Lord of the Rings Sequel — Return of the Istari (Fan Fiction)

This is a screenplay I wrote in the last year, a sequel to The Lord of the Rings. I am publishing it on here for free as fan fiction. The screenplay takes place seven years after the events in the original trilogy. This is the first of three screenplays I’m planning eventually on the return of Morgoth, Sauron’s overseer, to Middle Earth. I really enjoyed writing it, and I think it captures the spirit of the books in a lot of ways, while also including some elements that Peter Jackson added in.

Plot Summary: After learning of a long lost elven ring called the Great Ring, Gandalf travels with two other istari to Moria to find it. Forged by Gil-galad and forgotten by all save a few among the wise, the Great Ring is the equal to the One Ring in power but of elven, not evil, origin. At the same time as Gandalf’s return from the Grey Havens, orcs, under the control of Middle Earth’s old terror Morgoth, are moving northward to Beleriand, assembling to challenge Gondor’s might in a final battle.

The Return of the Istari      by M.P. Gunderson

Act I

Galadriel (Voice)
The One Ring was the worst weapon the inhabitants of Middle Earth had ever faced, and it demise marked the end of an era dominated by the terror of Sauron. But before that time, in the First Age, there was an even worse terror for Middle Earth: his name was Morgoth. Morgoth was even more powerful than Sauron, and it was Morgoth who taught Sauron the arts of the Rings of Power.
Morgoth fell in the end to Gil-galad in the First Age in a mighty struggle for power between elves and orcs. Had he not fallen, Sauron would have been a slave, not a master.
But Morgoth’s power was not completely vanquished. Unlike Sauron, his fall was not so deep as Sauron’s, when the Ring fell for the final time into the fires of Mount Doom. With his own ring, more powerful than the three elven rings of old, Gil-galad banished Morgoth to a realm where his power and reach were faint. Gil-galad believed his power had defeated Morgoth forever, but it was not so. Morgoth’s spirit had not fully departed, and there was one way, only one way, to bring him back…
Seven years have passed in Middle Earth since the Ring was destroyed, and peace has mostly reigned on Middle Earth. There is but one war in the whole world, occasional skirmishes between Gondor and the Southrons to the south.

We see Aragorn in Gondor, sitting in an ornate silver chair, looking slightly older. A goblet of wine is playing in his fingers. Light is pouring in through the window of the tower of Gondor. Beyond him, we can see the garden of Ithilien, beyond the palace’s high doors, where the white tree is still growing, taller and more stately than before. He goes to the window and glances toward Mordor, the dark mountains. A scout enters and stands before him in the sunlight, angling in through the window. 

Scout
My liege.

Aragorn
Nimor. What news from Osgiliath?

Nimor 
The Southrons have fallen back for a while.

Aragorn
Fallen back? That is unlike them. They are not wont to retreat, even at the point of a sword.

Nimor
As you know, sire, it seems they are awaiting some word from one of their kings to the south, the King Agnis. It might be some new mighty weapon they devise against us. Sometimes, their custom is to do this when they have some new design or weapon. It is a feigned move perhaps to make their opponents believe they are weak when they are in fact at their strongest.

Aragorn
That is true. I had not foreseen this. And the troops’ spirits are high?

Nimor
Yes, much higher. The Black Land is vacant still, as it has been. With it empty, they remain in high spirits. There have been few deaths to report. And some have even been reporting the sight of Ents down that way, tearing up stones and towers deep into Southron territory.

Aragorn 
That is not entirely news to me. I saw the Ents from afar recently. I do not believe they are from Fangorn, if you can believe it.

Nimor
Yes, they look different. Smaller and more shapely. Perhaps they are the Entwives, the long lost ones of yore that the Ent men still grieve over.

Aragorn 
Perhaps. I was thinking the same thing. But I am not sure the Black Land is so inactive, as you say. I see things moving there in my inner sight from time to time, though nothing stirs when I look at it from this tower. Have you seen any movement there?

Nimor
No, not all, sire, though I must admit that myself and the rest of the men dare not gaze upon it most of the time.

Aragorn
That is generally best. To stare at evil past is not good sometimes. And to dwell on it when it is around is even worse. Tell Faramir to keep a close eye on Mordor if he can, at least here and there. My heart fears something evil is afoot there or somewhere else in Middle Earth, but I know not what. Faramir is above all wise, and the sight of the place at least here and there will do little harm to one so incorruptible.

The scene pivots to Gandalf, sitting in a golden forest in the Grey Havens. Around him elves, including Elrond, are sitting in front of ring of high stones, like Stonehenge. Fractured sunlight plays in the forest. The soft singing of elves plays in the background. 

Elf woman
What is amiss, Mithrandir?

Gandalf
Oh, nothing. I was just thinking that I miss the Shire, as does Frodo as well. I think Frodo misses not only the Shire but Sam as well.

Elf woman
That he does. But he is happier here, to be sure. Were it not for the pain inside him, he would still be there in the Shire. Perhaps someday Sam and the rest will join us.

Gandalf
I hope so too. But I am wondering about going back. I know it is not best to do so. It is better for my health and mind here, but I have a strange feeling things are not as they should. I apologize. I have masked the truth to an extent.

Elrond
I think you are right at some level, Gandalf. Often has your heart felt the future before many reckon it. There is some evil afoot in the northern lands of Middle Earth. That is what I see, but my reading of the matter is obscured, and I do not why. But I recommend you stay here until you know for certain. Bad decisions do not come to pass as much in the Grey Havens. In Middle Earth, you may tarry and find yourself at a loss, as you once occasionally did.

Gandalf 
You are right, I think, but the east bears troubling signs in it. I have dreams of a dark tower at night sometimes, one I have never seen before on Middle Earth. Only a powerful dark lord might be able to give me these dreams.

Elrond 
There are other dark lords. Some have lived in these islands, many leagues away. Their thoughts and spells still linger in this place like a mist, though their spirits have fled these places. I trust it is probably that. But it is nothing more than that. Their war and terror cannot enter this place, not since Gil-galad sealed this place with his will long ago in the First Age.

Gandalf 
I hope you are right, but I wonder if the white palantír can tell us what is happening in Middle Earth. Have you not used it recently?

Elrond
I did not direct my mind with it thither. I looked at the Southron army to the south. The war there is going well, but there are things I did not see.

Gandalf
The white palantír is not so dangerous. Would that Denethor and the other kings of yore had used it instead. The Dark Lord could not have controlled the white one to his will.

Elrond
Yes, the white is ruled by Gil-galad himself, who turns the mind to see what Gil-galad sees in his mind.

The screen shifts to a white tower room in the Grey Havens where Elrond lives. Marble white floors cover the floor of the place. Paintings of elves who came before him in his lineage adorn the walls. Sunlight impinges in through the window, casting its light on the pedestal where the white palantír is lying.

Elrond
You may touch it for a while if you like, Mithrandir. I have not urged you into this room often because I am inclined to let you rest. Your life was tougher than most of ours in Middle Earth, and I do not want you to ponder too long on the things of that world. But be that as it may, you have a deep longing to help, even those in the greatest need and even when it is at great expense to yourself. It is not an ignoble desire. Would that more had it, your burden would have been lighter all along.

Gandalf
Perhaps it would have. But you know the reason why I worked so hard. The White Council foresaw long ago that I would have done many things, while the rest sat back and thought and watched. But that is my way: I am not inclined to sit idly while the rest of the world is in peril.

Elrond steps aside. Gandalf moves over and places his gnarled, old hands on the surface of the white palantír. The wizard’s eyes move with things beyond sight: he sees a tree in his mind, the white one of Ithilien. A wind catches it, darkness enshrouds it, and one of its limbs falls off and turns to ashes. But from it another limbs grows and climbs into the sky, higher than before. The vision turns to a pair of riders on horses to the north of Gondor, where the river runs from Galadriel’s realm. One of the riders bears a ring on his finger, a silver, bright ring with a star shining out from it. And Gandalf hears in his mind the words, whispering and pleasant, “It lies in Moria.” Gandalf steps from the stone and withdraws his hand. 

Elrond
What did you see, Mithrandir?

Gandalf seems lost in thought. He lights his pipe and sits on the couch at the side of the pillar where the palantír rests.

Gandalf
I saw two riders on a white horse. One had a ring on his hand. It was silver. A voice said it was from Moria.

Elrond
Do you think it was one of the elven rings we both possess?

Gandalf
I could not see. It was bright. I saw no symbols, just a ring of light around it. But I do not think it was one of the Three, for none of those rings ever fell into Moria.

Elrond goes to the window and stares outside. The evening is falling in the sky, but the sunlight does not show through the clouds. 

Elrond
It must be one of the dwarf rings, the Seven. Does it not make sense?

Gandalf 
That seems possible, but the light of the Seven is more red, not white. But I imagine it is possible they change colors. I have seen one of the Seven once. It was once on Balin’s finger when we met at the Lonely Mountain, long before Smaug fell, but he lost it somewhere on his journey to Moria. I do not know when or where. I sought it once for a fortnight after Sauron’s fall but never found it.

Elrond
It is an important heirloom but not as important as the Three. The Three hurt the darkness and repel it. The Seven seem to bind the dark lords from doing what they do for some reason, but it does not cause them pain.

Gandalf 
The Seven pull magic from the dark lords, usurping their power before they use it. They are able to do less with their power when it is around.

Elrond 
You are a Ring Lore Master. I look into these things less, though I still possess some knowledge of what you know. I imagine you may be right. I have heard different arguments. But as I interpret the palantír, it means one of the Seven, or one of the other rings, could be in Moria.

Gandalf
Is in Moria. The palantír never lies. Not the white, nor the dark. They show the truth, but they do not show all the facts. You may see one side of things, but other things will remain obscured. But that is another matter altogether. But I imagine you are right. At least, we can conclude that one of the rings of power is still in Moria. It might be one of the Seven, but I propose it may be another one altogether. You know the one I guess, right?

Elrond
I do not think it is that one.

Gandalf 
It is possible.

Troubled, Elrond stares into the palantír, then turns to Gandalf again.

Elrond
We had talked about this before. The ring of Gil-galad has long been forgotten. Sauron is thought to have destroyed it. The Elves of Middle Earth sought long and hard to find it. As you know, it was a secret mission. We did not want anyone to learn of this ring, for if the enemy were to hear it even existed, he would have exerted all his might to destroy it. –

Gandalf 
He would not have been able to touch it. It would have killed him.

Elrond
He would have used one of his slaves to do it. As you know, this ring, the Great Ring, was once the foil of the One Ring. It was the only object in Middle Earth that could have stopped the One Ring if Sauron once again held the Ruling Ring on his finger. If that ring were to be found, it would be far greater than you imagine.

Gandalf
It would be the greatest moment in the new Fourth Age. It would undo much of what Sauron and the Darkness has done.

The scene shifts to Aragorn in his palace court. Arwen sits nearby watching him intently. He is holding the palantír and staring deeply into his mind. His eyes are pained, his face troubled. He lifts his hand from the stone and sighs.

Arwen
What is it?

Aragorn
It’s Mordor. I saw some orcs moving along the horizon. Then, I looked and saw a dark tower to the north, in Beleriand. There were many orcs moving there. From the hills of Gondor to Misty Mountains, they are all moving, coming out of their hiding. They are all moving to Beleriand.

Arwen 
That is many leagues past Lake-town, to the north.

Aragorn covers the palantír with some silk and places it on a shelf to the right of his bed. 

Aragorn
There is too much movement. I don’t like it. We have scattered the orcs and their legions and killed off most. But their forces are growing again. They lurk in the shadows on the road, but rarely do they steal or kill wayfarers anymore, thanks to Gondor’s work. Middle Earth is peaceful. But you know what this means?

Arwen
You forget I’m older than you. I remember when Sauron returned to Baradur and how the orcs came to Mordor in droves from the mountains.

Aragorn
Don’t remind me of it. I think this is similar, but the palantír bears knowledge like this. I hate to believe it, but I’m forced to assume that something is pulling the orcs there, with its will. That is what I feel. Orcs do not ordinarily coordinate in this way.

Arwen
A new Dark Lord?

Aragorn
I fear to even name the idea.

Arwen
What do you plan then?

Aragorn
I think I will send some of my scouts to the Grey Mountains, north of the Lonely Mountain.

We now see a rider move out into the plain of Osgiliath. In the woods, Gondor’s army is camped. Faramir, his eyes deep and restful in the flames of a nearby fire, sits cross-legged. It is dark out. The messenger from Aragorn appears out of the darkness and hands him a scroll in his hand with a bow. 

Messenger
The king has bound my lip on these issues. Your discretion is advised.

Faramir
This is troubling news. Tell him my best scouts will be moving northward at once to Beleriand.

Messenger
Do not send too many. My lord says the need is more pressing here still. The loss of Osgiliath would compromise Gondor’s position too much. It is a more immediate concern. Still, this other issue has him more agitated than usual. He has barely slept for two nights.

Faramir rolls up the scroll into his cloak and speaks to a few of his men, who depart into the night silently. On horses, they clamber over a stream and disappear into the veil of mist overhanging the forested place. The sound of hoof beats echoes in the forest as they ford the stream to the north. 

We now see Gandalf in a room, filled with hanging herbs and flower pots. It is underground, and the place vaguely resembles a hobbit hole. A circular window looks out into a green, mist-covered forest. It is now just part morning, and the trees are wet and overhanging with dew. 
Frodo enters in through the door, his eyes looking up at Gandalf in dismay.

Frodo
You are leaving then? Has it been decided?

Gandalf
I am not certain. The wind blows a wizard’s mind different ways, they say, but eventually they make up their minds.

Frodo
I have never known you to be one who has trouble making decisions.

Gandalf
You and others in the Shire may have seen me that way. They had always seen me after I had made up mind. They had not seen me before I had made it up. A lot of times you will find that deciding something is more difficult than doing the thing you decide. But if you want an answer right now, I’m leaning toward going. There is some unfinished business to attend to in Middle Earth, business I never knew about.

Frodo 
It has to do with the Gil-galad Ring. Does it not?

Gandalf
I see you have been talking to Elrond. You know he does not keep such a close wrap on his tongue in this place. Dark eyes and ears are not about, and for you to know these things is not so harmful here. Still, it is an age-old habit of mine: I rarely speak about the Rings of Power except in times of great necessity. But as for your question, yes, it is. It seems the ring of Gil-galad may be found soon. I saw it recently in the palantír, and that is a thing just as good as the forging of the One Ring was bad.

Frodo 
I had not heard of this ring before Elrond just told me.

Gandalf
That is right. There were too many ears about, as you know. To even speak of this mission by the elves to find their greatest and most powerful ring might have jeopardized its existence. Long ago, Gilgalad forged this ring himself, as well as the Three Elven Rings. He called his Great Ring Isalil, “the highest,” in elven speech, for it was the Master Ring of the Three, for he put all of his craft and mind into its making.
The Great Ring, as some call it, holds and empowers the Three just as the wind empowers a wave to move. And so it is, finding it would help Middle Earth more than one can imagine, as much as the One Ring caused damage to it, for it is a ring of undoing. That is, it undoes everything that the One Ring has ever done. It is said by the high elves that anyone who wears the Great Ring will be incorruptible, even when they wear the One on their finger. Their power, in a sense, would be equalized by each other.

