News of the return of the Necromancer to Dol Guldur spread quickly, and immediately Galadriel of Laurelindórenan called for a council to meet, sending word to Elrond and Thranduil, Círdan, Gildor Inglorion, and the three Wizards indicating that the matter of the Necromancer must be addressed. Radagast offered his abode of Rhosgobel as a meeting place, suggesting that it would be seen as basically neutral ground, and all gathered there in the early autumn, Elrond accompanied by one of his sons, Glorfindel, and Erestor.
In spite of his discomfort in visiting a home whose walls were formed of living trees and through which a variety of birds and animals might come and go at any time, still Saruman quickly took charge of the gathering.
“You did not seek to summon representatives of other races here this time, my lady?” he asked Galadriel, a touch of irony in his voice.
“And would they come?” she asked. “Since the Necromancer disappeared into the east after Mithrandir’s visit to his keep four hundred years of the Sun past, there has been relative peace. The memories of mortals are short, and each tends to believe that the future will follow the same pattern as his recent past and present. Six Chieftains have succeeded Aranarth in the north, and nine Stewards have ruled Gondor since the days of Mardil, all since the Necromancer went into hiding in the east. The Necromancer has been gone since Thorin’s day, and his great-grandson has never known our enemy’s attentions. Náin the Second has responded to our offers of friendship with disdain, and evil stories are told in Gondor regarding the intentions of Elves and Dwarves. Indeed, since Edhellond was abandoned once Mithrellas chose to leave ere her husband could accept the Gift to Mortals, Mithrandir tells me that in Gondor Elves and Dwarves are considered by most to be creatures of legend. Do you think that the Steward Denethor would take an invitation to come to a council seriously when even those of his land who believe we exist look on us with suspicion and even fear?”
“While those in the north look upon us with equal suspicion and full oft disbelief,” agreed Elrond. “Only the remnant of the Dúnedain are friendly with us, and that mostly because my brother’s descendants spend time within my house, learning to use their gifts and skills wisely ere they take up the rule of their people and the guard of the northern lands against those who have ever served or been allied with the Dark Lords. But now that the Necromancer has returned to Dol Guldur I doubt not that evil Men and creatures will begin to trouble all with more regularity.”
“And do not ignore the likelihood that he will seek to spread plagues and disease everywhere once more as has been true in times past,” Gandalf warned.
Thranduil leaned forward intently. “Indeed this is likely, particularly as he has returned with prisoners from among Men who have appeared to be ill. And remember what Mithrandir told us of the Enemy’s workrooms when he abandoned Dol Guldur before. There are those on the borders of my realm who have suffered from conditions similar to those prisoners, whose lungs have gradually but inexorably failed them until they can no longer breathe, who cough up bloody phlegm and whose families often see the condition strike still more members into the second and third generations.”
“Again the orc-kind seek out the hidden strongholds of Men, Dwarves, Periannath, and the wandering tribes of the Eldar to pillage and carry off prisoners to Dol Guldur,” Radagast said. “My birds tell me that only two settlements of the Halflings remain in the valley of the Anduin, and those only because they are so well hidden along tributaries to the Great River. How are these to prosper in the future when they have so little chance to find mates outside of their own settlements?”
Gandalf shrugged, feeling an unexplained reluctance to speak of how Hobbits were yet prospering in the Shire and within the Breelands. This news that only two settlements of these delightful but decidedly private people remained east of the Misty Mountains struck him as ominous.
“Then shall we alone of the Wise think to constitute future councils?” asked Saruman.
Galdor of the Havens shrugged, glancing between the White Wizard and his grey fellow. “Such would appear preferable to seeking to coax Men and Dwarves to join us in the future,” he said. “Rarely do mortals think to take thought for the days of their children’s children, much less beyond.”
“Yet their day comes,” Gandalf cautioned. “The number of Elves remaining here within Ennor decreases steadily as few of the Eldar trust to bring children into the world in times of uncertainty, and as many continue to sail West and others die of injury and attacks by evil creatures and other enemies.”
“Many of whom are, after all, Men whose alliances have drawn them to worship the memory of the Dark Lords,” Saruman added dryly. “And even among the descendants of Númenor too many fail to hold true to the ideals of the Faithful. Ever in Umbar the Black Númenoreans have been evident, and within Gondor itself its lords are likely to be pragmatic at best. Denethor has not the wisdom of Mardil, although I must suppose he is a sufficiently adequate leader of Men to hold the nation of Gondor together under the joint leadership of himself and the Prince of Dol Amroth. But Calenhardorn is all but empty of Gondorians, with the people of Dunland ever encroaching on Gondor’s sovereignty there. Arnor is becoming a backward area, its farmers barely offering any respect to the memory of the Star Isle and too often disbelieving in the histories of Tar-Minyatur, while those of Langstrand give little thought to the needs of those far to their east. Not,” he added as an aside, “that those in the capitol of Minas Tirith think that often on the needs of their subjects far away in Langstrand.”
