Memoirs of Gandalf:

III: The Necromancer

© 2001 Edwin A. Scribner. "Morgoth made me do it."


The following document was derived from a copy of the Red Book of Westmarch.

The original entry was one of a series of addenda, entered since Bilbo, Frodo et al. went into the West. It is presumed that Gandalf gave it to Sam at the time the ship sailed, but there is no record of this handover. The language was Westron, and in keeping with the nature of the conversation it describes, it has here been translated with considerable contemporary jargon. The reasons for Prof. Tolkien ignoring it are obscure.

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Prologue: Following the celebrations at Minas Tirith on Mid Year's Day,  TA 3021, last year of the Third Age, Gandalf had consented to spend several days in the court of King Elessar, mainly in private counsel with the King and Queen. On the first of these days, he elaborated on his perilous skirmish with the balrog that had been dwelling in the labyrinthine tunnels of Moria since it had been "unearthed " by the dwarves mining mithril there. Following this, Elessar had hosted a small feast for a few close personal friends, notably Eomer, Faramir and Eowyn. Gandalf had made a big impression on a cask of Rivendell mead which had been a wedding gift from Elrond (though the fact emerged that night that the mead was made personally by Arwen).
 

Gandalf rose rather late the next day. He wondered vaguely about his heaviness of head and cottoniness of tongue. Did he really drink that much? Still, it was good stuff, and Arwen was certainly possessed of more skills that those of seamstress and warrior. Warrior? He wondered whether Elessar knew the truth yet. Well it was likely to emerge today, as Elessar had asked him to describe the events of the White Council driving the Necromancer from Dol Guldur. This happened, as was well known, in TA 2941, at the time when Bilbo and the thirteen Dwarves were journeying eventfully through Mirkwood and eventually arriving at Smaug's lair.

The scene within the Royal Refectory was similar to that of the previous day when Gandalf wandered in around the eleventh hour and took a seat. He noted with appreciation that a jug of water had been thoughtfully placed on the board, and accordingly hastened to relieve some of the symptoms of the previous night's excesses. He was still musing on the question of just who had arranged for the water when Arwen entered alone.

"Good morrow lady," said Gandalf trying to sound brighter than he felt, "you make excellent mead!"

"You certainly should know by now, "she laughed, "I think that was nearly a record last night. Of course you can't make good mead without good honey and some of the wood elves that live at Rivendell are excellent apiarists. It stands to reason, of course. The supply of flowers there has always been considerable, even in the poor years."

"I was just pondering your various skills. To the people of Minas Tirith you are best known for your beauty and your ability to sew."

"It's hardly fair to compare a mortal woman with an elf, and I have only my ancestry to thank for my physical looks. As for sewing ability, I've had a long time to practice."

"What I'm wondering is whether you care to have other of your skills revealed, and what people, in general and in particular, might think of some of them. Do you know the subject of today's counsel?"

"No. I heard something about life in Valinor and maybe the matter of humanity in general ..."

"That's for tomorrow. Today the King wants me to talk about the Necromancer and how he was driven from Dol Guldur."

"Oh!" Arwen clearly realised the implications at once. "We never told him, did we?"

"I never told him. Apparently neither did you. Could your father, or someone else have told him?"

"I ... think not," said Arwen rather distractedly. She was obviously thinking through the ramifications of certain facts being revealed. They were potentially considerable.

For several minutes there was silence between them. Finally Arwen spoke.

"He should know. He should have been told by now but I rather think he hasn't been, or he would have said something to me. He is rather ... possessive."

"He is also King of the Reunited Kingdoms and Heir of Elendil. He has a lot to be possessive of."

"True, yet even so my father regarded my troth to him as a big concession."

"If the truth is a bitter pill he will nonetheless swallow it and blame no one but himself for any pain. Or so I predict."

"I think you're right. He is now very strong on diplomacy, even with me. Maybe especially with me. I wonder if he'll change when Elrond leaves."

"My own prophesy is that he will not. He has had his fill of war, battle, conflict. He will, I believe, work hard at mastering the art of turning away wrath with soft answers - oops, I think I just quoted from the future."

"Sounds good to me, wherever it came from."

"So: I tell the story, in all its detail? You will admit to your rôle?"

"Yes," she replied, making a wry face, as if it were going to be like swallowing some nasty herb. "I suppose that Galadriel's rôle will come out too."

"Of course."

"So be it," she said with finality and a certain tone of resignation. "How important it will prove I guess only the future will know, but he should have any knowledge that may assist in his governance."

"Spoken like a scholar and gentlewoman! Underneath that proud exterior you have a streak of modesty. I like it."

"I'll take that as a compliment, Gandalf."

"Please do. Luthien's choice or no, you are among the greatest of the Firstborn. Modesty was not noted as one of their virtues. Understandable, of course. They look around and see none but beings lesser than themselves."

"Gandalf, I fell in love with Aragorn. I mean that was just how it felt. I made my choices in full awareness and, unlike the legend that surrounds Luthien, I did not feel any compulsion. Luthien seems to have been 'driven by Fate' ".

"Interesting. I seriously doubt your interpretation though. I think that she, like you, felt that her choice was hers to make and that a brave, resourceful man was just as great as the greatest of the immortal elves. The poets and songwriters  have embellished the story, probably because Luthien's choice sounded so unlikely. Besides which the love of a woman, be she human or elf, is an emotional feeling, not a judicial process."

"Right again, you old sage. It would be hard to gainsay your carefully considered opinion and I for one am not going to try. And by the way, if I do have to pay for my love in future suffering, let me tell you that I will take that bitter herb without complaint too."

"I hope so, lady. I sincerely hope so," said the wizard with a sad shake of his head.

At this point the conversation was terminated, as Elessar and his scribe Tekardil entered, together and in earnest conversation. As soon as they had seated themselves, the refectory staff brought in light refreshments, both solid and liquid. Gandalf eyed the mead, shook his head sadly and poured himself another mug of water.

"The way to a wizard's heart?", said Elessar looking pointedly at the untouched mead.

"My good host, there were many occasions during my two millennia in Middle-Earth when it was way too long between drinks. I think you must forgive me a little in that area. One virtue of many that the Shire possessed was the existence of several good inns. By no means the only virtue, but the inns and some of my favourite characters, most of all of course Sam Gamgee, will forever be linked in my memory."

"Were any forgiveness necessary on my part you should certainly have it, but it is not necessary, my friend. You are welcome to drink yourself under the board every night here, with the best wine, mead, beer or anything else you can find to drink, and I shall make no deprecatory comments."

"I'm pleased to hear it. Now, perhaps we should get on with the day's business."

"I will, at least, postpone that until you, I, my Queen and my faithful scribe have satisfied hunger and thirst - which I will grant you is, after last night, minimal."

Some minutes of eating, drinking and polite trivial conversation later, the board was cleared and the talk turned to matters more serious.

"So. The Necromancer," said Elessar without preamble.

"Sauron. The epithet was given to him by men of that region in about 1100 TA, when they also renamed Greenwood as Mirkwood."

"The name has sinister overtones. It isn't just an epithet for a sorcerer."

"So thought the White Council when they first considered it. You are, I presume, familiar with the ideas of necromancy."

"Vaguely. Something about revivifying corpses."

"Restoring a semblance of life force to dead beings, especially to dead intelligent beings - men, elves, dwarves and so on. It isn't a true life force. It makes the undead corpse - a 'zombie' we call it - able to move, walk, run, fight and so on, but only with specific direction from the necromancer."

"But with armies of orcs to fight for him, why would Sauron want to have the bodies of dead men, elves, dwarves etc serving him?"

"My guess was that he planned to use them as decoys. Orcs are clearly the enemy. Men may not be, and elves, one would assume, must be on the side of the free people. Now I should say that I've never even heard of an elf being revivified as a zombie, and it may be impossible, but I've never heard the possibility utterly refuted either. However, as you will hear, the question was academic."

"Please continue."

"It's a matter of historical record that, in the year 2063 TA I first paid a visit to the tower of Dol Guldur. It was a very solidly constructed edifice, huge, rectangular and massive. Nothing like as spectacular as Orthanc but quite servicable all the same. Blocks of some dark heavy stone had been cut and laid with considerable expertise. It was hard to believe that orcs could have done that."

"Have you any idea of who did do it?"

"An idea that it was built by men, but just who I can't say. No group I know. Presumably from south or east. Sauron clearly had such men in his service recently. How he managed to secure their allegiance so early in his return is a mystery, but there it was: a very large and substantial tower.