Frodo
I wish we had had that ring before.

Gandalf
It would have made your burden much lighter, but still not altogether easy. The One would have been ineffectual on you, however, and you would have let it go with the ease of an old hat you don’t want anymore. Alas! It would have been the best to have it, but the long and secret search for it by the elf lords was futile. That is until now, maybe.

Gandalf turns and stares out the window. He stares at the boiling water on the fire hearth before them. His eyes then become distant and wayward. Frodo shivers again, and his face tightens again at the thought of his trial with the Ring.

Frodo
There is something you aren’t tell me, Gandalf. Your eyes look worried. Are there other things happening in Middle Earth?

Gandalf
Frodo, I have had troubling dreams of late, and I have a fear that I once had with Sauron that something is strangely amiss on Middle Earth. I feel it in my bones, but I’m unsure. I thought the task before was completed, but it appears it is not so. But such it is with feelings of the future: we rarely understand them until later. Feelings like this happen sometimes when the istari know some great trial is before them.

Frodo
Do you think Sauron might ever return?

Gandalf
Sauron’s reign is done, and his fall, as you know, was more terrible and final than you might imagine. There is no possibility of his return. And yet, there are other powers afoot, powers greater than he. I plan to return in a month or so to the Havens. At present, you may rest assured that I will return. Remain here with Bilbo and watch the stars overhead and enjoy this garden outside. When I return, I will bring word from the Shire.

At that moment, Bilbo enters, holding a cane and teetering slightly with age. He is less old than he seems. The Grey Havens have strengthened him, and he is feeling younger each day. A pipe is curling out of his pocket, and his hair is as white as snow. 

Bilbo 
The elves are looking for you, Frodo. They want you to hear my newest song. But I suppose you are more fond of talking to Gandalf right now.

Frodo
Not especially, Bilbo, but he has plans to maybe leave the Havens soon, and I wanted to clear some things up with him.

Bilbo
I’m well aware of that. It’s a pity Gandalf didn’t realize all this sooner, but he is commendable for going back. Isn’t it life so easy here? The trees seem to sing in my mind all day. The air is so deep I imagine Treebeard would want to be here.

Frodo
I’m sure he would.

Bilbo
Now Gandalf, my old friend, I understand you are making plans to go. I would ask that you not bring dear old Frodo here. I think he has certainly earned his keep in your affairs.

Gandalf
He most certainly has. He has done more than enough service than many soldiers of Gondor have combined. Truly, he owes no debt. Don’t worry: I have no plans to employ his service again, should I return to Middle Earth. I fancy I might go after a Took if need be, not a Baggins. But even this outing should not be so dangerous as it once was. Middle Earth is safer, and the roads are watched by the guards of Gondor.

Bilbo
I suppose it would be a nice walk. But few would want to leave this place, though the weather is almost always gloomy. My spirits are always high.

Gandalf
They always were before.

Bilbo
Not like this.

Bilbo stares out the window. Gandalf hands them both a cup of tea. Bilbo refuses and begins whistling to himself. Frodo drinks slowly, watching them both but Gandalf especially. 

Gandalf 
The wind has changed direction to the east. That means the sail will be easy, for that is the direction I will be headed. Normally, the journey is very difficult, but a shift in the wind like this normally goes for a week or so here. The time is now ripe, I think.

Frodo
So you have decided to go?

Gandalf
I think I have. Just now. I will start planning to go soon.

Bilbo
Gandalf is going to sea. I spend all my time at the sea these days. How I wish I had spent more time on it when I was on Middle Earth. It is hard for me to leave it each day.

Gandalf 
Hobbits don’t generally like the ocean as much as the woods, but you, my friend, have always been different. The elves love the sea, and you like the elves’ company more than most hobbits.

We now see the ocean, the Great Harbor of the Grey Havens where Bilbo and Frodo arrived. Anchored boats, like Greek vessels, line the shores in the dull, glinting light of the afternoon. The sun shines opaquely through the clouds, and gulls range in circular motions among the dense, rich-textured clouds. 

Elrond
Mithrandir, I think you are doing the best by leaving here. I was not sure, but now I am sure. Fate may have it that you find the thing you seek. But I counsel you to beware: the Grey Havens are place free of the dark magic of Middle Earth. For a while, you have been away from it. But when you return, it may come back to haunt you even more angrily than before. I give you this as not only a token of our friendship but also as a protection against the powers that go against your will.

Elrond reaches out his hand and places in Gandalf’s a small key on a chain. It is gold and embossed with weaving patterns of vines on the end. The key glints in the dim light on the shore.  

Elrond
Not only will the key ward off evil, but also it will open the box into the place where the Great Ring is kept, should you find it. It is ordinarily held in a box. Gil-Galad told me this when he first told me about the Great Ring. The only way into that box is with this key, the silver key of Isalil. But it does not only do that: the key has other powers of opening when you use it on doors, as you will see.

Gandalf bows before Elrond low, places the ring over his neck on a necklace. Around him several elf sailors stand on the quay watching. Nearby are two wizards, istari, who plan to come with Gandalf. 

Gandalf 
These are the wizards I have chosen to take with me, Fimili the All-Seeing and Aragast the Wise. They are still young as compared to most wizards, but they are old as men reckon their lives. They are worthy to go along and watch. They want to see Middle Earth again. Radagast is the only one of our order that remains in Middle Earth. We will have to talk with him when we are there.

Elrond
As you wish. I would counsel most of these to stay out of Moria usually, but the Balrog, I believe, is dead now, and it is a cleaner place, although not all inhabitable.

Gandalf
I wish you wouldn’t say that name. Actually, I have no desire to return to that place. But go there I must.

We now see an elven ship, shining in the dim light of a morning sun. Red streaks break through a rent in the clouds. On board the ship, Gandalf is sitting next to Fimili. Fimili has dark eyes and long, brown hair, and his eyes are piercing Gandalf, as if trying to read his mind from his expression. His hood is thrown back, and the sunlight gleams in his hair. His hands are wrapped around a gnarled staff. The sails of the ships are ruffling in the eastern wind. 

Gandalf
The wind has shifted to the east, Fimili, which favors our journey.

Fimili
I’m not sure why. Was it Master Elrond who has done so?

Gandalf
Elrond nor I are weather masters, Fimili. No, it is some presence, perhaps the Numenor of old, or perhaps Gilgalad himself, which lends us some aid in our journey. At any rate, it is a good sign. The wind from the Grey Havens rarely turns in this direction.

Fimili turns to look at Gandalf more closely. His dark eyes wander across his face. 

Fimili
I have never been to Middle Earth. What is it like?

Gandalf
You have read the tales. It is more difficult. At times, you will feel weighed down as a wizard there, as if some force were pulling you down. It was worse when Sauron was in Mordor. It is much better now. But at the same time, I’m having strange feelings about the place, as if it might be in worse shape than we had surmised.

Fimili
Do you think it’s Saruman?

Gandalf
No, not that. Saruman has fallen. His spirit is far off in the islands, much further to the west of these waters, and it is not coming back. I hope my feelings are wrong. It has happened here and there that my feelings have misguided me, but not much. At any rate, we may find one of the rings, and with your help, it will be easier. Three wizards entering Moria will not have as much trouble as one. The last time I had traveled to the place, there was only one, myself, and it nearly proved fatal.

We now see Faramir in the woods near Osgiliath again, where a number of Gondor soldiers have now gathered. The area is clouded, and the trees are weighed down with rain. Faramir motions one of his captains—a tall red-headed man with imperturbable, brazen eyes—to step aside behind a high pillar of stone nearby to speak alone.  

Gondor Captain 
What is it, my lord?

Faramir 
This news is between you and me. There are things afoot to the north in the Ereck Midon, near the Grey Mountains. The orcs are wending there way there, gathering there in force. A message from Aragorn arrived last night.

Captain
That is strange news. And you are sending some spies there?

Faramir
Yes. The best huntsmen went to the Lonely Mountain immediately. Aragorn wants them to scout out the north as swiftly as possible.

Captain
I see. I am not one who usually questions the decree of the king, but are not the Southrons a larger and more proximate problem at the moment?

Faramir
Yes, and no. I think he’s not sure. That’s what makes him so wary. At any rate, the orcs have not gathered since the Eye fell, and that in itself is a great cause for concern.

Captain 
It is to an extent. Maybe they have some plans to live north. I say good riddance. They are out of our path. I dare not sound rude, sire, but I do not see the rise of another Dark Lord as likely. Mordor is quiet, and they would not have a stronghold outside of it. I am not certain it is wise to send some of our best spies when the Southrons are perhaps preparing for their greatest assault yet. Forgive me for speaking my mind, sire, but you have always asked me to speak candidly.

Faramir
Dunnir, it is true, and I do not regret it. A true mind is often better than a polite mind, especially in times of war, and I take no offense when you go against my advice. I hope for our sake you are right and that a dark lord can never rise again. But there may be other places to the north we do not know about, dark places we have never seen or perceived. We have not explored Beleriand too much and what it can yield. I myself agree with Aragorn that we should not take the orcs movement northward lightly.

The scene shifts to the Shire. We see Samwise Gamgee sitting in a garden, staring into the sky at a thundercloud at the front of Bag End. Rosy sits by him in the garden, pulling at weeds. Samwise’s children are running off in the distance, in the green field below. Samwise seems withdrawn, not so talkative, slightly pensive. 

Rosy
Is there something wrong?

Samwise
Oh no, nothing at all. It’s just the thunder. It reminds me of when Frodo and I were marching near the mines of Moria on top of Snowtop. It looked just like that—a hammer rising out, jutting out of the clouds like that. Now, how long has it been since we seen a cloud like that in the Shire?

Rosy
I never seen one. Your old gaffer would know when.

Samwise
Probably, the old fellow. Where’s he gone to? He hasn’t yet begun pruning the old apple trees. You know it’s springtime, and he likes to wander and think. Sitting in some still spot is not his way.

Rosy
That has not been your way either.

Samwise
Not quite. The adventure, as you call it, pulled the wandering out of me, right and straight. And I ain’t seen the world the same ever since. The Shire seems well…

Rosy
Quiet…You are not so different now than a gaffer around here, content with a bag of pipeweed.

Samwise
I’m not sure if that’s the word. It seems untouched, unweathered. You see that tree?

He points to an apple tree nearby.

I was like that before its limb fell when I left Bag End. When I returned, I was cut in some way, but maybe for the better. I’m not sure it’s the way to say it. I suppose Mr. Frodo could say better himself if he were here.

Rosy
I’m sure he could. There isn’t much news from the Grey Havens. They don’t send letters. But something tells me he’s thinking about you a lot. Maybe he’s heard about all this business all up in Brandywine these days. What with Elrond and all ‘em high-thinking folk.

Samwise
The news of what?

Rosy
You know, how the goblins from the mountains are leaving.

Samwise
Ah, that. It seems odd to me. It is a downright foul old lair they have up there, the old goblins. Everyone is wondering why they would leave after hundreds of years staying. It seems they are downright daft by the looks of it, with all the Guards of Gondor all about the roads keeping everyone as safe as could be. I expect many wouldn’t make it past them. But mighty good they are. Good fine men. Not in a year have walkers up there been waylaid.

Rosy
Very fine indeed. But you forget they saw a goblin two fortnights ago, as did your gaffer. Some I think are slipping through here and there and gettin’ lost perhaps on the way. But people up in Brandywine are more scared than a lost deer in a forest of hunters. The goblin they saw, they said, was eight feet tall. Now that seems exaggerated, but if it’s true, it means we have bigger problems in Hobbiton than one might expect.

Samwise
Maybe, but I’ve seen a worse than a few goblins. And Gondor men are about, and one of ‘em is worth two eight-foot-tall goblins combined.

The scene shifts to Samwise standing in the front of Bag End at night. He is holding a broom and carefully sweeping the stone walkway in front of the large hobbit hole. The moon is peering out through a dull eyelid of brackish clouds. Silver streaks stretch across the sky. A light breeze stirs the leaves along the walkway, and Samwise stops and stares into the darkness. He hears a scratching noise in the bushes, not far off. Holding his broom in the air, he walks forward pensively, and then he sees an indistinct figure dart off down the roadway. Samwise runs after the figure and tackles him. He sees it is a small goblin, almost a full head below himself. 

Goblin 
Wees…wees

Samwise
Wees what? Stop talking gibberish, you foul thing. What is your name?

Goblin
Wees…My name is Erchon. Please do not hurt. You are a valiant hobbit and very brave. I never thought I would run into such a brave hobbit in my life. Nor one so famous.

Samwise 
You know who I am? You must be spying then.

Erchon
I know you are a wise hobbit who went to Gondor. Now you are the mayor of the Shire. Who in these lands does not know your name?

Samwise
Of course. But were you spying on me? Tell me now, or I will slit your throat.

Erchon
No, no. Please not. I was not intending to hurt you. I was running, running from my own kind.

Samwise
All goblins intend to hurt. Do not lie. It is in their nature. But why were you running?

Samwise relaxes his grip slightly. His eyes soften, but he remains on guard, holding the broom at the creature’s forehead. 

Erchon
I was running from them. They want to go to Beleriand again. That a long time ago was where they were from. They do not want to go, but they must. I do not want to go more. If I do not go, my own kin will kill me. They will do it without thought. They will not even know what they are doing.

Samwise
Stop speaking in riddles. Why do you say they must?

Samwise pushes him harder at his throat. 

Erchon
Erchon cannot say. It is doom. It is peril to speak the name.

Samwise
It is also perilous to go against an angry hobbit with a knife to your throat as well. Do not tell me, and your end will be swifter. I swear it.

Erchon
Ooo, terrible hobbit.

Samwise pulls a knife from his belt and holds it to the throat of the gangly being; it has green skin, black hair, and iron earrings.

Erchon
You are serious, hobbit. You have killed before. I can see it in your eyes.

Samwise
Sauron? You mean Sauron has returned?

Erchon
No, fool. It is one before that. It is the same one who gave Sauron his name, the same who conquered Beleriand long ago. He is back, I say. He is back.

Samwise
Morgoth. You mean Morgoth?

Erchon
Erchon will not say the name, nor will he confirm. It is too powerful, his will on mine, but my kin cannot resist it. Only with special magic runes could I repel his thought. He is calling them to himself. My kin are helpless in his grasp, and they have no knowledge of what they are doing.

Samwise
What are you saying? What do you mean they have no knowledge of what they are doing?

Erchon 
He holds their minds in his palm. It is some dark, old magic I do not understand. He can control thought with it. He can make the orcs do whatever he likes.

Samwise
I thought Morgoth was banished forever.

