Read the needful - the prologue and the first chapter before turning to this. If you want to, that is.
The White Council had adjourned by the evening of the first day. After a light meal all had retired, weary and exhausted after all the debate. Now all had gathered again for the second day of discussions. There was still much to be done, for the council had not yet even agreed to go ahead with anything. Saruman did not seem as hostile as he did on the first day. But neither did he seem weak of thought and mind, Gandalf mused.
It was he who began the day’s proceedings, starting off from exactly where he left off, “The threat of Dol Guldur is two fold – if we have to think of launching an offensive on it, we have to consider not one but two things. First, we must be capable of gaining an entry into Dol Guldur and be able to fight or drive out those of his minions he chooses to send against us.” Saruman made to say something but Gandalf quickly continued. “Secondly, we should be able to challenge the Dark lord himself, and overpower him. At the least we should be able to drive him out.”
“The leaf of the Halflings has dulled your wit, Gandalf. Did you wholly forget what all was said yesterday, or did you not even bother to hear any but yourself?” said Saruman dangerously. “It is fine for you to say ‘we need an army’. Whom will you go beg, the dwarves?”
“I suggest you ask the others here.” Gandalf said, with a rather patient expression on his face, pointing to the Eldar seated all around them. Saruman rounded on Elrond first, and then on Galadriel, but both seemed to be hesitant to say anything. However, a light in their eyes told him that they were quite serious. He quite unexpectedly caught the lady’s eyes, could not endure it for too long, and quickly did he shift his gaze.
“So does lord Mithrandir here speak the truth?” He had recovered quite well from the initial shock, diplomacy quickly replacing the incredulity and the surprise in his voice. “Are you my good lord and lady, changing your wise policy of blocking out all evil from this closeted realm of the elves?” He had never expected the elves to actually agree to come forth from their realms, especially not the ones of Lothlorien, who seemed so hesitant to go even to Rivendell. “I am certain that you all have not forgotten the sorrow of the previous ages, my lords. Death, suffering, loss – there was not an elf who did not despair from all this. Then my lords, you established fine havens – Lindon, Lorien, and Rivendell, worthy of more than just residence.” Saruman was not called an awe-inspiring speaker for nothing, even the great could he inspire, the powerful he could make humble and the wise he could convince. “It is within these realms that safety has reigned, even whilst the outer world is in sorrow. Yet, I see that the elves despair, seeking yonder shores while losing all love for the lands they are staying in. In spite of these havens of safety, their hearts sicken, and the call of the west overpowers their life.” He said, now looking straight at Elrond, who all of a sudden did not feel comfortable. “Yea, verily they find that healing in the west, but they leave those of us still bound to the east. But tell me, lords and lady, who are those who seek the west? Are they not those who left these havens? Are they not those who wandered in the treacherous ways of Middle Earth? There are none who sickened in the safety of these realms , and became lost to us.”
“Yet now I am told that the elves are again ready to go forth and battle – is it not folly? An elf, who might still sing fairly and dance merrily for many a thousand summers, is it right for us to send him to be needlessly butchered by orcs?”
A fire was smouldering in Gandalf's eyes, but he did not speak, for this was something for the Eldar to decide. Saruman continued, “Is it not enough that the elves have shed their blood for two ages of the sun? My lords and lady, if you had a duty to this world, you have done thrice as much. Should not this matter be left to the mortals, who are no short in number, and seem to be ever the happier in the taking of lives?”
Celeborn stirred. He usually did not have the patience to either give or receive long sermons, yet this once he endured it. He saw through all of Saruman’s intentions and was angered by the way he had singled out Elrond, by the way he had used Elrond's sorrow to sway his will. Celebrian’s passing was not something that Celeborn had accepted lightly. When he spoke, he was surprised that his voice was not at all harsh. When he spoke, he spoke as much to his wife and his son-in-law, as to the wizard. “Why do we live here, O Curunir, when the Valar have permitted all elves to go seek refuge in the west? Why do we linger, in darkness and in despair, when we are offered a place among the great ones? It is because we love middle earth, we love the stars and the sky and the land. This is home, Curunir, our home. We would do all in our power to protect that which we love.”
“But No! We elves have formed these self-same havens and started living in what we think is bliss. We think that we have walled out all evil, but Nay! All we have done is walled ourselves in.”
