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Stirring Rings
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Fireworks and Protocol

Fireworks and Protocol

The White Wizard found news awaiting him as he reentered Rhovanion--another council had been held, here in these lands, and Mithrandir yet lingered in the hall in which that council had met. Saruman felt fury rush through him, for he felt he, as the White among the Istari and chosen head for such Councils, ought to have been present for any such meeting. He accepted the guidance of the young Man who had advised him of the council, apparently an errand rider of Gondor, and soon was led to a large hall on the north side of the capital.

Gandalf was within, standing in the center of where three tall tables had been pushed together, working with various earths and materials. Paper and parchment were to be seen on several sides, much of it stiffened and rolled into tubes.

“And what is it you are about, my brother?” Saruman asked.

The Grey Wizard looked up from his occupation and smiled. “Ah--here you are at last. We began sending out messengers in search of you over a year past.” He continued in filling one of the tubes with a black powder from a stone basin on the main table, then added another powder and then a wad of parchment he tamped into place with a fine wooden rod.

“You would have a council without my presence?” Saruman asked.

“It was called by Tarondor of Gondor, Saruman, and set for late this spring. We sent out messengers in all directions, and one even entered Harad to seek you there. But it appears we are not to find you until you return here to the free lands again. Where did you go?”

“I’ve been sojourning in Rhûn,” was the answer. “When I realized

Moran of Dunland had no intention of using the designs I offered for the building of his proposed city I decided I would go east where at least my attentions are noted and appreciated. Why was this council held?”

“As I said, Tarondor of Gondor requested it, and asked me to summon to it all who desired to discuss the evil seen in the western lands.”

“Who came to it?”

“Arvegil of Arnor for his father, Tarondor and his son, Gildor Inglorion, Elrond of Imladris and his son Elrohir, Celeborn and Galadriel of Laurinand, Radagast, Galdor of Mithlond, three from Lindon, various lords from here in Rhovanion, a few from Éothéod, and two representatives of the folk of Khazad-dûm. I’d hoped that the Hobbits would send a representative or two, but they chose in the end not to do so.”

“And what is the evil that has been seen?”

Gandalf carefully tamped three packets wrapped in fragile paper into the tube on which he’d been working, then placed a cap of stiffened paper over it and set it aside, coming to lead the White Wizard to a pair of comfortable seats by the fireplace. “I believe there in Rhûn, also, you would have seen much illness comprised of severe chills and fevers, and possibly also outbreaks of a disease in which great black boils break out on the skin of the sufferer, followed probably by attacks on people by animals that have spread the water rage.”

“The first two we certainly did see, the latter mostly along the western borders of the land. What of them?”

“The source of all three appears to have been Dol Guldur.” Gandalf reached to where a ewer of wine sat on a small table near his chair, and poured a cup for each of them.

Saruman examined him with a mixture of consternation and disbelief. “You cannot know that for certain.”

“We cannot? Then why did the plague of the chills and fevers start with clouds of mosquitoes out of the marshes that are overwhelming the burial grounds of the Dagorlad? Why is it orcs and Men have been found carrying crates of animals covered with fleas or suffering from the water rage on wagons heading for the passes of the Misty Mountains, on ships from Harad and Umbar, and near the Gap at the south of the mountain chain? Why is it the body of an orc was found upon Mount Mindolluin near the reservoir that has fed the city of Osgiliath just after all within the city who drank from the public water supply became seriously ill and died? Yes, that water supply was poisoned with a pestilence the virulence of which none who’ve not seen its effects can fully appreciate!

“Telemnar is dead, along with his wife and all four of his children. The number who remain in Osgiliath has diminished to only a few, those who used the well system at the southern side of the city. Tarondor has already removed to Minas Anor, and looks to officially remove the capital there as soon as it can be effected.

