after the way the new Istar had gone. So, she said with a sigh of regret, already his pride leads him? He will not learn from the Mariner’s own experience and wisdom, nor what might be shared with him by Aiwendil or the others? As I said in the Council, such patterns lead all too often to disaster and destruction.
It is partly for this I drew from him much of his native power, wisdom, and knowledge, Manwë acknowledged. Otherwise I fear he will too quickly follow Sauron’s own path of seeking to impose his own will on others, mistaking his own motivations for what is right. And it will take him some time to master the manner in which he may draw on what is held in the staff. It is my hope that the time required for that will serve to allow experience there to soften the pride and allow the wisdom of others to penetrate and help him hold true.
It was well done, agreed Eärendil. But will you treat all the others equally?
Manwë looked on the Mariner with some thought. I will have the same restrictions placed on all chosen, he finally indicated. Aiwendil will be under the same restrictions, as will Alatar and any who seeks to accompany him, and the one other I think now to send.
And who is that? asked his sister.
The Lord of Arda smiled. Olórin, if he will agree.
The Mariner straightened with some surprise. Yet that one is not tied to the service of any one of the Valar, for he has served equally the two of you, the Lady Varda, Lady Yavanna, Irmo, Tulkas, Vána, Lorien, Nienna, Estë—indeed I believe he has served at one time or another each of the Valar, even Ulmo and Námo.
He is the greatest of the Maiar, and the most curious of his kind. He is compassionate and careful of thought, yet he possesses a sense of humor—an unusual commodity amongst the Maiar. He also has at times followed the Hunt with Oromë and knows much of the lands through which he will travel. He was distressed when Sauron turned from service to follow Morgoth. If he cannot stand against Sauron and the lure of Sauron’s Ring, none can. Manwë’s expression was thoughtful. Ever has he opened himself to the Voice of Ilúvatar—that I cannot take from him when he takes a Man’s shape. If he wins through, it will be the greatest of triumphs; if he fails…. He grew more solemn still. If he fails, then there is the chance Arda itself will fail.
Vairë asked, Then you would make of him the leader of this order into which those sent will fall?
Manwë Sulimo shook his great head in negation. No, for already have I granted that distinction to Curumo, who, after all, was the only one to offer himself for this service. Yet, with the focus of attention that status will give to Curumo, Olórin will perhaps have more freedom for his own decisions and movements, and less pressure to force rather than to persuade others to action.
If he accepts your commission, the Weaver persisted, will you leave more of his nature as a Maia within him when he accepts the shape of an old Man?
Her Lord Brother looked on her with some consideration. None will bear less of his nature as Maia for the shape given him; and in none will any advantage be given in the ability to draw from his staff. To do so would be anything but fair. However, it will be up to each what he will draw back from the staff at any one time, whether wisdom or knowledge or experience or power. Again he straightened. I will go now to speak with Aiwendil, and then seek out Olórin and offer him the choice. Sister Vairë, Lord Eärendil, I wish each of you the joy of the day.
Accepting their dismissal, the Mariner and the Weaver withdrew.