Seventh Stone


by Cassia and Siobhan

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    "As I said, it's just a small bump on the head," Gandalf commented as Saruman passed him a glass of dark wine, commenting curiously about his injuries. The old, grey-haired wizard nodded his thanks and explained further. The head of all Istari had brought him to a private study chamber high up in the spire of Orthanc and the two talked openly of all that had transpired. "We were taken by surprise by a group of men intent on plundering one of the ancient sites, Eowioriand, by all rights. I have the map that proved it right here."
    He fidgeted in the pocket of his inner robe and produced the now worthless document. "The words have all but faded from the parchment, I am afraid. I was rather hoping to bring it to you, as it was written in Valinorian." He raised his eyebrows as he passed the yellowed paper to Saruman.
    The white-haired wizard concealed his emotions well, distracting his guest by casually turning the map so it faced him and pretended to glance over the now nearly erased picture. So Gandalf and his friends had indeed been the ones that Drelent had stolen the seeing stone from and the thieves that the wizard had been so vague about had been the very men that he had employed. His lips thinned as a frown crossed his face, quite a different tale than the human had told him.
    Mistaking Saruman's dark gaze, Gandalf spoke up quietly, "The words and the exact location of the ruins have faded. Eowioriand itself is no more. The building tore apart when the seeing stone was removed."
    "And of the palantir? Surely these men were not able to take it from you?" Saruman raised his gaze casually and fixed a strange stare on the other.
    Gandalf lowered his eyes and sighed. He hated having to pass on the news that the ancient artifact had been destroyed. "Yes," he stated simply, softly admitting his blunder before explaining. "They were able to take it from me, I am afraid."
    "And how was that accomplished? You are an Istar." Saruman leaned forward. He found he was enjoying the interrogation and Gandalf's misery far too much; he hid the smiled that touched the corners of his lips.
    Gandalf glanced back and sighed once more, readying himself for the telling. "Eowioriand was falling and the human and the elf had not yet escaped it. One of the thieves took me by surprise while I supported the building long enough for the others to get out safely. He hit me over the head, and I dropped the palantir."
    "And then he took it?"
    "I was told there was quite a scuffle for it and it was in that fight that Gwaihir was wounded. He dropped the palantir from no small height and it fell into one of the fissures that scar the plain in front of Methedras. They all claim the stone fell in, but the thieves went seeking it anyway. My companions do not believe it was recovered, but I can't help but think that perhaps it was. However its whereabouts are a mystery to me now. I am truly sorry."
    "If you had let the building simply collapse, we would have the seeing stone," Saruman chided the one in front of him, his eyes hard. His anger was no longer simply directed at his unwanted guests. It irritated him immensely that he had been lied to by Drelent, told that the recovery of the palantir had been a simple thing. He had not informed the Istar that they had attacked two Maiar in the process. His ire with men rose another notch.
    "You would have me forfeit the lives of two living beings for a palantir?" Gandalf was incredulous.
    "What are two mortals next to the pricelessness of a seeing stone? Your love for the creatures of Middle-earth is your downfall."
    "One of those beings is a firstborn!"
    "Who are also susceptible to death."
    "We were sent here for them."
    "We were sent here to rule over them. They are not wise enough and lack the intelligence and strength to do so on their own." The white-haired wizard leaned across the table.
    "Only a servant may rule, Saruman. Even you are aware of this fact." Gandalf pierced his friend with a hard stare.
    "And because of your actions we have now lost another of the palantiri."
    "We do not know that for certain," Gandalf answered softly, deep disappointment with himself showing on every line of his face for his apparent failure.
    Saruman smiled inwardly. When the time was right he would let the other know that he did in fact possess the ancient's gift to men, but for now... A dark satisfaction touched his heart, for now it would be his own secret. He had plans for it. It would extend his reach and his wisdom in ways that he could only begin to imagine. His thoughts raced forward to the fool of a human he had hired. He had plans for that one too.
    Returning his concentration to the wizard seated across from him, he feigned compassion. "Well, you did your best. I suppose you can't be faulted for that. Why don't you take your rest for the evening? I'll have Teovan take you to your room."

