Delayed (by PSW)

Summary:  Gandalf finally arrives in Rivendell after a rather rough summer.
Category: Lord of the Rings
Genre: Fantasy
Rated:  G
Word Count:  3725


 

 

“Lord Elrond.”  The study door opened to admit a dark head.  Both occupants within turned their attention from the maps spread across the desk, and Elrond motioned for the messenger to continue.  “My Lord, Mithrandir approaches.”

The relief was palpable, a physical rush so strong that Elrond was forced to remain braced against the desk until the first wave passed.  Across the cluttered surface Erestor closed his eyes briefly, appearing even as affected as Elrond himself. Dark tidings had been many over the past days, and welcome ones few.  Though the Istar’s reappearance did not solve their many troubles, it was yet as if a great weight had been removed.

Elrond straightened, nodding to the messenger.  “Thank you, Fienal. Please have refreshment brought here, and give orders for a hot bath to be prepared in Mithrandir’s usual rooms.”  Fienal bowed briefly and ducked back into the hallway. Elrond lifted an eyebrow toward Erestor. “Well then. Let us go and hear what tidings our errant wizard brings.  I expect they are of some import.”

“Indeed,” the other murmured, falling into step as they swept out of the study and toward the main doors.  “I cannot imagine otherwise.”

Important and dark, Elrond feared as they made their way through the Last Homely House.  This recent silence had been most unlike Mithrandir, given the significance of the Halflings’ mission and his affection for the Halflings themselves.  Elrond could not imagine any instance in which the wizard would choose to allow Frodo Baggins and his companions to carry this evil token across the northern wilds alone.  The news that the Nine were abroad, hunting both the Halflings and the Ring, had only compounded his fears. Elrond’s imaginings had been bleak since he had received word that Mithrandir had not kept his appointment with the Halflings, and the tidings that the wizard had now appeared—alive and functional, to all appearances—were glad indeed.

A larger than usual number had come out to greet the new arrival.  Elves loitered along the portico and across the wide lawn, ostensibly engaged in all manner of activity but in truth fixed firmly on the path that wound out of the trees, across the grass, and to the front steps of the House.  Elrond understood his people’s need to view Mithrandir’s entrance—he was not the only one to have labored under anxiety and dread these last days—but he wondered if it was wise to subject the wizard to so many curious eyes before he had even set foot on the front porch.  None had any knowledge of where Mithrandir had been or what had caused his delay. Elrond was considering sending a good number of the would-be observers back to their daily tasks when a murmur broke out behind him. He looked toward the trees and saw that it was too late.  Mithrandir had stepped out from the shadows and was making his way along the broad, tiled path.

Elrond stepped down from the porch, eyed the approaching figure, and sucked in a quick breath.  Indeed, he should have acted far sooner.

He gestured abruptly, and Erestor appeared at his side.  “Send as many away as you can, as quickly as you can, without making a scene.”  Erestor nodded once and retreated, his quiet murmur and the light scuff of footwear on stone the only evidence of a swift mass departure.  The Master of Imladris turned his gaze back to his guest, making what preparations he might before the wizard was close enough to exchange greetings.

He had often seen Mithrandir angry.  Given their long association and the wizard’s somewhat unpredictable temperament, such was inevitable.  He had watched Mithrandir apply his irritability as an unashamed all-purpose tool—controlled at will, channeled as dictated by need and circumstance.  He had viewed times, many of them, when the legendary temper held no true bite at all. Elrond shifted uneasily. This was not one of those times, and the prickling static of wrath that swirled now around the wizard was tangible even from a distance.

As Mithrandir drew closer, however, Elrond began to see more subtle signs.  Slumped shoulders, red-rimmed eyes. Fatigue, informed the clinically detached part of his mind.  Skin a sickly gray hue. Nay, not fatigue. Exhaustion. Scorched robes, shuffling gait. Fine tremor in the staff hand … and the other, well-hidden beneath the grimy robes.  Pain. His eyes returned to the gray skin. Perhaps shock. Expression … Elrond’s mouth dried. The eyes that returned his gaze were curiously blank—a phenomenon that Elrond had seen very rarely, and only during Mithrandir’s most discouraged and vulnerable moments over the course of centuries.

