Life was as quiet as it ever was those days for about the next month. Éowyn was worried about her brother out on the frontier and, while Laramir knew he could take care of himself, she found that she missed his company – which came as quite a surprise, since she did much more with Éowyn than she did with him or Théodred. Then one August morning she and Éowyn had to give up this lazy rou-tine for more pressing concerns.
Outside it was a miserable Tuesday morning. Farmers sat by the fires of the local pubs, discussing how much they needed the rain and how glad they were not to have to be out in the muck. Prairie dogs had climbed out of their holes as their underground homes flooded and now sat under overhanging grasses staring at each other, listening to the pounding rain. Suddenly they heard another sound, a giant, powerful swoosh, and saw the fast-approaching shadow. They scurried off to find safer shelter just as the mammoth bird let its burden fall to the ground.
“Gwaihir, my friend, thank you.” The burden rolled over and closed its eyes as the mud seeped into its cloak and the dirty rain-water into its tangled gray beard. When at last his eyes refocused, they settled on the woman walking toward him. She had dark auburn hair set in a loose braid pinned out of her way on the top of her head and wore a purple wool jumper over a cream cotton blouse and fur-trimmed boots. In this weather she also wore a dark-gray woollen cloak, and just now the fur-trimmed hood framed her well-tanned face. She knelt beside the old man and studied his haggard face.
“Gandalf. You look terrible.”
“Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
An hour later the man was sitting in an arm chair in Laramir’s and Éowyn’s parlor, dressed in silk pajamas borrowed from Théodred. Éowyn had brewed them some tea and produced apple ginger bread and honey left over from breakfast. Laramir and Gandalf ate while Éowyn washed his clothes and Théodred started a stew. “Now, tell me what happened.”
“No time,” he said between sips. “I must see the king, immediately.”
“Good luck with that one!” Théodred snorted from the other room. “Don’t get me wrong. Wormtongue may let you see him, but immediately, now that’s a whole other matter.”
“I don’t remember any W – surely not that slimy-haired creature who tied the king’s right shoe!”
“The very same,” Éowyn replied. “Laramir, you don’t know, you weren’t here, but years ago Papa would reward loyal nobles by allowing them to help him dress in the morning.”
“A warrior,” Gandalf said, “doesn’t need two lords to hold out his silk waistcoat while he slips it on.”
“No, but a king does, or so uncle thought,” said Éowyn as she came in. Having left the clothes to soak, she pulled up a chair from the kitchen table and sat down to listen to Gandalf’s tale, chuckling. “Though now Théoden doesn’t have twenty nobles in his whole court: Wormtongue dresses the king on his own. The rest have returned to their own towns to protect them from what Worm keeps saying – “
“Worm?” Gandalf asked.
“That’s what we call him, not to his face of course,” Laramir chimed in.
“Snake would be more fitting. Go on.”
“Well, he keeps saying that the towns attacked are on the wrong border, that orcs would have to cross the whole country to at-tack those western towns.”
“He’s wrong. Or lying.” Gandalf looked out the window at the falling rain. “Fitting weather. Shut your doors and pull your cur-tains. Théoden should hear what I’m about to say first from me, not from his baker who heard it on the street. It’d be better that Théoden heard it before even you, Laramir, but if the situation in Meduseld is as bad as you say, I may not have the chance later. And you need to know.
“Very well. First, I’m not a man, but a wizard – you’ve managed to figure that out, I suppose, Laramir, but Éowyn and Théodred, you probably don’t. I was sent to keep this middle earth from destroying itself. But I’m not the only one.” He sighed and looked at the fire longingly. “Laramir, I don’t suppose – it’s such a dreary morning, and such a long tale – do you still have your pipe?”
Laramir opened a drawer in the chest next to her. “I wondered when you’d ask,” she said with a smirk as she readied two pipes and handed one to Gandalf. Éowyn went around, locking the doors and pulling the cur-tains while Mellamir and Gandalf sat and smoked. A moment later Théodred came in, coughing. He opened a window and pulled back the curtains to let out the smoke. “Either the smoke goes out, or I do, I’m afraid; can’t stand the smell of the stuff. No one’s out today, they won’t hear us.”
“Very well,” Gandalf said. “Now where was I? Oh, yes – wizards. There are several of us, but the most powerful is Saruman. We each study some area of lore. I study the free people and all types of fire; Saruman studies the great rings.
“It’s ancient history, but some of it bears repeating. You all know of Sauron, the Dark Lord? Mellamir, your brother Faramir will soon be fighting his orcs, and Théoden fears him as well. He made many rings. Nine he gave to the kings of men and seven to the dwarves. The elves also made rings, three of them: Elrond has one, the ruler of Rivendell, where Boromir has gone to try and find–yes, I know all about Boromir’s quest–and good luck to him! Galadriel, queen of Lothlórien, has an-other of those rings. She’s both beautiful and perilous, if just because she’s do intense. But Sauron kept the greatest Ring for himself. As it is written,
One Ring to rule them all, one Ring to find them.
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
That one Ring has been found. Sauron knows this. And Saruman, because he knows all about the rings, he also knows this, and knows what is at stake.”
“But what is at stake?” asked Éowyn. “If it’s just a ring… “
“Your life is at stake. Your peoples’ freedom, and the freedom of all the free people of the West, is at stake. The One Ring has been found, and it’s now in the possession of a halfling, named Frodo – “
“Halfling?” Théodred interrupted.
“Oh, I know that,” Mellamir jumped in. “Éowyn, you remember long ago there were kings of Gondor? Well, according to old leg-ends many of that line and their companions went away to the north. Gandalf told me a while ago that there’s a race of short people who live in a valley and are protected by those men. They’re called halflings because most of them are only about half the height of a man, only look like they’re half-grown boys.”
“Indeed,” Gandalf said. “Well spoken. A Halfling found this ring centuries ago. Seventy years ago Bilbo won it – Frodo’s his cousin. At any rate, Sauron now knows it’s been found. And he’s sent out those nine kings to find it. Now Saruman, he’s not been idle either. He’s breeding an army, but not of orcs. Orcs are weak – they hate the sun and can’t march in it for any length of time. But these uruk-hai, as Saruman calls them, they’re a cross between orcs and goblin men. They’re stronger and faster than orcs and can move in daylight. They’re the ones attacking your western villages, with the help of orcs Sauron sent him long ago: orcs don’t need to cross Rohan from Mordor any more.
“Just now, Saruman is still loyal to Sauron, and he’ll tell his uruk-hai to do what Sauron orders. Just now. But Saruman is proud, and he may yet try to capture the ring himself, and challenge Sauron.”
Wormtongue kept Gandalf waiting a week before he called the wizard in to see Théoden. No one knows for sure what happened at that meeting, but Laramir and Éowyn could guess well enough: Gandalf told what he’d seen, and Wormtongue called him a warmongering old fool, and sent him on his way for lack of proof. Whatever happened Théoden wasn’t convinced. He would not risk open war with what he thought to be Rohan’s biggest ally. He did, however, agree to lend Gandalf a horse, any horse he wanted, so the fool could go look for help elsewhere.
Gandalf went to the fields outside Edoras and chose a wonderful horse: Shadowfax. He was white as snow and knew every trail in the Gap of Rohan. Gandalf spent several days breaking him, eating supper with Éowyn and Laramir. One day he didn’t come in to dinner, and Laramir somehow knew that he was going to find this Shire he worked so hard to protect. Gandalf the Gray was never seen again in Edoras.