"I approached it with considerable caution of course, but there was no evidence of habitation nearby. There was no moat, but the door was protected by a heavy portcullis and the door itself was a very large and solid piece of iron-bound oak. I do, however, have spells for such barriers. I used them to good effect. Having raised the portcullis and opened the door without any serious damage, I cautiously entered.

"The ground floor was one large hall with no furnishings and a flat, solid looking stone paved floor. Stairs led up and down. I went up. From its outside appearance there should be several floors and I was not disappointed. I counted six, plus a couple of small attic rooms. Furniture was sparse but there were several very strange looking machines in one of the upper floors. I have no idea what they could be used for but I suspected some infernal apparatus used with sorcery. There were no signs of any written records.

"The dungeon areas were more interesting. Two floors of dungeons existed below ground level, and these were divided into many cells, each cell with a very solid door of iron bars, and a large elaborate lock. The passageway that ran between the cells enabled all to be quickly inspected and they were all empty, nor was there any sign of past occupation.

"There was no sign of anybody, nor of any recent occupation, and this puzzled me greatly as in no way did I announce my coming. I wondered whether the absence of the Necromancer was purely coincidental or whether he had news of my coming and had fled accordingly. I spent several hours examining the tower from top to bottom then, rather dissatisfied but unable to justify further search I left. In retrospect I missed one very important thing. Can you guess what it was?"

"Not a clue."

"Well, we'll get to it in due course."

Elessar made a moue.

"Maybe it will occur to you first." Gandalf continued.

"If you missed it first time I'm sure I would have too."

"Perhaps. At the time I wasn't thinking along the right lines. Later I had good cause to do so. I left and later reported the result of my search to Saruman and, later, Galadriel and Elrond. Saruman seemed dismissive and asked me whether I could be sure that the tower was not an ancient relic, long abandoned. Galadriel and Elrond, especially Galadriel, took the matter much more seriously. She thought, as I had, that the Necromancer was indeed Sauron and that the time to crush him was now while his strength was still minimal. However, none of us had any thought for the Ring. I later thought that he may have already recovered it.

"So time went by, with little obvious change, for four hundred years. Then, as you may recall, the Nazgul again became active and orcs started skirmishes in various places. However, I think the history of this period is well documented."

"It is, at least passably well."

"The White Council was formed, with Saruman as its head. Galadriel had wanted me in that rôle. In retrospect perhaps that is how it should have been, but Saruman was the self appointed chief or the Istari and I did not challenge that position. Nobody else questioned his leadership. He continued to advocate watching and waiting, although I would rather have mounted a raid on Dol Guldur. Nevertheless, I respected his authority and in any case I did not want the blood of warriors, especially elves, on my hands without dire necessity. The thought that Saruman was already lusting after the Ring had never occurred to me.

"The south of Mirkwood was now avoided by all the free peoples, and reports of sinister beasts were coming from well to the north, many hundreds of miles from Dol Guldur, where the wood elves lived. They had taken ever increasing security precautions as time went by but occasionally one or a few of their number would disappear under mysterious circumstances. This particularly worried me as I expected just this type of event were the Necromancer really attempting necromancy with elves.

"Dwarves too were not immune to losing small numbers of their tribes while they were on a hunting or reconnaissance journey. Men from Gondor and Rohan did not report similar losses, but they went abroad in larger groups and were better armed. Also we had no idea what was happening in the east and south, so the Necromancer may have been getting his material from these sources.

"One thing that was not being carefully monitored was the fate of the seven dwarf rings. By the time it was noticed, six of the seven had become lost under suspicious circumstances, or they had disappeared with their owners. When, in TA 2845, Thrain went missing with the last ring, the work of the Necromancer was strongly suspected. Now the rings should have been a giveaway. The Necromancer, if responsible, must surely be Sauron. I should endeavour to find out the truth. The question was: should I seek the help of a force of warriors and make a direct frontal attack, or should I attempt to spy on the doings in the sinister tower? I elected to spy. Firstly that allowed me not to depend on or trust anyone else, not that I suspected anyone at this stage but I felt happier going it alone. Secondly, if I were careful, a spying operation would not alert Sauron, or whoever the Necromancer was, to the possibility of direct assault.

"However, there were some unavoidable and unfortunate delays. I said that Thain disappeared in 2845. He did but news of his disappearance did not reach me for two years. After that I discussed the matter with Saruman and he was not anxious to have any spying done on the Necromancer, though he didn't actually say why. Nevertheless, I allowed this to influence me and as a result I also discussed the matter with both Elrond and Galadriel. Both feared for my safety. Galadriel wanted to make an open assault on the tower, and was prepared to supply a force of elves to do it. I eventually talked her out of that but she was most unhappy about my going there alone. I too was hesitant, not so much over personal safety, although that perhaps weighed more on me than I would admit even to myself, but my own particular charters forbade a direct confrontation with the Enemy; I was in Middle-earth only to rouse up the free peoples.

"At last I felt I could wait no longer. Surely if Thrain had been taken by the Necromancer (and there was still some doubt as nobody had actually seen his captor), he would be dead by now and the Necromancer would have the ring. Nevertheless, Sauron appeared to have tipped his hand here and even evidence of Thrain's capture would be a pretty good guide. With thoughts such as these I set out alone.

"I rode to the edge of Mirkwood, about 50 miles from where Anduin forms a border of Lothlorien. There I dismissed the horse and proceeded on foot, making every possible attempt to go quietly. However, the forest has eyes and I was soon observed by animals. I could only hope that they were not a part of the Necromancer's alarm system. It took me several days to reach Dol Guldur, which I did without apparently alerting any sapient being - certainly I had not seen any evidence of any, and I like to think I am quite sensitive to signs of their activity. Orcs go in packs; I've never seen one spying or doing anything remotely resembling spying. Elves would never be in the Necromancer's service. Dwarves were unlikely to be found in any forest and in any case they are hopeless spies; they make far too much noise. Even had the Necromancer managed to get a live dwarf in his power I felt sure he would not have tried to use him as a spy.

That, for all practical purposes, left only men and zombies, and I watched out carefully for either. The fact that I saw neither was in a sense too good. I felt sure that the tower would have some sort of security system. Maybe it was one of sorcery but I like to think I would have been aware of any spells and there were apparently none. I arrived at the gate near dusk, which was a good arrival time, as I could watch for several hours then attempt an entry under cover of night. I positioned myself in a clump of thick bushes, separated from Dol Guldur only by several trees and a wide clearing that extended around the tower on all sides.

When I arrived, the door was shut and the portcullis down, but already lights were showing in the upper levels. Several hours passed with no signs of activity, then quite suddenly the door was opened and the portcullis raised. A small company of what looked like orcs emerged. They were well armed, with both short swords and well made bows, and they seemed rather larger and stronger than the average orc. They headed straight out along the track, well to my right, and soon disappeared. I realised that now would probably be the best time to enter the tower, as the door was open and at least some of the defensive force was away. Presumably the Necromancer did not fear either attack or spying.

I circled around so as to approach the gate from an angle not so easily visible to an observer from any of several windows that I could see in the upper floors. However, no approach could be guaranteed of absolute secrecy. I eventually had to simply stand up and walk to the gate; the grass there was far too short to offer cover, so crawling would have done no good at all and would have made any response to an attack more difficult. I kept my eyes on the windows from which any view of my approach might be had, but no attempt was made to shoot me with an arrow. I reached the gate, having still apparently not triggered any alarm."

"And if you believe that, you'll believe anything," added Elessar wryly.

"Exactly. I felt sure that by then someone had seen me. Nevertheless, as I entered the tower there were still no obvious signs of activity. I was then, as you may well imagine, very alert to any movement, and also to the exercise of any kind of magic. The ground floor was much as I had previously seen it. It was dimly lit by a single torch of some sort on the wall at the base of the upward leading stairs. I decided, however, to look in the dungeons first. It was a good thing I did.

"The first level of dungeons was in complete darkness, but the lower level was very dimly illuminated by another of those torches, a long pole with what might have been a lump of pitch on the end. A dark smoky flame came from this lump. There looked to be nothing of sorcery about the lights. I proceeded along the passageway to which the dungeons were connected on either side. In the last dungeon on the left was a small figure, slumped on the floor. It was quite inert and seemed to be dead. I could, however, detect a small amount of life force in it. It could have been a dwarf or a small man; it was impossible to tell from this distance, but from the shape I guessed a dwarf, and thought that it might have even been Thrain.

"I examined the lock on the cell door. It was pickable with an opening spell. I was, however, a bit reluctant to try a spell, as I knew that it was very likely to alert any sorcerer, and certainly Sauron, to the presence of someone with those powers. However, if I wanted to reach the dwarf I would have to do it and do it soon; that dwarf seemed very near death. Is this too deatiled a description, Strider?"