What had happened?

Elrond carefully schooled his expression and voice, sketching a brief nod as the wizard finally came abreast of him.  “My friend, we have been—”

“Have the Hobbits arrived?”  Mithrandir skirted around him with barely a glance and continued up the steps to the portico.  Elrond breathed deeply and followed.

“The Halflings?  No.” He moved smoothly alongside the wizard as they entered the House—near enough to avoid trailing in his wake but distant enough, Elrond hoped, to avoid crowding him.  “Gildor brought word a week past that he and a number of his kin fell in with Frodo Baggins and two companions for the course of a night while traveling within the Shire. He reported that they traveled unattended, and that the Nine trailed them even within their own boundaries.”  Mithrandir’s glance was sharp, unreadable. Elrond continued. “I dispatched riders immediately to search for them, and to guide them safely hither if they could be found. We knew not their direction, however, nor if they may have already met the Nine or some other danger along the way. Our net was cast necessarily wide.  It is possible we may miss them entirely.”

“Aragorn joined with them in Bree.”

Elrond slowed.  “Aragorn?”

“The Hobbits met him at the Prancing Pony, and left the town in his company.”

“In Bree.”  Elrond nodded, absorbing this new information.  His foster-son’s presence greatly increased the Halflings’ chances in the …  Mithrandir disappeared around the corner, and Elrond hurried to rejoin him, abandoning for the moment any further attempt at information exchange.  He would not be long in the dark, in any event. The wizard was making directly for Elrond’s study, which had long served the Master of Imladris as both debriefing center and discussion ground.  More importantly, it was a confined space. Once they arrived, the conversation should at least prove less physically taxing than this race through the hallways.

Perhaps.  He found Mithrandir pacing a broad circuit around the room, mud-caked robes flaring with each sharp turn.  His staff thumped a rapid, measured staccato on the tiles. Elrond entered silently and closed the door, drawing in a deep, calming breath before turning his face once more toward his agitated companion.

“You have news of the Halflings, then.  I will assume you did not meet with them, or they would accompany you still.  How did—”

“We are betrayed.”

Betrayed.  The word sucked the air from the room.  The floor dropped from under him, and the walls did a slow, drunken spin.  Elrond’s vision narrowed to Mithrandir’s gray face and blank eyes, to the swirling rage, and his mind screamed a rejection of its immediate conclusion.

“No.”

“Oh yes.”  Mithrandir’s voice lowered to a growl.  “Yes. Betrayed, and I should have known.  I should have seen it coming …”

“The Ring.”  Elrond forced the words from his dry mouth.  “The Ring has … taken Aragorn?”

“What?”  The wizard jerked abruptly from his daze.  He snapped his head around, and the formidable eyebrows dipped into a frown.  “Don’t be daft, Eärendilion. If the Ring had taken Aragorn in their company, would I be looking for the Hobbits here?”

Of course not.  No. Elrond’s lungs seemed suddenly to function again.  “Thank the Valar.” He could not have borne such a thing …  Elrond moved into the room, firmly curbing his own rising agitation.  “Who, then? Speak plainly, Mithrandir. When word arrived that you had failed to—”

“Saruman.”

Curunír …   

The white wizard.  The leader of the White Council, their undisputed master of ring lore. This was dire news indeed—especially now, with the One Ring found and events suddenly in swift motion.  It was a cruel fate that withheld Curunír’s knowledge in their hour of need, turning it instead against their purposes. Elrond moved across the room to the tray on his desk and poured a glass of deep red wine, relishing its velvet flavor as he struggled to comprehend what this defection might truly mean for their cause.  Mithrandir shook off the offer of his own glass and for the moment Elrond let it pass, taking instead another mouthful for himself. A cruel fate and a hard blow, yes … but somehow, not one that shook the foundations of his hope. The sour weight in his chest spoke of anger and grave disappointment, but strangely not of real surprise.

