Epilogue

Fifty years later, at the western shore Old Ford that spanned the Great River Anduin between the High Pass of the Misty Mountains to the West, and the dark forest of Mirkwood to the East, Saruman the White sat on his pale thoroughbred steed, preparing to wade across the swift-flowing waters. He was bound for the Council of Wizards held at Rhosgobel, the home of Radagast the Brown, once every century on Midsummer Day.

His steed had just begun to splash into the dark blue waters when he heard a whistled tune echoing from a copse of trees some distance behind him, and heard the footfalls of a lone rider. Frowning, he pulled back from the stream, and sure enough the figure he had expected rounded a bend in the muddy road, slowing from a trot to a canter as it neared the White Wizard.

"Well, Saruman," said Gandalf, pulling on the reins of his brown mare, and adjusting the silver scarf about his neck, "we meet again. I was almost worried about you, when you missed the meeting we had scheduled for the last century. Radagast was beside himself, don't you know."

"I'm touched by your concern," replied Saruman coolly.

"But at least you decided to return to us from your long sojourn in the East," said Gandalf with a wink, "albeit solely so that you could meddle in the politics of Gondor."

"Meddle?" asked Saruman, lifting a sable eyebrow. "You are referring perhaps to my taking measures to maintain order there, and to my preventing that realm from falling into a civil war?"

"That's what I had in mind," replied Gandalf, coughing loudly.

Saruman then smiled charmingly. "Ah, my dear Gandalf," he said, "you never were very good at dissimulating. You're merely upset that your pupil Aranarth was denied the Throne of Gondor."

"By your machinations, yes," sniffed Gandalf. "He's a very old Man today, you know, as his people measure things; I don't exactly think of him as a pupil any more. But I have my own sources in the southlands, and from what I've heard it was thanks to your subtle manipulation of the Gondor-men that Aranarth has not assumed his rightful place on the Throne of the South Kingdom."

"The Kings of Men have failed," replied Saruman firmly. "Aranarth and his son Arahael are vagrants who live off Elrond's charity; in that they are rather similar to you, by the by."

Gandalf's bushy eyebrows shot up in consternation. "In any case, Gandalf," continued Saruman, "you surely didn't think I would allow you to place your own dupes on the Throne of Gondor, so that you could rule the Men of that land from behind the scenes? The Stewards rule Gondor now, and when they seek guidance they look to me."

Saruman smiled broadly, as he turned about and led his steed back to the waters of the Ford. "Admit it, my dear Gandalf," he taunted, "you're merely displeased that I have outmaneuvered you in the South, the land where the real contest is being played out. Well, don't take it too hard. You still have your vagrants, and your haughty Elves, and your rude Dwarves, and even your ridiculous little Halflings up in the North. They should be enough to occupy your time, while I devote myself to weighter matters."

Gandalf muttered loudly into his beard, appearing quite put out by the White Wizard's remarks. But then he looked up suddenly, with a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Even the very wise cannot see all ends, Saruman," he whispered, and spurred his steed onward towards the Ford.