Please read the Prologue and the other post before coming to this.
The White Council was assembling in a talan atop the Cerin Amroth. It was not Amroth’s talan of old – the highest in the realm, for that was never used, this was a larger and lower one. It seemed an apt place, for all assembled in the flet could see the foul stronghold of Dol Guldur, unless they turned their backs to it. The morning was a nice one even for Lothlorien; sunny with a cool breeze blowing from the south. It was a sight which was a feast for even immortal eyes, if only they never looked east. For in the east the dark tower rose above the forest, with plumes of ever-present foul smoke above it.
Cirdan had not come to attend the council. He had, however, sent word, pledging support should an offensive be mounted, assuring that he would send out as many elves as he could out into Eriador, to help Rivendell and the rangers keep safe the borders. The leagues were long in Eriador, and the offer of help was no meager gesture on the part of the Lord of the Grey Havens.
Radagast the Brown had failed to come to the Council for the second time in succession. Rhosgobel was in Southern Mirkwood and close enough to feel the glooms of Dol Guldur, and Gandalf had been hopeful of his coming. This was far from the first time he had failed.
As Gandalf climbed up the numerous small steps to the flet, he mused about how much preparation had begun, hidden from Saruman. There had been preparations even the last time the council had met; when he had not been able to move Saruman, but not on this scale. This time, he felt, he had to succeed.
When he reached the top, he saw that the lord and lady of the Golden Wood were present before him, seated next to each other in the circle of chairs. Gandalf bowed and allowed himself a smile before taking a seat near them.
He was very glad that Celeborn had agreed to attend the council this year, for the elf had refused a seat on the council when it was formed, many centuries earlier. He had merely said that his lady wife was on the council to speak for the two of them, and that he was not overly fond of week-long discussions and debates.
Gandalf himself had not thought much of the silver-haired lord when they had met for the first time, but soon he had altered his opinion. He remembered the first time he had come to Lothlorien, Laurelindorenan as it was called then. He had come with an escort from Rivendell, and had found only the lady Galadriel in Caras Galadhon. There he had spoken long with her, and had told her as much as he had to Cirdan and Elrond, his true nature and purpose, and what he hoped to do in Middle Earth. He had given her the Elessar that day, the stone that Idril had borne to the Undying lands, as a final token of proof.
Celeborn had been visiting the northern marches then, and had returned late. He had greeted Gandalf warmly then, thinking him some lord of men. The next day however, he had been confronted by the elf. “So,” the silver-haired lord had remarked, icy in his tone and his look. “The mighty Valar wish to look beyond their mountains once more. First they burn Beleriand, and then they drown the land. After that they raise up Numenor, only to push it back down, breaking the world in the course of it. What doom do you bring for us now, my lord?”
Celeborn’s opinion of the Valar was a rather bleak one, and spending three ages of the sun (and much of the age of stars) in Middle Earth had but helped strengthen it. While the Noldo begrudged the Valar in the first age, most had realized their follies and had fallen back to their reverence for the lords of the west. The Sindar never had much love for the Valar, save for Varda Star-kindler and Orome, lord of the forests.
Gandalf had learnt much about the Noldor and the Sindar in Middle Earth, but Galadriel had not seen fit to warn him then of the intensity of Celeborn’s disposition, and Gandalf had found that he could scarce defend himself.
Many summers had passed, in which time Gandalf had picked up the name Mithrandir from the elves. During a brief visit of his to the woodland realm, Celeborn had sought him out and surprised him. He had said, “I might have been hasty in saying some words to you, Lord Mithrandir. I think that the Valar could have done much worse than sending you to Middle Earth. You have certainly done more yourself these past few years than what entire elvish races have been able to do in this age. You have my respect, and my gratitude.”
“Do I have your friendship, my lord?”
“If I could have yours.”
Gandalf woke from his reverie as others in the council started arriving. Seven chairs there were in the flet, the seventh had been added for Celeborn. They were all positioned around a great table of oak, which was piled with maps and scrolls. The chairs of those who had not come were left empty, as always. Elrond Halfelven was the one who entered, and Saruman soon followed.
The first day was spent in discussing minor matters, and tidings from scouts. They talked of uprisings in Harad and raids by the Corsairs; of wild Easterlings and gatherings in Rhun; of Dunlendings in Rohan and woodmen in Anorien. It was late in the afternoon that the council ventured into matters more immediate.
