Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli catch up with Merry and Pippin, finally getting the answers to their riddles.
‘Now let us take our ease here for a little!’ said Aragorn. ‘We will sit on the edge of ruin and talk, as Gandalf says, while he is busy elsewhere. I feel a weariness such as I have seldom felt before.’ He wrapped his grey cloak about him, hiding his mail-shirt, and stretched out his long legs. Then he lay back and sent from his lips a thin stream of smoke.
‘Look!’ said Pippin. ‘Strider the Ranger has come back!’
‘He has never been away,’ said Aragorn. ‘I am Strider and Dúnadan too, and I belong both to Gondor and the North.’
It’s nice to see them able to relax and enjoy one another’s company – it’s the first reunion of the Company (what’s left of it) since the last book. But of course, it’s not without some plot-relevance, as they get to discussing Pippin and Merry’s story.
‘All this about the Orcs of Barad-dûr, Lugbúrz as they call it, makes me uneasy,’ said Aragorn. ‘The Dark Lord already knew too much, and his servants also; and Grishnákh evidently sent some message across the River after the quarrel. The Red Eye will be looking towards Isengard. But Saruman at any rate is in a cleft stick of his own cutting.’
‘Yes, whichever side wins, his outlook is poor,’ said Merry. ‘Things began to go all wrong for him from the moment his Orcs set foot in Rohan.’
They explain about the trees that went to Helm’s Deep (as far as they know or guess): They’re called “Huorns” by the Ents, and seem to be capable of movement because they are (or used to be) Ents themselves, but they’ve gotten to the point where they look like trees and generally stay put (and can only communicate with other Ents or trees).
‘[The Ents] pushed, pulled, tore, shook, and hammered; and clang-bang, crash-crack, in five minutes they had these huge gates just lying in ruin; and some were already beginning to eat into the walls, like rabbits in a sand-pit. I don’t know what Saruman thought was happening; but anyway he did not know how to deal with it. His wizardry may have been falling off lately, of course; but anyway I think he has not much grit, not much plain courage alone in a tight place without a lot of slaves and machines and things, if you know what I mean. Very different from old Gandalf. I wonder if his fame was not all along mainly due to his cleverness in settling at Isengard.’
‘No,’ said Aragorn. ‘Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvellously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. That power he certainly still keeps. There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him, even now when he has suffered a defeat. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, perhaps, now that his wickedness has been laid bare, but very few others.’
Saruman was caught by surprise, but even after he’s lost his armies and the Ents have effectively drowned Isengard, he’s far from powerless, and to underestimate him is dangerous – he is still a wizard, after all!
Then Pippin explains how Gandalf came around and seemed to solicit Treebeard’s aid, and also how Wormtongue came into the picture.
‘“No one else would dare to ride through the open land, so full of foul Orcs,” [Wormtongue] said, “so I was sent. And I have had a perilous journey, and I am hungry and weary. I fled far north out of my way, pursued by wolves.”
‘I caught the sidelong looks he gave to Treebeard, and I said to myself “liar”. Treebeard looked at him in his long slow way for several minutes, till the wretched man was squirming on the floor. Then at last he said: “Ha, hm, I was expecting you, Master Wormtongue.” The man started at that name. “Gandalf got here first. So I know as much about you as I need, and I know what to do with you. Put all the rats in one trap, said Gandalf; and I will. I am the master of Isengard now, but Saruman is locked in his tower; and you can go there and give him all the messages you can think of.”’
So now Saruman and Wormtongue are locked in the tower together, while Gandalf, Théoden, and co are hanging out with Treebeard (and presumably trying to figure out what to do with them).
‘After the Ents had gone, we felt tired, and hungry. But we did not grumble – our labours had been well rewarded. It was through our search for man-food that Pippin discovered the prize of all the flotsam, those Hornblower barrels. “Pipe-weed is better after food,” said Pippin; that is how the situation arose.’
‘We understand it all perfectly now,’ said Gimli.
‘All except one thing,’ said Aragorn: ‘leaf from the Southfarthing in Isengard. The more I consider it, the more curious I find it. I have never been in Isengard, but I have journeyed in this land, and I know well the empty lands that lie between Rohan and the Shire. Neither goods nor folk have passed that way for many a long year, not openly. Saruman had secret dealings with someone in the Shire, I guess. Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Théoden’s.’
The pipe-weed started off as a joke, but Aragorn’s proven that his suspicions are worth considering, to say the least…
Next time: The Voice of Saruman.