No.  He would not have predicted this betrayal, yet upon reflection it seemed that some part of him had always guessed at the truth of Curunír’s wavering loyalties.

“I was a fool.”  Mithrandir pivoted again, stalking toward the glowing fireplace.  “A fool, to walk so directly into his trap. I—”

“Trap?”  Elrond looked sharply toward his companion, taking in the agitation and haggard appearance with new eyes.  “What trap was this?”

“One to ensnare a fool!” the wizard snapped.  Elrond closed his eyes briefly, resisting the urge to sigh.

“Mithrandir …”

“Radagast found me when I left the Shire in June.  He came from Saruman, and—”

“Radagast?” Elrond breathed.  Somehow, this defection was more appalling than that of Curunír.  The brown wizard was not as powerful as either the white or the gray, but he had ever been a cheerful and, Elrond had firmly believed, loyal ally against the Shadow.

Mithrandir, however, shook his head.  “No. I feared so as well, but Saruman has no use for Radagast as an ally, only as a dupe.  He believes him to be simple and foolish—little does he understand our brother, or he would not be so quick to dismiss him.”

For the second time in a quarter hour, Elrond’s knees were weak with relief.  “Then Radagast knew nothing of Curunír’s true purpose?”

“No. He warned me that the Riders were abroad, and brought an offer of aid from Saruman if only I would go to him to receive it.”  The anger flared again. Mithrandir spun away, but Elrond moved forward and caught at his companion’s arm before the wizard could resume his pacing.

“Enough self-castigation, my friend.  It is baseless and avails us naught.” Mithrandir leveled at him a glare that might have destroyed a small village, but Elrond was well familiar with the wizard’s tactics. He tightened his grip and locked the dull eyes with his own.  “You are exhausted, and grieving, and injured …” Mithrandir growled a demurral, but Elrond nodded pointedly at the scorched sleeve and torn, mud-stained robes, “… injured, else you would see circumstances more clearly. How could you have known?  He is the white wizard. He has been the leader in our counsels for many centuries. None of us suspected him, none would have refused such an offer, we who are known as the Wise.” He allowed a note of self-mockery into his tone. “Unless you have knowledge of Curunír’s inner workings that the rest of us do not?”  It was a leading question, he well knew. Istari though both Mithrandir and Curunír might be, the grey wizard had complained often enough over the centuries that he little understood Curunír’s motives and purposes. Mithrandir’s scowl did not lighten, but the arm beneath Elrond’s fingers relaxed minutely. Elrond tugged gently.  “Come and sit. Eat, drink, and tell me what has befallen you to take you from your labors these past weeks, for we have been most concerned by your unexplained absence.”

Mithrandir loosed a long, weary sigh.  “What has befallen me.” He extracted his arm from Elrond’s grip and leaned heavily against his staff.  “I rode for Isengard, and met Saruman there inside his gates. He has fallen to madness. He calls himself now Saruman of Many Colors, and has created a ring, though I know not the extent of its power.”

“A ring?”  Elrond stared, disbelief vying with a fascinated horror.  “Surely Curunír has seen the folly in ring-making! What does he hope to achieve by this?”

“Nay, he sees not folly.”  The wizard shook his head. “He sees only power.  He sees mastery that he believes his by right and design.”  He flickered a glance sideways, catching Elrond’s gaze. “He sees Narya upon my finger—mine, not his, though he was first in Middle Earth and first in our Order—and he resents not only my guardianship, but also those who supported it.”

Ah.  Narya.  It explained much, though not all.  Elrond had always believed the white wizard would resent Círdan’s choice, should it become known to him.  Ever had Curunír been prideful of place. “You have long suspected Curunír knew of the ring.” He drifted slowly to the desk and poured a measure of wine into a fresh glass.  “You wonder no longer?”

