He awoke upon the mountainside, lying there for some time in confusion as his body, which he began to realize was quite naked, struggled to again begin sorting out perceptions and to reaccustom itself to breathing regularly. He was, he realized, cold; and his left hand was clasped tightly about--about something--something fairly small and hard and unaccountably warm. He was just beginning to think he should open his hand to see what it was he so clasped when a shadow came between himself and the light of Anor, and a great shape alighted beside him and settled mostly over his renewed body, offering the warmth of its plumage. “Olórin--is all well with you?”
His voice, when he could convince it to be heard, was raw and rough at first. “I--I believe so. Gwaihir?”
“Yes, friend--I have come. Elrond and the Lady have sent me. I would have been here earlier, but a moment of emergency came, and it was required of me that I come from much further north than I ought to have been. I am to bring you to the Lady Galadriel.” For a moment the lovely warmth that had begun to once again revive his mind pulled away from him, and the cold wind reached his naked skin ere he felt the scaly roughness of the Eagle’s talon encircle him with great tenderness.
“Can you turn your head, Olórin?”
He’d barely tried to do so before, but now managed the task. “Yes.”
“Can you see the staff sent back with you?”
He looked from side to side, then saw it--one apparently of finest, smoothest ivory, its top highly carved to resemble both a courtly torch and the finely wrought windows of Imladris, lying there against the outstretched fingers of his right hand. “I see it.” He reached carefully and somewhat clumsily; once his fingers closed around it he felt his muscles shudder slightly, then relax and grow more pliant. “I have it,” he said, and even he could tell his voice was more sure and his old strength was returning to him.
“Excellent. And your Ring--do you have it?”
Carefully he opened his left hand enough to realize that it was Narya that he held there, now becoming so warm that it was in danger of burning his hand. “Yes--wait, and I will don it again.”
“No! That you must not do--not under any circumstances! Know this--you must not don your Ring. To do so would be very dangerous!”
The memories of the confrontation on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm were flooding through him, and he felt his heart grow cold with fear. “Then the others--they did not make it out of Moria? The orcs near the east doors--they captured or killed them? My fall so disheartened them?” he found himself demanding. “He has It back again?”
“Nay--rejoice that It has not made Its way so far eastward--not yet. But a most untoward event has occurred, and new councils must be taken immediately. Have you your staff? Can you carry it? If not, once we are aloft tell me and I will take it in my other talon to hold it safe until we can reach our goal. Now I must fly, and as swiftly as may be. Save your strength--conserve it, and under no circumstances give in to the urge to don your Ring. The temptation to do so is likely to be great.”
He felt himself lifted up, close under the down with which Gwaihir usually brooded over his mate’s eggs and their resulting eaglets when it was his turn to guard their nest. Again his body warmed, and as it did so he felt more strength wafting through him. Then there was a surge, a great rush of air as Gwaihir spread his wings and gave a leap outward from the face of the mountainside of Zirak-zigal, then after a terrifying plunge downward they soared upward once more, and the Eagle circled before setting out on his course.
“So, the Lady has seen that I was sent back?” he called out against the rushing of the wind.
“Not only Artanis, but others as well, my friend. The small one who bore the burden saw it also.”
He felt a distinct stab of concern. “Frodo? Is all well with Frodo?”
“Conserve your strength, and curb your curiosity. It is needful I bring you as swiftly as can be done to Artanis and Elrond. You hold still your Ring?”
“Yes, but it becomes as hot at a glede.”
“We feared that might happen. Use the power in your staff to isolate it if you can that it not sear your hand. But again, do not seek to don it or allow yourself to drop it.”
His curiosity and fears raised, he did his best to follow Gwaihir’s instructions, sensing the rightness to them. At last he was able to construct a cushion of air about the ring he held in his left hand that allowed him to at least hold it in some degree of comfort, and he drew that hand closer to his more exposed breast, allowing the warmth to dissipate across his skin.
He heard from his bearer, “You are a much lighter burden than you were before, my friend.”
Grateful for the deliberate distraction offered, he shouted out, “Am I indeed?”
“Yea, so it is. I believe that if I were to release my hold upon you you would merely drift upon the wind as does a feather of down.”
He laughed, although he felt his stomach clench at the thought. “Don’t do so, I beg of you!” he called back. “I feel life within me again, and this flesh shudders at the thought of losing that life betimes.”
“Oh, believe me, mellon, I will not. We have full need of you now.” Powerful beats of those great wings drove them northwards.
Northwards? Why were they going northwards--north and somewhat west? “I thought we were going to Lorien?” he shouted.
“We go to the Lady, yes, but she is not in her land--not now. We drew her out of there two days past--Artanis and such of those as we could bring with her. Fortunately the means of controlling It are not learned all at once.”
He felt his very skin creep. “It has not taken him--Frodo--or one of the others?”