    Gandalf stood with a slight nod. "Thank you Saruman."
    "Would you like me to send a healer in to check on you?" he offered magnanimously.
    "That won't be necessary, but thank you for your thoughtfulness." The grey-haired wizard smiled softly, turning to follow the manservant that had appeared at the door. He knew that he and Saruman might never see eye to eye on everything. The white wizard had too much pride and placed too little importance on the servant-hood aspect of their mission. But every piece of a puzzle had its part to play and it was not Gandalf's place to judge that of his superior. The wisdom of the Valar had placed them in the rankings they were in and that was not something to be taken lightly.
    Teovan led Gandalf into the hall, but returned to his master's study when Saruman called him back. He asked the wizard to give him a moment to attend to his liege before they left and stepped into the room alone.

    "Yes my lord?"
    Saruman glanced up at his attendant, his gaze dark and smoldering. "Send for that fool, Drelent, and his young trackers. Have them brought to me at once in my lower study."
    Teovan turned to leave but was stopped once more as the Istar spoke up quietly, "And tell my pet, Skarmazh, to bring himself and a few of his guards to my study room in the rotunda. I will have need of their presence."
    The servant bowed quickly and hurried out the door, escorting the grey-haired wizard to a room near where he had placed the ranger and the elf. He shivered involuntarily at the thought of having to retrieve the orcs that resided in the bowels of Orthanc. He did not understand why his master suffered their presence there but he was loath to ask. Indeed he was afraid of the answer he would receive and so he simply obeyed.


    Gandalf rapped softly on the door that Teovan had indicated was where the elf and the ranger were staying. He smiled to himself, thinking of the two, knowing neither one of them had wanted to stay in Orthanc. He needed to check in on them before he retired for the night.
    The door in front of him cracked open slightly and Aragorn peered out at him.
    "Strider, who is it?" Gandalf could hear Legolas call softly to his friend.
    "Gandalf?" Aragorn glanced down the hallway looking about the older man, noting he was alone.
    "You expected someone else?" The wizard raised a bushy eyebrow and leaned in towards the human.
    With a small laugh Aragorn opened the door wide and allowed the wizard in.
    Legolas raised himself up on his arms as the older man entered. He was laying stomach down on the bed, his shirt draped over the foot of the mattresses as Aragorn worked the healing ointment into the burns that still decorated his back.
    "Mithrandir! Come in, Strider was just finishing." The elf glowered at the human as he walked back to the bedside and pressed his friend down flat.
    "I was not. Now move that hair of yours away from your neck so I can see to the wound and stop arguing with me." Strider flashed a smile at the wizard as he seated himself in a high-backed wingchair situated near the dead hearth set into the wall.
    "Nice of them to give us wood for fire, don't you think," the ranger grumbled as he noted the empty fireplace once again.
    "Don't start that," Legolas mumbled into the sheets, moving his hair gently away from the red welts that decorated his neck. He relaxed fully into the soft mattress beneath him and sighed heavily as Aragorn gently spread the thick ointment across the burns, his fingers light and barely brushing the elf's skin.
    "Better this time?" he asked.
    "Much," came the muffled reply.
    Aragorn turned his attention back to Gandalf as he unwound a section of bandage. "So what brings you to our room tonight or did you not want to sleep in these chambers alone either?"
    Legolas chuckled beneath his light touch as the ranger carefully bound the light fabric around the elf's neck, once again giving him temporary relief from the biting sting that accompanied the burns.
    Gandalf sighed and let his gaze fall to the plush carpet. "Saruman was displeased that I lost the seeing stone." It was hardly an unusual thing for his superior to be displeased with him actually, for they rarely ended up on the same side of any issue anymore but, more than anything, Gandalf was displeased with himself.
    Legolas turned over on his side and watched the wizard, his expression sympathetic.
    "But you yourself said that it may truly not be lost," Aragorn repeated his words softly.
    "It still remains that the stone was lost to us at this time. I know not where it is. His disappointment was obvious and who could blame him?" Gandalf easily met the gaze of the two younger beings. He had the feeling that he was missing something somewhere... something very important to do with that stone, or the situation surrounding it perhaps... but what it was he did not know. This disturbed him greatly.
    "It was not your fault, Mithrandir, you can not take that guilt on your own. We were unprepared for Drelent's attack and Eowioriand itself did us no favors that day. Even Gwaihir couldn't keep the palantir in his grasp," Legolas offered gently. "If it still exists, it will turn up again."
    "That is what I am afraid of," the wizard muttered. "Let us hope that those who hold it do not use it for ill. It is still a dangerous tool in the wrong hands." Gandalf worried, more to himself than the others.
    "Legolas and I are discussing leaving Orthanc tomorrow. The prince needs to return home quickly now. Would you care to join us?" Aragorn asked lightly trying to change the subject to more cheerful topics. He looked forward to escaping the dark spire and their equally mysterious host.
    "Tomorrow?" Gandalf repeated. "Do you think that wise?" His gaze lighted on the elf who was having a hard time remaining awake.
    Aragorn looked behind him to Legolas, smiling wickedly at the elf. "Tired are we?" he taunted.
    With a snort of disgust the prince shoved his friend hard and slowly sat up next to the ranger, swinging his legs off the side of the bed.
    "I really do need to return home with all speed, Mithrandir. My father summoned me for the Yen and I have yet to make it back. He will be livid," the elf explained.
    Gandalf laughed lightly nodding in agreement. "Knowing your father, you are in for quite a lecture young one. Not to worry. The next Yen is only around the corner."
    Legolas laughed at the wizard's unique concept of time. "Perhaps I will tell him you said that."
    "You leave me out of it!" Gandalf threatened, his expression turned serious. "Now listen both of you. I don't care how much you dislike Orthanc, you need to take your rest here until you, Prince Legolas, are fully healed. Those burns are nothing to be made light of. Saruman will not mind you staying on for a bit. Stay till you are well."
    Legolas glanced sidelong at the human seated next to him.
    Aragorn slowly turned to meet the questioning gaze, noting the barely concealed humor in his friend's eyes. "Then you had better heal quickly," he chided his friend, "and I am going to ask for wood. That fireplace, empty and dark like that is..." He stared dismally into the empty hearth.
    "I know, I know!" Legolas burst out laughing. "It's creepy," he finished the sentence for his friend.
    "Well it is! And the sooner we are off the better. I'd rather endure your father's wrath than stay here." A smile replaced the frown on the humans face.
    "Easy for you to say!" Legolas shot back with a wry moan, laughing despite his words. "He's not your father and you aren't the one his wrath is going to be aimed at!"
    The mirth of the elf was contagious and soon all three of them were laughing.