"Not at all," replied the King. "I want every bit of detail that you can give me. This was, after all, the enemy that very nearly became our Dark Lord."

"As you say. I then set about opening the door with a minimum of disturbance. This firstly requires perception of the locking device, then exertion of some force. I wanted to keep the force to a minimum, which meant a better level of perception, which meant more time. I could ill afford the time but it was necessary. Not for the first time did I appreciate the lessons I learned of Nienna, but that story can wait.

"I finally elucidated the lock and applied force for the absolute minimum of time. The door sprang open inwards. The dwarf had not moved, but he stirred when I touched him. It was Thrain. I didn't recognise his physical appearance but there were things about him ... well, never mind. It was not likely that Sauron would have any other dwarf locked up - that was, after all, the last of the dwarf rings - and I had decided beyond any reasonable doubt that the Necromancer was indeed Sauron.

"Thrain looked at me with a horribly vacant expression and said nothing. I said:

'Thrain, do you have the ring?'

"He didn't answer. He didn't seem to have heard me, though his eyes were open and I presumed that he was conscious. He looked as if he were trying to decide something. Finally he shook his head, slowly but emphatically. By signs that weren't readily apparent to those without my particular skills I could tell that he definitely meant no, and that he recognised I was not his captor or one of his captor's agents. He then appeared to be making an effort to sit up. I helped him. He looked around then pointed at the nearby wall.

"The wall was made of large stone blocks. They all looked the same, or very similar, but Thrian was pointing at one particular spot. I stood up and went to the spot I thought he was pointing at. I touched the stone block, and again Thrain shook his head. I moved my hand to the block on the left, and he also shook his head. He appeared to want to identify a particular block. Slowly and methodically I moved my hand from one block to the next, in the area where he had pointed. Finally, I elicited a definite nod and even the slight trace of a smile on his face. So: now I had the block, but of what significance was it?

"Clearly Thrain could not tell me, but equally clearly it was of great importance to him, since with what little wits he had left it was his first action toward a person who was apparently not his enemy. I examined the stone carefully. If he could find it in his state of stupour, there must be some distinguishing feature. Then I noticed a few little scratches around the edges. Had the stone been removed recently? Otherwise what significance could it have? Perhaps he had hidden the ring behind it. Not that one dwarf ring would do us much good, but it was worth a look if I could get the stone out.

"Thrain was now nodding emphatically. I could never grasp the edges with my bare hands; it would need another spell to move it; a spell that might well alert the Necromancer to my presence. Well, I had no alternative but to leave the stone with its secret. I tried gently to nudge it forward. Happily it worked with a minimum of effort. Despite its appearing similar to all its neighbours, it was loose and I managed to pull it forward about an inch. Then I could get my hands to it. It slid out the rest of the way easily. It was heavy but not unreasonably so; I lowered it to the floor and examined the cavity behind.

"There was a metal object on a piece of thin cord, and a sheet of thick paper or parchment, folded several times. Thrain was getting quite agitated now and making inarticulate sounds. I removed the two objects. He nodded emphatically. I then placed them in a pocket that I have concealed in my robes. Wizards don't do everything by magic and those robes, which by the way were, like these white ones, made and maintained by Galadriel's artisans, had several skilfully constructed pockets in strategic places.

"Thrain then beckoned to me to come closer. He pointed to the place where I had concealed the two objects and attempted to say a word. He made several attempts at it, and I finally made out something like "Thauron". Was he trying to tell me that the Necromancer was Sauron? Thauron is the Quenya name, you know. I nodded and Thrain smiled. Later I realised that he meant "Thorin", that is he wanted his son Thorin to have the two objects. I recognised this only after I had the leisure to examine the objects which clearly were the map and key you now know about.

"Now Thrain pointed to the door. He seemed to want me to leave. I considered my position. Could I save him? He may not be beyond all hope of survival. I am quite strong and I made an attempt to pick him up, but he resisted, again pointing to the open door. The message was clear enough: he was mortally wounded and I should make good my escape as soon as possible. It made sense but I was reluctant to give up on Thrain. I made one more attempt. Again he struggled as if he didn't want to be rescued. Suddenly he slumped, inert, in my arms. I looked for signs of a life force. There were none. Thrain was dead.

"I became aware of sounds from above. It seemed as if something had attracted attention and I had a distinct feeling that it was my magic activity. With Thrain beyond hope now, and the artifacts he wanted me to take now in my possession, my best course was obviously to leave as quickly as possible. I hurried up the stairs and towards the main gate. I was halfway there when suddenly there was a clatter on the upward-leading stairs and a deep voice boomed:

" 'Olorin!'

"I turned. There, about halfway down the stairs was a figure, robed in black and with deep set, gaunt and swarthy features. He held up his right hand, apparently in a gesture of casting a spell. Maybe he was declaring himself to me, though I had little doubt of his identity. The appearance of the right hand corrected little doubt to no doubt; the third finger was missing - hacked off by Isildur, using the hilt shard of Narsil!

" 'Sauron!' I answered, but I was more concerned with his next attacking move than with palaver. I suspected that it would be a spell either of dysfunction or paralysis. I prepared as best I could to parry this thrust. It came, but it was weaker than I had expected. Was Sauron still trying to recover his power of old? Quite possibly. Then there was the matter of the Ring. It seemed quite clear that he did not have it. Admittedly I was not sure of his full power of old, but I had good reason to think that it was very great, certainly much greater than mine. However, I still had no mind to engage in a duel with him. The main door was well within reach and I ran for it.

"I reached it just in time; the heavy portcullis came down with a clang right behind me as I bolted through. The slam of the heavy doors followed a few seconds later, but I was clear and continued moving as fast as I could away from the tower. However, it appears that Sauron had no mind to pursue me, either personally or by sending his agents after me, and I made good my escape. Several days of furtive movement later I had reached Anduin, adjacent to Lothlorien. It was not long before Galadriel's watchers had spotted me and sent a boat."

"We knew you just got out of the tower in time, of course. I've never heard the details of how you identified Sauron beyond doubt," added Elessar.

"It was no secret," put in Arwen, "but at that time the conclusions you reached were never questioned. My grandmother in particular trusted you implicitly. It's a shame that others didn't do the same, or much war and loss of life perhaps need never have happened."

"That's water under the bridge now," continued Gandalf. "As you would have been aware,  the White Council met the year following my spying operation. I actually remained in Lothlorien from after my return from Dol Guldur until that meeting, a matter of some seven months. I needed a break from my travels and time to think clearly about the implications of Sauron's activity. One big unanswered question, apart from the whereabouts of the Ring, was whether he was really engaging in necromancy, and that was a subject that I did not even discuss openly with the Council, only with Galadriel.

"She had already decided that Saruman was not to be trusted, and although I was still inclined to trust him I admitted that some of his ways were beyond understanding. I'm not sure what it was with Galadriel, whether she could perceive his true natue better than I or whether it was just a bit of feminine intuition."

"I feel sure it was intuition anyway", said Arwen. "She was by nature intuitive as are most elves and most females of either race. Besides which, she had never had any experience with Curunir before he entered Middle-Earth and assumed the commanding role among the five wizards. You came after and had, as I percieve, less powers than he, so you just naturally looked to him for leadership. Galadriel made up her own mind concerning the relative worth of the two of you."

"That's certainly right concerning me," Gandalf replied. "At that stage, moreover, there was no reason I could think of not to trust Saruman implicitly. However, after that meeting in 2851 TA, when Saruman alone spoke out strongly against a direct attack on Sauron, I did begin to wonder. I wanted an attack mounted as soon as possible, while the Ring was apparently missing and while Sauron had not yet grown back to full power. Galadriel supported me, but when Saruman was so utterly against it Elrond and Cirdan went along with him. Had I railed against him I might have changed Elrond's mind but I deferred to Saruman's presumed superior knowledge."

"I know it well, and I wished I could speak out, but it was only by the good grace of my grandmother that I was permitted to be a fly on the wall."

"You were there?"

"Yes, darling. I know it was a bit before your time, but I was already well over a thousand years old you know."

"I remember you well, Arwen. You carried the drinks."

"And quite happy to do so. We were always an egalitarian lot in Lothlorien."

"It was a pleasant day, except for that seemingly unreasonable outburst by Saruman. I eventually put it down to something about Sauron that he knew and for good and sufficient reasons did not wish to reveal to us. In the event that turned out to be true, but I little realised his own nefarious machinations.

"Well, ninety years later ..."

"Ninety!"