“Moran has died of the plague of boils brought on by the infected fleas, and his son is now lord of the Dunlendings and resents having to see bodies of those infected by the plagues burned. Throughout Eriador both Argeleb’s folk and the enemies of his realm have been much diminished, including the folk of the Hobbits. With the assistance of the Hobbits and Tarondor’s healers and Elrond’s wisdom we have been able to find ways to stem the flow of the plague of black boils, while explorers from Gondor, returning from voyages to distant lands, have brought herbs to ease and even cure the chills and fevers carried by the mosquitoes. All watch for animals that act improperly, and the water supplies of Osgiliath and Minas Anor and other major cities and villages within Gondor are now guarded. But the number of deaths from all these sources is incalculable.

“Círdan has set ships to keep watch for vessels bearing these diseases from the south, while herbs to kill and deter pests are used in all lands in bedding and underlying carpets. Thresh may no longer be used. And the last release of diseased insects from the marshes of the Dagorlad were swept eastward by a great west wind instead of widely infecting Gondor and Rhovanion as happened before.

“And this was definitely deliberate, brother. It was deliberate! This was no mistake, no happenstance--not when there is proof it is carried to the borders of the lands founded by Elendil and his sons by orcs and evil Men. Do you blame Tarondor for his desire to see a council called?”

“Would you seek to blame Sauron for these actions? Will you insist the Necromancer is Sauron?”

“Who else has ever commanded both Men and orcs, my friend? Who else would so misuse the sailors of Harad and Umbar, not caring if those who carry his cargoes of death will live or die on the chance they might reach their goals? Saruman--he is vicious, uncaring. He doesn’t even care if his own die to see his enemies die! Who is he? Only one has reason to hate the heirs of Elendil and Isildur, and it is their lands, their cities, that have been most deeply affected. Almost none linger now in Minas Ithil, and the same is true of Osgiliath as well. And there is evidence Minas Anor was also targeted--one of the vials of poison broke above the reservoirs, cutting and killing the orc that carried it. Only because the second vial broke was Anárion’s city spared, Saruman.”

“But you cannot be certain!”

Gandalf looked at his companion with disbelief, then turned his attention to his winecup. “If you say so,” he muttered.

They sat in silence for a time. At last Saruman asked again, “What is it you do there, with the black powder and the tubes and parchment?”

“I was sifting through the knowledge held in my staff the other day, and found memories of questions and answers with one of our masters about the use of various earths and metal salts. There has been so much in the way of evil and hardship throughout the free lands of Middle Earth lately I decided I would seek a means of raising spirits. I had been reminded that one could use various metal salts to create fires of different colors.”

Saruman raised one elegant eyebrow. “You would create different colors of fires?”

Gandalf shrugged. “I appear to have an affinity for fire, and different colors of flames can lift the hearts of those who see them. The Hobbits of the valley of the Anduin will dip cones from conifers into different liquids containing mineral salts to cause the flames of their hearth fires to take different colors. It appears to hearten them. I had thought to make flames of different colors and perhaps shapes to shoot high in the air to cause delight.”

Saruman rose and went near the table, starting to reach for one of the candles to take with him, although Gandalf stopped him. “Remember, this is to be a controlled flame, so you must not bring other flames near it.”

“You say you were sifting the memories in your staff?”

“Yes--to remind myself of what we are and our mission here I do this regularly. Otherwise I find myself beginning to forget and drift toward manhood and its limitations. I find at times I must remind myself we are not of Middle Earth, and will in the end have the chance to return to our proper place, although in some ways I will grieve when that day comes, as I have found so many delightful people here.”

“Like the Periannath?” commented Saruman ironically.

“Ah, indeed like the Periannath,” Gandalf agreed, as he took his place at the table. “Most delightful individuals they are, and most perceptive, although there are few enough of them left in the valley of the Anduin. They managed to learn that orcs from southern Mirkwood were kidnapping folk both of their own people and of the horsemen whose lands overlap their own, and found ways of sharing this knowledge.”

Saruman paused in his investigation of the black powder in the stone basin. “You know this?”