“No longer,” his companion agreed.  “Saruman’s opinions regarding my fitness for the task are many, it seems, and rather insulting as well.”  Mithrandir absently took the proffered glass. “I heard them all repeatedly over the course of many days … but that was not until later, during the long days when he bent his will against mine in an attempt to force from me the location of the One.”  He gulped from the glass, a great mouthful that did the fine vintage no justice, and his hand shook. Horror growing, Elrond moved around his companion to face him squarely. Mithrandir shook his head. “Do not fear. Saruman learned nothing of the One from me, and I retain Narya still, though he had not yet turned his full attention to any attempt on it.  I believe he thought to make use of—”

Elrond gripped one grey-clad shoulder.  “I have no fear on that account. Ever has your will been the equal of any other, my friend.”  He shook gently. “But what of you? How came you to remain at Orthanc for so long a time, in such desperate circumstances?  You spoke of a trap. What manner of ambush did the white wizard set for you?” He gestured toward the blackened sleeve. “Did you come by this injury at Curunír’s hands?”  He tugged the wizard toward the nearest seat, and Mithrandir finally consented, dropping heavily into the brocaded comfort. A scent of dust and ash and long days of travel rose around him.  The wizard took another long drink, eyeing his arm thoughtfully.

“No, no, not so long ago as that.  This was a gift from the Nazgûl, when we battled a fortnight past upon Amon Sûl.  In truth, I did it to myself in the fighting. The flames were—”

“The Nazgûl.”

“Indeed.  Their full complement, unless I miscounted in the dark.  It was well that I reached Weathertop before Aragorn and the—leave off, Eärendilion!”  Mithrandir batted Elrond’s hand away and shook the sleeve of his robe back into place. Elrond had only a quick glance of the long, wide burn that scored the wizard’s skin, but it appeared to be healing apace.  Reassured until such a time as he could press a more thorough examination, he stood and made his way back to the desk.

“So.  We will come to the Nazgûl in good time, but I have not finished with Orthanc.”  Elrond removed the silver cover from the serving tray and began to prepare a plate from the light repast that had been provided.  “How came Curunír to—”

“What is it you wish from me?” Mithrandir snarled suddenly, surging again to his feet.  Elrond lifted a startled brow as the frantic pacing resumed. “Do you wish me to tell you of my defeat?  Do you wish to hear how I fell to Saruman, and that when I woke I found myself trapped with no recourse upon the pinnacle of Orthanc?  Do you wish to hear of the endless days, of the nights frigid by some foul sorcery even in the depths of summer? Do you wish to hear of my long battles against our former ally’s honeyed words and his ill-begotten powers?”  His jaw clenched. “Do you wish to hear that my escape was not even of my own design, but only came about because Gwaihir arrived to deliver news and agreed to bear me away? Do you—”

“Peace!”  Mithrandir jerked to a halt, words and movement arrested by the slicing command in the Elf lord’s tone.  Elrond glided from behind the desk, deposited the food on a small table near the wizard’s seat, and circled around to address his companion.  “Now. Listen well. I do wish to hear of these things. Even the smallest detail might have some bearing on our counsels, as you well know.” His companion crossed his arms and glowered, but finally offered a reluctant nod.  “That is not, however, my only purpose here. My concern as a healer, a friend, and an ally leads me to gather what information I may regarding this forced adventure of yours. I ask you, does this seem unreasonable?”

The grey wizard stared for a long moment, then turned abruptly, crossed to the abandoned chair, and reclaimed his seat.  The grey head dropped into shaking hands, and Mithrandir dug savagely at his temples before shaking his head. “It does not.”  The anger had bled from his voice, leaving only fatigue and pain. “Forgive me, my friend. I—”

“There is no need.  Your path of late has been treacherous, full of sorrow and fear.  We are each allowed our moments.” Elrond moved to retrieve the plate and held it out, standing stationary before the wizard until Mithrandir finally relieved him of his burden.  “You ask what I wish from you. I wish you to eat, to rest, to allow me to examine you and tend your hurts.” His voice rose over the wizard’s wordless rejection. “Istar you may be, but indestructible you are not.  I wish you to recover yourself, now, before the Halflings arrive or some other task calls you away.”