“The Fellowship itself has remained true to its purpose--do not fear for that, mellon nín. Be quiet now and rest and draw to yourself such strength as you can. It will be hours yet ere I will bring you where you must be now.”
He was a bit surprised when he felt his weariness overtake him. “Can you take my staff?” he asked. “I fear I might drop it if I sleep yet again.”
He saw Gwaihir’s other talon move slightly, and he held out the white staff, seeing two toes carefully take it securely. “Lodge the hand holding your Ring between your body and mine that you not lose it,” the Eagle commanded.
“So I shall do,” he responded. He found himself yawning, and he pulled his right hand to his chest, cradled Narya between left and right, and at last gave over to sleep.
It was fully dark but with the sky lightening somewhat over the mountains to the east when he awoke to realize Gwaihir was plummeting downward some. “Are you awake, Olórin?” he heard the Eagle call to him.
“Take back your staff if you can--I shall need my other talon free shortly.”
He managed to grasp it, then gave a tug to assure the Eagle he held it firmly again. At once Gwaihir freed his claws of it, stretching his other foot briefly before drawing it more comfortably against his chest. Then he stretched out his wings and the plummeting slowed. Now they were drifting downward in spirals, until he saw they came beneath the tops of the trees and toward the ground. Suddenly a flurry of controlled beats of great wings, and gently Gwaihir settled to the ground, and there was a further flurry of other movement about him as Elves and Men rushed toward the Eagle and his burden, and as Elrond and Galadriel came to his side.
Elrond placed his hands under the Istar’s shoulders, and he felt others place theirs under his thighs. “We have him,” the Peredhel lord told the Eagle, and at last Gandalf felt the talon about him open as he was lifted clear and set upon unsteady feet. Galadriel held a great white robe in her hands, and at a nod Glorfindel reached to take the ivory staff long enough for the robe to be slipped over the Wizard’s naked form.
“It would appear the body beneath your robes is not as wizened as your countenance would lead one to expect,” the Lady commented laconically.
“Is it not?” he responded. “What is this? Why have I been brought back here to Imladris? Why are you here, Artanis?”
Her eyebrows raised at the use of her old name. “The play of the game has changed, for one of the counters has sought to crown itself that none thought possible to happen,” she responded.
He searched her eyes, saw there, not quite hidden, a deep, tearing pain, feelings of betrayal. He saw something else--there was a dampening of the power she’d always held about her. He turned to look at Elrond, saw the same with him. He felt himself go white with shock. “You have both removed your rings!” he murmured, shaking. “What has happened? Has It taken Frodo, then?”
Elrond’s face was grey with its own shock as he shook his head. “Nay, although he is frantic with the loss of It. My sons restrain him with greatest difficulty.”
“Not--not Aragorn? It can’t be Aragorn! He has passed test after test!”
“Nay--not Aragorn either.”
“Is he here?”
“No,” Galadriel sighed. “He is held hostage by he who took the Ring.”
At last it hit him. He took a step backwards, felt the solid, downy warmth of Gwaihir support him. “Celeborn--Celeborn has taken It?”
“Even so--he came by night to their pavilion, even as we prepared all for their leaving upon the morrow; and he slipped Its chain from about the Ringbearer’s neck, and took It for his own. I felt when he put It upon his hand, as did Elrond. We immediately removed our own rings before he could perceive and command us. But our protections failed when that happened, and orcs from the Misty Mountains assaulted Lothlorien, and he had to focus on that threat. Such allowed the force of the Eagles to arrive and carry many of us away, including the four Hobbits, Boromir of Gondor, and many of my own folk who would be true to our purpose. Others have fled elsewhere, and so it is that Celeborn has few about him who will willingly follow his bidding.”
Lindir held out a chain, one similar to the one that had been used to secure the One Ring that Frodo might carry It. Quickly it was threaded through Narya, and Gandalf settled it over his shoulders, saw that similar chains sparkled in the filtered dawn light about the necks of Elrond and Galadriel. Glorfindel now held out a packet of lembas and his mithril flask of miruvor, and Gandalf accepted them, ate and sipped and felt a more wholesome warmth flow through him, felt his mind once more begin to work. As he returned the flask he gave a sigh. “You say that Frodo has become frantic with the loss of It?”
“Yes--he is not quite fully mad, but there is no question It had already far too great a hold on his mind.”
“Lembas--he must be fortified with lembas.”
“You think that wise, Mithrandir?” Elrond asked, “possibly waking the Sea Longing in a mortal?”
“We intended for all the remaining eight to have them--with that great evil in their midst, they had need of what strength lembas could lend them to fight it.” Galadriel’s voice was most matter of fact.
Gandalf nodded. “So be it, then. He still needs that strengthening if he is to fight both the madness of losing It and Its call until It is recovered. Now--let us think what is to be done next.”
And so the last Council was held there in an open glade before the doors of Imladris.