“Oh, there is no doubt. The Hobbits use few weapons, but they do employ bows, and are excellent asarchers as they are with thrown stones. They left an orc immobilized with arrows through its joints where the horsemen of Éothéod could find it, and once it was found it was questioned closely. They were very thorough in their questioning, apparently. They too are a highly interesting folk. I find in them a singularity of purpose and basic honor to their character that bodes well for their future. It appears they are descended from those of the Edain who chose to remain in Middle Earth when Elros led away those who accepted the Land of Gift, and to their keeping did Oromë leave the Mearas. Few will seek to ride the Mearas themselves, but those horses that gather about them they have mastered and use well and wisely.”

“Yet they remain a wandering people, with no cities and few settled villages.” Saruman touched the tip of his finger to the material in the basin and then tasted it. He looked up. “Saltpeter and sulphur?”

“And ground charcoal.”

“But that will explode.”

“Indeed it shall. But if one limits the amounts and directs the explosions, and sets secondary charges using other mineral salts, one can have spectacular effects in the sky. The Hobbits of the Anduin valley were enchanted with the one assay I tried whilst I was among them.”

“I went through that valley not long ago--perhaps merely a century ago, and found none of their folk there.”

“Few remained at that time, although some, mostly of Stoor stock, have returned. But of those a few return once again westward, although they appear to be taking the more southern passes this time. The number who remain in the valley of the Anduin is small indeed, and their settlements well hidden. That the Necromancer’s orcs managed to find at least one or two, however, indicates they are not hidden well enough, perhaps. However, this time I was given directions to three such colonies.”

“By whom?”

“By one who had left to again go westward.”

“What would the Necromancer wish with such folk as the Periannath?”

“That we do not know, Saruman--but then we know only he appears to take folk of all kinds on whom to perform his--experiments, or apparently to somehow harvest their life force for his own purposes. Why should the Periannath be any different?”

The coarse powder in a second, smaller stone bowl was a pasty grey. Near it lay a stack of squares of thin paper and threads dipped in paraffin. “What is this?” asked the White Wizard.

“A powder of magnesium mixed with other materials to help the heat become enough to cause the metal to catch fire. The mixture is wrapped in the fine paper with one of the long wicks hanging from it, and then placed on top of the mixture of the black powder and that powder there that, once it is fired by the explosion of the black powder, sends the packets high into the air with the wicks burning. Once the fire of the wicks reaches the packets it causes the lesser powders to burn, which fires the magnesium, causing drops of pure silver fire to drop toward the earth. I am not fully happy with the wicks, however, for they are easily extinguished, allowing some of the packets to fall to earth intact. Should such packets be thrown into a fire it could cause much consternation and possible danger, or so I’ve found. I’ve made certain to collect those packets that did not fire and bring them away. It would not do to have a Hobbit child or a rider from Éothéod be hurt by the results of my experiments.”

Saruman’s lip curled. “Hobbits?”

“So the Periannath call themselves,” Gandalf admitted

“Ever you waste time with lesser folk,” Saruman sniffed.

“Yet they are a determined people, and in tune with tilled earth and its Song. Knowing them has helped ease my heart of much anxiety and grief. They, too, have suffered from the plagues sent by--by the nameless one.”

“It was an errand rider from Gondor who led me to you.”

“I begged his loan from Tarondor in case I should have further word to send north before I go there again, and to assist in the search for you. I’ve not yet needed him for the former purpose, and it appears I may soon release him back to his lord. However, he has not been loth to remain by me--his folk are of Rhovanion, and he has kin and a wife and children here.”

“So, the Kings of Gondor have continued their alliance with Rhovanion, although the lesser lords of their lands are not pleased with it.”

“Yes, they have. But Rhovanion was much diminished by the plagues of mosquitoes and the illnesses they bore as well as by the plague of black boils. Many have begun removing north and eastward toward the long lake and the lands about the lonely mountain, there east of Thranduil’s realm.”

“Thranduil sent no envoy to this council?”

