Saruman's robes were white, but like a film of oil, they gleamed with bands of every color in the light. He did not seem nearly as old as Mithrandir, though they had arrived in Middle Earth at the same juncture in our history. His gray beard was sheared close to his face, and there was strength and vigor in his limbs. His voice was melodious and full.
"So it is true, the flower of Rivendell has come to grace my meager homestead. And what friends you have brought with you! I do apologize for my lateness. My new bride demands much of my attention."
"You have been married?" I asked.
"Yes," he sat at the head of the table opposite me, not elaborating further. Aeglos was far below us with Glower. As much as I would have liked to stab the fallen Istari, I had intuited that this was not a battle that could be won with spears.
"We thank you for the meal," I said, "it was a comfort after such a long journey."
Sam echoed my sentiments. Though he was anxious about the circumstances, he would never not be gracious about food.
"Your journey, yes. It was my understanding that there were nine of you."
"We left Rivendell as a company of nine, but we have met with hardship since then. I lost a friend to the nameless beast of the waters on Moria's doorstep. Within the mines, another of our number was severely injured, and Mithrandir gave his life and his power to preserve us from evil."
At the mention of Mithrindir, the gaze of Saruman quickened. "Sacrificed himself?" He could not hide his satisfaction at the news. "Tell me more."
So I gave him an outline of what we had faced in Moria, and Gimli and Sam gave their impressions as well. Saruman seemed to savor each word as they led to the death of his rival, a fellow member of the Wise.
"A Balrog, how fascinating." His manservant had poured us all more wine, and he drank with relish. "I had supposed those demons were all banished from the world."
"It was real," I said, "and terrible."
"I believe you, but what of the men that traveled at your side?"
"Boromir and Aragorn. They journey to Gondor with Legolas as their burden. Their part in our adventure is done. Both swords will soon be needed in the defense of the West."
"And what of the other Hobbit?"
"Frodo, he was struck in the chest with an orcish arrow. He is no longer with us."
Saruman looked to Sam, whose pallor and moist brow suggested there was more to the story, but Saruman's mind was rife with greed, and he saw what he wanted to see.
"Why did you come to me? Why did you bring this message, claiming you have what I seek? How would you know anything of my designs?"
"Without Mithrandir," I said, "we are in need of the council of the Wise. The only other wizard in the West is Radagast, and if you will forgive me for saying so, he is not to be relied upon." Saruman nodded at this assessment, holding no love for Radagast the Brown. "You were called Curunir by my people, the Man of Skill, and I know it to be true. You have not been idle since the Dark Lord returned to Mordor. I've seen that in the countryside surrounding Isengard."
"But what of the thing I seek?"
"I think you know why we left Rivendell as a Fellowship. It is because a ring was found, a Ring of Power, and Mithrandir claimed it was the One."
"Show it to me," Saruman contained his eagerness, if only barely.
I gestured at Sam, who with shaking hands produced the small silk bag I had given him with the Ring of Angmar inside.
Saruman took it, poured the ring into his hand, and held quite still. Then he slammed it down upon the marble table.
"This is not the Ring," he said, fury filling his face with a strange light. "Do you try to deceive me?"
"No," I said,"this is the Ring Bilbo found with Gollum. He used it to become invisible, Mithrandir said..."
"I will hear no more of Mithrandir!" Saruman rose, and the colors of his scintillant robes pulsed in agitation. "The Grey Wanderer has cost me precious time again. A Ring of Power this may be, or a cast-off of Celebrimor, but it is not the One. That bungling oaf knows nothing of true Ring Lore. It has always been so."
Quickly, I retrieved the ring and the pouch and tucked them into my sleeve. "I'm sorry, Lord Saruman, I do not know what to say. I am no scholar of these matters myself, and I took Mithrandir at his word."
The fury writ across the wizard's face was replaced by something cold, and his eyes narrowed on me. I felt a piercing will drive into mine, and resisted it only by Narya's grace. Saruman's brow furrowed, unaccustomed to being thwarted.
"Elrond should have known," he said. "He was there, in the Last Alliance. He should have known." When his gaze fell on Sam, I knew that my duplicity would fail. The stout hobbit squirmed, and Saruman knew all.
"You dare lie to me?" His words were deathly cold, and Gimli tried to stand and draw his axe, but Saruman's staff was suddenly in his hand, and the Dwarf simply fell back down, as if he had forgotten himself.
I rose and stood against him. "You will never have the One," I said.
"I will have all that you can give me," Saruman inclined his staff, and I felt pressure against my chest, seeking to drive me back into the wall. But I called on my awareness of the Narya and the chamber fell away from my perceptions so that there was only the Wizard and I counterpoised in a realm of mists.