At this, Erchon’s head collapses on the ground a few seconds later. Samwise watches his eyes closely. Erchon gasps once and dies in the next instant. 

The scene now shifts back to Gandalf again. The ship from the Grey Havens are nearing the shore of Middle Earth. His look is wary and alert. He scans the shoreline, with Fimili nearby and Aragast. The ship arrives on the shore, and the camera shifts to them walking up the way to Hobbiton. 

Aragast
How far is it again?

Gandalf
Eight farthings to the Shire. I think we can stop there for the night.

Aragast
Seven years it has been. This place does not look strange to me in some ways. It is like certain parts of the Havens, but it is more agitated. Can you feel it? There is fear about.

Gandalf
Yes. There is much fear everywhere. In the Grey Havens, time reverses or stops. Aging itself arrests, and the person remains immortal, but here the fear of dying is sometimes present. The people here are aware of their mortality.

Aragast
If I should grow whiteness in my beard before we leave here again, Mithrandir, let me know, and I shall soon head back to the Havens.

Gandalf laughs. The road ahead of them is filled with crimson light of morning.  

Gandalf
If you see an orc, you may want to return even sooner than that. But you, my friend Aragast, are braver than most, as we all know.

We see now Bag End, where Samwise Gamgee is sitting near a fire with a long pipe dangling from his mouth. Smoke trails out from his mouth. His deep, brown, solid eyes are reflective, perplexed. The light in the room is dim, lit only by the hearth of the fire. It is late in the night, probably past midnight. Samwise hears a knock at the door and opens it slowly, warily. 

Samwise
Who is it?

Gandalf
It is me, you old fool of a Gamgee.

Samwise
Gandalf! You’ve come back.

The door swings wide open and we catch sight of the other istari outside, with their illuminated staffs in their hands held high. 

Gandalf
Indeed, I have, but maybe not for the last time. There are things afoot in Middle Earth again. Not as bad as before, it seems, but I’m not certain. At any rate, it’s good to see you again. How is the old gaffer?

Samwise
As good as ever, I suppose. He is getting on in years, and sometimes his memory runs amok, but he is not daft as of yet. And how are you, Gandalf? It seems you look younger.

Gandalf
Indeed. The light does not play tricks on your eyes. I’m a little younger living in the Grey Havens. It has that effect. Time, they say, moves backward there. At any rate, it is not time that flows backward, but age does.

Samwise
Do come in, Gandalf, and have some food or ale, if you like. I have some of the best pipeweed in Southfarthing at the moment. But who are these other fellows you have here?

Gandalf steps inside Bag End, masterfully, his hat whisking the ceiling of the place. The other two wizards move inside as well, very quietly but smiling. 

Gandalf
Other wizards like myself, Samwise. This is Aragast here to my right. Fimili is there near the door. We are on an errand to Moria. Once again, it seems that Middle Earth is need of the istari, and we have returned, but only for a short time. Radagast is the only wizard left on Middle Earth permanently at the moment.

Samwise
Moria, you said? Now that is not a place I’d like to return. Have at you then, Gandalf. I know what you are thinking. You want me and some other hobbit to tail you into those dark places again. I suppose I could sport another adventure, although Moria is not the place I reckon I like headed.

Gandalf (smiling)
No, Samwise. I’m not asking you on any mission, like old times. One, I think, is enough for you. And that was more than your share of work. Fortunately for you, this is only a wizard outing here, and nothing more.

Samwise
Don’t tell me it’s another ring. I cannot stand the idea of it, what with all the terrible news we’ve had lately in the Shire about goblins and orcs moving. We hear rumors. And just tonight I met one out here in front of Bag End. It is terrible what he said.

Gandalf
What do you mean?

Samwise
The goblin said something about an old dark lord. He said it was some name from the past, one I already knew, but not Sauron. He wouldn’t say which, and he seemed terrified of even mentioning the name. He said he was controlling the orcs’ mind, which I thought was extremely odd. I imagine this is why you wizard folk are here. Isn’t it?

Gandalf stands up and looks agitated, then out the window of Bag End. 

Gandalf
We are here to find something, a great heirloom, that was lost in Moria long ago. I cannot speak of it here. But are you certain the goblin said something about a dark lord?

Samwise
Yes, but he would not name him.

Gandalf 
What happened to this creature? Can I still question it?

Samwise
He died about two hours ago.

Gandalf
How do you mean?

Samwise
Here’s the thing: I suspect he died of fright, but I don’t think it was because of me, if you know what I mean. He kept muttering about spells and orcs and some new terror, and he would answer none of my questions. I ain’t seen a goblin up this far into Hobbiton in quite some time, and you can imagine how angered I was.

Gandalf
He did not die of fright, Sam.

Samwise
Then, what? I hit him once but not that hard.

Gandalf
It was a spell that killed him, a spell by Morgoth.

Samwise
That is a dreadful idea, Gandalf. I hope no one uses that on me, but are you certain it’s Morgoth? I had thought the same. But what makes you so certain?

Gandalf
Only Morgoth can kill his minions from afar, Sam. Not even Sauron with the Ring on his finger could have done so. You should have no worry: Morgoth can only kill his own kind this way and not the race of men, elf, dwarf, or hobbit. But this news is dreadful, more dreadful than you imagine. What else did the goblin say?

Samwise
What else? He said something about the goblins and orcs all headed north to some place named Beleriand. He said Morgoth is controlling their minds to go there somehow. It seemed like a very strange idea, and I was just now thinking that it seemed too peculiar to even believe.

Visibly agitated, Gandalf sits down and takes an inhale of smoke from his pipe. 

Gandalf
Nay, Samwise. He was not lying, the goblin. It is called the Black Fever. Morgoth, it is said in the tales, can pull hither anyone of evil mind should he desire, so powerful is his spell craft. Not even Sauron could do this with the One Ring on his finger, but Sauron’s power was in some ways greater with it on, because he could control and enslave even the minds of the white wizards. That was its central power. Morgoth was not so brash. He put all his power into wielding power over his dark servants and making them do his bidding. Alas, this is terrible news, beyond reckoning. But I can see now my feelings were clear in the Grey Havens. I knew they were clear that something was amiss again here, but I did not want to admit it to myself.

Samwise
You were right, as always, Gandalf. But what are we going to do? Is this going to change your travel plans?

Gandalf
Not so much. I’m not sure. For now, I think I’m going to need some rest and think a little while.

Hours later, we see Gandalf still sitting at the table in Bag End. Aragast is sitting across from him. The fire in the hearth is now low, and the place is filled with lengthened shadows. Samwise is nowhere around and sleeping in a nearby bedroom. 

Gandalf
So what do you think, Aragast? Should we still go to Moria? The hobbits are asleep now. We can speak more plainly about our mission.

Aragast
I’m inclined not to go until we know more of this issue. But at the same time, the palantír I believe was showing you something. The white palantír, unlike the dark one, is controlled by the White Mind. The White Mind was showing you that a ring might be found. If it is the Master Ring of the elven rings you saw, we might conclude that finding it should be our first course of action. The white palantír would not show you the mind of Morgoth, as is customary with the dark one.

Gandalf
I think your words ring true, Aragast. The Gil-galad Ring, should it be found, would ultimately be the means to vanquish Morgoth in the end, perhaps the only way. Had it not been for it, Morgoth would still be with us. Do you not remember the tale? Gil-galad banished Morgoth to an unseen place, where his power was weakened. But his sight could not see all things perhaps. Gil-galad, it is said, believed the Morgoth’s banishment was so deep that he would never return. But even the very wise cannot see everything to its ultimate end. At any rate, I’m inclined to seek out Aragorn and determine where and when Morgoth has returned to his old haunt to the north in the Grey Mountains. Of all peoples in Middle Earth, he would know best.

Aragast
Are you not uncertain that the Dark One has returned again?

Gandalf
I’m sure, even by the report of one hobbit who couldn’t see very well in the dark. It seems my feelings were right: there are dark things afoot in Middle Earth again, much darker than I had supposed. The orcs gathering to the north is not something they would be inclined toward too much. They are creatures that love the heat of fire and the southern climates of Middle Earth. It seems unlikely to me that they would be gathering to the north unless some dark purpose and will called them there.

Aragast
I think you are right. It also seems unlikely that the hobbits would know of how Morgoth operates in this way. Perhaps we can part ways and send Fimili to Gondor, while you and I search for the lost ring in Moria.

Gandalf
I’m not inclined to do that. I think we will need all of us there. Should there be a Balrog there again, he’d stay out of our path more with three of us. But I think we should leave right away. I want to talk to the hobbits in Brandywine and the soldiers of Gondor stationed there. Perhaps we will get more of the story of what’s going on there. It lies along our path anyways.

We now see the scouts who left Faramir’s camp just a few days ago. They are riding in grey cloaks on horses. The sun is beating down on their backs, and they are closing in on Lake-town near the Lonely Mountain. The horses slowly come to a halt as they ford the river near the lake and encounter two guards along the lake. 

Guard
Who goes there?

Scout
I am Norim, and these are my comrades. We are not orcs.

Guard
I can see you are not orcs. That is clear enough. You ride in saddle, which is not the custom of those foul creatures.

Norim laughs and gets down from his saddle. He throws off his hood, displaying the sword at his side. 

Norim
That is true. But I did not know if you knew much of orc folk in these parts. Some people don’t so much. There are other types to the south that sometimes ride a black horse. For this reason, we never ride such a brood in our lands.

Guard
And you are from Gondor? I can see that sword is one of their kind.

Norim 
It is, as is this curved horn. We are seeking information about the orcs fleeing to the north. We see them moving in vast droves from Gondor’s towers.

Guard
We aware of the issue, and we do not know why they are moving. We heard there is some dark lord up to the north, calling them to him. But other than that, we don’t who it is. The town is on edge, and the people are staying indoors. Our small army is nearby in the trees. Luckily, we have not seen any orc kind here. Curse them.

Norim 
I curse them double. I have seen them more of them than your people here, and I probably hate them twice so as your people do. And what of the dwarves? What do they know?

Guards
The dwarves are busy at making swords and arrows for our army. They believe the dark lord summoning the orcs is Morgoth of old, but many of the men in the north here do not believe it. Long ago, our tales tell of how Morgoth was slain, and his spirit was banished forever in the darkness from whence he came, never to return, like Sauron. If he could have come before, why didn’t he already do so?

Norim
That is a question for the wizards if they were here. But that is very grim and terrible tidings, if it is as you say.

Guards
Our scouts travelled to Orthanc two moons ago. Radagast, the only remaining wizard of Middle Earth, did not know who might be stirring the orcs in this way. I heard he is still in the tower, studying his lore books night and day. His birds, the crows of Eastland, they say, have seen no sign of a dark lord up north.

Norim
Can we speak to your leader?

Guard
Our leader Bard is busy, but I’m sure Dain, Gimli, and the other dwarves will want to hear word from you. They have been talking about Gondor. Some want the city to send aid here, should an orc army appear. I for one would not mind it.

The scene shifts to Erebor, under the Lonely Mountain, where flickering torches illuminate a gilded dome room, filled with neat lines of gold cups and statues of bronze and silver. Dain and Gimli sit on a couch near the central throne, studded rubies and amethysts and blue sapphires. The three scouts are standing before the two dwarves. 

Norim
My lords, we are most sorry to intrude on your daily affairs. I’m sure it has been a while since you have had seen Men of the Guard here in the Lonely Mountain. Unfortunately, we do not come for cheer and music. It is far more pressing business which drives us here. As you already know, orcs are pressing north in this direction, and there are none in Gondor who knows what they are up to. We are hoping to seek your counsel and thoughts on these matters.

Gimli
How is Aragorn?

Norim
As fine as ever. With his oversight, the lands to the south of Gondor are becoming settled and peaceful again, and the White Tree has once again grown, restored to its former glory. But the orcs’ movement is a disturbing event to him. They have been scattered for so long, and now their coordination, however small it is compared to former days, is still no small matter.

Gimli 
It has been seven years since I saw an orc. I took his head off with my ax. I have not seen these new migrants to the north, but I doubt they will be as powerful as they were before.

Norim
Doubtless you are right, lord, but some fear a dark lord is rising again. Only a dark lord would have the power to summon them to the north like this. Often orcs do not like the winter.

Gimli 
They like the head of my ax even less. Perhaps it is some fear out of Moria or the mountains that drives them like that.

Namir laughs. 

Norim
I hope for our sake it is true, Master Dwarf. But the guards below said that some of you dwarves believed Morgoth was again upon us to the north. Is this true?

Dain
It is true. It was I who started the rumor. They call it a rumor, but I think it is not. Actually there is hostility in Lake-town over my decision to send word of my belief—they think I’m causing too much panic without proof—but I do not listen. I know what I have seen.

Norim
What did you see?

Dain
I suppose seeing is perhaps not the right term. Now, as you may know, I hold the Arkenstone, which is thought to hold great power. Much lore is written about it in our writings, and it is forever a most treasured heirloom. It is when I was holding it in my palm two fortnights ago, as I slept, that I saw a vision to north unfold before my vision. In my dream, I saw a veil in the sky, which I was told was the Door of the Night by a voice like an elf. The door opened, and from it poured forth a terrible spirit, so hideous to look at I will not describe it. I shudder now to even think about it.

Norim
The Door of the Night. That is the horizon line, where Morgoth was supposedly banished long ago by Turin and Gil-galad.

Dain 
Quite true. I see you are also a bit of a lore master like myself but also a warrior. It is not too common. At any rate, after seeing this, I saw the spirit to the north to the Grey Mountains, where it took on a guise that was similar to Sauron. His one eye was red like a flame, and his body was black, like charcoal. He was standing next to a small tower, not more than ten heights of a dwarf in a dark vale where I once went long ago, when I traveled in that direction in the Grey Mountains. It is perhaps fifteen leagues from where we presently stand.

Nimor
And you were convinced this was Morgoth? How did you know it was not something else?

Dain
I didn’t know for sure. But when I when I hiked up the way with my men over the next few days, I saw a sign leading up to the place with a Black Finger, pointed to the right. It was near a craggy cliff leading into the Grey Mountains.

Nimor
The symbol of Morgoth.

Dain
The same indeed. Was it a joke by some orc up that way? I do not know.

Nimor
Did you go up the path further?

Dain
I did not. It is not like a dwarf to run in fear, but I had with me only a dozen dwarf men, all of whom who know nothing of wizardry. Were we to stumble on the dark lord’s lair, I thought we were ill-prepared. There is a strange smell of death up there. The air is unclear. Not since I passed by Mordor or saw the decayed waste of Smaug have I noticed it.

Nimor
These are not good tidings. I will convey this to Aragorn when I see him.

Dain
Do you plan to journey north to see the sign, and perhaps go further? I would advise against it. You would not like the journey, and the place around the sign and beyond is foul to the eye.

Nimor
Not at all. I think, like you, it would be a fool’s errand to go without deeper knowledge of these things. There may be traps up there, or hidden enemies. If I knew the land better, I would go. This is not Osgiliath.