    Down in the lower rooms of Orthanc, Saruman paced impatiently. A knock on the door to his study alerted him to the human's presence and he ordered the man to enter.
    Drelent walked cautiously into the interior of the chamber.
    "Teonvan said you wanted to see me?" he questioned uneasily. "We were just readying to leave."
    "Where are the two young trackers that accompanied you here?" Saruman's voice was low and deadly and he turned his back on the man, walking into an adjoining antechamber and forcing the man to follow him.
    "I sent them on ahead. They left just after nightfall. They were unseen." Drelent stopped on the threshold of the round room that Saruman had entered. Something inside him told him his welcome in Orthanc had just run ou,t but he did not know how to end the conversation gracefully. "If you don't need me, I'll be leaving also."
    "Don't need you?" Saruman turned towards the man. "Strange choice of words, wouldn't you say?"
    Drelent didn't answer and so the wizard continued, "I needed you to complete the job."
    "I did!" the man defended himself. He did not like the wizard's tone, nor where this seemed to be going.
    "I needed you to complete the job efficiently as you were instructed to." The Istar was pleased to see the tracker flinch as he stepped back towards the man. "Tell me again about how you obtained the seeing stone." Saruman paced to the center of the room where a podium stood, a circular object rested upon it underneath a velvet square of black cloth. He reached out his hand and let it hang mere inches above the covered globe. "How?" he repeated himself.
    The man behind him glanced about them warily. Something had gone wrong or his employer wouldn't be so upset. "I told you how we retrieved it. We took it from a small group of people who were pilfering the site. What else is there to tell?"
    "And did you come across an old man, with grey hair, perhaps in the company of a great eagle? Or did such a striking thing somehow slip your memory?"
    Drelent nodded cautiously, "There was an old man with an elf and a..." His answer was cut off as Saruman stalked back towards him.
    "That old man is a member of my order. An Istar! Did you know that? Did it never occur to you why a great eagle would allow another being to ride it?" He turned away from the human in disgust. "Fool. Would that you were as efficient as your lies."
    "We did nothing wrong. We completed the job and brought you the seeing stone. The old man... the other Istar, he has no clue that you possess the seeing stone, no one does! There is nothing to tie us together. There are no loose ends." Drelent tried to defend himself and his men, he was becoming agitated with the wizard and turned on his heels meaning to leave the others presence.
    Something in Saruman's soft question stopped the tracker and he turned back.
    "No loose ends? So tell me then, why did my orcs have to take care of Paxcyn's men who survived Eowioriand? Why did your men not take care of them like you were instructed?" He smiled cruelly as Drelent's mouth fell open wordlessly. "Oh yes, that sorry excuse for a hunter. Dryxyn, I believe was his name? He and the others you released were taken care of by my servants."
    "How did you...?" Drelent never finished the question as the dark shapes of orcs filed in behind Saruman.
    "This is Skarmazh. He never fails me. He always completes whatever I send him to do." Saruman held his staff up and pointed it at the entrance behind Drelent. The double doors swept swiftly in, shutting off the human's only way of escape. Orcs stood in the opposite three entrances - Drelent was trapped. "Now Skarmazh, will finish the job you were sent to complete."
    The orc stepped forward, dark glee lighting his evil eyes. "Come, my pretty, we have plenty of things to show you below," he croaked in a rasping, rough voice as the orcs swarmed the man. His cries were cut off in the dark tide and the high-pitched cackle of the orcs followed his screams for mercy down into the bowels of Orthanc.
    Saruman turned and walked back toward the palantir, unaffected by the humans' pleadings. In moments the door to the secret chambers of Orthanc closed and silence descended again. He smiled as he removed the black cloth and stared into the depths of the dark orb, reaching his hand back towards it once more.


