They called him Saruman in the northern lands, in the lands between Angmar in the north and the White Mountains. This name spoke to his intelligence and cleverness, and was bestowed upon him by the Elves of the wandering tribes, and then swiftly confirmed by the remnants of the northern Dúnedain as well as the other scattered inhabitants of Eriador.
From the Havens he traveled eastward, past the abandoned Elven Towers, through what had been the fertile farmlands of Cardolan, finally across the River Baranduin and beyond the Old Forest into the Breelands. He was told Rhudaur was no more, for the wars between hill-men and Dúnedain had left its royal house destroyed and its population depleted. The remnant of the royal house of Cardolan had withdrawn into the thin slice of land between the Baranduin and the Old Forest. Saruman had been welcomed there, but found little to recommend the place or the people. Mirucar, King of Cardolan, was much beleaguered, while his heir Endorgil, although clearly devoted to his land and people, walked without hope, having foreseen the end of his people’s existence as the folk of their nation.
As Saruman strode away from the pitiful remains of Cardolan along the borders of the royal cemetery with its orderly burial mounds, many topped by standing stones raised to the memory of those interred beneath, he found himself face to face with the Eldest.
Iarwain examined him closely, and a smile hovered about his mouth, although his blue eyes were shrewd but otherwise unreadable. “And what does one of Aulë’s folk do here?” he asked. “It is long since I saw you, Curumo. Do you come to seek your brother? He is not here, but I judge across the Mountains of Mist in the great forest which has been renamed the Mirky Woods in honor of his influence.”
“You know so much?” Saruman asked. “Then why do you not go and drive him forth?”
“I, drive him forth?” Iarwain looked even more amused. “And how am I to do that? I swore not to raise my power save in the land that has accepted me, and never have I been a match for him. Here and here alone in the Old Forest do I breathe freely. Here and here alone have I found full acceptance—and love.”
“Then you have married a maiden from among Men?”
The Eldest threw back his head and laughed, his laughter like music and poetry. “Nay, friend, not among the daughters of Men. But one of Ossë and Uinen’s offspring delights in the river, and her own daughter has accepted my suit. You might look to do as well.”
Saruman’s lip curled. “I was not sent here for the purposes of dalliance.”
“And I was not sent at all, but have found this part of Middle Earth my home. Since the Onodrim withdrew from the north back to Fangorn the trees they woke here have remained restless, rejoicing in the end to have my friendship and what guidance they will at times ask and on occasion accept of me. They have accepted our presence, and we hold them in check when they would vent their jealousy on those who walk abroad freely while they remain, for the most part, earthbound. And we advise those of the blood of the Dúnedain who have settled yonder in how to deal with the presence of the woods on their doorstep, if you will.”
His face grew unaccountably solemn. “Not, of course, that they will remain along the Baranduin that much the longer. They have dwindled, for the Enemy sends his folk among them and betrays them at all times. It was once told to him that the one to see to his destruction would dwell at least for a time between the Baranduin and the Old Forest, and so he seeks to destroy what little remains of the land of Cardolan and its people.” Suddenly he laughed again. “It would prove a fine joke, would it not, Curumo, should the prophecy prove true but his own assumptions that it is from among his greatest enemies among Men that his nemesis will come should prove false?”
His eyes twinkled, and he began to sing, “Hey down, a-hoy down, down, down a dillo!” He lifted his eyes to the light of the Sun, and forgetting Saruman—forgetting him or dismissing him?—he capered away, singing and dancing, winding his way amongst the barrows back toward the depths of the forest.
Saruman watched after, his heart strangely in tumult at the Eldest’s words. What could they mean? Then he turned. In his earliest times Iarwain had followed Yavanna and Vána and Nessa, in the days the three of them walked freely through the Mortal Lands awakening tree and shrub, grass and vine, teaching each to flower and fruit in its time. He’d awakened here, and remained when the Valar had withdrawn, leaving only their memory and blessings on leaf and land. During the days Irmo had visited this land he’d sat at times at the Vala’s feet, drinking in the lore of dreams. When Oromë’s hunt had ridden over the lands Iarwain had guarded the beasts natural to their prey, hidden them away in safe hollows in the depths of the forests, and had shaken his fist after. The Huntsman had simply laughed, rejoicing there would remain some to hunt perhaps another day, and secretly blessing the stubborn one who remained obstinately in Middle Earth.
Whose was he, truly? None would say. Certainly he had no commerce with Saruman’s own chosen lord amidst the Valar. But Varda’s stars held no secrets from him, and Manwë’s winds blew his hair, and Ulmo’s vassal had sent one to wife him.
The one to see to Sauron’s fall would dwell for a time between the Baranduin and the Old Forest? Not, he judged, from among the children of Mirucar. Four sons had Mirucar sired, and the youngest was already dead, drowned in the river long ago, while the elder three…. Saruman snorted, for he foresaw that Endorgil would not even come to the marriage bed.
Mirucar had a sister, a sister who had gone to Arthedain to marry the prince of that lineage, and sat now as queen to Celepharn. It was said their son Celebrindor made fair to be a worthy successor to his father. Celepharn’s mother had been of mixed Gondorian and Rhudauri descent; his paternal grandmother had been of the Dúnedain of Pelargir and had blood ties to the peoples of Númenor vi Ennorath on the southern coasts of Gondor hard by the Elven havens of Edhellond. There was talk of Celebrindor offering suit to the daughter of the current Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath—Arthedain’s merchant traders and ships of exploration had continued the partnership with Círdan’s folk in Mithlond known since Elendil’s own day, and many traded openly in southern Gondor and along its coastline. If the lineage of the Sea Kings were to remain in the north, Saruman judged it would do so in the heirs of Arthedain, and that these would hold much of the bloodlines of all the Dúnedain of Middle Earth.