We now see Nimor riding again to the south, with his men behind him on horseback. They ford a stream, then cross a bridge and a high plain, until we again see the towers of Gondor. We then see Aragorn in his palace chamber, staring at the mountains to the north and drinking water from goblet. Before him is a dinner laid out. Outside, the white tree of Ithilien is glimmering in the sunset. Nimor enters and bows low. 

Nimor
It is usually two days’ ride from here to the Lonely Mountain. I returned here as quickly as I could and made it here in twenty-six hours. The other scouts have returned to Osgiliath per your request.

Aragorn
I care not for the basic details. Tell me what you found at the Lonely Mountain. Didn’t you go as far as the Grey Mountains?

Nimor
No, not that far, my lord. I met the dwarves along the way, including your good friend Gimli, who sends word to you and gift from the dwarf hoard.

Nimor holds up a pendant dangling from his pocket. It is gold, with a talisman at the bottom set in dwarf runes and encrusted with a red gem, like a ruby. Aragorn takes it and looks out the window to the east, where a thunderstorm is brewing. 

Nimor
There is some presence in the place but not as bad as when Sauron occupied Baradur in Mordor. The dwarf king Dain reports that he went to the Grey Mountains and saw the Black Finger painted on a white sign. He felt very strange and left the place immediately. He seems very terrified of the place, but he seemed to disguise the emotion. As you know, it is not the custom of the dwarves to even mention an ounce of fear they hold in their chest.

Aragorn
Nor ours of the Men of the Guard. You may take this talisman for yourself for your troubles, Nimor. I have many more like it. You may need it more than I. It is used to keep evil eyes away from us in battle.

Namir
It is great gift you bestow. But aren’t you seem so unsurprised, my lord, by this news?

Aragorn 
I had thought it already. Indeed, I thought it was inevitable that these might be the days prophesied, when Morgoth would again arise anew and prove a foe so great that even the mighty tremble. I wasn’t sure if these days would be numbered among mine. I wouldn’t have wished it, but if it is so, it is so.

Nimor
We have all read the prophesy. Some say his return will mark the end of the world. I fear this more than Sauron in some ways. I don’t know why.

Aragorn
That is one story told, but Gandalf and Elrond, I believe, were not of that mind. Morogoth was once even more difficult a foe than Sauron, and he ravaged Beleriand to the north more than any other dark lord. Sauron was his lieutenant, his servant. And so this time might mark the end of an era perhaps, not the world. That at least is my thinking. Perhaps the story was told to make mankind lose hope, a scheme by the dark minds. As it is, I have no reason to lose hope.

Nimor
Are you certain, though, that Morgoth is here?

Aragorn
I am certain. There is no chance any orc or man or elf would use that sign.

Nimor
Why?

Aragorn
Because that sign is Morgoth’s, and his alone. His mind is in it, and if one were to use it, it would summon his spirit inside him and kill him, or turn him into a slave right away. Once he did that, he would take that symbol down right away, for Morgoth uses it alone, as a symbol of his presence, as a way to keep out elves and other high-minded persons from his surroundings. He hates their presence, and they hate his. No orc would use that symbol because Morgoth and his other minions would immediately kill it, even from afar in some other world. For that reason, they never place that symbol up, even in jest. They fear Morgoth even more than they fear you or me.

Nimor
You mean to say the symbol is like a ring of power?

Aragorn
It is, to an extent. But let us think about something else. I need to think of an action to take here. I want to send word to Gandalf, if you can find a person or elf going to the Grey Havens. That is perhaps my best course, for he of all is learned well beyond me in the ways of the dark lords of old. Will you go on this errand?

Nimor
Be it as you wish. It is a longer journey than the last but a more pleasant one.

Namir bows his head, and the scene closes out. 

We now see the Shire again and Bag End. It is morning, and the sunlight is glancing in through small apertures for windows in Bag End. Samwise Gamgee, looking groggy and tired, emerges from his bedroom and goes toward the door and notices a letter with red wax closing it attached to the door. He opens it and reads the following.

By now, the sun must be up, and we will be long gone. We have gone to the Brandywine to speak with Men of the Guard of Gondor about your incident.  Matters were too pressing too be staying the night, unfortunately. We are looking for any news at all about what’s going on. It is imperative as mayor of the Shire that you don’t sideline this incident. You must keep the goblins out of the Shire at all costs. Make sure an archer is posted on all the roads to scare them off. If you can, bind them and question them about any news they have up north toward the Grey Mountains. In time, I will be back. I’m not sure when. Seven years it is has been. You like fine.
Sincerely,
Gandalf
P.S. The pipeweed was better than ever.

Act II

The scene shifts to Gandalf riding on horseback, along with the other wizards. They are riding fast into Buckland, and the hobbit farmers along the way look up in fear, as they ride by. It is late afternoon, and the sunlight is glancing in through distant clouds to the north. Presently, the wizards ride up to a house in Buckland, where the name Took is carved in gold letters in a wooden sign. 

Hobbit
Who goes there?

Gandalf 
It is I, Gandalf, and two other istari. I see you are getting taller, Dregha, than when we last met.

Dregha
Gandalf the Grey! Why it’s been a while since I heard that name. I should have thought you might show up when all this news of orcs and goblins about. Do come in and have some ale.

The gate of the house opens, and Dregha comes out, carrying a wicker basket full of vegetables. A sword is sheathed at his belt, and he appears shaken up a bit much. He is taller than Bilbo, and he has long, brown hair and piercing, wistful eyes. 

Gandalf
No ale at this hour, unfortunately, but I could use some of your pipeweed in a bit. I would like to idle about while the honey bees play outside, but I have pressing business. Are the Men of the Guard here?

Dregha
No, they left in the morning.

Gandalf 
I was at Bag End earlier, and I had heard the news.

Dregha
Indeed. It is terrible. Samwise sent word last night all across Hobbiton. Now we were becoming soft, I thought, in some ways, but I fear this may grey the hairs of the old Cobb. Mor…

Gandalf
Tut…Don’t say the name. It is ill-wind that goes along with speaking it. I do not want some to hear it yet. As you say, this news might upset more than it might help.

Dregha 
I suppose you are right. But what comes with you here all of a sudden. I thought those that went to the Havens never came back.

Gandalf
That is because they don’t want to return generally once they are there, Dregha. I, for one, felt compelled to come back. I did not want to go, but I felt I had to. Things, I felt, were amiss in Middle Earth, and it seems I was right.

Dregha
A foul weather we’ve been having. Do you imagine it’s some sorcery?

Gandalf
Perhaps. Probably. I don’t know yet. There is still too much I don’t know, and that is the source of the problem.

The scene shifts to the old Took house inside. We see Dregha sitting in front of a wooden table, filled with dishes from a late breakfast. The place is cluttered and filled with objects from foreign lands—an old clock from Bree, the horns of a deer, and a foreign-looking rug that looks almost elvish. Gandalf is sitting in front of the window, thoughtfully smoking a long pipe. 

Gandalf
Did you find the note the Guards left?

Dregha
I’m afraid I lost it. That is not like me. I just know it said something about them coming today or tomorrow or maybe two days from now. They have been staying here for a while, you know. They are mighty nice guards, and not too uncordial. But still they are not hobbits, and no one except the Tooks was willing to adapt to their customs.

Gandalf
That is often the way when something of importance is around and a dark lord is running his business. Things that shouldn’t be are lost.

Dregha
You are frightening me, Gandalf. Are you saying that someone already knows of what I am thinking here?

Gandalf
It is probably true, I think. The dark lord, the superior to Sauron, was more formidable than Sauron, you know, because he knew the mind of his enemy, almost at all times. That is what makes him so difficult to defeat.

Dregha
I’m not quite sure I understand you. Morgoth knows we are speaking right now.

Gandalf
Maybe. Some forces appear to have blinded his mind for a time in this place, but it was not blinded when the Men of the Guard were here, it seems. But as for you, I do not think you need to worry as much.

Dregha
I assure you, Gandalf, you have me quite worried.

Gandalf
Well, there is a cause for that, and there isn’t. Isn’t that right, Aragast?

Fimili
It is true. Morgoth is ever skilled at reading the craft of his enemy. His mind sees much, but it does not see all. He cannot read the mind of a hobbit. The lore books are quite specific about this point.

Dregha
That is very strange stuff, but I’m glad to hear it.

Gandalf
It is true. It is a long story about how that happened. But Morgoth, as all wizards know, did not see hobbits as his major threat. He was able to see the minds of every species of men and elves and dwarves, but he did not employ his will to work the same magic for a hobbit. In no way did he ever see them as a problem. Such magic took much of his skill, and he did not want to work so hard to acquire that skill. Never did he imagine that it would be a problem. Elves, dwarves, and men were a far bigger issue for him.

Dregha
I see what you are saying, Gandalf, but I do not want to dabble in this too much.

Gandalf
Be that as it may. I was just letting you know that you have no fear yourself from Morgoth’s mind intruding yours. If you hang with the company of men or elf or dwarf, however, that may be another matter altogether. But as for now, I have sealed this place for a time, a year or so, so he cannot see in here anymore, but that is still not the best. At different times, he may see what is going on in Buckland. Alas, my skill is better after the Havens, but not that great.

Dregha
We are fortunate to have you back, Gandalf.

Gandalf
It is good to be back, Dregha. Though I love the Havens, I had missed the Shire as well.

Dregha
So I understand what you are thinking, Gandalf. You want me or some Took or Baggins to shuffle on after you in another adventure. If this new dark lord cannot read our minds, then we’ll be of use. Am I not right?

Gandalf
First of all, it is not a new dark lord we are dealing with. It is a very old one, too old in fact. His knowledge runs too deep for my time to explain. But you are right, Dregha. Your instinct serves you right: a hobbit or two along on this journey to Gondor may not serve us the worst. Hobbits are slow paced and fond of pleasure, but they are often useful in these great matters, as we’ve obviously seen.

Dregha
You are going to Gondor?

Gandalf
Well, first we are travelling to Moria. Then, I plan to go to Gondor. That, if you want to know, is my intinerary in Middle Earth.

Dregha
Not a very pleasant outing.

Gandalf
Not at all. Moria, as you might recall, is one of my worst memories on record, but I am prepared to go if need be.

Dregha
Why are you going to Moria of all places?

Gandalf
It is a long story, but that was my original intention of coming here. But it has to do with an old heirloom that has been lost. Tut…now, not a bad one. I saw your face, but a good one, one that will undo all the harm that wreaked up on Middle Earth. If we should possess it again, like in times of old, Morgoth, you see, wouldn’t even dare to come south. He would stay in his stronghold and shiver at the idea of even trying something perilous with his hordes of orcs. So it is essential we find it.

Dregha
I will go if you like, Gandalf.

Gandalf
It is up to you. I want to speak with some of Aragorn’s people first, however, before making a move. We may need your services in due time, however, Dregha, and I thank you for asking. For now we will watch the main road cautiously and wait. Fimili, go out and keep a look out on the road for a time. If any of the scouts of Gondor pass by, let me know immediately.

We see now a dirt road, covered in gold sand. It is night. The Brandywine River flows by under a cloud-covered moon. The weather is blustery and cold for this time of year, and Fimili is hugging himself in some cloaks as he sits atop a large rock inside a grove just beyond the road. There is a sound of hoofs along the way, and Fimili creeps to the edge of the road and looks out, ready to jump out if the Gondor messengers are there. But they are not. The hoofs he realizes are coming from the other direction. Presently, a long line of orcs comes into view in the moonlight, all on black horses. Their faces are painted and they are growling here and there, as they pass. Suddenly, the line of horses halt. Fimili edges closer and listens in on their talk. 

Orc
What are they waiting for?

Other orc
Ringast, be quiet.

There is a silence for almost a minute. The sound of black horse hoofs stamping the ground softly fills the silence. 

Ringast
It is some elf or wizard about, I think. We can talk. The chief gave me the sign.

Other orc
I hope it is not a wizard.

Ringast
I think it is wizard. Can’t you smell it?

Other orc
Yes, faintly. My nose hasn’t been working lately.

Ringast
It’s the apples here. Too many apples and pleasant elf aromas.

Other orc
Are they near?

Ringast
I am not sure. I lost the scent. It might have been days ago. Look, the chief doesn’t like it. He’s giving the sign. He thinks it’s definitely wizard.

Other orc
I can smell it now. Two days ago. Yes, I’d say. This is not news we like. Unless it’s Radagast.

Ringast
No, Radagast is still in the white tower.

Other orc
Silly wizard. But that means we have others to deal with.

Ringast
Yes, the chief is giving the sign to stay quiet and move on back. They must be coming back from the Havens.

Other orc
Back north?

Ringast
No crossing the river, he’s saying. We head back.

We see now the line of orcs turn around and disappear around the bend of the road. Some are spitting on the ground and cursing it quietly. But they seem agitated. Some are looking in the woods toward Fimili now, but his cloak looks like the trunk of a tree, and no one sees him. The line of orcs moves on back north. 
The scene shifts to Fimili walking back into the Took house through the gate. He wakes Gandalf in his bed on the couch near the window. 

Fimili
Gandalf, it is orcs pressing toward the Brandywine. They were spying out the land.

Gandalf gets up, looking groggy, but his eyes are ablaze with interest right away. 

Gandalf
They were spying?

Fimili
I’m certain of it. They could smell wizard or elf here. I heard them talking.

Gandalf
It seems as if we have not been too cautious. I had cast a spell to hide our scent from orcs here, but it seems I did not work hard enough on it. I could have done better.

Fimili
We all could have, Gandalf. But that is besides the point. What is done is past. What should we do now.

Gandalf looks out into the mists of night outside under the moonlight of the Brandywine. 

Gandalf
I don’t think there’s any question: we need to leave immediately. Having orcs about here knowing we are back in town is not what we wanted for our mission. Still, it seems they do not know what we are doing here, which is better. But Morgoth and the orcs will be digging deeper to find out our purpose and intent here. Secrecy was our best defense, but rarely in my life have I fully had it.

Fimili
But doesn’t Morgoth already know you are here and your purpose?

Gandalf
I don’t think so, probably not until now. My ring, one of the three, hides us well, but not well enough. It is one way of hiding, although it is not perfect. I think Morgoth might have suspected something unusual was happening down this way and wanted to explore it. He can see all in the mind of his army, but not in me or in Elrond or in some of the other wise who are wary of his craft. However, I was not the best at this; I was not learned as Elrond in this ability. At any rate, it is clear we must leave immediately. Morgoth will begin spending all his time thinking about us and this place if he knows there are more wizards staying here. If we stay moving, he will leave Buckland alone.

Fimili
I am wondering if one of us should go to Gondor to speak with Aragorn and counsel him on these matters. He above all would need our guidance right now.