Here I saw him more clearly, how his vibrant cloak was actually a muddled brown, and how strands of dark red fell away from him into the mists as if he was unknowingly caught in a vast web of the soul.
His will raged over mine, seeking to break me, and I raised. my hand in protest. The Ring of Fire glowed here like a miniature sun, and he shrank from it.
"You? How?" His face was awash in waves of light and shadow.
"A gift from Mithrandir." This seemed. only to enrage him further. He snarled and regained his focus, then began a song.
Everything that Mortals know as magic is really a kind of song, a rhythm, and a current of words that flow behind and beneath the very foundations of Arda.
Like Sauron and Felagund had once struggled this way until one or the other was cast down, we offered competing visions of the might and wonder that lay in wait beyond the world.
Saruman showed me a chimera of iron and fire, of a future unlike any my kind had known or would have wanted to know. The forests died by poison or were cut down, and the sky filled with choking ash that rose from pits that marked the countryside like a pox.
Strange machines lumbered to war, driven by beings that were neither human nor Orc, but something in between, and where they walked the fires burned brighter, and where they touched, whole cities were shredded like a harvest of wheat.
The enormity of this vision was nearly enough to make me forget myself but for a flood of warmth and confidence from Narya. With its help, I composed a response.
The sun and the moon, locked in a cycle eternal, each granted the world a different light of a different character. Down falls the bright vigor of the sun, and green things grow, and men work and make merry, and build tall towers. And yes, these towers fall, but they are built again.
The forest is ancient and even in change is unchanging, it has us to protect it, watchful Elves, who remember the old ways and old songs and the harmony of nature's elements. We would not allow the earth to fall to such an imbalance as Saruman wanted or prophesied.
His smoke and his ash were washed away by gentle rains. His machines and his half-men were felled by rust and sorrows. The night came on, but it was not a swallowing of the world by darkness, but a gentle cleansing, the tender remonstrations of the moon who forgives us all.
At this, Saruman laughed, and our stories wove together. He showed me two bright trees that he had seen with his own eyes before he took the shape of a man. Laurelin and Telperion, twin powers that had lit the world before the moon and sun.
He showed me how they had been struck down, wounded by Morgoth the Defiler, and drained by Ungoliant the Ever Drinking. It was a horror to behold, but it was in the past, and my song reflected the changes in the earth that brought us to a better present.
Not better, he showed me, but lesser. With every passing age of Arda, it becomes less than it was before. The sun and moon I cherish are pale copies of the trees, and if they are beyond the reach of Morgoth, who was imprisoned out of space and time, they can still be blinded by the smoke and ash that will one day cover the world.
And the Elves, my kinfolk, look how they diminish!
Since the end of the Second Age of the Sun and Moon, when so many fell in the Last Alliance, we have not recovered our numbers. The empty halls of Rivendell speak louder than a cry of anguish, for while the Orcs breed by the thousand in the heat of Mordor, Arwen Evenstar, last of a great and noble line, has not had a child of her own after three thousand years of life, and may never have one.
I tried to find the rhythm of growth and cultivation beneath these painful truths, but all I could see was my mother dying. Shot by a poison arrow, by the treachery of Orcs. Our arts had saved her existence, but not her life, for ever after she was changed.
Somehow the wound had remained long after the arrow had been removed and the venom expunged. Our memory, and our unflagging natures can become a curse when we are caught in a cycle of evil thoughts.
Celebrian did not truly live after the day that she was wounded, and so she made the choice of our people to sail West to the lands of Silence and Peace. Lord Elrond had been wounded as well by my mother's exodus, though that was centuries in the past, he had begun then the count of years that could only end on his own ship West, and he expected me to be at his side when he went.
This is the doom of the Elves, to fade and fade until the world forgets. This I had always known. We are not like the flower of the field which dies in winter but in spring it is renewed. We are like the river stone, which may sit unmoving for a thousand seasons, but little by little is worn down, and then no more.
This is the doom of Elves, as I had always known it. The brilliance of Narya faded, for what was the Red Ring of Fire but another means of delaying our fate? Not a means of being renewed.
Fire and iron. Smoke and ash. The drums of endless war. That was what awaited the world after we were gone. And we would be gone. Soon.
Unnoticed in this exchange of dreams, a small being of very little light, so little that he was beneath the considerations of the Wise, crept around the stone dining table and stabbed Saruman the Bold with a fork.
The visions of futures promised and pasts long denied fell away like so many dying leaves, but in my heart, they left a cancerous stain.