"The White Council did not meet except at great need.  Saruman called this meeting. He had us all come to Isengard. This was the year that the thirteen dwarves and I knocked on the door of Bag End and put an end to Bilbo Baggins's pleasant dreamy existence as a gentlehobbit in semi retirement. The meeting was held in March. I headed straight to the Shire after that."

"Then of course the Ring was discovered, although you had no idea at the time just what the hobbit had found."

"That's about it. It galls me when I think about it now. However, the ability to make the wearer invisible was possessed by other rings, a matter that was not discussed openly."

"Was Bilbo invisible to you when he wore the Ring?"

"Actually, no, but I had some difficulty in seeing him. In fact I couldn't 'see' him but I could 'perceive' him. I think that was the way with Bombadil. He gave Frodo and the others the impression that he could see Frodo while he wore the Ring, but he, like I, had senses other than normal sight.

"Anyway, the Council discovered that Saruman had done a complete about face on the matter of attacking Sauron. Indeed he had a detailed plan of attack, and had a prominent role for himself in the plan. He proposed to use certain tricks of wizardry which he thought we could carry out together and which would thwart any similar powers that Sauron could bring to bear. For the rest he suggested a small elite fighting force of elves. This is something like what Galadriel had suggested previously. Cirdan was ambivalent about putting elves from the Havens into such a force and Elrond had some reluctance concerning Rivendell, but Galadriel pledged wholehearted support from Lothlorien and that seemed to bring the others around to the idea. Eventually the composition of the force was agreed upon.

"Several hundred elves were chosen for their expertise in both archery and sword fighting. All elves are highly proficient at moving quietly and quickly through thick forest, and at fast, accurate communication in battle. It was intended to deploy the force around the outskirts of Dol Guldur in order to handle any attacks mounted from the outside. Saruman and I, with a small group of elves, planned to make a direct approach on the front door, using such magic as we felt we could usefully bring to bear, but avoiding if at all possible a direct wizards' duel with Sauron, although we were ready for this if it became necessary.

"Because of my prior commitment to Thorin, I begged that the attack be deferred for a few months. Saruman wanted the attack as soon as possible. He was concerned that spies would learn of the plans and alert Sauron. In the end we fixed on a date that for me was uncomfortably close. Nevertheless I made a commitment, and hoped that we did not run into too many unexpected problems getting from the Shire to the eaves of Mirkwood. The timing was critical, as the elves had to take up positions without alerting any watchers, and this required some very precise deployments. At no time must any groups of elves be observable, and communications between them must either be silent or disguised to sound like normal forest noises.

"The leader of the Lothlorien contingent was Galadriel, whose skill as a warrior is unmatched although she has taken part in few battles and very little has been put on record about her combat service. Many of the warriors from Lothlorien were female. These were the elite group; not the usual border security patrols but what would have been the core of their defense had a full scale attack been mounted on Lothlorien. Like Galadriel herself, all were tall, strong and very skilled with both bow and sword. Also when fighting, especially against men, they had an element of surprise on their side. A man in battle generally does not expect to face a fully armed woman, and the resulting delay in reaction time can well mean the difference between life and death in hand to hand combat.

"Elrond would not participate in the attack; indeed he did not intend to leave Rivendell. You may imagine his distress when ..."

"Let me tell him!" blurted Arwen suddenly.

"What! His distress when what?" responded Elessar with some alarm.

"I volunteered to lead the Rivendell contingent."

"You!! What were you doing there? Carrying the drinks again?" asked Elessar, his face white.

"I wasn't at the meeting, but my brothers and I had come with my father, who also brought Glorfindel and Erestor to Isengard. When the composition of the attacking force was being discussed, others besides the Council were allowed in on the deliberations. We five from Rivendell were all there."

"Surely one of your brothers or the other two would have volunteered?"

"They would and they did but Galadriel, who was to lead the elf force, opted for me. Yes, my poor father was distressed. However, he gave in with considerable reluctance because, although he did not like to admit it, he was well aware that I am a better warrior than any of the other four. He made me promise that I would never take part in another battle, until and unless there was a final showdown with the armies of Sauron (or whoever) and that surrender would mean torture and imprisonment. That was the last battle I've fought in and, I might add, one of the few."

"I feel humiliated!" gasped Elessar.

"You need not," responded Gandalf. "It isn't enshrined in legend and song, but the fighting prowess of women, especially elf women, has been well known throughout all three ages of Middle-Earth. However, women don't generally make war and they fight only when they perceive great need. They are more practical warriors. They don't seek glory in battle."

"I have much to consider. Why have you never told me of this before?"

"I deemed that you were not ready to hear it. Had you acted on it you would probably not have been able to change the odds in any of the battles you fought. Galadriel would not have put her elves into the fight. Neither would Elrond. The women of Gondor are, by and large, not ready for battle, likewise those of Rohan. Eowyn was the exception, and she had strong personal motives as you know."

"I may come back to this later, Gandalf. For now I will ask you to continue with the account concerning the Necromancer."

"A wise course. Well, the history of my next few months' activity has been well documented by Bilbo Baggins, so I'll recommence my narrative from where I left Bilbo and the dwarves at the edge of Mirkwood and rode south on Beorn's horse. Incidentally, Beorn consented to my using his horse, which he eventually received again, in good shape.

"I rode south, and it was a long ride. It took six days to get to near the point where a track leads into Mirkwood towards Dol Guldur. About dusk on the sixth day I arrived at a convenient clearing a few miles north of the point where the elves and Saruman were to meet. I thought, however, that the elves would be vigilant enough to find me that night. Sure enough, a couple of hours later I heard a whisper from the eaves of the wood.

" 'Gandalf!'

"I looked hard at the source of the sound but I could see nothing. That was what I had hoped to see. Anything visible would not be one of our elves. I made a couple of the agreed upon signs, not that they had much doubt anyway, and six elves crept warily from their hiding places. Three were from Rivendell and three from Lothlorien. All were dressed for battle, bows slung at their backs, along with small backpacks that I knew contained water and lembas. At their sides were small swords, ideal for surprise attacks but not the best weapons for hand to hand combat.

" 'We had hoped that you would have been here before now,' a Lothlorien elf who seemed to be the accepted leader complained. 'We are all in place and Saruman is in no good mood.'

" 'My delay was unavoidable,' I assured him, 'and in any case I am on time by our agreed schedule. Besides, Saruman has no grounds for complaint over my tardiness now, having himself delayed this attack almost ninety years.'

" 'Saruman's mood does not concern us,' the elf replied. 'unless it bears directly on the operation. He appears to want it carried out successfully so I think you can count on his overlooking your perceived lateness, at least until we have finished with the Necromancer.'

" 'Should we move on now? My horse is very weary. I would prefer a rest of a few hours.'

" 'That is acceptable, so long as we make the rendezvous point by dawn tomorrow. After that your horse can rest at his ease, as we must proceed on foot.'

" 'In that case, rouse me when you wish to be off, or would you prefer to leave now and let me choose my departure time?'

" 'We are under orders to find you and then escort you. We will wait.'

"The elves seated themselves comfortably but did not attempt to lie down. As you know, elves can go indefinitely without sleep, though they do need to rest their minds. Unfortunately they couldn't be assured of much mind rest while on the eaves of Mirkwood and dangerously close to Dol Guldur. I considered offering to share watches with them, but I suspected that would be against orders. I saw Galadriel's point. Rest for me was more important at that time. I lay down.

"I was aroused some time later. The sky was dark and few stars were visible.

" 'Cloud,' I remarked. 'What chance of rain, do you think?'

" 'Very little, if we can read the weather.'

" 'You are probably superior to me in that area of expertise. I take it that we have no fear of its affecting the outcome of a battle.'

" 'Rain concerns us little, and our bows will function in heavy rain.'

" 'I should have known that. However, rain would not be a favourable environment for this attack. It makes a good cover for both ambush and escape.'

" 'Enough talk. We must move now.'

"I saddled and mounted my horse, who was none too happy to be ridden at such a time, but obliged me nonetheless. The elves moved off quickly at a fast lope. They, of course, made no sound at all. The horse was less quiet. I decided to keep riding anyway and leave it to the elves to tell me if the sound was too great. They made no protest.

"We went south for several hours. Finally, as the sky began to lighten in the east, the elves made signs to me to slow down, and they fanned out a little, apparently trying to pick up signals from others. At last the one on the left made a motion with his left arm and the others stopped. I reined in my horse and awaited their next move. Several more elves emerged from the eaves of the forest, followed by Saruman, white robes swirling and a frown of disapproval on his face. I held up my right hand.

" 'Ho, Gandalf! It seems you rate the escorting of dwarves' dragon hunting parties ahead of the business of the Council. Your whims could easily have destroyed our plans.'