Gandalf
He could use it. You are right. Aragast mentioned this idea before as well, but I did not like the sound of it. Finding the Great Ring would be a higher priority at this point. But worry not: Aragorn sees much like the mind of Earendil long ago, and his judgement is often as sound as many high elves. Still, I would like to speak to him. You are right. It would be perilous if he suddenly made an attack on the Black Lands to the north. He should wait and not move for now.

Fimili
I am uncertain, Gandalf. I would not have Gondor be brought down because of a rash move.

Gandalf
Feel what your heart tells you. I would prefer your skills in your Moria, but I feel good will come out of it if you go to Gondor. But let us debate this matter later: we should head for Rivendell immediately. Our paths at least may lie together for a time.

Gandalf moves into action and begins collecting his belongings, while Fimili disappears into the other room. 

Dregha
What is it, Gandalf? Where are you going?

Gandalf
To Rivendell for a short while, then to Moria. There were some orc spies along the way, dressed as men in grey robes. It seems they know some wizards are back in Middle Earth, and that will cause trouble us if we stay put.

Dregha
Orcs! This close to Brandywine? I should sound the alarm.

Gandalf 
No need for that, Dregha. The orcs are gone for now and won’t be back. I’ll see to that.

Dregha
Do you think I should come with you?

Gandalf
No, I think it is better you stay for now. We will be in Moria. Perhaps when we return, we will need the assistance of a few hobbits.

Dregha
To help defeat Morgoth.

Gandalf
I was thinking more along the lines of spying near the borders of his lands to the north. I would not send you to his gate. That is not very good idea. Not for you nor me nor anyone.

Gandalf heads for the round hobbit-hole door, and turns abruptly. 

Gandalf
You will need to keep watch on the roads. Talk to the Men of the Guard and send them after me when they come.

We see Gandalf and other wizards now riding horseback in the direction of Weathertop, past Bree. They ride past Bree, and then we see them ford the river before Rivendell, where they come to the high cliffs of Rivendell on each side. The place is filled with men from Vale and Gondor who have come to live in the place since the elves vacated the place seven years ago. Gandalf sees a young man, carrying a bucket of water from the nearby river. 

Gandalf
You there? What is your name?

Man
Do I believe my eyes? Is it Mithrandir?

Gandalf
It is.

Man
My name is Vrindor. I am from Gondor, but I travelled to live here two seasons ago to watch the roads to the west and to live in quieter country. They said Rivendale was empty. They told me you had left for the Havens long hence.

Gandalf
Seven years ago to be exact. But the need is drawing me back, along with the other istari.

Vrindor
It must be because of the orc spies everywhere. I have seen moving in vast numbers out on the plains between here and the Misty Mountains. I was walking there with some rangers there some time back.

Gandalf
Yes, there is trouble mounting again. The orcs do not flee to the north for the love of snow and cold. They do not like it. But come: tell me. Who is the leader in Rivendell these days?

Vrindor
Most certainly my lord Erithan. He is a ranger of the West, one that Aragorn knew long ago when he dwelt here.

Gandalf
Ah, Erithan. That is good. I have met him once or twice in the wild, but not under good circumstances, where we could enjoy some ale or a good meal.

Vrindor laughs. 

Vrindor
They say in Gondor one never meets Mithrandir under good circumstances. If you see him, it means all is not well.

Aragast
That is because he is always going where is most needed.

We now see the House of Elrond, standing still and tall and glistening in the shining sun. There are gardens all around the place, growing. The trees stretch high in the sky, filtering out the sunlight, splintering it in plays of light on the marble floors leading into the place. Gandalf walks along the patio and into the House, where Erithan is standing with a pitcher of water in his hand. He does not look like a nobleman. His hands are soiled, and his hair looks unclean and oiled, as if he has spent many days in the wild.  

Erithan
Who would have thought that Gandalf would return? There were rumors, my friend, that you would return among the Dunedain, but none could predict when. Most predicted before this time.

Gandalf
I was not delayed, but maybe I was. Who knows? The winds blew well from the Havens, but I did not get the inkling to go until a week ago.

Erithan 
A scout came by yesterday and told me that he was sending word to you in the Grey Havens. He was not sure if you might already be afoot again in Middle Earth, so he told me to tell you that Aragorn would like you to see him as quickly as possible. Morgoth, the oldest and vilest evil of Middle Earth, has once again taken form, it seems, near Beleriand, his former haunt. The dwarves have seen a sign to the north, near the Grey Mountains. It bears no words, just a large black finger pointing to the West.

Gandalf
It is the sign of Morgoth.

Erithan
Yes, all the rangers know it, and we have been fearing its return to Middle Earth for hundreds of years. Some say Morgoth’s return will signal the end of this world, as we know it, but Aragorn has told to trust not this fable passed down from ages past.

Gandalf
I have read the story. I believe it was a story constructed by Melkior himself to bring fear to the hearts of men when he returns again. But that is another whole debate among wizards. Elrond has foreseen no such time anytime soon.

Erithan
How is Elrond?

Gandalf
Much better in some ways. This place was free of care compared to most of Middle Earth, but it was still a place entirely free of care. In the Havens, he worries not at all, though he misses Arwen deeply.

Erithan
Immortality is no small thing. In time, I shall join him there. But I feel it was not my time to leave. It is probably this work here in Rivendell and abroad, this new terror rising.

Gandalf
Yes, I think you are right. In the meantime, we ask that we have a place to spend the night. In the morning, we leave for Moria. You may send a messenger of Gondor, if you can spare one, to relay the news to Aragorn. Tell Aragorn not to make battle plans against Morgoth while he is still new and rallying his troops. It is a trap many have fallen for in the past. They think he is like a new seed waiting to sprout in the ground, and they try to snatch it before it festers and grows. But the seed is poisonous and chokes. Be cautious.

Erithan looks at him, with surprise and dismay.  

Erithan
I will do as you wish, Gandalf. But why Moria? What lies there other than stinking orcs who will stick a sword in your back in the dark?

Gandalf
It is a business about a ring, a long lost ring. We think it may lie there still, among the ruins below the ground. We believe it was one of the Seven perhaps or a long lost one from the First Age, even more powerful and good, which I will not name here.

Erithan
This is both good and bad news. I do not like Moria, but the prize you seek is more alluring than all the gold in the Lonely Mountain. Were those powers to be awakened again, we would see much good. At the same time, Middle Earth is well. I myself would not risk the journey. It is perilous beyond measure, and there are rumors of another Balrog below ground even stronger and more crafty than before. I myself would not undertake this journey, especially at this time.

Gandalf
You would not do so, but I think we will find Morgoth an easier opponent should we to find what we seek. At this time, you must understand that he is above all the worst possible situation we could face. He is a foe beyond Aragorn and me and Elrond. Even the Balrog trembles at the mention of his name. We need a power not unlike Sauron needed to wield and hold at bay a power greater than ourselves. Were one of us to wield a Great Ring of Power, a master ring you might say that is elven in origin but of equal strength as the One, it would defeat all who came against us, even Morgoth himself.

Erithan 
That is what you seek. I had not heard of such a ring.

Gandalf
The elves have been seeking it for some time. Their search was in vain. They kept their search for it, even the ring’s existence, secret from everyone but a few.

Erithan
In that case, I wish you well Gandalf. But I would prefer not to lose you on the battlefield ahead if that is coming soon. That is still my thinking. But as you are known to do, you keep your own counsel. In many cases, it has served you well.

Gandalf 
Tell Aragorn I will be in Gondor in three weeks’ time. Let him also know of the prize I seek.

Erithan
I will send word right away.

We now see Gandalf riding again, along with the other wizards, far into the north of the Misty Mountains. Off in the distance, Caradras rears its head, craggy and intimidating amidst the sunlight angling in through a mix of brackish clouds. Scene after scene of low scrubs, and the riders passing through and among them, passes before our eyes until we see off in the distance a band of black figures passing along the road to the north. Plumes of dust and smoke rise up from the band of shapes moving rapidly from the south. 

Aragast
That must be a band of orcs.

Gandalf 
It is, I think, unless it’s Men of the Guard from the south. But your eyes are better than mine, Aragast.

Aragast
I do not think they are men. Their pikes are too long. It is a foul feeling I have from them. Should we ride out to meet them or hide? What do you say Gandalf?

Gandalf
I think it is advisable we hide until we are found. Otherwise, if we do not slay all of them, one might pass north and give away our direction and purpose. Now is not the time for a show of bravery. Our greatest ally on this journey is secrecy.

Aragast
I hope we still have it.

Gandalf
I think we have some, but it seems our presence is known already by our foe. But perhaps he is not aware of our position. I would not risk it.

Quickly, they dismount and hide among the stone crevices surrounding them. Gandalf hides behind a row of pillared rocks, where the shadows are long from the late afternoon sun. After tying the horses to a tree nearby, among the lee of a tall pillar, Fimili and Aragast join him, crouching down in the moss-covered floor beneath the leaning stone.

Aragast
I think we are in trouble in, Gandalf. The band is moving to the west some, and they will see the horses certainly. Would that we had walked. They are sure to see them if they are a degree or two past this way to the west.

Gandalf
I will cast some spells, so that they do not see them.

Gandalf begins writing some spells on the sand at his feet with his staff, old runes. But even as he does, the horses lurch and start, and one breaks its tether and, neighing, takes off in the direction of Rivendell. Even as Aragast steps out from beneath the pillar to see what’s going on, we see the band of orcs pivot and shift direction. Slow minutes pass, as Gandalf and the other two wizards prepare for the encounter with orc tribe. Gandalf lights his staff up; a blue luminescence radiates from it, and soon as its light has waxed, the first orc appears around the bend in the rock. The wizard lifts his staff, cries, and hues its head from its neck. Aragast and Fimili also slay one before the band runs in terror. Gandalf stands up on the towering pillar and looks at the band of retreating orcs, casts his vision further down the horizon, where the sun is now just beginning to set.

Gandalf
Three other companies, I can see, are moving north. One is two leagues; the other is maybe one or one half. I’m not sure they have seen us. Had we but an elf with us, it would help. These facts would be easier to read.

Aragast is nearby examining one of the dead orcs, fingering his black garments. 

Aragast
Gandalf, these are not ordinary orcs we were used to seeing before. They have larger heads and eyes.

Fimili
More ghastly and foul, I might add. Look at this token on his arm. It has a white symbol on it with a black hand on it.

Gandalf comes closer and stares at the symbol, scrupulously. 

Gandalf
Aye, it is the Black Hand. The Terror Beyond Terrors is what the orcs call Morgoth.

Aragast
It seems they are using the Hand before they even arrive in Beleriand.

Gandalf
It is true. Morgoth holds sway over the minds of his minions in totality. Not even Sauron could achieve this, even with the One on his finger. Sauron was almost that powerful, but not quite. They were forced to wear these even before they arrived. They spread blackness and curse the land as they pass through. But we should not stand dawdling, not with three orc companies passing off beside us. We should make haste to Caradras.

Aragast
Do you think they have seen us yet?

Gandalf
I’m uncertain, Aragast. But I do not want to chance our position. We should ride as fast as we can. They will probably see us, but by the time they arrive within a few farthings, we will be far into the mountains.

Gandalf gets on his horse, and the band of wizards do likewise. We now see them racing across the landscape, much faster than before. Caradras looms high in the sky; lightning gouges the horizon. The trio rides toward the intimidating mountain in the mounting twilight, until they arrive at the gate leading up the mountain pass, where snow-peaked mountains leer at them in rejection. The horses, out of breath, snort and stamp angrily. 

Aragast
These are quick orcs.

Gandalf
Those are Morgoth’s brood, the one we saw just to the south. They were living in the Misty Mountains, it seems. I did not think the vulture orcs were still in existence, but obviously I was not right.

Fimili
Morgoth likes this type of orc better, I once read.

Gandalf
Aye, Fimili. They are quicker in battle and more intelligent than the servants of Sauron. Sauron liked the latter because they were stronger and more frightening in appearance.

Gandalf lights his pipe and smokes for a bit, trying to calm his mind. 

Gandalf
We should proceed cautiously up this slope. We will have to disband with the horses again, I’m afraid. I think they will wait here for a long time before returning to the plain.

Aragast
I would not like to do this. I’m afraid the horses will be dead when we return. On top of this, we will not have a means back to Rivendell or to Gondor.

Gandalf
It is a terrible problem. But we needed all haste in getting here. Luckily, Samwise’s horse, Bill, made it back, even with Saruman’s forces in effect. I think they should be fine. Moreover, these are the horses of the line of Rivendell. They do not always just think of their own hides and stomachs above all else. The elf lords work in them, and they will come back when the time is ripe and when we need them. Still, I do not like a company of orcs about with them grazing in the plain below.

We now see the wizards moving up the slope to the gates of Moria. The pass is slick with rain and is slippery. Gandalf slides and falls to one knee as they go. The clouds are dim and downcast. Silence permeates the place, but now and then there is the sound of crows, crying woefully in the wilderness about them. Gandalf gets up and keeps walking. 

Gandalf
We are not in winter at least this time, but the rain is as dangerous. It is a foul rain.

Aragast
Do you think it is Morgoth’s spell doing this?

Gandalf
I don’t know, but it is a spell. Weather has never helped us in this place.

Presently, they arrive at the gates. The vines around the lake are now cleared, where the dwarves have now cleared it, and the pond around is still black and cold, like the color of iron. The rocks that had fallen in from before were still there but placed to the side by the dwarves who had come since Sauron’s defeat to visit Balin’s tomb.

Gandalf
Many dwarves have come here since I was here last with the Ring-Bearer. They had talked to me about dwelling once again in the mines and tilling the mithril there, but I counseled them not to do so. The stain of the orcs and that one I will not name here are still too powerful. Some might have survived, but it is folly to stay here a while. It drives men, elf, and dwarf to madness in the end.

Aragast
I would agree, Gandalf. I have no idea why the dwarves sought it out in the first place.

Gandalf
Because it was filled with mithril. They have found most of it since Sauron departed, I believe, but who knows what lies beneath even where their mines are? I don’t think they wanted to dig further. It might have stirred up other things that should never have seen the light at all. There are many things like that in Middle Earth, but none moreso than in the ground below Moria.

With that, the group heads into the gates and looks around. The light of three wizard staffs illuminates the way before them, bobbing back and forth as they pass through the suffocating darkness. Gandalf stops and halts in the passageway, pulls out a map. 

Gandalf
The dwarves who came here after the fall of Sauron fortunately made a map of the place, almost all the way to the depths of Khazad-dum. That is fine enough, as I’ve already been down there. My thinking is that our quarry may lie anywhere in the depths below, but I’m convinced from speaking with Elrond it is in the utmost depths of Khazad-dum, where the dark lake rests at the bottom. I think this because this would be the most obvious place to place a ring there that you were trying to keep from an enemy.

Aragast
Very wise thinking, Gandalf. Indeed it seems the most likely option, but should we not explore other options before descending into the abyss itself. It is a probably a day’s journey to the bottom where the lake is, and the thought of going down beneath into that netherworld is not to my liking. I’ve done it before, and I would prefer I never do it again.