"Wretch!" Saruman cracked his staff against the side of Samwise Gamgee's head and the Hobbit's legs gave way. He ripped the fork out of his thigh, more a matter of annoyance than any true danger, and directed his focus back to me.
"Bow or be broken, girl." His power was already coiling around him, ready to begin the duel again, one I knew I could not win.
An axe went spinning through the air, striking the staff and his hand, removing the tips of his fingers.
"Suck! My! Beard!" Gimli shouted, and in a blink, the man with dead eyes was on him with a paring knife, and they were struggling across the chamber.
Saruman, holding his wounded hand to his chest and gripping his staff with the other, fled the room, and I followed.
The geometrically perfect stair was not designed for the headlong chase, even when it was enclosed in a stone sheath. Unburdened, I caught the wizard in a matter of seconds and chopped my hand into the back of his neck.
He stumbled and twisted, not catching himself but thrusting his staff and with it a wave of iron intent that knocked me back and down. He was able to put some distance between us before I recovered, so I harried him all the way to the trap door in the roof of the tower.
It was a long charge to reach it, and I was breathing heavily, but I knew it was worse for the wizard who did not have Narya to sustain him. I reached the trap door and found it sealed by an artifice more complex than the locking mechanisms of a Dwarven vault.
The Numenoreans had achieved a mastery of such things, and I saw that it was beyond both my strength and understanding. He was on his pinnacle with Goldberry, doing I knew not what. I stood staring at the barrier for long moments until I realized that Gimli was still fighting for his life, or had else already lost it.
I flew down the spiral and blew back into the dining room. Sam was looking around in a daze, and Gimli was sitting astride the manservant. It appeared he'd bashed the man's face in with his face. I sagged with relief.
"Oi!" Gimli said. "How'd it go?"
"He trapped himself on the roof," I said. "I don't know how to reach him."
"This one might when he wakes up," Gimli looked down, "if he wakes up."
I went to Sam and scanned for injuries. He had a concussion, but his skull was intact. He wouldn't be another Legolas. I took away as much of his pain as I could and he blinked at me.
"My lady...thank you."
"Without your help," I said, "we would all be under Saruman's power. You are Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age." The Hobbit grew red in the face and sputtered his thanks.
"Gimli," I said, "I need to guard the roof and see if he means to come back down. Can you bind the manservant, and take Sam to look for tools or weapons that we might use to break locks? If nothing else, Aeglos is likely waiting with Glower and only a groom to guard it."
Gimli retrieved his axe, his nose was bleeding again, and his breath whistled. "It would be my honor to serve you," he said, "though I do regret the stairs."
"You have my thanks."
He bowed, and I ascended the many circles back to the tower's zenith, which was still sealed against all trespass. Surely, Saruman's would not stay above forever. He was treating his hand or sending messages to his many servants. It was likely we did not have long until Orthanc was overrun with the half-men I had seen in my visions.
It occurred to me that I should have told Gimli to bar the tower's entrance. He would think of it or he wouldn't. I laughed at myself.
Here I was, Arwen of Rivendell, now the bearer of one of the three rings of Elves, having barely bested Saruman of Many Colors, and stymied by a locked door. There was no keyhole that I could see, only bars and gears and springs, the destruction of any of which would likely serve as a permanent seal. How did Saruman lock it from the other side, but open it from this one?
Once before we had been blocked by such an obstacle, but there was no childish riddle or instructions in Elvish script around this door. This was not a Dwarven secret, but a wizard's.
I raised up Narya, gathered my will, and called up the dream of Lothlorien in my mind, of the night I troth my plight with Aragorn, and of things that had value even though they would one day expire.
"Open." I said, and I felt my intent war with that bound in the device. I felt it fail.
"Open!" I tried again, and a third time, and in each instance I proved the weaker. It was not in the nature of Elven rings to dominate and master. That was not our way.
On my other hand, I placed the Ring of Angmar.
Fire and ice warred in my blood, in my brain, and the world fell away and returned in an elastic shock. One did not become greater by wearing two Rings of Power instead of one, otherwise, Sauron would have kept them all and filled every finger with glory and power.
But the Elven ring and the rings of Men were entirely unlike in their merits and construction. They did not add their powers, but complemented, two singers in different octaves. Narya was an artifact made for peace, while the Ring of Angmar had been made for war.
The levers and rods bent and warped, unwilling to follow the command of someone who was not their master, but unable to resist. The seal shattered, and the trap flung wide above me, revealing a dazzling sky.
Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.
I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.
While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.
I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.