"What do you want?"

Grima stared, trembling, into Saruman's eyes. The eyes of men hung lazily over the top of their irises as if they were half asleep. Saruman's eyes were wide open, showing the whites all around. They reminded Grima of the eyes of the hawks with which the young lords of Gondor had taken to hunting. They were the eyes of one who could spot their prey miles away, who saw people as tools to be used, whose vision could cut through flesh to the soul hidden beneath.

His father's words came back to haunt Grima. The Istari may look like men, but they are as different from us as we are from orcs.

"As I-I just said." Grima swallowed. "To apprentice under you and learn the knowledge of wizards."

"For more than fifty lives of men I have dwelt in middle earth, adding two-thousand years of knowledge to what I brought with me from Valinor. Even if you were as old as me, you could not contain the knowledge I have. What do you want to do with my knowledge?"

Coming here was madness, Grima thought. No wizard had ever taken a man as an apprentice. He felt a growing sense of hopelessness and his own foolishness. "I seek...to learn how to earn...the respect of men."

"Men? Or a woman? Is that the image of Theoden's niece I see in your eye?" He spoke without expression, his face emotionless, as if it weren't really a face but a coincidence of flesh.

Grima nodded guiltily, not trusting his voice.

Saruman cocked his head in an almost birdlike fashion. "Your coming may have been timely." He gestured to drawing room and perched on a chair before an enormous table. A silver platter with a crystal decanter and a pair of glasses floated over to rest at his elbow. Grima sat awkwardly nearby.

"War is coming." Saruman poured himself a glass of amber liquid. "The great eye has fixed itself upon the west and all the realms of men will soon be swept away in blood and fire...unless I can stop it."

Grima glanced at the empty glass, then back and Saruman with no idea where the conversation was going.

"Tell me, Grima. Would you save the Rohirrim? Would you save your Eowyn?"

Grima nodded again, wondering if he had actually told Saruman his name.

"Would you be willing to kill Theoden or his son Theodred or even Eowyn's brother Eomer?"

Grima sat back in shock. "Do you think that will be necessary?"

Saruman drank from his glass and set it down. "To protect the Rohirrim, we must steal their courage."

"But won't they need their courage to stand against what is coming?"

Saruman frowned. The first hint of a human emotion. It somehow made him more frightening as if humanity were some separate thing he could put on and take off like a cloak. "What good is courage if they have not the strength to make use of it? Such courage will only get them killed. If you would save them, you must steal away their courage, even if you must become a villain."

"But...how could I do that?"

Saruman poured the amber liquid into the second glass and set it on the table before him. "It is said that even Sauron himself fears my voice. If you are willing to become my creature, I can make you my voice. Through you, we will counsel wisdom to Theoden king and his marshals." Saruman slid the glass forward.

"And Eowyn?" Grima asked.

Saruman smiled. It was an awkward creaking upward of the corners of his mouth. "If Sauron fears my voice, what chance does she have?"

Grima smiled, imagining Eowyn's reaction when he sang to her with Saruman's voice. He reached for the glass.

Saruman's hand clamped on his wrist.

Grima could feel the bones dig into his wrist like talons beneath the pale pads of Saruman's fingers.

"This is more binding than any oath you've ever taken. You cannot change your mind."

Grima nodded and Saruman released him. Grima tossed back the drink.

It struck the back of his mouth like block of ice and burned his throat like a cold flame. Grima felt a rising wave of nausea as if something solid had been shoved down his throat, but his throat was sealed shut so that nothing could escape. He reached into his mouth and felt for his tongue which seemed to have actually shrunk in size.

Saruman's smiled broadened, but something other than humor glittered in his unblinking eyes. "Now. Let us begin to prepare you for the task at hand."

Grima swallowed, finally able to breathe. "Yes master." His voice was a rasping whisper, but the words he had spoken were not his.

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