“One of his captains only. He and his sons remained within their own realm to lead their protective forces. Lately even more of the great spiders have begun to breed in the lands surrounding Dol Guldur, then to move northward to spin their webs about Thranduil’s own forest hall. There is talk of building a citadel of some kind that is less vulnerable to them and to the increased number of wolves and orcs that now frequent the forest as well, but so far none can agree on what kind of citadel would be best, or where to place it. They consider the stone mount near the center of their lands, but they have not the ability to work stone sufficiently to make an effective fortress there. The orcs they find easy to locate, trap, and slay; the spiders are more difficult to defeat for one does best to aim a blow to the slender joint that joins head to body, and one that close is also close enough to be grasped and bitten and so poisoned. As for the wolves--they are the most difficult for they are of the forest itself and know how to blend with their surroundings and disappear swiftly from sight and awareness. Yet these are more clever and wary as well as more vicious than are common wolves.”

Saruman appeared troubled by this report. He thought deeply for a time, finally asking, “How was it Dwarves attended this council? Did not Gláin make it clear Dwarves had little to add to further discussions of this sort?”

“Indeed he did, but it is not only Men, Elves, and Hobbits who have suffered losses from the Enemy’s actions. Eight Dwarf colonies on the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains have been attacked recently by orcs and trolls together, and two of those have been lost, including all women and children living there. Three colonies have been assaulted on the western slopes, and so many have been lost the survivors of two have abandoned their halls to join in other colonies, while those who have removed westward to the Blue Mountains and eastward to the Iron Hills have reportedly been fighting off incursions both of orcs and invading Men, apparently mostly from Angmar.

“Then there is the matter of Khazad-dûm itself--twice recently have newly opened galleries in the mines been found to adjoin orc-holds, and they have had to fight to protect the Dwarrowdelf itself. Nay--they hoped to find advice as to how to deal with these increased incursions, and to warn of the rapid increase in the numbers of orcs who appear to now live under the mountains.”

This gave much pause, the idea that the Dwarves had so enlarged their halls under Caradhras that they were inadvertently breaking through into orc-holds or possibly the haunts of cave trolls and other dark creatures. Gandalf saw the concern flickering in Saruman’s eyes. “Yes,” the Grey Wizard said, “and there is the vague memory left to me that even darker evils were buried beneath the roots of the mountains at the end of the War of Wrath that they not trouble the Children of Ilúvatar and other living creatures. If the Dwarves were to dig too deeply...?”

“What do you expect--that they’d let loose one of those frozen into the shapes of horror they took in service to Morgoth in the wake of Angband’s fall, Mithrandir? Can you imagine such beings as Dwarves would be so foolish as to dig so deeply?”

“And why would they not, Curunír?” demanded Gandalf, obviously determined not to be stung by his superior’s tone but responding nonetheless. “They are a stubborn breed, the Dwarves of the Misty Mountains, and you know as well as I that one of the Rings not taken most likely remains there, there in Dúrin’s own halls, that given to the lord of Khazad-dûm by Celebrimbor himself. Although Sauron did not gift it, he yet had his hand in its making, and the destructive pride and greed he fed through his Ring before Its loss can certainly be seen in the lords of that realm. Do not delude yourself that if they find a vein of mithril that appears to lead downward toward the deep-buried prisons it would not be followed for fear of what might be found. And if one of our imprisoned former brethren were to be set free, imagine the horrors that would follow.”

“No brothers to me are they,” insisted Saruman.

Gandalf straightened. “Yet we came to be together in the Creator’s own Song, those who remained in the Light and those who chose the destructive darkness, my friend. I cannot deny I, too, have heard the call of power over others and have longed at times to follow it. It is so easy to fall to such blandishments as evil offers, and I fear to lose myself as those buried beneath the pillars of the earth have done. Ossë described to me how close he came to following them....”

The White Wizard gave a snort of disgust. “Ossë is barely of our kind, Gandalf.”