" 'I am on time, Saruman, and you know it. The importance of Thorin's business is yet to be determined, but it may be rather more than a whim. Meanwhile, I have not adversely affected our plans, so let us continue.'

"As the elves surmised, Saruman was prepared to overlook his discontent, as he appeared very much  to desire the success of our planned attack. I dismounted, unsaddled and dismissed my faithful horse, who at once headed north. Several of the elves beckoned to us and then entered the forest, so we followed. The walking track appeared rather more overgrown than I recalled when I took it all those years ago. Probably Sauron preferred its camoflage, although it would be a brave or a foolhardy man, elf or dwarf to venture along it in any case.

"All but two of the elves ahead of us were soon lost in the deep green vegetation on either side of the narrow track, but the pair of guides stayed ahead of us. Saruman and I walked in silence. There was nothing to discuss and in any case quiet was necessary. Forest sounds were the only ones now evident, though I knew that several hundred elves were within half a mile of us. The air was cool and the sky nearly invisible through the thick tree canopy. This, we knew, would be the situation for the next two days' march. However, we needed to fear little as yet, with the elite force of elves surrounding us. Direct confrontation with the Necromancer would be another matter entirely.

"The first day passed without incident. At dusk we found a comfortable shelter just off the track and a pair of elves brought us some water and lembas. It tasted good but, after a day's march, shoe leather would probably also appeal."

"Spoken like a true trooper," put in Elessar. "I have often had that feeling myself, and usually I did not have elves to provide me with lembas."

"True indeed, and at some of those times I was there. Nevertheless, we did not eat our boots."

"I must admit, though, that I was never in the south of Mirkwood. That would have been surpassingly hazardous, at least for men. I take it, though, that Galadriel and Arwen were there", said Elessar with a glance at his queen.

"We were indeed, and we also were living on lembas and water, and that sparingly. We did not know how long this sortie might take."

"I did not see either of them or the other female elves from Lothlorien until the battle - but I am getting ahead of myself," continued Gandalf. "Next morning, for we decided not to attempt travel during the night, we set off east again. So far, as I have said, there had been no incidents and indeed no change in the atmosphere of the forest, which as best I could judge was a watchful silence except for insect sounds. No birds sang, probably because there were none there.

"Soon, however, a more sinister feel came over us. The power of the Necromancer could be felt, and normal forest sounds died away. The tree canopy appeared no thicker, yet less and less light seemed to be filtering through. It was hard for me to remember, but I did not recall having this feeling ninety years previously. I suspected that this betokened a rather more advanced state of the Necromancer's sorcery, though what directions that had taken were not yet clear. I think the elves could sense the change in the air, as they moved ever more warily, one walking behind the other rather than side by side as they had been doing the previous day. Yet for several hours there was still nothing to indicate a threat.

"We paused briefly about noon and took a little refreshment. It turned out to be just as well that we had. About two hours later cam the first alarm. I heard a sharp hiss to my right, and the two elves in front of us suddenly disappeared into the undergrowth. Saruman and I could see nothing, but our senses were on the alert so I suspected that an advance party of elves had encountered something. At this point the track went almost straight, but it was on a gentle upward slope. One of the guide elves suddenly popped out from the bushes and motioned us to get down. We continued slowly, bent almost double and in some discomfort.

"We reached the top of the upward slope and from there we had a view of forest sloping away. The guide elf again came out of cover in front of us and motioned us to stop, but to keep low. Still with no idea what had alerted them I did that and Saruman did also. Ahead the track widened a little, to the point where men could walk four or five abreast. Suddenly we saw them as they emerged from around a bend. Men walking in twos and threes. There was something decidedly strange about the gait. Saruman, however, was ahead of me in observation.

" 'Life signs!' he hissed at me. I looked for life signs, knowing what he meant. There were none at all.

" 'Zombies!' Saruman spat out the word like a curse. So: Sauron had been practicing necromancy. Now he had an army of zombies. I looked hard, trying to spot fatal wounds or other indication that these men were 'living dead', but there were no immediate signs. However, they were clad after the manner of human warriors so there could be wounds beneath their clothes, but also they may have been drowned or put to death in a way that left no wounds.

"The army was motley, to say the least. The men were of all sorts and sizes. Many, by their large size and swarthy skins proclaimed themselves easterlings and  southrons, but others could equally well have been from the north and west of Middle-Earth, and some there were who might have been Dunlendings or even possibly akin to the Woses. As befits zombies though they moved mechanically and did not speak. They all carried weapons at their hips, mostly swords of various forms, but no bows.

"The elves probably did not know with what they were dealing, and I had no mind to start explaining zombies even to their elite warriors, now although I rather desired to get the message to Galadriel in case she hadn't realised. Seconds later it became clear that she was not aware of their nature. The elves fired on the company, and many arrows found their marks, but not a man fell or even faultered. Some continued on with several arrows stuck from their chests, and the occasional man even had an arrow embedded in his head.

" 'Feel the Necromancer's presence?' asked Saruman.

"I hadn't tried to feel any guiding life force, but now that he mentioned it I could feel it, cold and hard, directing their movements.

" 'What do you purpose to do?' I asked him.

" 'Disable it'

" ' Is that possible?'

" 'I think so, if you help me. Concentrate on that life force and, when I say the word, try and engage its attention so that it must needs desert the zombies.'

" 'That may be very hard, if he has them under his control.'

" 'At the moment you do it, I will be attempting to wrest control away from him.'

"Saruman's plan seemed as if it might work, provided that the two of us together were stronger than Sauron. If we were not then presumably nothing of that sort would work and the elves would needs resort to hand to hand combat, in which they would have to completely physically immobilise each zombie, since they were already dead and therefore immune to what would normally be a fatal stroke. Clearly a zombie army could be formidable, especially in a confined situation such as this. Their drawback, however, was that they would be relatively clumsy as Sauron would need to direct all their movements.

"Saruman was apparently trying to gauge the strength that Sauron could bring to bear on control of his zombie army. He seemed to have much more grasp of the life force than I could manage. Of course, he had made a study of Sauron, but also probably he had more power that way. His presence here was vital and the outcome was entirely due to his efforts. I could never have achieved it alone. Regrettably this was Saruman's last act in direct opposition of Sauron. However, I was aware of none of that now.

"I was concentrating as well, awaiting Saruman's signal. Suddenly he made a downward motion with his right arm and whispered 'Now!'. I frantically tried to get the attention of the mind of Sauron, the force behind the zombies' control. It did not at first appear to notice my presence at all. Then, as if it had just realised my existence with the extremity of its sensory perception, it turned on me, probing me to assess what kind of mind had focused on it. It gave me the telepathic equivalent of a searching gaze, in the middle of which Saruman twitched visibly as if in the throes of a great effort, and every zombie suddenly fell down in its tracks.

"Saruman was on his knees, still struggling hard. I continued to concentrate, but the mind of Sauron was completely ignoring me now, apparently trying to regain control of the zombies. I was a bystander in this so I don't really know just how close a call it was, but in the end Saruman stood up and wiped his brow.

" 'He's lost them,' was all Saruman said. It seemed that Sauron, having lost control of the zombies had been unable to regain it and had finally given up.

" 'It's like a crocodile's jaws,' Saruman went on. 'They're a formidable weapon when they're open, but when they're shut it takes a very little force to keep them that way. Sauron could not regain control of the zombies because I was preventing him. It didn't require power superior to Sauron's, just a ruse to get him to let go in the first place. Then with a minimal effort I kept him from regaining power. He's now lost them for good. They're just corpses on the ground. It would take him days to revivify them, plus the use of a great deal of sorcery that he probably hasn't the resources for now. I think his necromancy may be at an end, but that's not to say he hasn't got some further tricks up his sleeve.'

"Several elves could now be seen, looking in amazement at the sudden collapse of the dead army. It appeared that we could continue on our way towards Dol Guldur, but the elves were taking no chances. One of our two guides popped out of nearby cover.

" 'Scouts are looking ahead. Galadriel thinks that there may be more forces, of a less sinister but still dangerous kind. We will wait for reports before proceeding, unless you have very compelling reasons otherwise.'

" 'No,' said Saruman, 'I concur with that plan. We will wait.'

"The waiting was not pleasant. The zombies were in a state of some decay and the stench was overpowering. Nevertheless, the next few hours passed uneventfully. Finally our guide again appeared from the undergrowth.

" 'There is a force of men several miles away. They appear to be alive and are well armed with both hand weapons and bows.'

" 'Unless Galadriel feels otherwise, I think that we should continue. If at all possible, the elves should ambush the force and try to get them to retreat,' said Saruman to the guide. To me he added 'I think this will be Sauron's praetorian guard. If I'm right, they will be highly proficient fighters. The elves should win but perhaps not without loss.'

