Remember that book-ending that I promised many moons ago? Well, here it is - the story is finally done. The beginning is similar to that of the movie-ending chapter. Grima-Treebeard dialogue is taken from the Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 9. Enjoy!
XIII. Despicable: Book-Ending
The next day was different.
Holding true to at least some of his resolution, Gríma at last returned to the main hall of Meduseld. Éowyn was walking through as he entered, the filtered sunlight shining on her hair. She wore a white dress.
He suppressed his anxieties and bowed his head in greeting to her as she passed. Although he did not see it, the look she gave him was one of interest, of curiosity, as if she expected something new and different from him. However, he took his place next to Théoden just as he had done for so many years, and her gaze turned to anger and disappointment.
I suppose people cannot change so greatly after all, she thought as she left the Hall.
He spat at the feet of the rejuvenated king and fled. He would not dare to ride to war with Théoden, and he could not stay here now that the king was hale once more. It was better to escape than to remain as a prisoner. Knocking people out of the way, he ran to the stables and arrived out of breath. A black horse of medium size stared sideways at him with those hateful eyes of his kind. Gríma mounted the saddled horse, and made for Orthanc.
As he approached Angrenost, it was immediately evident that something was not right. He knew that Saruman had been building an army in the pits surrounding Orthanc; the smoke had been visible from afar as Gríma had ridden there not so long ago to tell the wizard of Gandalf's arrival at Edoras and his taking of Shadowfax. Now, though, the air was disturbingly still, and as Gríma approached, he thought that he heard the faint lapping of water over the hoofbeats of the tiring horse, and it was mist, not smoke, through which he rode. There was an overwhelming smell of the woods after a heavy rain, the earthy scent of wet leaves.
The base of the tower loomed before him, and he stopped short at the sight. The whole ring of Isengard was submerged in several feet of water. Wheels and wreckage lay there in utter ruin. A few orc-corpses floated on the surface. Gríma gaped, wondering what had happened, and where Saruman was. The dam must have been broken – but how?
He heard a low creaking sound, and looked up to see a large tree standing on the path. But no, it was not a tree. It was moving, and approaching him. In fear and shock, he turned the horse about and tried to ride away. But suddenly he was no longer in the saddle; a large woody hand was holding him. He thought it might kill him, and as broken as he was, he still wanted to live. While there was life there was hope. He clutched at the hand, horrified, and it let him go; he fell onto the road in a heap as the horse bolted. The tree-creature loomed high over him inquisitively as he cowered.
Gríma swallowed and hoped that he still had a semblance of sway with his words. "I am Gríma, and I am a friend and councilor of King Théoden of Rohan. I bring important messages from my lord Théoden to Saruman." He wet his lips and continued. "No one else would dare ride through the open land, so full of foul Orcs, so I was sent. And I have had a perilous journey, and I am hungry and weary. I fled far north out of my way, pursued by wolves."
His eyes darted about, and he noticed for the first time two small people who stood there watching. Holbytla, he thought them, if the legends were true. Right now, he was willing to believe anything. The tree-creature said nothing, but merely stared at him for several minutes with strange green eyes. He began to feel considerably uncomfortable under its penetrating gaze, and thought perhaps he ought to get up, at the very least. But at last the thing spoke, its voice low, wise, and slow.
"I was expecting you, Master Wormtongue." Gríma cringed, and the thing's next words were even less comfort. "Gandalf got here first. So I know as much about you as I need, and I know what to do with you. Put all the rats in one trap, said Gandalf; and I will. I am the master of Isengard now, but Saruman is locked in his tower; and you can go there and give him all the messages you can think of."
He wanted nothing more than to get away from this fearsome creature. "Let me go, let me go! I know the way," he said.
"You knew the way, I don't doubt. But things have changed here a little. Go and see!"
Gríma scrambled to his feet. He felt rather sore from the long ride, and shuffled over to the gate, only to behold from up close the murky water which now covered the ring. Isengard was ruined; all was lost.
"Let me go away!" he said quickly. "My messages are useless now." He could leave this part of the world forever, perhaps. He could make for Gondor, or even Dunland, and forget all of this.
"They are indeed," the tree-creature rumbled, and Gríma got the distinct feeling that the thing was mocking him. "But you have only two choices: to stay with me until Gandalf and your master arrive; or to cross the water? Which will you have?"
Gríma shivered. He would rather face a broken Saruman than Gandalf and Théoden in their full strength. He remembered the king's parting words: "If ever we meet again, I shall not be merciful." With this as motivation, he gingerly put a foot into the water, but then quickly drew it out as he recalled a vital fact: "I cannot swim." He was not overly fond of water and was not strong enough to swim, especially with heavy robes to weigh him down.