“Do you still question whether the Necromancer is Sauron?” asked Celeborn of Saruman.
“Yes, I do. If he were Sauron, would he continue to dwell in exile in Dol Guldur with the borders of Mordor now basically unguarded?” The White Wizard gave a sardonic laugh. “I sincerely doubt it.”
“He does not yet have sufficient strength to defy all openly,” warned Gandalf. “But he has grown steadily, if slowly, stronger over the centuries he has dwelt in Dol Guldur. Who knows how strong he has grown during his years of hiding in the east, where Sauron has always found his strongest allies among Men? No, until he is certain he cannot be prematurely ousted from Mordor Sauron will not declare himself openly.”
“And again you seek to name the Necromancer Sauron without proof!” Saruman’s anger was unmistakable.
“It is Sauron’s creatures who have begun to increase in numbers in the past fifty years of the Sun,” replied Gandalf, his own voice betraying his frustration with the chief of his order. “He has ever been allied with the Nazgûl. Orcs are beginning to multiply once more behind the mountainous walls of the Black Land as well as within the Misty Mountains, and trolls and wargs grow in numbers both in the north and in the southern lands.”
Thranduil sighed as he admitted, “As do the great spiders throughout my forests. Almost they were gone until ten years of the Sun past. Now we hear almost daily of attacks on individuals who have strayed from settlements, and a month past there were two assaults on isolated talan.”
“But this is not necessarily tied to the return of Sauron to these lands.” Saruman’s voice was cold. “We cannot be certain that the Necromancer is indeed Sauron until he has been seen.”
Galadriel’s voice was calm and full of reason as she asked, “And how are we to do so when he comes and goes only under the darkest of nights? Already Mithrandir has penetrated the keep of Dol Guldur, yet was unable to come within sight of him so as to determine whether or not he is indeed Sauron. Yet I swear that it is Sauron I taste now upon the winds that blow from the east back to our home in Caras Galadhon.”
Radagast looked from one to another, obviously wishing to keep an outright fight from breaking out amongst those gathered within his home. “Until someone is able again to enter the Necromancer’s fortress we will not be able to tell for certain whether or not he is indeed Sauron. We know now that it is possible for that to happen, as brother Gandalf has done so once.”
“I doubt I could do so again by the same means, however,” Gandalf interrupted. “He will be watching for another such assault on his wards.”
“You still have not explained how it was that you entered the last time,” Saruman said.
Gandalf shrugged. “I do not believe it wise, even within this company, to disclose how it was done.” Looking up as droppings from a crow perched in the overhanging branches that formed the roof for Radagast’s house splattered the table before him, he added, “We know that the Dark Lords have not been above twisting other creatures besides Men and Elves to do their will.”
The Brown Wizard glanced up at the crow in distress. “None of my birds have ever been turned to evil!” he objected.
“And this you know for certain?” asked Celeborn. “Ever have the Ravens been friends with the Dwarves, but there are some that fly from the direction of Dol Guldur that cannot pass through our protections into the Golden Woods, indicating that a few, at least, have become tools for the Necromancer.”
All went quiet at that. Certainly the Necromancer had drawn to himself regular wolves and bats as well as wargs and vampires, and Gandalf had seen a werewolf within his keep during his last visit. And it had been Morgoth who’d persuaded many of the Maiar that had allied themselves with him to take on fell shapes and natures before….
“Who shall seek to enter the Necromancer’s keep this time?” asked Elrond at last.
Thranduil was shaking his head as he met the eyes of the lord of Imladris. “I doubt that it could be done by an Elf. Since his return my scouts cannot come anywhere as close to his walls as they did previously. Theron and Legolas and my other captains all say the same--where there were no sentries a moment before, many will converge as soon as any Elf comes closer than half a league.”
After another silence Saruman spoke. “Then how the attempt to penetrate his wards shall be done must be thought upon. The subject, perhaps, for the next of our meetings in this White Council of ours?”
“And who shall call that meeting?” asked Glorfindel.
“We should perhaps elect anew the one to lead this Council,” Gildor Inglorion suggested.