" 'That is bad news,' I replied. 'I wish it could be otherwise, but we are in too deeply now.'

" 'Depending on the force and the strategy they use, we may be able to help, but I came to battle a wizard, not an army of men.'

"Our two guides reappeared on the track before us and proceeded forward, so we followed. For the next two hours there was no evidence of an opposing force, and thankfully we had moved well away from those reeking cadavers. Again, the only sounds were forest sounds: insect calls and the sighing of tree branches in the gentle wind. An apparently peaceful scene. It could only be guessed at what the mind of Sauron concentrated on now. Presumably his last line of defence.

"The first evidence of the battle was the soft twang of a bowstring nearby, followed by a frantic gesture to us from one of our guides. We got on our knees but the guide waved us down further so we lay ignominiously and completely helplessly on our stomachs. Thus it was that I missed the seeing first engagement. However the snapping of bowstrings and the thud of arrows were plainly to be heard, and clearly we had better keep low enough not to make a target for Sauron's fighters. Finally, however, I risked raising myself on my elbows.

"They had picked a natural amphitheatre for the skirmish, or perhaps it just occurred that way by coincidence. In any case, archers from both sides were attacking across a slight depression, thus giving neither side the advantage of height, but both sides could clearly see  the terrain from which the opposing side was fighting. This gave the advantage to the side that could better remain hidden and that was definitely the elves, although I had to admit that the men were well trained in camouflage also. Several times I heard the muffled scream of a man, presumably hit by an elf arrow. Elves were stoics when it came to injury so I had no idea of whether they had sustained any losses yet.

"A battle of archers would terminate when one side ran out of arrows. The elves carried twenty four arrows each; I had no idea how many arrows Sauron's men each had, nor even how many archers there were. The elves would probably have kept archers in reserve, and all of them carried bows. If it came to a shooting fight I would give the elves a big advantage, person for person, but then we did not yet know how many men Sauron had.

"The battle continued for several more minutes. It was proving difficult for either side to find a mark, which said a lot for the ability of Sauron's men to conceal themselves. Suddenly, however, there was a series of cries from the top of the rise on which Sauron's men were positioned. As I might have guessed, elves had circled around and were firing into the rear of the men's position. Perhaps they had sufficient archers and arrows to win this skirmish with no hand to hand fighting at all.

"However, such was not to be the case. A few minutes later, the arrows stopped coming from both sides. Now either side might be planning to ambush the other, but the elves were fighting for the ground, so they made the first move. Several of them darted forward. When an answering rain of arrows failed to arrive, more elves followed them. This advance must have been ordered by Galadriel. Perhaps she had a better view of the fight and could see that the men had run out of arrows. In any case, several men also came forward and soon the centre of the depression became an arena for hand to hand combat.

"Now for the first time I saw some of the attacking force, and they were formidable indeed. All large and muscular, many swarthy. Elves' strength, however, doesn't show in their bodies. I guessed that they would be a fair match for one on one fighting. So far it appeared that the elves outnumbered the men by just a little but most of the elves had not yet emerged and possibly many men still lay concealed. More, however, were continuing to emerge from hiding and enter the fray. The field was not the most suitable for swordplay, having a lot of low scrub and roots that would trip the unwary. Elves, I though, should find that to their advantage, but again these men were remarkably sure footed.

"The elves were winning. The men must have considered a retreat, but they did not retreat although many had fallen victim to elves' swords. However, to my dismay, several elves were slain. This spurred the others on, and also resulted in more combatants rising from cover and running to the thick of battle. Among them I saw several women. One of them ..."

"Do you have to tell him this?"

"I asked Gandalf to tell me everything he could remember. I knew you were there, I expected to learn that you fought. I can see that you did not fall."

"Very well", replied Arwen, somewhat mollified. "Continue."

"As I was about to say, one of them was Arwen. You know, you really look sensational in battle dress."

"Thank you," replied Arwen, not at all facetiously, but she gave the reply a well timed pause.

"Sensational or not," continued Gandalf, "the sight of her was the last thing that at least three of Sauron's men ever saw. Whether they were stunned by her beauty or were simply beaten by superior sword skill I would not like to say unequivocally, but she took no hurt that I saw, but cut down the enemy with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of mercy."

"That was not the time and place for mercy. I can show mercy and I have done so."

"Lady, I do not mean that in any way critically. As you say, Sauron's men were fighting for their lives. No doubt, had they shown any cowardice, Sauron would have had them summarily executed, had he caught up with them. It was a fight to the death in every encounter, and I was just very sad that this skirmish had already taken the lives of several elves, particularly as they were hand picked fighters, among the elite of Lothlorien. Galadriel later assured me that they would still have gone had they known their fate, and all the elves in her force were prepared to die for the cause which, let's face it, could have and indeed did concern the whole of Middle-Earth."

"But this was surely the last time that elves were in an attacking force."

"Except for Elrond's sons, and of course Legolas, yes. However, the attack on Dol Guldur was not an alliance between elves and men. It was organised by members of the White Council, ie elves and wizards. And get over Arwen's involvement. She was trained in the skills of battle, her marital prospects were at that time not good, and she was of a mind to be active. However, like most elves she is of course multi-skilled, and can handle the duties of a queen as well as those of a warrior."

"Yes. I appreciate that. It was a shock but I realise that I was remiss in not considering her range of skills to include combat. Yet the thought that she could have died on the field of battle overwhelms me."

"Oh does it? Was I expected not to be overwhelmed by the thought of you dying on the field of battle, or being ambushed in the wilds of Arnor? You are a man and a lot less capable of the preservation of your life under those conditions than an elf. Yet I had to watch you go off to war and possible death, after waiting two and a half thousand years for a husband! In any case, what is sufficient for you is sufficient for me, or for Eowyn. Why don't you talk to Faramir about warrior wives?"

"Eowyn looked for death in battle because she was in love with me and knew that her love would never be requited. She had to disguise herself as a man."

"But with the help of a hobbit she slew the Witch-King; the Lord of the Nazgul! Her deeds in battle rival the greatest of male warriors."

"Yes, and she didn't die. Point taken. Would you want everyone to know that you were a warrior?"

"Yes. Why not?"

"I'll have to think some more about that one," said Elessar after a pause.

"Meanwhile," added Gandalf, "I'll continue the narrative. I hope you're getting all this down," he said with a wink to Tekardil. The latter, ever discreet, said nothing.

"Well, the battle raged for maybe an hour or more and, sad to say, more elves lost their lives, but in the end Sauron's men were routed. All save one, a very large black skinned man with huge brass rings through his ears. He was naked to the waist and fought with a huge curved scimitar-like weapon. He stood amid the carnage and uttered a loud cry which I took for a challenge.

"At this an elf leaped from cover near the top of the rise on which the elves had been fighting. I looked and was dismayed to see that it was Galadriel. However, I suppose that shouldn't have surprised me, given that she would never have asked her troops to do things she would not do herself. Also, she was with little doubt the strongest and most skilled warrior in that elite band. A page of history needs to be written documenting the battles that she fought in. It has in the past been regarded as a secret, known only to select elves and not to be divulged. I think that time is now over, since her days in Middle-Earth are numbered.

"Her weapon was a sword, longer and heavier than the usual elf warrior's sword, but still small and light compared with the huge weapon in the hands of the man who challenged her. As she ran towards him, the man uttered something in a language unknown to me, but I suspected that it had something to do with Galadriel being female. She too, by the way, looked positively stunning in her battle dress."

"Okay, Gandalf. Just tell us what happened," put in Arwen, obviously peeved at the way Gandalf was dragging female looks into an otherwise straightforward discussion of a skirmish.

"Lady, her appearance, and yours and those of the other female elves  probably had more than a little bearing on the outcome of the fight. However, I forbear to mention it again. It never looked like a fair contest. I thought that Galadriel was playing with the human warrior. She told me later, though, that he was far more dangerous than he probably looked and that her best strategy was to tire him out a bit first. This indeed seemed to be what happened. She bobbed, ducked and weaved around, seeming often to present a tempting target, but always allowing herself plenty of time to get clear of his sweeping strokes. I saw at once that he moved too slowly and could not apparently jab at all. Had he connected, Galadriel would surely have been cut in half, but at no time did there appear to be the slightest chance of this happening.

"I might add that, while this gladiatorial combat was in progress, the other men were not standing idly by, but the elves had them well under control. None of them tried to either fight or run. Perhaps they realised that, in the event of Sauron being routed, they would get humane treatment from the elves, a thing they stood no chance of getting from Sauron in the event of failure. After maybe half an hour, though neither combatant had landed a blow, the contest between the man and Galadriel began to look rather one sided. I began to wonder whether he would surrender and what Galadriel would do at that. She was certainly more inclined to show mercy in such a situation, and mercy would have been a dangerous commodity just at that time.