"The water is not deep. It is dirty, but that will not harm you, Master Wormtongue. In you go now!"
With no other option, Gríma stepped into the water. It was not too cold, but it immediately seeped right through his boots. Hesitating, he turned and looked at the tree-creature. It still watched him expectantly, and so he had to continue. As the water grew higher and higher, he tried to take his mind off it by attempting to figure out what the creature was. He vaguely recalled a few references to walking trees in some texts he had read, but the limited information had just been part of old folklore and he had largely ignored it.
By now the water was up to his neck, and he struggled to move forward. The black stairs of the tower were not too far away, though. Just a few more slow steps...
His feet slipped, and he nearly fell beneath the water's surface. Desperately he looked for something to grab for support. A wooden plank was all that was close enough, and so he reached out and held onto it for stability. When he had gathered his nerves once more, he cautiously let go of his support and took a few more steps.
He was quite relieved when the ground began to gently slope upwards. The tower loomed before him, its stairs so close. Finally he dragged himself up on to them, incredibly grateful to feel stone beneath him. He all but crawled up the twenty-seven steps, slipping once because of his wet boots. When he reached the top, he stopped and gasped for breath. Yet he did not stay there for long, for the door opened. Saruman stood there, looking as angry as a robbed dragon. He grasped Gríma's cloak and pulled him into Orthanc, and then closed the door, shutting away the view outside. It made a heavy clang as it shut, a sound of terrible finality.
The wizard stood before him, leaning on his staff, his stance betraying concealed rage. He was clad in shimmering robes, which appeared white at first glace, but to the more observant eye were revealed to be of all colors, woven in a confusing, ever-changing array. Yet his eyes were black, and they glittered coldly down at his servant.
"I take it you have failed, then, Worm." His voice was discordant, like shattered glass.
Gríma looked at the floor in shame, watching the water dripping off his robes and pooling about his feet. "There was nothing I could have done, my lord." He raised his eyes, hoping that he might be able to stay Saruman's wrath – unlikely, but still, he hoped. The other's eyebrows bristled as he waited for an explanation. "Gandalf the Grey came, but he was Grey no longer – he wore white, my lord, and it was he who released Théoden. Surely you could not have expected me to overcome one such as Gandalf?"
"Not often do I strike bargains with Men of your likes," Saruman said fiercely. "And when I do so, I expect that which is due to me. I suppose you were... distracted by this woman you desire? Your time was better spent focusing upon your means, not your end."
"My lord," he began, prepared to defend himself no matter how futile it would prove, surprised by how near to the mark Saruman had been.
"Make me no excuses, Worm!" His knuckles white as he clenched the black staff. "You know not all that has gone awry. Tidings have come to me that your... horse-lords," he spat, "achieved victory at Helm's Deep. One aided them greatly in battle," he said silkily. He looked at Gríma expectantly, but the man had heard nothing of the battle and did not understand.
"Gandalf, you ignorant wretch! Gandalf led them and brought them victory, and all because you failed to keep him unarmed. Would that have been so difficult?" His voice went from a shout to almost a whisper, and each tone was equally terrible.
"Silence!" Saruman shrieked in rage, delivering a strong blow with his staff upon Gríma's shivering frame. The man stumbled but did not fall; he looked at the wizard in sour submission.
In that moment hatred for Saruman blossomed in his heart, a more powerful hatred than any he had ever felt. It was not the resentment he had felt towards Éomer, not the bitterness he felt towards those who had made his youth miserable, not even the searing odium he felt towards Gandalf. It was much more base in nature, subtle and dangerous. Yet he did not dare do anything, even the hatred in his eyes surrendered under the wizard's harsh glare. His one consolation was that he knew Éowyn was safe.
"Disgraceful," said Saruman. "Utterly useless you have proven yourself, Worm. Not only are you a traitor, but you are a failed one – and I am not sure which is the more despicable."
Ah, but there is a third kind, lord of ruin, a category for me alone: he who betrayed land, king, and self, but never wavered in his devotion to one, though it would mean his downfall.
Mask of Twilight - Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Verse - No, no happy ending... not even in this chapter. Oh well. ;)
Natara - No AU ending... canon beginning and end, and the middle part just ran rampant!
Auri - I read and reviewed "The Handkerchief"... although I'm sure you knew that already. ;) Can't wait till you update "Traitor"... nudge nudge...
Thanks to everyone who has reviewed this story; it means so much to me - and thanks to ST for her great beta-ing and advice. By the way, I have a story challenge for any Grima/Eowyn writers out there... you can check that out on my profile (hint hint). See you around!