The Grey Wizard’s brows rose alarmingly. “Barely of our kind? Barely of our kind? Rather, we are barely of his kind any more. We are the ones who agreed to this form we bear, and to carry most of our memories of our true nature in our staves, Curumo.”

Saruman looked up sharply at that. He had forgotten that name--or almost so. Suddenly he found himself remembering even more, and felt himself go white. What Gandalf had said of needing to sift through what was held in his staff that he not lose himself suddenly had more impact. He deliberately changed the subject.

“Such a council as this should not have taken place without my presence.”

“And yet we did our best to find you, to let you know. It was agreed that any of those wishing to call such a council could do so. Would not the King of Gondor rank as one of those who had the authority to do so?”

“The King of Gondor didn’t bother to come before.”

“No, he didn’t, but his brother King in Arnor did. Is Tarondor of less import than Argeleb solely because his ancestor chose not to come while his distant cousin did? The horselords of the valley of the Anduin have come to both, although they had little enough to say at either, other than to speak of what they had observed.”

“And your Periannath didn’t even bother to come.”

“Yet they sent their own report.”

Saruman was shaking his head. “You told these witless halflings about the Council of the great and wise? Whatever for?”

“Are they not a part of Middle Earth, brother? Do they not also have their witness to offer and their own part to play? Do you know all of the Music of Ilúvatar, Saruman the Wise? I admit I do not, but open myself to see it played out each day as it must be. Even Iarwain sent a report--a small one, I admit; but he has his ear to the wood of the trees of his own forest, and listens to the reports brought him on the winds of the western part of Middle Earth. He is pleased with the lands granted the Perianneth by Argeleb the Second....”

“What lands?”

“What were the farmlands and larger settlements and cities of Cardolan.”

“When did this happen?”

“Some years back now.”

“I thought the Periannath settled near the Mitheithel.”

“And as war has raged over those lands the King has moved many peoples westward for their protection, including both Men and Hobbits. Between those from Angmar and those who have been advancing northward through Rhudaur those lands were overrun by invading forces.”

The two Wizards went quiet, Saruman examining his fellow Istar coldly while Gandalf remained still, watching him somewhat warily. Finally the Grey Wizard spoke. “Again, it was agreed anyone could summon a council, and apparently Argeleb, Elrond, and Celeborn were all ready to request one at the same time as Tarondor, as was Círdan.”

“Yet you said he did not attend, and that Argeleb sent his son.”

“Yes--many sent representatives, mostly because with the recovery from the plagues, situations in each realm must be monitored. More came to this council than the last, Saruman. More feel the situation is grave, and are certain the unnamed Enemy will only escalate the violence of his attacks as time goes on. We must fight him--somehow, we must fight him.”

“Yet we know not surely who he is.”

“We don’t?” Gandalf stood, his hands at his sides, as he waited for Saruman’s reply.

At last the nominal head of the Council said quietly, in a coldly controlled voice, “We cannot be certain who it is who holds sway in Dol Guldur. It may be but Khamûl, or another of that number.”

“You think that the wraiths of Men, even with the power offered by Celebrimbor’s Rings to augment their own, could have imagined sending plagues of such virulence and by such various methods as these? No, their thoughts have ever been primarily for the brutality of the first and heaviest of strokes. War hammers and swords have ever been their weapons, not fleas and mosquitoes, rats and dying wolves. Subtlety of this sort is more in line with the mind of Sauron.”

“Perhaps.” Saruman turned away, went toward one of the windows and looked out.

“Plus,” added Gandalf carefully, as he reached again to his bowls of materials and ran his fingers over a pestle carved of granite, “there are changes to the orcs now being seen in Middle Earth. There are more varieties issuing out of Dol Guldur and assaulting folks here in Rhovanion, northward both east and west of the Great Wood, and down through east Anórien and Ithilien. They are many of them more manlike, much resembling the hillmen of the southeastern Misty Mountains, between Khazad-dûm and Fangorn, and others that resemble the folk who live in the lands north of Rhovanion. A few have even sported the golden hair of the horse lords of Éothéod. If he is breeding Men to his creatures to get these new varieties....”