“You, Master Elrond?” Thranduil eyed his fellow Elf consideringly.
But Elrond was shaking his head. “I have too many responsibilities among my own people.”
Galadriel said, “Then I recommend Mithrandir to lead the Council. He travels most widely of us all, and is best situated to know when matters are becoming serious in any part of the lands of the Free Peoples.”
Saruman fixed her with a serious stare. “You have not approved of my leadership in the past?” he demanded.
She returned his look coolly. “I know nothing wrong with your leadership, Curunír. But we are not the only ones who are threatened by the activities of the Necromancer, and it is Mithrandir who has ever been sensitive to the concerns of all of Middle Earth.”
“And how often has he sought to learn from those who dwell east or south of Gondor? They, too, have a stake in what the White Council might learn or decide.”
The tension within the room rose until Radagast said, “But it is Saruman who is the head of our order. I will defer ever to him.”
Saruman gave Gandalf a questioning look, and the Grey Wizard bowed his head. “I do not question your primacy over me, brother.”
As Saruman returned a triumphant gaze to the Lady of the Golden Wood, Galdor sighed. “I have no criticism of the leadership he has shown in the past. Perhaps it is best that Saruman should remain the head of the White Council.”
Gandalf himself abstained from the voting, and in the end Saruman retained his position as chief of the White Council, although by a far narrower margin than before. Círdan, who had also abstained from the voting, asked, “When we meet again, will we ever invite representatives from other races? Anything that we decide, after all, will affect their welfare.”
Saruman’s lip curled. “As the Lady remarked when the discussion began, would they even deem to come? And would their counsel have meaning when most cannot look beyond their own lifetimes either to consider the lessons of the past or the possibilities of the future?”
Elrond leaned forward. “But often, because they must live more in the present than do we, they might see more clearly what is happening in the here and now. I know that you give little credence to foresight----”
Saruman interrupted, “And why should we pay it overmuch attention? Has it not proved chancy at best?” He returned his attention to Galadriel. “Have you not cautioned before that over-reliance on visions of the future can as oft lead one astray as to guide one’s footsteps rightly?”
She looked down at the backs of her hands where they lay upon the tabletop. “Indeed, that is true. The Mirror may show what will be, or what will only happen if one seeks to forestall the specific possible future being shown.” She looked up sharply to meet his eyes. “But that does not mean that the vision should be ignored completely.”
Elrond pressed his advantage. “I will say this, Curunír—my foresight tells me that unless all peoples work together, we shall not be able to know supremacy over those who would force darkness upon all of Middle Earth.”
“Then you would welcome Men and Dwarves into our counsels, Elrond?” Saruman asked.
“Those of Gondor and Arnor are more discerning than are other Men, as they tend to pay more attention to the lessons of the past, and many share the gift of foresight bequeathed them by my brother. And not all Dwarves are as self-centered as is Náin, the current heir to the line of Dúrin. Give the Dwarves reason to cooperate with others, and they will do so. You cannot ignore them when they offer those warnings they discern. Aulë has been known in the past to warn them through the stone they work.”
The White Wizard gave a disbelieving laugh, throwing up his hands. “Next you shall insist on including the Pheriannath and the Onodrim!”
Radagast unexpectedly answered, shaking his head. “Oh, brother Saruman, you must not ignore them totally as if they had no part to play in the future of the world.” He reached out suddenly toward a large insect that had just fluttered into a shaft of light sifting through the walls of his house, catching it in his cupped palm. He then reached out toward a wall and allowed another insect to walk upon the finger of his other hand. He held out the winged insect for them all to see. “Behold the termite. It is small, and with but one it seems no danger at all. But such creatures, unwatched, can bring down great edifices of wood—houses, halls, or bridges. One must only allow a queen and a few males to take up residence. The same with the ant.” He held out the finger on which a single ant, small and with a reddish body, stood still, its antennae moving questioningly. “The single ant leaving with a grain of sand may appear harmless, but when it returns for a second, and a third, and its sisters join it to take away more—in the end nothing will be left of the mortar between stones or bricks, and great towers might fall. Oh, it takes time; but what takes place over time when unwatched is just as devastating in the end as the strike of a bolt of lightning.”
He turned to the window, speaking to the two insects he held. “Now, go forth, and return here not, or it is likely my birds will eat you.” So saying, he shook his hands free of the two insects, then returned to the table.
Saruman’s expression was incredulous, but Gandalf’s was thoughtful as the Brown Wizard resumed his seat.