“So yet again you start your private attack on prudence, Gandalf,” Saruman commented, scorn thinly veiled in his voice. He expected Gandalf to take offense; in fact he wanted him to. Gandalf however, did not take anything of the sort. He just wanly smiled. “It is not prudence that I am prejudiced against, Saruman, but inaction. Year after year, this noble council has done but nothing, justifying inaction with prudence. After a while, nothing is justified, old friend.”
Gandalf made to reach for his pipe, but stopped, knowing that it would not help his cause. Saruman had only disdain for the Leaf, and testing Lord Curunir’s temper was the last thing Gandalf wished to do.
Elrond said, “Sauron is amassing his forces - he is filling the Hithaelgir with orcs. Yea, the dwarves had nearly halved their numbers, but now there are at least four times the number there once were.”
Gandalf continued, “He plans to attack either Lorien or Rivendell. How can we be sure that either can with stand such an attack? You may feel secure in Orthanc, Saruman, but the rest of us sleep less soundly, knowing that Sauron is back. The south has many friendly realms but the north is too open, orcs can easily pass north of the Misty Mountains and can enter Eriador through Angmar. Rivendell and what is left of the Dunedain cannot hold back this black tide. His power nearly reaches the Old Ford. All who tread east of the Anduin are besieged by an unnamed fear. Soon the shadow of the dark wood will stretch even west of the Anduin.”
A short silence followed. Celeborn sighed, “There is no place in Ennor which is perfectly safe. When Doriath could fall, when Gondolin could fall, what sureties can we claim, what strength can we rest on, to say that we can weather all evil?”
Saruman was not someone who gave up so easily, “All that you speak of may be true. But whom are we fighting? We know but naught of the enemy. It is folly to rashly attack someone about whom we know nothing of.”
“We know enough,” said Gandalf gruffly, his patience wearing thin. “I have seen him, though I believe that he did not realize who I was when he caught a glimpse of me. It is but Sauron returned, albeit a weaker and a ring less one. Had we acted ten years back, the matter might have been a trifle. He must have never been allowed to return to the lesser of his dwellings.”
Saruman made as if to stand up, but thought better of it. He was the head of the White Council and he had to maintain some decorum himself. When he spoke he spoke with a false restraint, “It is all fine for the White Council to assemble, to give thought to great and important matters, to move judgments against the greatest of evils and in spite of my being the head of this most fine council, I have to accept that ere long, words without action fade into oblivion.”
“So we want to destroy, or at least drive out the enemy – Very well, who will do it?”
Gandalf had a hint of a smile on his face, hearing Saruman speaking of action and inaction. He gently replied, “It would take all our strength Saruman, for our mission is still very difficult.”
Scorn crept into Saruman’s voice, “Typical of your Gandalf, to call on our unity in action, and hoping that the concerned matter is settled. My question remains unanswered – Who?”
“The Istari? Only two of us are left in an order originally consisting of just five, a suspicious three if you are so willing as to consider even Radagast the Brown.”
“The Eldar? Only Rivendell was bold enough to send help to Earnur against Angmar. Lorien and the people of the good Lady and the Lord have only the power to contain, to resist, but not to attack. The might of the likes of Glorfindel are of no help here, if not for a valiant and wasted death.”
“The Heirs of Isildur? Their pride and dignity forgotten, roaming the wild like dark men of twilight bereft of property or lordship.”
“The Houses of Men? Men are weak; their strength is all but imaginary. If the enemy attacks on both the western and the eastern flanks of men, Rohan and Gondor will get cornered and ere it is long they will fall. Whom else can you name who can fight a battle none of us here can even conceive?”
“Saruman, Saruman.” Said Gandalf with a laugh, “No one has ever accused you of being hasty, but I think that this time you did get quite carried away. Even if we are going to make war on Dol Guldur, we would hardly go with banners flying and armour gleaming! I have some ideas as to how we can attack the enemy.”
“What do you propose, a foolish prank, perhaps?” Saruman was really caught off guard by the good humour of Gandalf, so he asked a rather unwise question, when he should have just kept quiet and waited.
“Well, No one has ever accused you of having patience either. Listen to what I have to say.”
PS. Every single time I read this, I find some new error to correct. When will it end? When?