Saruman turned abruptly in his shock. “He would not!”

“He has taken Men, Hobbits, and even Dwarves prisoners, spiriting them away south and east. We don’t know what is his purpose in doing this, but it appears the expanded breeding of orcs may be part of it, as well as whatever it is he continues to do with the murders of individual prisoners.”

“That is continuing?”

“From all any can tell, yes. And apparently there have been wagons coming from the south and east bringing supplies for the fortress, while the scouts on the borders of Rhûn speak of seeing women, older Men, and even what appeared to be entire families being brought through the crossings and headed north toward Dol Guldur in wagonloads at night about six months before the plagues began.”

“Women? Families?”

“Fathers, mothers, children, apparently even grandparents. These were not described as having the appearance of the people of Rhûn--the eyes on some were almond shaped, their hair dark and straight; while others had what appeared be very dark skin and hair that was fine yet curly. Their languages in the few cases where the scouts were able to follow closely enough to hear speech was unintelligible, and definitely not any of those of Rhovanion, Gondor, the Anduin valley, Khand, Rhûn, or Harad.”

“You did not see these yourself?”

“No. I was in southern Gondor until the reports came of Telemnar’s illness. By the time I reached Tarondor’s side most of the population of Osgiliath was dead, and the chills and fever were seen on all sides. Tarondor is frustrated, for he did not inherit the full measure of the gifts common to the lineage of the Kings of Númenor, although he is responsible enough for three Kings.

“The attacks are continuing, and the Enemy seeks to use Man’s own weaknesses to his advantage. He does not proclaim himself openly, yet the chill of the Nazgûl is felt as those fell beings come and go, disappearing into the wastelands between Rhovanion and Mordor. How much longer Gondor will be able to keep a detachment stationed in Minas Ithil none can say; they lost many Men who regularly know that duty in the plagues, and the standing armies of Gondor lost many more. My journey north from Gondor once all was in hand to contain the pests and to use the new herbs from afar was slow, for I went afoot and I took a survey as I traveled to see how each land and people was affected.

“Everywhere I found villages abandoned, and others removed from their original sites by many miles. The plains of Calenardhon are all but empty, the people of that land moved mostly southward into the mountain valleys or eastward toward Anórien. The city Moran had planned for his proposed capital of Dunland is not likely to be built now, not with the need to recover from the massive number of plague deaths. Those who have entered Rhudaur from the south and east were among the worst hit, and tended to accept my advice to keep animals such as cats and dogs to control rats and mice or to be careful in the storage of foodstuffs and grains with the least grace.

“The Dúnedain of Arnor were perhaps the least hit in terms of numbers of deaths, but nevertheless suffered deeply, for their population has already been so markedly depleted due to the constant assaults from southern Rhudaur and Angmar that they can least afford to lose more. Here their continued friendship with Elrond Eärendilion has stood them in good stead, for with their greater knowledge garnered from the training of their healing gifts offered them in Imladris, both Argeleb and his son were able to order immediate actions to isolate pockets of infection and limit its further spread, and were beginning already to realize the plague was associated with the increase of diseased rats and mice and so begin to actively avoid the situations likely to entice such vermin to their villages and encampments.

“Even those Hobbits living in the Breelands and the farmlands of Cardolan proved susceptible to the plagues, although their intimate knowledge of herbs found to deter pestilential insects and vermin assisted them to deal with the plague of the black boils more quickly than had happened in other places; yet they, too, lost a good tenth of their population. They and the northern Dúnedain were among the swiftest to accept the knowledge I was able to bring them from the healers of Gondor and act upon it, and when I went through their lands it appeared the disease was already contained. All swiftly accepted the need to beware of animals seen to be acting in unusual manners so as to avoid people being infected with the water rage.