The Grandmother returned to the smial long after nightfall, the flame in her lantern guttering as she set it upon the table in Sméagol’s chamber. “I could not find him. We have searched everywhere! Are you certain that you’ve not seen him since you left him fishing upon the river?”
Sméagol glanced at her sideways. “I told you, I was looking for blue stones along the bank of the river. I found five!” He pointed to the line of stones that lay near where she’d placed the lantern. “I didn’t see him since.”
“But you left together!”
“Yes, but we didn’t stay together. Oh, no—we don’t always stay together, do we? No, your precious one didn’t stay together with Déagol. Déagol must have fallen into the river!”
“But his boat was found tied to a tree, Precious. He wouldn’t wander away from his boat, not with a fish already on his stringer, and not leaving his creel inside it. He never leaves his creel behind—never! He’s too avid a fisherman! And he worked too long upon his boat.” When all he did was to shake his head in denial, she leaned forward and shook him. “What happened to Déagol, Sméagol? Where did you go after you left the luncheon party?”
He again looked at her sideways. “We went to the river. He wanted me to try the pole he’d made me, and the hooks he got from the horsemen. But I wasn’t catching anything, was I? No, your precious one wasn’t catching anything, anything at all. So I asked to be put ashore to look for blue stones. And him, Déagol was disgusted, wasn’t he? Told me I wasn’t worth his time, trying to teach me to fish like him. But we doesn’t like fishing as much as him, does we? No, your precious one doesn’t like sitting still with poles in his hand, just waiting for a fish to come along. We wanted to search for things instead.”
“So he put you ashore?”
“Yes—we told you that. I told you that! He put me ashore, and him, he went back out to fish. And he caught a fish—a big one! I heard him! I heard him call, ‘Sméagol! It’s Kreacher! I’ve got Kreacher!’ And then there was a splash! Kreacher, Kreacher pulled him out of the boat!”
Kreacher was the name given to a large pike that had lived in the river for as long as the Grandmother was alive. Every Hobbit, lad and grown, had sought to catch him for as long as she could remember. And Déagol wasn’t the first Hobbit he’d pulled into the river—oh, no! Her own brother had been lost when Kreacher pulled him into the river, long ago when she’d been but a little lass. That was why she’d insisted that all of the Hobbits in the smial learn to swim—all of them, so that they wouldn’t just drown as had her brother.
“Kreacher—he pulled Déagol into the water? And he didn’t come up again?”
“Déagol—come up? Oh, yes, but he came up again! It was shallow there, there where the fish pulled him in. It wasn’t deep there, oh, no, it wasn’t. It wasn’t! Gollum, gollum!”
“Sméagol, my precious, is there something wrong with your throat?”
For a moment the lad rubbed at his throat questioningly, his eyes alarmed. “My throat? Something wrong with my throat? Why would she ask that?”
“I asked that, Precious, because you made that noise, as if your throat was sore.”
Sméagol shook his head vehemently. “There’s nothing wrong. Oh, no, nothing wrong! I swear!”
“How did Déagol’s boat end up tied to the tree?”
“He tied it there, he did, didn’t he? When he came to shore, he was pulling the boat by its rope, and he tied it to the tree. He was upset—Kreacher had pulled his pole away, it did, and he wanted it back. Said he was going to go and find it.”
That made sense. Déagol had worked hard on that pole, seeking to make it the best he could—he would want to find it. “And he didn’t come back?” she persisted.
“No, he didn’t. He must be hiding somewhere, Déagol must be. He was disgusted I didn’t want to stay to fish, because I wanted to find blue stones instead. He wanted me to like the pole he made me, and the steel hook he got from the horsemen. But I like my hand line, and the bone hook he gave me last year. He made it just for me, not like the steel hook—the others made that, and not even to use themselves!” Through all this he sat still, his hands pressed against his blanket, his face slightly averted. She wasn’t certain what to think. It wasn’t like her precious Sméagol to avoid looking into her face like this. But the idea of his cousin going off in search of his pole was so like Déagol. Sméagol wouldn’t lie about what his cousin had done, would he?
Later that night, once she was certain all had gone to bed and that the fires were all properly banked and that a candle was lit in the window toward the river to help Déagol find his way home—just in case, she was going past Sméagol’s room and heard him talking to himself.
“He ought to have given it to me when I asked. I asked nicely, I did. He ought to have given it to me. It’s my birthday, after all. He should have just given it to me. Thank you, Déagol. Thank you for my birthday present. But you should have just given it to me, not made me….”
Was he crying?