Orthanc

Chapter 1 of 3(?)

by "bugland"

He is using the Voice, and before it they waver like grass in the wind. They don't know that he is the wind; they delude themselves that the movement is of their own volition. Men like to imagine they have free will- even worms of Men.

Láthspell stands in their midst. He does not move.

These Wizards are all alike. There was a time that I did not realize this, having spent most of my life puzzling out a way, some way, to do to others as they had done to me. Even as a child I realized that there are many means to an end- that if I was clever, I could twist their intentions and subtly bring them down to my level. Therefore I took myself for an expert, and when Saruman sought me out his type seemed quite clear. He actually chose to live alone- a being of darkness indeed-

Éomer is speaking. A bolt of pain shoots up my right hand and I look down, startled, at my middle fingernail torn off against the sill. It never ceases to surprise me that my blood is red.

"So would the trapped wolf speak to the hounds, if he could. What aid can he give to you, forsooth? All he desires is to escape from his plight."

Arrogant little golden boy- and now a poet! 'Forsooth'? If I dared use such a word, my Master would, depending on his mood, laugh- or break my nose. I stick my finger in my mouth, tasting torn flesh, and turn away from the window. How is it that Éomer has the strength to resist Saruman's Voice?

Why do I even bother to ask anymore?

Such Men are graceful on horseback. Their wounds are never disfiguring (what I wouldn't pay to see an arrow take off that stiff upper lip of his!) Under overcast skies, a ray of light always manages to find them, so why not omnipotence or invulnerability? For love of this icon left over from her childhood, his sister follows him everywhere- but did not follow him here.

The thought buzzes past my ear like a housefly. I almost swat at it.

Of course she hasn't followed him. I'd swear that I heard Saruman's device bring the wall down, in a distant roar that reminded me for some reason of the closing of a fist. Despite this the Mark were victorious, but they would have left her with the other women and children... those who survived, anyway... if she survived.

My Éowyn would have fought. She would have died fighting...

And I realize that I've been thinking of her in the past tense.

I find myself standing in front of the pedestal, gnawing distractedly at what remains of my fingernail. This thing is hideous, like all of his furniture: a sort of abstract, petrified tree-stump, almost too high for me to see over. A tall man's power trip- but I shouldn't take it personally. I can't afford to take anything personally.

"The friendship of Saruman and the power of Orthanc cannot lightly be thrown aside, whatever grievances, real or fancied, may lie behind."

Such calm is a mantle easily removed when at home with his faithful 'footman'. I steal further away from the window and into the darkness of this place.

Atop the pedestal sits a perfect sphere, sheer black yet crystalline. I have watched from the shadows (and felt a self-destructive urge to giggle) as Saruman used it to commune with his own Master. The sphere is now almost eye-level to me. A red spark stirs in its depths.

I have no real reason to be here. It isn't even the best point from which to watch Láthspell goad his fellow Wizard into another tantrum.

Saruman intones, "Shall we have peace and friendship, you and I? It is ours to command."

"We will have peace," says Théoden (speaking of masters).

I stare at my hand, clutching one of the pedestal's many corners. A last drop of blood, thinned by saliva, leaches out onto the stone. I feel nothing. He will grant the king my head, should he require such a hideous token. Or a hand... the left one is still mostly unscathed. It would be just like the Wizard (any Wizard) to take it while I still live- to keep me living for some time.

"...When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc..."

It takes me a few seconds to figure out what that's supposed to mean. My wits are beaten dull.

No peace.

Saruman simmers, furious, and his audience recoils. They don't know him as I do (but can a Wizard ever truly be known? Their minds are bottomless wells, and a fool I was to look in). Regaining control, he addresses Láthspell alone. "Much we could still accomplish together, to heal the disorders of the world. Let us understand one another, and dismiss from thought these lesser folk!"

He spoke those very words to me.

The spark twists, turns, like a dying firefly in autumn.

Saruman came to me as an equal- me, a (worm, a) Man, as his equal. He told me that together, we would transform Rohan from a pitiful backwater to something even the Elves would fear, and that by this miracle and my words, Éowyn would love me. He told me this (his Voice, his eyes)- he told me, and I believed him! I punch the pedestal, wish that I hadn't, and wrap my fist in my handkerchief. Pain has a clarifying effect sometimes. I will be lucid for these few minutes until my Master returns.

Someone is laughing at Saruman- has he lost his mind? No-one laughs at Saruman! I daren't even smile!

"You should have been the king's jester," Láthspell says, "and earned your bread, and stripes too-"

I turn so quickly as to almost trip over my own robes and rush to the narrow window. Shut up! Shut up and go away, Mandos take you! Haven't you done enough damage?

So much for lucidity... not to mention that now both of my hands hurt.

The Wizard's little band of "heroes" fidgets uneasily as he offers Saruman sanctuary. My name is not mentioned. A greyish peace, precisely the shade of their Elven cloaks, settles over me. It could be sorcery after all- that after struggling for so long, I should be content with nothing- but I hardly care. I have come full circle, ending where I started: as a creature, as the Worm. Obscurity is my best hope.

If anyone is capable of mercy... if they would let me go away...

"...Free from bond, of chain or command: to go where you will, even, even to Mordor, Saruman, if you desire. But you will first surrender to me the Key of Orthanc-"

No.

"-and your staff. They shall be pledges of your conduct-"

Oh, no.

"-to be returned later, if you merit them."

And they say that I have a forked tongue! My Master would no sooner surrender his staff than he would fornicate with Galadriel. He is laughing. I would laugh too, but my throat has closed.

They will leave me with him. To die here, broken by his staff and his Voice.

I have never heard him laugh like this. It is no mere rage, but something akin to that strange red light, and I think it came from the light, as the tree-things' flood came from the river Isen. I cling to the windowsill, no longer caring who sees me. For once, my own vision is very clear, so clear that I can see the part in his hair. His left hand is a claw on the balcony railing. The Ring glistens far below, dotted with industrial wreckage and those sickening yellow puddles. Láthspell, surrounded by his own lackeys, is brilliantly white. Saruman appeared thus when first we met.

Men are hypocrites. Wizards lie.

Far below, Saruman turns contemptuously away. Láthspell is speaking. His words mean nothing. Their mutual likeness flickers before me as I walk to the pedestal, where the sphere rests like some monster's cosseted egg. Its spark has become a wheeling glow that feels warm between my hands. It is surprisingly heavy, but grows lighter as I carry it.

I glance out the window to make sure that I don't miss. Saruman grovels as I have always groveled. I see the soles of his feet, from a different angle now, and hair strewn over his colorless shoulders. He could be any poor shepherd in Rohan.

Men are fools and hypocrites... Wizards are liars.

Something snaps, perhaps inside me. My lip curls back from my teeth.

I throw the sphere.

(…to be continued)