Gandalf
What else do you have mind?

Aragast
We might try to find a lingering orc. It is unlikely they will come at us as eight wizards. That, I understand, is the reason why Gandalf you wanted so many of us. But if we were to lower our defenses for a while, and let some lowly orc pass our way, then we might burn his skin or cast some truth spell on him to extract the necessary information. I for one am nimble at the truth spell.

Gandalf
I actually prefer that option less than the other, Aragast. As much as I hate the terrors below our feet, it is less reviling than the company of orc. That at least is my view. The nameless entity once down there is gone, it seems, and we have the light to guide out ways. Elrond, however, seemed quite clear that he saw in the white palantir box at the bottom of the Lake of Fire. It is a sorry job for us, I’m afraid, but I dare not expect anything better for finding a lost Ring of Power.

Aragast
As you will, Gandalf. I would not force a vote on you, but this is your expedition, and it is your choice. You have travelled these places more than us.

We now see the wizards travelling through the mines, deeper and deeper, through many alleyways and narrows passageways, filled with morbid gloom. The firelight of the wizard’s torches flickers on the ceilings. They arrive in a great hall below the ground, with many books and dust-covered pillars. 

Gandalf
Ah, now, this is a great hall, and it was not on the map. This is very odd.  By the look of it, the dwarves never reached this place. They would have, of course, taken all the books contained here with them. It is almost a mile east of the exit to Lothlorien, where the bridge is broken.

Fimili
This must be a secret chamber for the dwarf lords. Some had many valuables contained in parts that were secret and subtle to the eye. I almost passed by the entrance myself, but Gandalf here espied it.

Gandalf
It is true, Fimili. Some magic was worked about the entrance of this room. I can feel it. Perhaps it was Balin. He knew some of our arts, and he probably would have been interested in such craft to keep the dwarf treasuries a well-kept secret from enemy eyes.

Gandalf walks to the edge of a large banquet table in the center of the hall and dusts off the spider webs and dust from the book covered on it. There is a shriek of a bat in the room, and some of the wizards stiffen for a moment. 

Gandalf
There is nothing on these pages. But by the look of it, there are secret runes on it. Alas, we would need some moonlight to read them. Elrond, as you know, is more lessoned in reading runes, and I have not the knowledge. I will bring it with me for when we return to the Grey Havens.

Gandalf places it in his cloak, stares around. At that moment, there is the sound of a groan in a remote corner of the room. The wizards all quietly creep over to the edge of the room and spy an old woman curled up along the ground, sleeping. Gandalf approaches slowly and, seeing she is a woman and not an orc, shakes her on the shoulder. In his other hand, he is holding his sword. 

Gandalf
Who are you? Wake up!

The woman wakes up and starts, then jumps to her feet, but Gandalf is too quick and pins her against the wall, closing her in on all sides. 

Woman
Oh. You are not orcs. That at least is good, but why do you have a sword drawn when you wake me? Why it is a terribly rude practice!

Gandalf lowers the sword a bit but not too much. 

Gandalf
Caution in Moria, even with trifles, is not to be cast away lightly. I do not travel here for leisure. Nor do you, I expect. But come, what is your name?

Woman
My name is Asta, the Wise. I am a wizard like you.

Aragast
An enchantress!

Asta
No, not at all. I only use spells of love. They ask me to, and they pay me well. I came here a fortnight ago, but I lost my way in the mines. This is the only place the orcs will not come.

Gandalf
Why won’t they come here?

Asta
There is old magic here. Very old. Can you not see the writing on the walls? It is old elvish. They do not like come near the runes. Besides that, there is something else. I know not what.

Gandalf
What brought you here?

Asta
The orcs were passing by my village to the south every day. They came pillaging and killing and stealing, and me and many of my townspeople did not know what do. One of them suggested we come here in the backdoor, so to speak, to the place they were leaving. But it did not go well. Many of them here got lost. I cannot find most of them.

Gandalf
That is what Moria does. You cannot find your way, even after a short journey. It is difficult to pass, but you should have stayed together and not wandered.

Asta
And what is your name, and what you are doing?

Gandalf
I am Gandalf, and these are my fellow wizards. Our business is private for now.

Asta
Gandalf! Now that is a name I’ve not heard in some time. They say you had passed beyond to the Havens.

Gandalf
I had, but I’ve decided to return. It appears someone is summoning the orcs to the north, and we wanted to find out what was happening.

Asta
I know the one. I will not say his name. We are too terrified. I think the mines will be better than what comes next if we stay in our homes. That at least is the thinking of my townspeople.

Gandalf
I have never been one to lose hope. Now the name of Morgoth is a terror beyond even Sauron, but we have much still going for us. Do you know what we are seeking? We are seeking one of the Great Rings, one that could defeat Morgoth. We believe it is somewhere in Moria. Now Asta, if you were to ever tell us anything of this ring and its whereabouts, your reward would immeasurable. I will see to it that the King pays you justly.

Asta laughs. 

Asta
The King? The king does not like our village, I think. We have too many witches. There has been much talk of that in the past. The Seven were once here, or a few of them, but it is said Sauron usurped the owners and destroyed the rings. But now, I am no bad wizard, and I can tell that you are not saying everything.

Gandalf
That is true. There is another ring, but I will not name it.

Asta
It is the ring of Gil-galad. I know it.

Gandalf looks at her with startled interest. 

Gandalf
How did you hear this name?

Asta
Since an early age, I have been able to listen to the elves’ minds when they pass, when I hold the Stone of Ithindir in my hand. It is a round, smooth stone found only in the waters outside Dorinda. For some the stone holds no power. For others it unlocks unrealized potentials. I was the latter. For a long time, I have known what the elves were seeking with all their wills.

Gandalf
And you did not help them?

Asta
Oh, no. I did not know where the ring itself lay, but when I came here, I heard the orcs speaking among themselves. A week ago, they were talking, and did not notice me. They said the Balrog left the elf’s greatest reward in the Lake of Fire below. I will not repeat their words. I had no idea they meant the Gil-galad ring or else I might have gone down there myself. I thought they were referring only to mithril.

Aragast smiles.

Aragast
It is as you thought, but that lake I understand is very deep.

Asta
It is small, though, and I am good in the water. Had I the strength, I would have gone down there. But my friends were missing, and I no choice but to stay and find them.

Aragast
How many orcs are still in the mines?

Asta
As many as the stars, I think. I don’t know to be honest. I think many have left the part we are in. But there is a darker, even more insidious horde far below that finds this place up here even too fair for their sight. I do not even believe they could make the journey to the north. They hate the moonlight, and even the sight of it drives them mad.

Gandalf
Aye, the Khazadum orcs, the Balrog’s henchmen. I have seen them before. They are much worse, but they hate even a bit of light, as you say. Outside the darkness they are virtually inept, which is one blessing the world of Middle Earth still has.

Asta 
I would not go down there lightly. It is fiercesome and terrible. It is certain death for my kin if they go down there. You are a wizard and might fare differently.

Gandalf
I have been down there before. I do not do it idly but only when the greatest need arises. As for you, Asta, you can stay here, or you can come with us. We may be able you find your people when we return. But for now, our other errand is too pressing.

Asta
I think I will stay here and look for signs of my folk. Their lives will be in jeopardy otherwise.

The scene now shifts to Gandalf and the other wizards moving down through a labyrinth of a low-ceilinged black tunnels, filled with dampness and moss. There is a dripping sound in the stifling air, an ominous sound in the relentless silence. Gandalf’s wizard staff gleams and swims in the air, then stops, as he comes to a halt. 

Gandalf
The mine here becomes more complicated, as I remember. It seems the orcs have been doing some work in reshifting the tunnels below here. You see the scrapes on the walls, Aragast? These stones have been moved recently.

Aragast
The map is not quite the same as what we see here. I’m confused. The mine should fall down lower, where we are now angling up.

Gandalf meanwhile is studying the moss-covered stones nearby. He sticks out his staff. The wavering light scatters around along the walls. 

Gandalf
Aragast, there is writing here. Do you see it? It is in the language of the dwarves, I think. You are more learned in the dialect.

Aragast
It is true. I am part dwarf.

Aragast steps closer, his placid, wise-filled eyes scanning the blackness before him. The light of Gandalf’s staff illuminates his white beard and red-faced countenance and imperturbable eyes. 

Aragast
It is in an old dialect, one coming from the Second Age. It says, “the palace, 135 blocks to the east.”

Gandalf
That is how the dwarves often find their way in the mines—by counting blocks. They are called lections. Each lections has numbers on each in each sector. But this is odd. The palace above is more than 3,500 lections to the north. This stone has been moved quite a ways.

Aragast
I wonder why the dwarves after Sauron’s fall might have done this.

Gandalf
It is unlikely they did this. You see this charcoal scratch. That is an orc figure. It means fifteen, I think. It seems to me the orcs have taken this block of stone over two miles.

Aragast
That is very unlike the orcs. They do not like to wield stone. I wonder why they would have done this.

Gandalf
It seems obvious to me: they were trying to confuse people from entering the lower mines where they dwell.

Aragast
But the dwarves have long vacated this mine. This stone was moved within a fortnight.

Gandalf
It is an awful lot of work, but I’m afraid, my friends, that can mean only one thing.

Aragast
What?

Gandalf
Someone or something is trying to stop us or someone else from getting down below.  This work was obviously done to confuse visitors coming in from above in the upper mines.

Aragast
I hope it is not Morgoth.

Gandalf
Maybe. But regardless, we have an issue to resolve: we are currently lost.

We now see darkness, then a radiant light, first small, then faint, until it waxes to brightness. It fans out to a deep blue flame, illuminating Gandalf’s wizened features. He is mumbling words in the language of wizards. The spell falls from his lips, and he falls silent. 

Gandalf
There it is. It is the best I could do to move the rock before us. As I see it, it is one rock blocking our passage. There may be more down below, but this is the first we have come across. It seems the lections are not all mistaken. They have simply moved a few rocks. We need to turn right here, but the passage is blocked.

Aragast
I think you are right, Gandalf. I was walking up the path back, and most of the pillars are in place, as on the map. I fear a spell will not work. The dwarf runes on them forbid them from doing so.

Gandalf
It is true, but it is just like the passage way in. There is a password that moves the rocks, though it is not melon, or friend, like the gate. I have tried the whole dictionary of elvish words, but none have worked.

Aragast
This stone is old, much older than the gate. I think it has a different magic about it. The dwarves may have a tougher password for a wall or a pillar. They would not have wanted these moved so easily.

Gandalf
You are quite right. At least, for now, I am not going to try the password anymore. It seems odd the orcs would have found it and used it. I suspect the word may be in old dwarf for that matter. The orcs would not use an elven tongue ever.

Aragast
So what do propose we do, Gandalf? Should we end this stupid jaunt we are on?

Gandalf laughs. 

Gandalf 
Nay, Aragast. I do not think we should. There is another way to go down into the low mines. It is the way I went before.

Fimili
No, Gandalf. That is reckless. Name another way. That is not the way. It would be folly.

Gandalf
It is not the way I would choose, but I have plenty of elven rope with me. I thought we might need it for the task.

Aragast
We could repel then. Is the rope long enough?

Gandalf
It is probably seven-hundred meters when I use spells on it to grow. It is very fine rope.

Aragast
The same as Samwise and Frodo used in Mordor?

Gandalf
The very same.

Fimili
I think it is not advisable. There are windows into chambers all the way down to the bottom of Khazadum. We don’t even know what lurks inside them.

Gandalf
That shouldn’t be a problem until we near the lake. My thinking is that the enemy, if they are onto us, will not guess we will try that method. They think we will try to keep moving the stones, and they may fortify their presence there.

Aragast
So you believe they are onto us?

Gandalf
It is possible, but I do not think they will attack until the bottom of the mine. That is where the darkness is deepest, and where the Khazadum orcs feel most at their advantage. There are only two passages leading into the lake area, and if they know what we are doing and seeking, they will lie at these places and wait in secret. I’m think if we go down through the chasm, we will land in the water, where they don’t expect us. The water is very hot, but not too hot for comfort. The orcs seldom like to sit near water; much water irritates their minds, even if it is polluted with all sorts of foul substances.

Fimili
This is a dastardly plan, but I think you are right, Gandalf. I do not know all the dwarf words, nor does Aragast here.

Aragast
I’m well versed in the tongue of the dwarves from the Third Age. Few are learned in their tongue of the Second Age. Balin and Dain, I think, were fluent in the old dwarf tongue. Few dwarves ever speak it. The dwarves often used their old dialect from the Second Age for these sorts of passwords, which complicates the matter.

Gandalf
It is true. So it is settled. We climb down the chasm. It is the last place on earth I would like to go in some ways, perhaps second to only Baradur itself. But I think that is the plan of our enemy. Our prize is held in a place where we are least apt to seek it, and that is his central design for putting it there.

Aragast
I hope it is not a trap, Gandalf.

Gandalf
It might be. But with secrecy we might evade it. I think at this point we have no other choice, though. The forces of Morgoth are getting stronger as we speak, and without some great assistance such as we have never had, our cause will be much more difficult.

We now see Gandalf staring down into the abyss of Khazadum. There is a soft light illuminating his face, but other than that, there is darkness around him. Near him, Aragast is standing nearby, with the elven rope in his hand. Fimili is tying it to the end of a pillar nearby. The place feels haunted. There are papers scattered around the place, old parchments. The place is eerie, filled with aghast silence. 

Gandalf
Once this was a court room we were in, until the Nameless One came. This window looked out into a pleasant sight: shapely rocks descended into a lake where the dwarves kept their furnaces and mines. Torches kept it alight at all times of the day. The lake was used to provide water to workers below and to douse metals when it was being worked. There used to be many gold coins in the lake. It was a wishing well. But now it is filled slime and filth. You will not like being in it, but if I am not mistaken, we may be able to land on the shore of lake if we climb down from this window.

Fimili
As I recall, it was something that arose from the Deep that cursed this place. It was not invaded from the outside.

Gandalf 
It is true. The dwarves dug too deep and too long. There were things stirring in the ground below that had lain in the darkness, not knowing that the light existed.

Fimili
The Balrog.

Gandalf
Name him not. I believe the rumors are true: that one has fallen to his death after Sauron’s fall. Part of his life remained in Sauron, and it was not long before he could no longer hold back his own demise. Some speak of another rising, but I’m unsure.

Fimili
Well, that is good news for us. But I hope this is not some sort of trap. The movement of the stones suggests that someone is here guarding this prize below.

Gandalf
It is possible. We may encounter foes here we have never even seen or heard before. I think it is probably old Orcs of old Khazadum, lying beneath here. But let us not sit here idle.