"I need not have worried. He was obviously determined to fight to the death. He continued to take wilder and wilder swings. Finally, Galadriel, who was never one to wish prolonged suffering, sized him up and skewered him through the heart in one quick deft stroke. He fell forward onto her sword, and appeared quite dead as he hit the ground. Those men still left alive, and there were many, surrendered at once. All had their hands bound behind them and were escorted by the elves as we proceeded on towards the tower.

"It was nearly sunset when we reached the clearing around the Dol Guldur. There was no evidence of any activity either in or near the tower. All was quiet; suspiciously quiet, one might say. The elves, including those with prisoners, found suitable concealment in the forest, and Saruman and I went forward, very much on the alert. I could not detect any obvious signs of life in the tower, but then I thought that perhaps Sauron, with his superior powers, was able to conceal his life signs from me. It wasn't until we were halfway to the great front door that Saruman said flatly:

" 'He's gone.'

" 'You're quite sure?'

" 'Yes. He may disguise himself from me but he can't make himself completely invisible. He isn't in there and neither is anyone else.'

" 'We'd better take a look anyway.'

" 'Oh, certainly. He may have left some evidence of his departure if, as I suspect, it was hurried.'

"We nevertheless approached the door with some caution. Could he have booby trapped the tower? Saruman thought not, but he was still cautious. The door was shut and the portcullis was down.

" 'Could he have left and shut both door and portcullis after him?' I asked.

" 'I rather suspect he had another exit.'

" 'Makes sense. Where? Can he fly?'

" 'Probably not. I'd suspect a tunnel.'

" 'He has two levels of dungeons. I saw them, but I didn't see anything resembling a tunnel'

" 'It would of course be concealed. Only question is: where does it lead? One would not think that it went far.'

" 'Hopefully an examination of the dungeons will show.'

"We both examined the door and portcullis, and their workings, with our perception, and found nothing out of place. Finally, apparently satisfied, Saruman said:

" 'Stand back, Gandalf. I'm about to enter the tower.'

"He said this with a flourish. His arms then shot forward from the sleeves of his robe and he uttered a word of command. He was not trying for subtlety or concealment. There was a flash of flame and both portcullis and door were thrown to the ground in a tangle of metal and wood. We proceeded in through the now gaping doorway.

"The ground floor was as I had seen it on my previous two visits. Bare stone blocks; two sets of stairs, one up, one down. We both stood for a few minutes listening and looking for life signs, or for any other sign that an entity of great power may be about, but no signs could we find.

" 'Up or down?' I asked Saruman, rather rhetorically. I hardly expected Sauron to fly away, although wizards have been known to do similar."

"Well, yes," put in Elessar, "I recall a certain wizard leaving Orthanc by the roof, but he had some help."

"I think we could discount Sauron's receiving help from Eagles. However, the Nazgul rode some strange flying things. Perhaps something like that could have been contrived. The possibility of escape by flight did not escape me but I considered it unlikely. The existence of a tunnel leading from the dungeons seemed far more credible. Saruman evidently thought so too. Without waiting for an answer he headed downwards.

"The dungeons were as I had remembered them. A single torch flared on a wall, casting uncertain illumination on a row of cells. Stairs led to the lower floor, where the situation was similar. Here, we suspected, was a passage leading still further down. I examined the stone floor. It seemed to be uniformly paved. The stone was black and showed little of the centuries of use. A careful examination revealed no sign that any stones had been moved recently.

"Then we came to the cell doors. They all appeared to be locked, nor was there any evidence that any had been unlocked recently. However, the locks were not likely to show such evidence, and the escape tunnel could well be within one of the cells.

" 'Can you open the cell locks?' I asked Saruman. I had no mind to pick the locks if he could do it. Were I to do it, he may resent my intrusion, since he had suitably convinced me that his magic was more powerful than mine, and in any case, why should he not do the work? Saruman looked at them and scratched at his beard. After some study, he announced:

" 'I can do it but it will take time.'

" 'We are not now pressed for time as far as I am aware.'

" 'Then I suggest that you continue to make a thorough examination of the corridor, while I try and open the doors.'

"That seemed an eminently sensible suggestion. I knelt down on the floor and examined the paving blocks in more detail. They had been cut with great precision, obviously by master craftsmen. I wondered whether the work had been done under threat or promise, and what the threat or promise might have been. Perhaps both threat and promise. Dain, as we later discovered, was both threatened and promised by Sauron's emissary, though whether the promises would ever have been fulfilled is very doubtful. The threats most certainly would have. I wondered vaguely whether this work had been done by men or dwarves.

"My train of thought was interrupted by a sharp click, followed by a clang as the first cell door flew open. However Saruman was looking perplexed.

" 'These locks were made by a master locksmith, no question. Each one is entirely different. They could never be opened by one master key. Sauron must have expected some talented artisans to attempt to release his prisoners. Either that or ...'

" 'Yes?'

" 'I was just thinking: maybe this tower was built by someone else and Sauron either found it or drove the original owner away.'

" 'Or captured and killed him,' I added the obvious third alternative. 'But we would surely have heard something of the history of such a builder. He doe not figure in the history of Gondor or Arnor.'

" 'There may be other options yet. Built perhaps in trust of a promise that was later betrayed, for example.'

" 'A distinct possibility. My main question is: by men or dwarves?'

" 'I can see nothing here that would identify the species of the artisans,' announced Saruman, effectively ending the speculation. He then set about opening the next cell. Meanwhile I ventured into the first cell that he had opened.

"It was apparently bereft of any features that were not visible from the outside. The floor was the same as that of the corridor, and the walls were of similar material to the corridor wall and, for that matter, to the floor. Stones, dark, smooth and rectangular, set with great precision. The ceiling appeared to be more of the same, yet something was holding those stones in place and I couldn't see what it was. I used my sense of perception on them and found no more information than my eyes told me.

"Another click and clang announced the opening of the second door. I examined the second cell and found no more than the first. It was strange too that there appeared to be no evidence of the cells having been occupied. Sauron must have been a good housekeeper, or rather to have had one in his service. No dirt or growths of any kind were evident on the stones either. But of a hidden exit there was not the slightest trace of evidence.

"This process went on several more times, each successive cell yielding no more information than its predecessors. Finally the last cell was open and searched. We had reached the end and had drawn a blank.

" 'Maybe we should look upstairs,' I suggested.

" 'I understand your reasoning, and yet it seems wrong.'

" 'I feel the same way. I feel that I'm missing some vital clue. Yet the place is conspicuously lacking in clues.'

" 'What's behind that wall?'  Saruman mused rather than asked, looking at the end wall of the last cell. I gazed at the expanse of dark stones and thought. There appeared to be nothing, and yet...

" 'If I'm not mistaken, the stones are thicker than the others, and I can't tell what is behind them. I think there's some kind of encryption spell on it.'

"I continued to gaze at the wall, now examining at the stones minutely. They appeared to be exactly the same as all the others in the dungeon, and I would have to give Saruman best on the matter of their thickness; I could not tell how thick they were, nor would I have suspected a encryption spell, and that suggested that it was a very good spell.

" 'Could an encryption spell be put on an encryption spell?'  I asked.

" 'I couldn't do it, but I think it is possible. Indeed I suspect that it's been done here. I'm considering options I might have of breaking it.'

" 'Better you than I,' I remarked. I couldn't detect either spell, but what Saruman said made sense.

"Saruman was casting about in his memory. Soon he began trying a variety of incantations, with little visible effect, but then I had no idea what breaking the spell would show. Eventually he stopped, apparently defeated.

" 'It's no good. Neither spell is clear enough for me to analyse it. If indeed there are two spells.'

" 'How about if there's one?'

" 'Then it's a spell beyond me.'

"That would be a might powerful spell, I thought. Saruman had studied many aspects of wizardry, not the least being deception, and he could usually undo what deceivers could do. His brow was furrowed in concentration. Suddenly he brightened.

" 'Gandalf! He exclaimed, "destroy that wall for me will you?'

" 'What? Are you out of your mind? If I could do that you could too, and we'd hardly be standing around here looking useless.'

" 'You won't succeed, but I think that you might put sufficient  .. er .. pressure on those spells, or that spell, for me to crack it if I can work fast enough. When I say "go" I want you to throw everything you've got at that wall. Keep it up as long as you can. It's the only line of attack I can think of.'

" 'Okay. Just don't ask me to do a hundred pushups afterwards.'