“No more! No more can I rest when the shadow spreads. No more can I stay calm when the night under stars is no longer safe, when the dark is no longer clean.”
Saruman was running out of persuasions by which he could stop what was happening. To begin with, he was unhappy that Celeborn had come for the Council meet. Elrond he found pliable, the once-herald of Gil-Galad was now a lore master and mainly desired peace. Though he had no power whatsoever over the lady, oh how he hated her, still he could have control as even she was usually reluctant to do anything outside her own realm. But Celeborn! He was too stubborn, too straight forward in thought to thwart. What frustrated him the most, was that what Celeborn had just said made sense even to him. He might have readily agreed with the idea of an offensive had it but come a few decades, or even a few year later, for he would then be in a much more powerful position by then. Now was too soon for him. He stayed silent, head bowed and pondering over some thought.
It was Gandalf who broke the uncertain quiet that followed Celeborn’s words. Galadriel and Elrond did have some misgivings that Saruman had kindled. He spoke not with ease but with pain. “There are some tidings that I bear, that none here know about.” Now that he had started speaking, he found it a trifle easier to continue. “In my journey from the edge of Mirkwood, I had to cross the Gladden River. It was when I descended to the water from the northern bank that I noticed it. There was an evil there, amidst the marshes – a presence I could not fully recognize, yet hauntingly familiar. Never had I felt this power since I last ventured into Dol Guldur. Here my passage was not going to go unnoticed, for here I was the one who had stumbled in. All I could do was to feign ignorance and move forward for naught else could I even attempt to do.”
“One can but see what this means. Sauron is looking for the One Ring. Yes, yes, every year you comfort us Saruman, by saying that the ring has passed down to the sea from the Anduin, and I will agree, if only for now. What should be of immediate concern to all of us is that Sauron’s might has certainly grown, if it has to reach the eastern edge of the Misty Mountains. He can no longer be taken for granted. We have to act now.”
All in the room were taken aback, disturbed by these tidings, not even Saruman could remain aloof. Nay, he still did not yield, nor did he speak. Finally Galadriel spoke, softly yet firm of mind. She had finally chosen. “Prudence is no longer a choice for us. Even now Sauron has the power to reach across the Anduin. We should look to our own borders. Is there not wisdom in the offensive?”
Elrond was the only one who had not spoken. At that moment he seemed too fidgety for so noble an elf. He kept fingering something in his hands, but stopped when the others started looking in his direction. With no small delay he made up his mind. “Yes, we shall come out. Rivendell will not stand aside, we will aid this endeavor as best as we may. We will do our duty.”
Saruman knew that he had lost. He sighed, weary of speech, aware that the offensive would serve him too. “Very well. I will yield to the Council’s wishes. We may yet be right in our actions. I will not hinder anything.”
“No, Saruman – indeed your refusal to hinder is not enough,” said Gandalf. “It is with your help that we can hope to achieve anything.”
“I am no warrior Gandalf, though you may fancy yourself to be one. I cannot fight!” said Saruman in alarm.
Gandalf laughed merrily. “No! We do not need you to fight. Hopefully, there are enough for that. We need your craft Saruman. We need your power to enter Dol Guldur. Let me elaborate.”
Elaborate he did, for the greater part of the day. Gandalf had not prevailed over him in the council for many score years now. As significant as Saruman's agreement for action was, Gandalf did not have a very easy time explaining his strategies to the other Istar. He faced sharp questions from Elrond and Galadriel, the elves had pledged support and were making sure that every risk being taken was a worthwhile one. Celeborn had a glint in his eye, yet he posed no question. He thanked the lord of Lothlorien in his thoughts.
As the council made to depart the chamber, Celeborn gave Gandalf a meaningful glance, and Gandalf tarried as the others moved past him. His words were softly spoken. "Dangerous is the path you tread, my lord, tread softly. A glimpse of the truth here, a flash of it there, you seem to have perfected the art of saying nothing but the truth yet pointing somewhere else."
Gandalf allowed himself a small chuckle. "Not so perfect then, if you saw through it. We shall speak in length, Lord Celeborn, and not just because you ask."
Celeborn nodded, and the twain followed the rest to climb down from the talan.