Saruman had been the leader of the White Council, the body sworn to lead the Free Peoples of Middle Earth in their fight against Sauron. This council had contained the Istari, the five wizards whose sole purpose was to defeat Sauron, as well as several other members with a vested interest in the Dark Lord’s destruction.
There was himself, the white wizard, learned in crafting lore of all sorts, in diplomacy, and in the arts of war and combat. Then there was Gandalf the Grey, the historian, knowledgeable in ancient lore and in trivial facts. He did have a grasp of many spells that had been forgotten long since, however, so he was indeed more useful than most of the others. Next to him was Radagast the Brown, who spoke to animals and did very little of use to the world. He made a good messenger, of course, but still…
The two blue wizards were a strange sort, always sitting a little apart from the others, speaking little but to each other. Alatar had been chosen by the Valar Orome, the hunter, and next to nothing was known of him when he was chosen. What was known was that he had refused to come to Middle Earth unless his best friend, the dwarf-sized Pallando, was allowed to accompany him.
Immediately upon arriving in Middle Earth they had journeyed to the other side of Mordor, to the dark lands of which little was known, and they only came when summoned for council meetings. Of their activities in the East little would they ever say, though it was rumoured they had each founded cults or kingdoms to stand against Sauron in territory usually counted as firmly in his grasp. Their attendance at council meetings had become more infrequent as time passed.
Galadriel had been one of the founders of the White Council. While she was a powerful sorceress, she had never trusted Saruman and didn’t hesitate to show it.
Elrond was also a longtime member of the Council, and tended to bring a bit of life to meetings, always singing and recounting tales from the past. He always brought Glorfindel, the elf wraith, with him. It was said Glorfindel had killed a balrog at the fall of Gondolin, and had died in the process, but was sent back to Middle Earth for some unknown purpose. His gaze looked as if it could see into your very soul, and he was one of the few elves Saruman had met who did not spend much of his time singing.
Though they were mortal, the kings of Gondor had made a habit of attending, and often hosting, the Council, while their line had held. However, with their failing, men rarely if ever attended anymore. Dwarves had never been seen at a Council meeting, and likely never would. They didn’t care enough about the world outside their halls.
Saruman had been known across the world as ‘The Wise’, and had always lived up to that title, up until he found the Palantir. It was just after the Steward of Gondor, Beren Corsair-Hammer, had gifted him the tower of Orthanc so as to keep it out of Dunlending hands. Many items of interest he found in the tower, which had been barely explored but for the lower levels for hundreds of years. The greatest of these, though, was the Palantir of Orthanc, long thought to have been lost.
Hardly able to contain his enthusiasm, Saruman had immediately gazed into the Palantir. It had been a major mistake. He had thought Sauron gone, reduced merely to a weak roving spirit without his ring. As such, he immediately turned the Palantir to searching for his whereabouts, and was ensnared. Sauron was in Dol Guldor and was using the Palantir of Minas Ithil to spy on everything happening in Middle Earth, and when Saruman found him, Sauron immediately turned all the strength of his will toward perverting the most powerful of the wizards. He was unable to completely control him, but he was able to poison his mind and turn him slowly toward insanity, until at last Saruman bowed to him and called him master.
Of course, Saruman had been lying. He had spent centuries planning to destroy Sauron. He wasn’t just going to throw that away. However, Saruman did feel that he could defeat Sauron if he could just trick him into becoming complacent and ignoring the army Saruman now began to dream of.
During his years in Middle Earth Saruman had pondered many problems. One of the greatest of these was the orcs. These creatures of vile darkness had not been created with the other races of Middle Earth, but had been twisted by Melkor, the first Dark Lord, into the horrible thing they had been ever since.
The White Wizard believed that orcs had once been elves. Indeed, they still had some characteristics of the elves, such as their immortality! And if they had once been elves, could not a wizard as powerful and intelligent as Saruman heal them of the deformity of mind and body that now plagued them? As such, Saruman had always kept a few orcs to experiment on with magic, and had managed some success in his efforts.
Before his mind was twisted beyond recall, even Saruman had realized that his experiments could be very dangerous for Middle Earth, since orcish bodies seemed much easier to heal than their minds. However, after looking into the Palantir Saruman no longer cared. In fact, he realized, he had just created a marvelously powerful new weapon, a race of orcs with all their strengths but none of their weaknesses!
He slowly began to build up his army in secret, while calling upon the Dunlendings to serve him also. The wild men were easy to bring to his service. He tried to turn the Rohirrim to his will also, but found them much stronger in mind and in pride, so that he could not sway them to his service with bribery, or even with his magic.