We now see Gandalf and the other two wizards moving downwards in the blackness, suspended by single ropes. Their sword sheaths clink against the hardened stone. There is only darkness below them, but Gandalf’s staff glows faintly, creating an aurora of light as they pass below slowly. Gandalf lands on the shore of the lake, where he fought the Balrog long ago. There are bones scattered about the place, and the light of his staff illuminates a deep, blackened pool, filled with craggy rocks and glinting cups of gold. Fimili and Aragast soon join him, panting and out of breath. 

Gandalf
Ah, the air smells better down here than I last remember, but the scent of terror is still in the air. It is a bleak and terrible place. Look, you can see many gold treasures below. I did not notice these before. I believe the orcs must have taken these down from the palace above.

Aragast
The orcs are often wont to do this. They hide things in the most terrible of places, where not even a dwarf will want to go for gold.

Gandalf
It is true. I think we have a bit of time. We may be able to haul some of these treasures. But we must be wary: there are often creatures lurking in Moria’s waters that we will not wish to disturb.

We now see Gandalf waist high in the water, pushing around with his staff. A nearby torchlight is flickering in the air. The other two wizards are wandering through the water as well, near the shore. Suddenly, Gandalf pulls up a goblet and stares at it. 

Gandalf
Aragast, it is the cup of Balin. It is the same one I used to see him use all the time after the defeat of Smaug. Someone must have thrown it down here. There are nine gems on it. It is priceless.

Gandalf goes to the shore and places the gleaming cup there. He wipes his brow and stares into the blackness. There is a scuffling sound in the corridor, and whispering. He raises his staff and draws his sword. Then, he dims the light on his staff and moves toward the corridor. There is a flickering sound of footsteps as a being behind in the low corridor scurries back up the pathway. 

Aragast
What is it, Gandalf?

Gandalf
It is a spy, I think. As I said before, the orcs generally don’t like sitting by water, so that is one thing going for us. But they will check it now and then.

Fimili stops walking in the water. 

Aragast
Should we leave then and climb our way back up?

Gandalf
No, I think not. But I think we may have some company, in which case we need to hurry. Grinidor…

At that moment, an arrow whizzes past Gandalf’s head, even while he is in mid-sentence. Gandalf lurches back into the water. His sword, Glamdring, is blazing bright in the steady, unkind darkness of the place. Gandalf mutters, then curses to himself. There are seconds of ominous silence; then another arrow misses and strikes the water behind him. 

Aragast
Run to the rocks on the shore, Fimili.

The wizards flee behind a tall, jagged black rock on the edge of the shore. Gandalf’s light from his staff barely shows the way, and Aragast trips and falls. Fimili helps him to his feet, until they are all behind the large jutting rock. 

Aragast
Aargh, it is a Balrog arrow. We were ill-informed. You thought he had passed, but apparently he has not.

Gandalf  
Not quite. This must be another one, perhaps one of his spawn. I can tell by the sound of his voice. It is not he.

Aragast
What are we to do?

Gandalf
I am thinking, Aragast. He may not come down here for a while; the Balrog likes to scare their prey before they pounce. I had done some planning for this eventuality. Now that we are found out down here, my thinking is that there is no longer any need to conceal ourselves. Darkness was before our friend; now it is our enemy.

Aragast
What do you mean?

Gandalf
I suggest we light as many torches as have with us. Fill this place with light. The orcs down here will not go near the light, and the Nameless One himself will not care to be here. There is but one entrance to this lake, and it is opposite. I will stand there as a guard and fill the entrance in with rocks, while you light the torches and search for the rings.

Aragast shakes his head, almost hopelessly. 

Aragast
This is a pit of despair. We should have never come. I fear Fimili was right: we are in a trap.

Gandalf
Trap it may be but maybe not the worst I’ve seen. Quick! We should make haste.

We now see the lights of all three wizards staff on the shores of the lake, moving quickly and rapidly. Aragast and Grinidor station torches around the edge of the lake, five of them in total, while Gandalf begins muttering spells to break the rocks guarding the entrance of cave. With a loud stamp of his staff, the walls finally cave in and topple around the entrance as Gandalf lets out a great cry in Elvish from his mouth. The rocks fall quietly, and Gandalf stands sentinel with his staff glowing bright. He looks weary and haggard. He seems out of breath and overwhelmed. 

Gandalf
I had hoped one of my greatest foes had left Middle Earth. Alas, I’m in it again. I fear this Balrog is more adept than the last. I had hoped it was one of his henchmen, but I was mistake: he is at least just as terrible.

Aragast
He is terrible in his might, Gandalf. I shudder at his presence. It is drawing nearer. He might get through the walls.

Gandalf
Fear not! He shall not enter this room. We must hold those thoughts in our minds.

Fimili
The ropes, Gandalf. Look!

The other wizards turn to Fimili and see the elven ropes slide down into the muck that is on the shore of the lake. The silver threads make no sound. They turn and look at each other, and then they all hear the sound of drums above, quieter at first, then louder. Gandalf’s face become surreal and electric. Fimili begins to weep as he holds the ropes.

Gandalf
Calm down, Fimili.

Fimili
There is no way out, Gandalf.

Gandalf
The only one way out now is past this passage. We will have to remove the rocks. But you must find what we seek. Get up. Go into the water, while I hold my thought bent on this doorway. I will keep our foe at bay.

Fimili stands up and stares into the vacuous water, where gold glints here and there. His eyes seem enchanted for a moment. 

Gandalf
Go in! Find it. The master ring will get us out of here. A legion of Balrogs will not even come near us with one of us wielding it. Go on!

Grinidor moves to the water and dives head first. The screen shifts to the bottom of the lake, with him at the top, and his limbs swimming all over the place. He plunges with all his might into the dark stillness beneath. 

We now see Strider in Gondor, with Arwen by his side. There is an elf nearby playing a harp, and a large banquet table to the right of the elf. The food is now gone, and it is after dinner. Aragorn seems upset, and is playing with his beard, introspectively. The scout from Rivendell passes suddenly into the hall, the one sent by Erithan. 

Scout
My lord. It is me, Tharamir. We met long ago when I was still a child. You probably do not recognize me. I lived near the village of Bree. I live now in Rivendell. It was almost fortnight ago, under command from Erithan, that I was told to send you word of what is afoot in the area around us. Gandalf has returned, and he sends his word.

Aragorn gets up. 

Aragorn
Gandalf is back! That is probably the best news I’ve heard since this all began.

Tharamir
What all began, sire?

Aragorn
It is the news from north. There is a dark lord rising again. If you have read all the tales, you would know the  name, Morgoth.

Tharamir
It is too terrible to contemplate. We had heard rumors of this, but are you sure of it?

Aragorn
Sadly, we are. Our scouts to the north have reported his mark in the land that was once Beleriand.

Tharamir
Beleriand is where his old palace lay, I have read.

Aragorn
It is true. I’ve been there once, and I have no plans of ever returning there again.

Tharamir
Gandalf is here with two other istari form the Havens. I was told to send this message.

Aragorn
And Gandalf did not ride with you and his company? Why not?

Tharamir
He has gone to Moria to seek the lost ring, one of the great elven rings of old. I was told to keep this information in the strictest of confidence. Gandalf also said that you must wait for him before making a move to the north. An assault on Beleriand too early on the hosts gathering there would be folly, he said. Morgoth is not so weak as you might suppose, even with only a small host at his disposal.

Aragorn
Ah. It is good you visited me then. I was wondering that very thing. Some of my men have been advising me to strike quickly and smartly at the place to nip the dark lord while his forces are still young. But this other news troubles me: were it not Gandalf, I would say that he has strayed into folly over finding a lost ring. Such tasks are entered at a perilous risk. The dark lords  have long laid traps around a long lost ring, it is said.

Tharamir
My superior agreed with you, but he said this ring was the master ring of the Three, of which one he possesses himself. The white wizard feels convinced that it is the antidote to our ills.

Aragorn is silent for a moment. He becomes thoughtful and far-off in his thinking. 

Arwen
The White Ring has long been in the mind of elves. That is the name we used to call it. So long has it been sought without fortune that many have thought it was nothing but a legend. But I see it is no so. I would like to use this ring if it were ever to come to Gondor, for it is said it can repel even the Master Ring of Sauron. Long have the elves kept this lore secret, hoping Sauron and other dark minds that the elves were not even seeking it.

Aragorn
It would be a very great boon for our cause. I had heard of this ring once before, but the elves were often a bit coy with me about telling what their plans were. It seems Sauron knew much of what was on my mind at times, and they did not want to betray their secret quest. I had not heard until recently they had been looking for this ring so long.

Tharamir
Gandalf says Morgoth will be defeated, were he to find it. But we will need every ounce of its support. Alone, Morgoth is a greater force than Sauron. I had hoped, and wanted to believe, that it was not so Morgoth was back. Some of the men at Rivendell do not yet believe it, but they are troubled by the orcs moving north. There is a new terror rising, they say, for what force can make the orcs move under the heat of sunlight?

Aragorn
Only a very powerful and evil mind. It is a day I wish I had never seen, Tharamir, but I’m afraid it is here.

The scene now shifts back to Fimili swimming deep below in the lake’s cavern. The torch light refracts in the ripples above, as he plunges below in the darkness, searching frantically with his hands. Above, barely audible, is the sound of Gandalf’s voice, yelling, a sound intermixed with the sound of orcs crying from the upper ramparts of Khazadum. Fimili proceeds deeper until his hand finds a small crevice in the bottom of the lake; he sees a black box with a small serpentine silver symbol on it. He reaches for it, but a long black tentacle seizes his hand. He draws a knife and cuts at the tentacle; it lurches and seizes at his throat. He stabs it twice, and it goes limp. Then, he grabs the box and begins to swimming to the surface. He reaches the surface, and gasps. He appears white and almost about to faint. He swims to the shore and stands up back on the shore, where Aragast is standing. 

Aragast
You did it, you fool. But let’s get behind the rocks.

The two move to the edge of the wall, where they were hiding before, away from the view of the orcs. By this time, Gandalf is there, standing tall and fearful in the dank gloom. 

Gandalf
Is your hand alright. It looks torn.

Fimili
It’s fine, I think. There was some monster below guarding the box.

Gandalf
It is Nizrak of the Deep. Seldom do the serpents of the deep come to the surface, for fear of seeing the light. I imagine whoever hid the box here must have laid some spell on it to guard the box. Otherwise, it would have left long ago, I think.

Fimili
What a filthy box! There’s a dark slime covering. And all black leather.

Gandalf
The symbol on it is Morgoth’s, I’m afraid. The Black Finger. This type of Southron leather and the symbol suppress the energy of the rings if they are in there. I know one of Three was once kept like this. But come now, let us have a look.

Gandalf reaches to grab the box delicately with his fingers, then slowly examines the lock on the box. He mutters some words, almost inaudibly. 

Aragast
Gandalf, do not utter those words here. That is the language of Mordor.

Gandalf
The lock on the box, I’m afraid, will require the opener to use the password, which is invariably in that language. Give me a minute here.

Gandalf keeps muttering in Mordor language, then after a few minute, the leather binding slides off.. With the ring Elrond gave him, he unlocks the box and lifts up the hatch. Inside are five glittering rings. Four are gold with beryl stones placed at their top; the other is made of mithril and shines like the light of star in the gloomy place. 

Aragast
Unbelievable.

Gandalf 
This is too good to be true, I think. The four are obviously the last of the Seven. They always used beryl, the dwarfs. Had I but known they were down here I would have stayed for a whole month down here if needed. But if I had known the Great Ring of the Elves was here, I might have lived down here for a year. With it, we will undo much of the evil that has been done. Look and behold!

Gandalf holds the silver ring up, and the ring brightens in color as he holds it aloft for the other wizards to see. Above them, the sound of the orcs yelling turns to the nauseous sound of crying and moaning and terror. But even as it does, the ground around the wizards begins to tremble and shake, and Khazadum seems to moan. 

Aragast
What is it, Gandalf?

Gandalf cries and falls behind a cleft of stone to hide himself from the falling rocks. 

Gandalf
Evil afoul, Aragast. There was some sort of trip spell on the box. I had feared this, but we had to take a risk. Once the box is opened, it unleashes a realm of terrors on the finder of the box.

Aragast

Aye, it is Morgoth’s terror for doing this.

The rocks rumble and heave, and the door beyond where Gandalf has placed rocks to block the Balrog suddenly heave and shutter. They pulse, then shatter open. The Balrog, dark and terrible, his eyes red with flame and anger, strides into the vault. 

Gandalf 
You two, stay in the water. He will not come too close to the water. I will face him, using the Great Ring.

Aragast
We should stay nearby and work his mind with our magic.

Gandalf
You will not be needed. I can face him alone, but do what you will. The water is the best place for safety. We cannot flee up or down. We must defend or attack.

With that Gandalf places the Great Ring on his finger, and he disappears into thin air. There is the faint movement of pebbles as his feet move along the outer rim of the lake, his sword drawn but invisible. 

Aragast
He is invisible!

Fimili
It is like One Ring. He is invisible also.

Aragast
Let us stay here and write up our runes in the ground to stir up the Balrog’s mind so he makes mistake.

Both agitated, they hastily begin etching in the ground runes of lore. Meanwhile, the Balrog looks around bewildered. He lets out a fierce cry and shakes the ground. From above, the ceiling collapses, and the stones beside the two wizards shake and tumble. When the ceiling settles, Fimili’s leg is trapped under a large slab of black stone. He lurches to break free, but he quickly realizes he can’t. 
The scene now pivots to the Balrog, who is staring around for Gandalf. In a second or so, a sword passes through his shoulder, and he lets out a blood curdling shriek. Above, the orcs stop rolling their drums, baffled their master is so upset. Gandalf from a different angle hurls a great stone at his other, and the creature, shaken, turns suddenly and runs up the way he came. Gandalf reappears after a few seconds, panting but not quite. He is still wearing the Great Ring, which appears to the other wizards like a star rising on the horizon. 

Gandalf
That was much easier than the last time, but the terror and panic is still not assuaged by this ring, powerful as it is.

Aragast
Fimili is trapped. I fear his leg is broken.

Gandalf 
That is not good news. I did not see it. The good news is that the new Balrog has taken a blow mightier than any foe has probably ever caused one of his kind. The orcs are bewildered and retreating. I’m not sure they knew the Great Ring lay down here. It seems likely that they didn’t. Morgoth, I think, himself must have done it. He alone is perhaps the only one that can suffer to even go near it.

Aragast
It’s a mighty good spot he chose.

Gandalf
It is one of the worst actually. I know now why he chose it. The ring itself is weaker down here for some reason, as is our spellcraft. Not even Baradur is this effective in suppressing the power of the White Council. Some dormant power lies down here from long ago, far greater in some ways, although it is now only but a memory. Now, Fimili, let me see your plight.

Gandalf and Aragast together both heave the stone together. 

Aragast
That was quite a weight you lifted, Gandalf. Not ten men could do this, I think.

Gandalf
It is the Great Ring. It not only gives unseen powers, it seems. We need to study this some more to get out of here. There are some things I don’t know about it yet, but its uses are innumerable. Now, Fimili, how is your leg? Can you walk?

