‘Will I come down? … Does an unarmed man come down to speak with robbers … ? I can hear you well enough here. I am no fool, and I do not trust you, Gandalf. …’
‘… I do not wish to kill you, or hurt you … I am giving you a last chance. You can leave Orthanc, free – if you choose.’
‘That sounds well,’ sneered Saruman. ‘Very much in the manner of Gandalf the Grey: so condescending, and so very kind. …There are conditions, I presume?’
‘ … Your servants are destroyed and scattered; your neighbours you have made your enemies; and you have cheated your new master … When his eye turns hither, it will be the red eye of wrath. But when I say “free”, I mean “free: … to go where you will, even, even to Mordor, Saruman, if you desire. But you will first surrender to me the Key of Orthanc, and your staff. They shall be pledges of your conduct, to be returned later, if you merit them.’
… Gandalf laughed. …
’Saruman, Saruman!’ said Gandalf … ‘Saruman, you missed your path in life. You should have been the king’s jester and earned your bread, and stripes too, by mimicking his counsellors. … I fear I am beyond your comprehension. But you, Saruman, I understand now too well. … When last I visited you, you were the jailor of Mordor, and there I was to be sent. Nay, the guest who has escaped from the roof, will think twice before he comes back in by the door. Nay, I do not think I will come up. … Will you not come down? Isengard has proven less strong than your hope and fancy made it. … Would it not be well to leave it for a while? To turn to new things, perhaps? … Will you not come down?’
‘But you, Gandalf! For you at least I am grieved … How comes it that you can endure such company? … Even now will you not listen to my counsel?’
Gandalf stirred, and looked up. ‘What have you to say that you did not say at our last meeting?’ he asked. ‘Or, perhaps, you have things to unsay?’
Saruman paused. ‘Unsay?’ … ‘Unsay? I endeavoured to advise you for your own good, but you scarcely listened. You are proud and do not love advice, having indeed a store of your own wisdom. But on that occasion you erred, I think, misconstruing my intentions wilfully. I fear that in my eagerness to persuade you, I lost patience. And indeed I regret it. For I bore you no ill-will; and even now I bear none, though you return to me in the company of the violent and the ignorant. … Are we not both members of a high and ancient order … Much we could still accomplish together, to heal the disorders of the world. … For the common good I am willing to redress the past, and to receive you. … Will you not come up?’
… Saruman for a while was beside himself with wrath. He leaned over the rail as if he would smite the King with his staff. To some suddenly it seemed that they saw a snake coiling itself to strike.
‘Gibbets and crows!’ he hissed, and they shuddered at the hideous change. ‘Dotard! What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs? Too long have they escaped the gibbet themselves. But the noose comes, slow in the drawing, tight and hard in the end. Hang if you will!’ Now his voice changed, as he slowly mastered himself. ‘I know not why I have had the patience to speak with you. For I need you not, nor your little band of gallopers, as swift to fly as to advance, Théoden Horsemaster. Long ago I offered you a state beyond your merit and your wit. I have offered it again, … You give me brag and abuse. So be it. Go back to your huts!’
‘We will have peace,’ said Théoden … ‘Yes, we will have peace,’ he said … ‘we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished – and the work of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just – as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired – even so, what will you say of your torches in the Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Háma’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’
‘If we speak of poisoned tongues what shall we say of yours, young serpent?’ said Saruman, and the flash of his anger was now plain to see. ‘But come, Éomer, Éomund’s son!’ he went on in his soft voice again. ‘To every man his part. Valour in arms is yours, and you win high honour thereby. Slay whom your lord names as enemies, and be content. Meddle not in policies which you do not understand. But maybe, if you become a king, you will find that he must choose his friends with care. The friendship of Saruman and the power of Orthanc cannot be lightly thrown aside … You have won a battle but not a war – and that with help on which you cannot count again. …
‘But my lord of Rohan, am I to be called a murdered, because valiant men have fallen in battle? If you go to war, needlessly, for I did not desire it, then men will be slain. But if I am a murderer on that account, then all the House of Eorl is stained with murder … I say, Théoden King: shall we have peace and friendship, you and I? …’
‘What have you to say, Théoden King? Will you have peace with me, and all the aid that my knowledge, founded in long years, can bring? Shall we make our counsels together against evil days, and repair our injuries with such good will that our estates shall both come to fairer flower than ever before?’
… Éomer spoke.
‘Lord, hear me!’ he said ‘Now we feel the peril that we were warned of. Have we ridden forth to victory, only to stand at last amazed by an old liar with honey on his forked tongue? So would the trapped wolf speak to the hounds, if he could. … will you parley with this dealer in treachery and murder? Remember Théodred at the Fords, and the grave of Háma at Helm’s Deep!’
It was Gimli the dwarf who broke in suddenly. ‘The words of this wizard stand on their heads,’ he growled, gripping the handle of his axe. ‘In the language of Orthanc help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain. …’
’Peace!’ said Saruman, and for a fleeting moment his voice was less suave and a light flickered in his eyes and was gone. ‘I do not speak to you yet, Gimli Glóin’s son,’ he said. ‘Far away is your home and small concern of yours are the troubles of this land. But it was not by design of your own that you became embroiled in them, and so I will not blame such part as your have played - a valiant one, I doubt not. But I pray you, allow me first to speak with the King of Rohan, my neighbour, and once my friend.’
… ‘Two at least of you I know by name. Gandalf I know too well to have much hope that he seeks help or counsel here. But you, Théoden Lord of the Mark of Rohan, … Why have you not come before, and as a friend? Much have I desired to see you, mightiest king of western lands, and especially in these latter years, to save you from the unwise and evil counsels that beset you! … Despite the injuries that have been done to me, in which the men of Rohan, alas! have had some part, still I would save you, and deliver you from the ruin that draws nigh inevitably, …”
Théoden opened his mouth as if to speak, but he said nothing. He looked up at the face of Saruman with its dark solemn eyes bent down upon him, and then to Gandalf at his side; and he seemed to hesitate. … The Riders stirred at first, murmuring with approval of the words of Saruman; … It seemed to them that Gandalf had never spoken so fair and fittingly to their lord. … over their hearts crept a shadow, the fear of a great danger: the end of the Mark in a darkness to which Gandalf was driving them, while Saruman stood beside a door of escape, holding it half open so that a ray of light came through. …
They looked up, astonished, for they had heard no sound of his coming; and they saw a figure standing at the rail, looking down upon them: an old man, swathed in a great cloak, the colour of which was not easy to tell, for it changed if they moved their eyes or if he stirred. His face was long, with a high forehead, he had deep darkling eyes, hard to fathom, though the look that they now bore was grave and benevolent, and a little weary. His hair and beard were white, but strands of black still showed about his lips and ears.
’Like, and yet unlike,’ muttered Gimli.