    In their bedroom high in the spire, Aragorn jerked awake. He was certain he had heard orcs. His eyes were huge as he glanced around the dimly lit room. Pressing himself up from his resting place on the floor, he looked over the bed and the still form of Legolas. The door to their chamber was closed tightly and no one but them occupied the room. Still...
    The elf murmured softly in his sleep, reaching out blindly with one hand for the ranger on the floor next to him. His fingers tangled in Aragorn's hair and he let his hand rest on the human's head. "Go back to sleep, Strider. We are fine."
    The ranger glanced up at the barely awake elf, frowning at the incoherent response. "I thought I heard orcs."
    "You didn't." Legolas scooted to the edge of the mattress and looked down at his friend. "It was your imagination, my friend." Bleary eyes locked onto his. "Go back to sleep."
    "But I was sure..." He stopped as the elf sat up in bed throwing the sheets off and knelt down next to him.
    Tossing a pillow on the floor the elf collapsed on his stomach barely awake. "There, better?" he murmured.
    Aragorn snickered and shook his head as Legolas groped for the sheets trying to pull them down on top of him for warmth. The ranger reached over his friend and drug the coverings down from the bed, tucking them around the body of the sleeping elf.
    With a sigh he lay down next to Legolas and listened far into the night, the sound of the prince's deep breathing finally lulling him to sleep. Perhaps Legolas had been right, maybe he was just imagining it. They were after all in the home of an Istar and why would an Istar associate with orcs? 'One wouldn't', the rational voice in his mind whispered.
    With a small smile he pulled his blanket up tightly around his shoulders and fell to sleep. Still, he thought before the peace of sleep claimed him, it wouldn't be soon enough before they left this place; he missed the open-aired house of his father and at the moment he even missed the forests of Mirkwood. It would be good to be home again. Images of Elrond and his brothers chased through his dreams as he slept next to his friend.
    Soon they would leave this place and return Legolas to Mirkwood. Then everything would settle down and they'd have a chance to rest a while...

    If fate has a face, then surely somewhere she was smiling, thinking how very little the two friends knew of what yet lay ahead of them.
    For now however, all was well and it was enough for them simply to rest and regain their strength, they would need it. But that again is another story.

The End

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