Fimili
It is limp. I may be able to stand in a bit.

Fimili tries to get to his legs but fails. His white hands clutch the edge of the black rocks lying strewn about the place. 

Gandalf
Here, let me hold your leg.

Fimili releases the rock from his hands, then stands up. 

Fimili
I can stand at least. I didn’t think I would for an hour or so at least.

Gandalf
It is the ring. It can heal as well as destroy. Do you think you can walk a few miles or so?

Fimili
Yes, I think I might in a bit. I feel dizzy.

Gandalf
Then, we will wait here for a bit and watch. It is not a bad idea. I don’t want to make hasty movements into the upper regions. The Balrog is ever cunning. He is not averse to ring bearers, and although I surprised him there, I would not consider him defeated. I think he is retreating to heal himself and think things over a bit.

Fimili
What a reckless terror! I had not imagined such an evil before.

Gandalf
That is because you have lived in the Havens all your life so far. But still, you did not panic. That place stills the mind, so that even the greatest terror does not freeze the mind and will. Living there teaches greater mastery sometimes than going through many battles.

Aragast
It is a good point. But I wonder what we should do about the creature below. I don’t know what it is, but I feel it below, conjuring some evil, I think.

Gandalf
The Nizarak are an old breed, perhaps as old as Shelob in Cirith Ungol. They have an old magic that few understand. I’m not sure if this ring will work on it. But come, let me see the box again.

Aragast hands him the black box. Gandalf takes out the four dwarf rings and places one on his hand. The other he places in silver container of mithril. 

Gandalf
That should be a better home for them now. I plan to use one of the Seven now. They say it can move rocks and work stone and write magic runes without the aid of a staff or pen. That should come in handy down here in our plight. Behold Imaril, the wisest of the Seven.

Aragast
Oh my, Gandalf. I don’t know if the dwarves will let you keep it. They will be overwhelmed by our discovery.

Gandalf
It is probably true. It is theirs by right, but they may at least let me borrow one for a time. Long have they sought the Seven, and now four of them have returned. I had not actually hoped to ever see them again.

Aragast
I had always believed that Smaug and the other dragons had consumed them.

Gandalf
I think it must be true for the other three perhaps. It was a rumor, and not a good one I had heard before. But that is not unlike Sauron: he would have spread the rumor that the Seven were all destroyed so that none seek them. As it is, they were in one of the unkindest spots in existence.

Aragast
I wonder why they were not destroyed like the others. Are you certain they are some of the Seven?

Gandalf points to his finger, holding his staff up close Imaril so the other can see the writing on it. 

Gandalf
The writing is in Elven, as are all the great rings. The Nine were not, which is why they were so easily corrupted by the One.

Aragast
“Imaril, one of the Seven rings to rule the earth beneath our feet.”

Gandalf
Yes, that is what some old sage wrote of this ring. It is no small thing, these rings. The Balrog will want to keep his distance with these on, because his own power is taken and placed somewhere else with this ring on.

Aragast
I for one do not want his spells. But where does his power go if he gets near us?

Gandalf
To the Iluvatar, or perhaps even Eru, or some great wizard. They do not use their power, but they hold them back for a time, and the dark ones feel ill and weak around it. It is not so much an attack ring, like the Great Ring, but a defensive one. But enough ring lore for now. Let us sit and rest for a bit.

We now see Gandalf smoking a pipe on one of the stones a few minutes later. Aragast is pacing around, staring at the walls and at the chasm above nervously. Fimili is sitting near the lake, nursing his still slightly wounded knee. 

Fimili
This place feels lighter all of a sudden, as if a great terror has been lifted from it. I would almost dare to call it happy, but I wouldn’t quite go that far.

Gandalf
I cursed many of the dark memories and presences here from long ages ago. They have festered and wandered down here since the First Age, I believe, and it is part of the rot growing at the center of lower Moria. Besides that, the Great Ring repels them, just as the One drew them to itself.

Fimili
We have surely struck at fortune below here, Gandalf. But do you think we can defeat Morgoth with that ring? His mind sees all within his realm, and his clutch is infallible within his territories to the north. He can resist even that ring, I think.

Gandalf
You are right, to an extent. The Great Ring will not allow us to defeat him there easily. Only when he is touched by the Great Ring will he fall, which makes this even more difficult than Sauron. Frodo never had to meet the Dark Lord himself. You hit close to the mark, Fimili. I am still pondering what I should do with this ring.

Aragast
One can surely not knock on the Dark Lord’s palace doors. It would be suicide.
Gandalf
You are right. In my case, it might possible, but my mind might be in such disarray I might not even remember to use it. Or even worse, I could lose it there. That, I believe, is how this ring was lost in the first place.

Aragast
They say Gil-galad lost it there, yes, I remember the tale. They said he was able to banish Morgoth, however. But why do you say your wits would be in disarray?

Gandalf
The problem is that there are few that can trick Morgoth around on what is happening within his own realm. This is unlike Sauron, who often looked too far beyond his borders for his own good. Morgoth would know I was there with the ring and begin to manipulate my wits and reason. That is his strategy for survival. His will is absolutely relentless, and his craft beyond reason for one so evil.

Aragast
It is impossible, I think. I suppose we may only hold onto the Great Ring as a final defense. If Morgoth enters Gondor, we might attack him and place it on him.

Gandalf
Maybe. At least, that. But that would be a terrible day indeed if Morgoth himself were to enter Gondor. I do not hope that day ever comes. But I have other plans, once again dealing with hobbits. After this, I propose we return to the Shire and recruit a few. It seems Morgoth cannot read their minds, even in his own area! The dark lords appear to have left hobbits out of their sights in terms of magic and might, and so far, it is their own undoing. Morgoth, however, will know the story of Sauron and be on to our thinking, I believe, so this strategy may not in the end be the best course. But enough talk of the future. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible.

Fimili
I do not want to go up the pathway. There is an evil feel up there, and the Balrog has just walked there. Can we not find the ropes again?

Gandalf
I fear not. I suppose one of us could go up and let the ropes down again, but I do not think it wise to separate in this gloom. Fear not, Fimili. My staff will light the way, and the rings on my finger will help us more than imaginable.

Gandalf picks up his staff and stares up into the chasm below, then turns to the blackened water at his feet. He raises his staff and mutters out loud a few elven words. Then, he writes runes on the ground with his fingers. Fimili comes closer and stares at him. 

Gandalf
So it is. The curse on the Lake of Fire has been undone with the Great Ring. Only it would set this place free, for the One Ring itself caused this terror below ground. Long ago, Sauron cursed this place with the One on his finger. It was this that enabled the terrors of the deep that dwell here to arise from their deeper holds and dwell here. In time, this place will be like Ithilien almost, just as it once was before Sauron’s time. The orcs will leave, and the water will become clear and cold, like light. I think in due time the dwarves in Erebor will want to return.

Aragast
I did not know Sauron once came here. Not idly do I sit in a place where the Dark Lord himself once stood. It agitates me. I say let us get out soon, even if the lake begins to run with milk and honey.

Gandalf
Aye, Aragast. You are right. This place is still not cured, and we have to make haste. We must learn of Morgoth’s doings above ground and if he plans an attack as well. If he is planning an assault soon, we may find we are not sleeping but riding most of these nights.

With that, the trio of wizards departs up the long tunnel, through the broken and shattered rocks at the bottom of Khazadum. But even as Gandalf passes into the tunnel, there is the sound of rocks shattering, and the ground rumbles. A host of rocks from an avalanche above falls down into the lake, sealing it up. 
Gandalf turns and looks at the rocks, and his face becomes suddenly agitated.

Gandalf
The place is falling in! The tunnel will collapse shortly. There must be a seal on the lake, preventing the Great Ring from passing beyond this barrier. I should have guessed.

The wizards run up the dark, low tunnel passage, which is now caving in with material and rock debris on all sides. Stones whizz past their heads, and here and there an arrow clanks against the walls as they run up the steep and wind path out of the bleak and terrible chasm. Eventually, they meet a large boulder in their path. Holding up the dwarf ring in his hand, Gandalf shines the light of the ring at it, and the boulder sunders into pieces. With wonder in their eyes, the other two wizards follow him. 
On the way, they meet two more orcs. Gandalf spits one with his sword, and Aragast pushes the other off cliff into the Lake of Fire with a magic spell, as they pass an arch bridge passing beside the chasm and over a ledge into the sheer blackness. The howls of the dying orc reverberate in the solemn dwarf halls above them. 
Gandalf strikes with his staff two more boulders that are blocking their way as they go. They finally now reach the hall where they originally met  Asta. Breathless, they stand and rest for a while against the deserted, empty-feeling halls of the dwarfs. 

Aragast
We did not see the Balrog at least.

Gandalf 
No, not he. He does not like the great elven ring. And actually, for once, I sense things are reversed, and he is terrified of me. He is smart enough not to challenge an angry wizard with it, it seems. The other orcs weren’t obviously.

Fimili
Those stones fell apart like butter. I did not realize the Seven were able to do that.

Gandalf 
They are dwarf rings, and naturally Gil-galad designed them once to fit the needs of each individual species. The dwarves like working stone.

Aragast
The elven rings work deeper knowledge and the old arts and sciences, for that is what elves like and are best at. With them, we were able to prevent much knowledge of the White Council, knowledge which would have been disastrous if Sauron had learned it. But the Seven are almost as good in some ways, it seems.

Gandalf
Not as good as knowledge, but they keep the dark ones away and bind up their powers, except of course the One. I do not see Asta. Should we go looking for her?

Aragast
I think she is not near. I don’t see her footprints returning in the dust. Look, you can see them going.

Gandalf
That is true, Aragast. The orcs leave that dust around for tracking anyone here. It makes very difficult for a person to pass from gate to gate without their knowledge. I think we can follow the steps, though. I do not like leaving them here for some reason. If they are lost, then it may be very dangerous here, after we awoke the Deep.

Fimili
But do we have time? It is a noble gesture Gandalf, but can we afford to let Gondor to keep on without you present?

Gandalf
I believe Aragorn is fine as is if he received my message. But as I am thinking about it, it might still be best to walk after the woman. We might hide in some lair here. The orcs will pass out beyond the gates, expecting us to retreat as quickly as possible into the outdoors.

Aragast
I think you are right, Gandalf. We should not let the villagers roam in these parts. They might also be captured and sell our secrets. It was folly that brought them here.

Gandalf
I agree with you. I would never hurtle into Moria without much thought, but it was panic that drove them here.

The wizards now move again through the gloomy, dust-filled halls. Gandalf’s staff is glowing bright orange in the dense air, and every now and then, it flickers like a candle in a breeze. Eventually, they arrive at a bend in the road, where Asta is sitting crouched on the ground and upset. Next to her lies a dead orc with a knife in its back. 

Gandalf
Woman, are you alright?

Asta looks up at him with terror in her eyes. 

Asta
He died slow (waving at the orc) I made it so. He was planning to eat one of the children.

Gandalf
Where are your friends now?

Asta
In the light, I think. They found the way out.

Gandalf
You are deranged. Your wits have left you. Are you sure?

Asta keeps trembling and says nothing, still quaking. 

Aragast
Can I have a word alone, Gandalf?

Aragast, Fimili, and Gandalf move to the edge of the room and around the bend in the hallway. 

Aragast
These tracks are of the Balrog himself. She must have encountered him.
Gandalf
They are. She is in the Black Dream. It is a spell he weaves on you before he takes your life. He likes to leave his prey in mortal fear before he makes his final pounce. Were it not for the Great Ring we have here, we would probably be in it ourselves. I was once in this state long ago, as I lay naked on the mountain during Sauron’s reign. No mortal can withstand it.

Aragast
What are we to do?

Gandalf
We can lead her out, I think. I will calm her mind a bit, and try to remove the curse on her mind. It may be difficult.

The three return to where the woman is now sitting, drawing strange diagrams on the floor with her finger. Gandalf leans over and, taking her face in his hands, begins to look in her eyes for a bit. After this, she seems calmer, although her eyes are still moving, twitching to and fro with panic. 

Gandalf
That is it, Asta. We will attend you while we depart. It is not more than a mile to the gate.

Asta doesn’t reply. 

Gandalf
You should come now. I have found the ring, and it is over, at least in this world. No harm will befall you here.

Asta gets up and cleans off her hands. Gandalf pulls at her arm and begins striding out into the dark halls. Behind him, Aragast and Fimili follow behind warily. 

Aragast 
Gandalf is steadier in these halls than when we arrived.

Fimili
It is the ring. It makes the immediate area around us peaceful a bit. If my eyes were closed, I would think I’m in Rivendell or perhaps in Lorien.

Aragast
It is greater than I imagine. It is as if all the slime and decay have dropped from this place. I feel no more terror. Asta still feels some, but that is expected for one who does not know our arts. The Black Dream is a difficult curse.

Fimili 
Don’t even speak of it, my friend.

As the four people near the tall gate where they had originally entered Moria, Gandalf suddenly halts and stiffens. He holds up his staff and stares into the inconsolable darkness. A figure appears at the edge of the gate, tall and poised. 

Gandalf
It is you, Aragorn.

Aragorn
Yes, it is, Gandalf. And I’m glad I did not mistake you for an orc in the dark.

Gandalf laughs and then goes down on one knee. 

Gandalf
My lord, it has been seven years. You still look young, but I can see you are worried.

Aragorn
Enough of the formalities. Yes, the looming Terror is rending my mind. Middle Earth has been peaceful for years, but now it is troubled again, though it is not yet nigh. I have received your message, and I came at once myself. I would have no less.

Gandalf
You should not have troubled yourself. The action is already done. I have the ring in my keep.

Gandalf reveals the shining ring on his finger, and Aragorn gasps in wonder, as Aragast and the others surround Aragorn and get down on one knee. 

Aragorn
It is the oldest of rings. Long have the elves sought this, but again, Gandalf, you of all, despite all the ability of the elves, emerge in front of all the wise. It is a wonder beyond wonders to behold. Not in a thousand years would I have expected this ring to be found. The enemy had kept it more secret than even the One.

Gandalf
It is true. It is the greatest of the silver elven rings, greater even than Vilya, the mightiest of the Three. With your leave, I ask that you leave it with me. I shall need it the most if Morgoth’s might is to be taken down.

Aragorn
I would be vain to go against Gandalf the White’s counsel. Have I not learned this over the years? Keep it as you must, but my hope and wish is that you return to Gondor with it, where its need is perhaps greatest of all.

Gandalf 
In due time, of course. I agree with you. But again, it is my belief that hobbits will once again play an important role in this quest, Aragorn, for it is they alone who have the ability to hide their minds from Morgoth, even in the fastness of his own palace to the north. Not ten-thousand wizards from the White Council could do this.

Aragorn
I had known of this fact long ago. Whom do you plan to enlist? Samwise?

Gandalf
I have a Took in mind. His name is Dregha.

THE END

 

 

 

 

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