There was a village at the crossroads of the road running east from Mithlond to the passes of the Mountains of Mist and the road running south from Arthedain’s capital of Annúminas toward Gondor. The village was young, and now held not by descendants of Númenor but instead by Men of mixed blood. A rough tavern had been built there, a place of raw timbers and even rawer spirits. The food was bad, Saruman decided, spitting out the foul stew he’d been served and turning up his nose at the heavy lump of bread in which the yeast had died long before the dough came to the ovens.
A stranger entered the place, purchased a mug of the establishment’s drink from the one who ran the taps, and after casting about came to sit by Saruman in one of the few remaining empty places along the canted tables.
“Busy night,” commented the stranger, who sat, cloaked in black over clothing of dark grey. He continued to wear his black riding gloves, and had not bothered to push back his hood.
“Apparently,” Saruman answered sourly, “although considering the poor fare offered here it is difficult to understand why.”
The cloaked shoulders rose slightly in a shrug. “Perhaps,” the hooded figure answered, “only because there are no other taverns within fifty miles.”
“There can be no other reason for it,” agreed the Istar.
“You are new come to the region?”
“What business brings you to these climes?”
Saruman couldn’t decide of what the voice of this one reminded him. It was not pleasant, but neither was it totally repugnant. There were hints that it had once been fair and strong, and probably commanding as well. Now it was rather harsh and rough, as if it hadn’t been used overmuch for many years. Still, it was someone willing to speak with him, so he made shift to answer. “I was sent as a messenger.”
“Messenger?” He could hear the mixed interest and skepticism the hooded one’s voice held. “From whom, and to whom?”
“To any who will make shift to listen.”
“And your message is what?”
“To stand against those who would lead Middle Earth into the darkness.”
“Those who sent you felt this was a truth that must be proclaimed abroad?”
Saruman could clearly hear the derision in the other’s voice. Well, he thought, it ought to be self-evident. “There are those who will ever fall to the blandishments of evil,” he answered, and realized he sounded sanctimonious.
“Perhaps,” his companion answered, and lifted his cup to his unseen mouth inside the hood and sipped from it. When he’d replaced the cup on the table he asked, “To whom have you made this declaration so far?”
It was the Istar’s chance to shrug. “Few enough. I’ve met with those who run the Havens at Mithlond, the folk of Gildor Inglorion and a few of the other wandering companies, the members of the household of Mirucar of Cardolan. There has been no great time to meet others as yet.”
“And how do the folk of the house of Mirucar?”
“Well enough, I suppose, for a house doomed to fail as it is.”
“And how do you know that house will fail?” Did that voice sound just the least bit satisfied and overcurious?
Saruman sighed. “How does the seed know to break out of its shell and send down roots into the earth? One simply knows. One can taste the ashes of defeat floating on the air there, and see the foreknowledge of an early death in the gaze of Endorgil, the son of the King. I doubt he thinks to survive his ride out of their lands next week.”
“And where does he ride to next week?”
“He looks to visit his aunt in Annúminas, I think.” He shrugged. What did it matter in the end where the King’s son was intended to die?
“At least now there will be peace between the folk of Rhudaur and those of Cardolan,” the other said, and this time he did not try overmuch to keep the malice out of his voice.
“I suppose that must be so—the peace of the grave for Rhudaur, at least, so far.” He stretched. “And for what have the two realms fought? For the Weather Hills and Amon Sûl and its tower, a place intended by Elendil and his sons to serve all of the Dúnedain, north and south? They can share their daughters, but not the places of seeing?”
“Apparently not.” Then, after a pause, the other asked, “And where do you go now?”
“Where fortune takes me, I suppose.”
“You appear to have much native wisdom.”
Saruman was gratified. “So I appear? I thank you, then.”
“What is there to keep you here in the northern lands? It is an uncouth place, you will find.”
“And the southern lands are greater?”
“For the moment, at least. Far greater than those here are the cities of Gondor, for the Kings have not sought to split their resources by making each son ruler of his own land as did Eärendur, setting them up for rivalry.”
“At least from what I can see the sons of Amlaith have sought to counsel the others to peace, and have refrained from joining in the squabbles of the other two lines, seeking ever to cement ties between Arthedain and all others.”
“Wisdom, do you think, or mere policy?” There was again definite malice in the hooded one’s voice. “Will you ride south, do you think?”
“Ride? I’ve never been one to ride,” Saruman admitted, then wondered for his own sake why not. “Although perhaps I will seek a horse….”
“A fine horse I may have for sale next week,” the hooded one said. “If you get that far, you might find me in the Weather Hills. You may look for me there.” The smile Saruman could not see on the other’s face he could hear in the voice, and it was one of satisfaction. “Look for me there in a ten-day, a half-day’s walk west from Amon Sûl.”
The other downed his drink and left the tavern, and soon enough after Saruman followed him. A fight had broken out between other patrons as the black one had passed them, and he was glad to quit the place.
And when a month later Saruman heard the news that Eldorgil of Cardolan had died in an ambush as he rode north toward Annúminas and the house of his aunt and her husband in the Citadel there, he simply shook his head at this confirmation of his foreseeing, and continued his ride southward from Imladris toward Tharbad on the fine bay horse he’d purchased from the black-robed stranger just west of the Tower of the Winds.