“The news that Men and orcs had been employed to carry animals infected by both the water rage and the plague of the black boils has caused the greatest consternation, and equally among Elves, Dwarves, and Men. No, the Dwarves do not appear to be susceptible to the chills and fevers carried by the mosquitoes or the plague of boils; but the fact this Enemy will specifically target the lands of the Dúnedain and will use such means, and does not care for the health or safety of those he employs to bring the disease closer to its target is distressing. If he finds a condition that affects Dwarves or Elves specifically, will he not hasten to use whatever means he can to send it their way, no matter what the cost to his own slaves and servants?”

Saruman listened closely. There was no question the point was a valid one. He pondered on what he’d been told, and at last asked, “Who led this council?”

“As host for it, Viducalma of Rhovanion. His lands were hardest hit with the plague borne by the mosquitoes. Both Gondor and the folk of the Golden Wood sent him aid. All agree all need to fight the diseases together.”

“And you think it possible Sauron is breeding Men to orcs?”

“How would you take the evidence of apparent new strains, including a number found with the golden hair of the Riders of Éothéod?”

“If we knew more about how such creatures breed....”

Gandalf’s expression of disgust was palpable. “You’d wish to know such things, Saruman? It is not enough to see the results?”

Saruman’s voice grew icy once more. “And why not, Gandalf? If we are to disrupt the breeding of more, would it not behoove us to understand how it is done?”

Gandalf took a deep breath, then picked up one of his stiffened tubes, turning it between his fingers. At last he answered, “Nay--you have the right of it, my brother.”

“Then I will seek to find out how it has been brought to be.” Then, after a time of further quiet thought between them, he continued, “Elrond’s daughter--has any further thought been given to a proper marriage for her?”

“And what would you do--marry her off to some great Elven lord here in Middle Earth to cement ties with Imladris?”

“Her children will be important.”

“And if she is to find her heart is meant to be given in Aman, or perhaps to one not yet born? Already has she known well over a thousand years, during which time she has come to know almost all the great Elves in Middle Earth, and her heart has not yet been stirred.”

“One need not have one’sheart stirred to do one’s duty to continue the lineage of her father and mother.”

“For such as Arwen, I strongly suspect it will be needful. Nor will you win the approval of her father, mother, or brothers to marry her off only for matters of policy. Elrond is stubborn in this--only because of the constancy of his ancestors in their love for one another was he born at all. He will not order his children either to love or not to love as their hearts dictate, and Celebrían and her parents concur.”

There was no further argument to that, and Saruman recognized the fact. Again he shrugged and went quiet. He could not truly fault Gandalf, for he was certain he’d find messengers had indeed been seeking him for a year, and that Tarondor of Gondor had called for the council. Certainly by allowing Viducalma to lead it Gandalf was not putting himself forward. Nor did he believe Gandalf was lying to him in the information he was sharing--Gandalf was not one to hide facts or even gloss them over, not in the White Wizard’s experience. No, quite the contrary--he was almost painfully transparent.

At last he said, his voice still cold, “I will have to take thought as to how to let you know where I go should I again leave the free lands of Middle Earth so that should others seek to call for another council I might be certain to attend. And you should also send me word when you move from one region to another for the same reason.”

Gandalf considered this suggestion, and at last commented, “That is reasonable, Saruman.”

The White Wizard turned his attention back to the materials on the tables. “So,” he commented, “you would seek to send controlled fires of various colors into the sky to lift the heart. But is there no reason such materials as this could be used for a more practical purpose?”

Gandalf thought momentarily before answering, “I can see its application to mining and perhaps during warfare to bring down a fortress wall, but consider that dangerous knowledge to share with most mortals. Once the knowledge of such things is given, how does one see that knowledge contained that it not fall into the hands of those who will use it irresponsibly or to wrongly destroy the fortresses of their opponents during campaigns of conquest? Nay, I would prefer not to even suggest such things to mortals. Once such knowledge becomes general it cannot be taken away again effectively.”

Saruman shrugged a shoulder and lifted a brow, then asked, “How do you make certain these packets will go upwards and not by accident strike those watching?”

Relieved at the change in subject, Gandalf began to explain.


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