“There is little time for coddling.  The—”

“There must be!” Elrond hissed, blocking another attempt to rise.  “My coddling, as you say, is not for you alone, but for us all! Our time grows short, and we look to you, Mithrandir.  We require your wisdom and your strength if we are to have any hope at all in these dark days. At the moment, I would not trust you to find your own room unaided.”  The wizard hesitated, and Elrond shook his head furiously. “You will not gainsay me in this!”

Mithrandir sighed and rubbed at his tangled beard.  Finally he nodded, avoiding Elrond’s eyes. “They do not call you wise for naught, my friend.”  He picked a roll of flatbread and cheese, held it before him, and regarded it with an utter lack of interest.  Elrond retrieved the empty glass from the side table and returned to the desk to refill it. When he returned, Mithrandir had neither eaten nor moved.  Elrond drew a long breath and set the wine aside.

“Mithrandir …”

“We were sent to battle the rising Shadow, not to seek dominion for ourselves.”  The wizard’s voice dropped. “Not to aid it. Not to increase the discord that Morgoth and his followers have ever wrought upon Arda and her people.”

“Mithrandir.”  Elrond forced aside for the moment thoughts of Hobbits and planning and Rings, and gripped his companion’s shoulder.  The red-rimmed eyes finally rose to meet his. “I share your grief, grey wizard—not only for this betrayal of all of our hopes, but for the more personal betrayal you have endured at his hands.  It is a bitter thing to bear.”

The wizard sighed.  “Am I a fool, Elrond, for not seeing it?  Ever has he been high and proud, but … Am I an utter dullard for not expecting—”

“If you are, so are the rest of us as well.”

An undignified snort greeted this admission.  “A party of fools, then. I am in good company, at least.”  Elrond was relieved to feel the tense shoulder relax beneath his fingers.

“When did you last sleep a full night?”

Mithrandir’s lips twisted.  “When did I leave the Shire?”

“Ah.”  It was, perhaps, a gift of Eru Himself that the wizard was still on his feet.  Elrond nodded toward the untouched food. “Eat. Bathe. Sleep in warmth and safety.  Gather your thoughts. When you have put them in order, we will discuss all that has befallen.”

“The Hobbits …”

“You trust Aragorn, yes?”

Mithrandir’s lips pursed.  “Of course, but—”

“Then trust him to bring them here.  You have done what you are able.”

For a long moment their eyes locked, and then, to Elrond’s relief, the wizard capitulated.  “Very well. I …” He shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. “I am tired.”

“Indeed.”  Elrond did not attempt to hide the dry sarcasm.  “Wizards!”

Mithrandir sighed.  “Aye. Wizards.”

Wizards.  Curunír’s defection was indeed a grievous loss, yet Elrond could imagine far worse.  Fewer than a handful of people existed without whom Elrond might doubt what small hope remained to them, and the white wizard was not among them.  He pressed the grey-clad shoulder and then released it, relieved when Mithrandir finally—finally—took an unenthusiastic mouthful of bread and cheese.  “I go to ensure that your rooms are—”

“Sit, Eärendilion.”

He paused, a new knot of tension springing into his gut.  “There is more? I—”

“No.”  Mithrandir looked away, and Elrond had the puzzling impression that the wizard was embarrassed.  “There is no more, but … just sit.”

Ah.  The brief silence threatened to grow awkward for them both—the grey wizard was typically not one to openly admit vulnerability.  This was not, however, a typical situation. Elrond nodded and slid into the opposite seat, fixing his eyes upon the crackling fire.

“The fire is pleasant, is it not?”

“Indeed.”  Mithrandir took another bite, and together they sat in silence, staring into the flames.

***The End***

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