"Saruman concentrated hard on the wall, apparently studying something that I couldn't grasp. I readied myself as best I could for a disruption spell.

" 'Go!' yelled Saruman suddenly. I shouted a word of command and threw such energy as I had behind it. The wall, not surprisingly, remained just where it was. Saruman, however, was working hard at something. Veins stood out on his temples and sweat formed on his brow. I kept up the attempt at the spell as long as I could, but eventually I was forced to let it drop. I fell on my knees, utterly exhausted.

" 'Look!' exclaimed Saruman. One of the stones had changed. Runes showed on its surface. They were very tiny, but readable. However I didn't recognise the language.

" 'I think it might be a bastardised form of Adunaic. As far as I can tell it indicates that a passage is behind the wall, but there are a lot of other words and I don't know what they mean. I suspect that it describes how to reach the passage.'

"I looked at the tiny runes. I didn't recognise any words, nor anything that would give me a clue to its language. I thought I was reasonably familiar with Adunaic.

" 'They don't look like Adunaic to me.'

" 'A very ancient mode. Mixed with something that probably predated it. Did you ever study the Edain? I mean the original three families?'

" 'Not in any detail. I understand that there were strange rumours about the origins of their original language, but that was before they developed writing.'

" 'These are Daeronic Cirth, or something very similar, but the language is beyond me except for a slight resemblance to what I recall of the original Adunaic, before Numenor. The rumour was that it was invented by Morgoth, although substantially modified by men. Sauron might use it the way elves use Quenya.'

" 'So that stone might tell us the way to find the passage but we can't translate it? How frustrating!'

" 'Cheer us. All is not lost. I think that there are some quotes, and I have a strong suspicion that they are opening commands. I think there is a door in this wall.'

" 'Makes sense. But you must no doubt pronounce the words correctly in order to get it to open.'

" 'The question is: does the opening spell have an intruder lockout spell? You know: three wrong answers and it won't try any more.'

" 'You've seen such a spell?'

" 'I've made them myself.'

" 'Well you'll presumably get several goes. Then maybe I could try. The voice would be different.'

" 'That may work or it may not. Three wrong answers; or some number of them, even one,  may disable it for a day or longer.'

" 'In that case you had better read what you can in those runes so that the guess is as good as possible.'

" 'Exactly.' Saruman went carefully through the runes, apparently looking for signs of quotes. You'll remember, though, that the west gate of Moria had an inscription that contained no quotes, yet the word needed was there. I did not think of that at the time, indeed the encrypted runes would have given me no information about either what was behind the wall or the means of getting there. Finally, however, Saruman seemed satisfied. He spoke a word of some language unknown to me. He spoke it loudly and clearly, but nothing happened.

"He mumbled something under his breath which I took for a curse, though not an effective one, and tried what sounded to me like another way of pronouncing the same word. Still nothing. We did not, of course, know whether we had one or many chances left, or even whether we had already used up our quota. Nor did we know whether the door would give us any indication of a lock-out. This was a chancy business, but Saruman persisted. He seemed to set great store by the word, varying only the pronunciation. A third time he tried with no success. Finally he pronounced the word, which appeared to have five syllables, slowly and with a distinct pause between syllables two and three, almost as if it were two words.

"Nothing appeared to happen, yet Saruman's face cracked in a grin.

" 'Got it - I think!'

" 'Nothing seems to be happening.'

" 'Patience. You didn't feel what I felt.'

"Sure enough, there was a slight vibration which could be felt in the floor. Then suddenly a crack appeared in the wall. Slowly and ponderously a section of it swung back, apparently on hinges. Silently it swung all the way back to a continuation of the far wall of the cell. We looked through the now gaping doorway.

" 'Wow!' excalimed Saruman. 'This isn't a doorway, it's a portal!'

"It was indeed huge. Horses could be ridden into the tunnel that had opened before us. It sloped gently downwards, disappearing into impenetrable gloom, but a horseman bearing a torch might well go that way, provided the horse was well trained and used to darkness. The floor was indeed flat enough to permit a wheeled vehicle. This was no simple little escape hatch, it was a major road. How far it went and in which direction could not be guessed. Clearly it had not been prepared simply as a last escape measure. It was probably used regularly to transport men and materials, and I thought I could guess where.

" 'Express road to Mordor, wouldn't you say?'

" 'To Mordor? Do you really think it goes all that way, Saruman? That is a formidable task, even given a lot of manual labour resource. Furthermore it would require extensive skilled work. Who did he get to do that? The dwarves laboured for centuries to produce Moria, and this must be of a similar magnitude.'

" 'Maybe not. Maybe he found a natural subterranean way and he had only to connect it with the surface in two places.'

" 'That is a possibility. If it's true, then he has returned to Mordor. We should soon find evidence of that event.'

" 'So what do we do now. I don't think there's any point in chasing him.'

" 'I entirely agree,' I replied. We have done all we can. At a later time a force of elves or men, preferably men, should either restore the tower for the opposition of evil or demolish it completely. That may depend on whether he has managed to corrupt the construction materials in some way. Morgoth perpetrated terrible corruption on the materials of Arda. It may not be beyond Sauron's power to emulate this in a small way.'

" 'In which case, I think we have done all we can. I have other business which I wish to pursue.'

"Little did I know that his 'other business' entailed searching near the Gladden Fields for the Ring. Indeed I had not suspected that the very Ring he sought was even at that moment in Bilbo Baggins's pocket. Nevertheless I was content to let him pursue other matters, as I wished to travel north to Erebor as fast as possible.

"We spent the night in Dol Guldur. Next morning we examined the upper levels but found nothing. The mysterious machinery that I had seen there previously had gone, as indeed had any trace of the Necromancer. Then we set off west. It was not long before we encountered the main force of elves. I discussed the disappearance of Sauron, and our finding of the well hidden tunnel, with Galadriel and .. er .."

"He means me."

"Exactly. They both agreed with us that there was nothing more we could do and that Sauron had probably gone to Mordor. The elves, I knew, were not interested in mounting an invasion of Mordor, and it was highly unlikely that any group of men would have an inclination that way either. Later, of course, the appearance of the Ring and of  .. er .. you - Isildur's heir - changed that position but by then it was too late. Sauron had built up his fortification and his forces of attack as well as defense to the point where he was unassailable.

"When we reached Anduin, Galadriel procured a horse for me and I rode north at once. I arrived at Erebor in time to witness the Battle of the Five Armies, from which it was made clear to me why there had been no orcs to oppose us at Dol Guldur - Sauron had sent them all north in the hope of taking Erebor and the dragon's hoard. I think that's about the whole story, Strider. Any questions?

"Why have you never told me previously about warrior elf women. As a close friend and confidante ..."

"Believe me, if it had ever been of the slightest importance to your campaign, you would have heard from me. It is a very well hidden tradition among the elves that their women will fight at need. However, it has always been rare. Even in Lothlorien, where it was perhaps no surprise for the fighting queen to train female warriors, the vast majority of the regular security force was male. The reserve force of females was, if you like, their 'secret weapon' to be brought out as a last ditch stand against an invading enemy. For the quest of Dol Guldur it was Galadriel's idea to use the female force, mainly to allow the regulars to defend Lothlorien in her absence.

"Arwen's desire to participate in battle was always a sore point with her father, but she was Galadriel's daughter's daughter, and she often saw her brothers setting off for battle, so the longing in her was hardly surprising. Nevertheless, its fulfillment was minimal. I think you actually slew only one person in battle before the several you cut down in the battle for Dol Guldur."

"That's right. In a skirmish with some southrons, I slew one of those huge dark skinned warriors of the sort that Galadriel dispatched in Mirkwood. They are very powerful but not nearly as swift or deft as elves and it was not difficult. But I did not rejoice in killing, though if it became necessary I didn't shirk it."

"Just at present, I can't think of anything that you haven't covered. Of course, Sauron did indeed return to Mordor, where the Barad-Dur was already awaiting him. I take it that there is a direct connection between Dol Guldur and Barad-Dur."

"If so, nobody has ever traced it. You may wish to have it done one day, but I don't think the need is pressing now. However, after that experience with the balrog in the tunnels of old Utumno, I'm inclined to think that Sauron had a passage constructed that led to one of those tunnels from Dol Guldur, and another from Barad-Dur. That way he got several hundred miles of subterranean passage free. He may have had things stored down there."

"Yes, and they may be there yet. Well, we will look into it in due course, but as you say it is not a priority. Now, there being no further business today, I think we may indulge in some more refreshment. Tekardil, you may put down your pen, my man, and take up a mug. How's your head, Gandalf? Nothing that some hair of the dog cannot mend I'm sure."



 

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