Finally, he began to see the horselords as a roadblock between him and his victory over Sauron, so he began his campaign to stamp them out. He never realized that Sauron was orchestrating his actions, that he was playing into Sauron’s hands. In his pride he thought he was deceiving the Dark Lord!
While he built his army Saruman was also searching tirelessly for the ring of Sauron, the Ring of Power, thinking to use it to unite all the earth against the forces of darkness to wipe them out entirely. The ring ended up filling his thoughts day and night, until at last he made the mistake of revealing himself to the White Council, locking up Gandalf and trying to force him to reveal the location of the ring.
Saruman was quickly defeated by the combined efforts of Rohan and Gandalf, who now seemed to have been promoted to White Wizard by the Valar, and who proceeded to cast Saruman both from the Istari and from the White Council, shattering his staff, the conduit of his Maiar power and his symbol of office. He was now little better than mortal, but still he had his voice. He could still convince people to follow him. He swore he would rise from his defeat, take vengeance upon those who had taken from him his rightful victory against Sauron. Madness filled his mind. He couldn’t think straight anymore.
That is, until that fateful moment when Grima Wormtongue stabbed him in the back. Suddenly, the great Saruman, the Master of the White Council, the one who had once embodied all the colors in one, was dead. As his body fell, his mind filled with agony and turmoil and fear.
Then, suddenly, it all cleared away. He was free, both of his madness and of his mortal body. His spirit rose from his body, black from all the terrible things he had done, and he now remembered them all in horror. He had forsaken his duty, he had broken his oaths, he had cast aside the rules that he had sworn to uphold. He had destroyed thousands of lives, killed too many people to count.
And now he remembered the Valar, those who had sent him, and who now expected him to return to Valinor to give an account of his deeds. He didn’t dare. He looked into the west, and saw the shining light of the Blessed Realm, but to him the light was cold, and the music that came distant to his ears was that of doom.
With a wail he turned and fled into the east. It came to his mind that he was doing the same thing Sauron had done time and again, but he was too afraid, too filled with shame, to turn back. He couldn’t face the Valar, he didn’t dare even imagine the punishment that would be his. So he hid from the sight of all creatures for a thousand years, trying to muster his courage, trying to come up with a plan.
Slowly, his strength returned. Finally, he felt strong enough to take a physical shape again. He was in the distant desert of Harad, in a cave, when he first took a body again and ventured forth. He didn’t dare take his original shape, for fear of the Valar, and neither did he think himself worthy of anything strong. So he took the shape of a young boy, wearing rags. He crawled from the cave into the desert sands, and ventured forth a few hundred feet, testing the light, and looking about fearfully.
Still, he didn’t notice the merchant setting up camp until he had stumbled right on top of him. It was like one moment he wasn’t there, the next, he was. Saruman flinched back, fearing a trap, but the merchant just laughed and beckoned him over to the fire.
“It’s okay, boy!” the merchant boomed in his deep voice. “There’s no need to be afraid, I think, unless you are looking to steal from me!” He looked Saruman’s frail form up and down and laughed again. “But it looks like you wouldn’t get far. Come down here, and I’ll see what I can find for you to eat!”
The merchant rummaged in his pack and came out with eggs and root vegetables, and started preparing them quickly into a hash in a pot. Then he pulled out a pipe and some pipeweed and began puffing away on it as his hash fried over the fire.
Turning his deep gaze over to Saruman, the man chuckled again in a strange, knowing way. “So, what brings a young boy alone this deep into the desert? You look like you are running away from something, if I am to be honest with you!”
Seeing Saruman huddle into himself, he waved his hand dismissively. “If you don’t wish to talk about it, that’s fine by me. But it seems also to me that if you talk about what is bothering you, it might get it off your chest a little.”
He puffed for a second in silence, then went on. “Now me, I must say that the desert really isn’t my sort of place. For me is the waves and sea foam, not this horrible dry sand with no water even to speak of. But I came on behalf of a friend, who couldn’t get away from his smithing and needed someone else to carry this load for him, so here I am! It would be a relief to get out of this desert and be able to tell my friend I was successful, but I think it will be some time before that happens! Or not, as it may be.”
He looked at Saruman again with his piercing eyes, the color of the sea and constantly changing in the firelight. Saruman felt compelled to speak to him, to tell him all he had done. The merchant just watched him in silence as they ate together. When they finished eating Saruman spoke.
“You are right to say I am running away from something. I was highly esteemed where I come from, famous in a way for my wisdom and knowledge. But then I did some things, caused harm to a lot of people because of my arrogance, and now my masters will be hunting me to bring me to justice. I dare not go to them, but I dare not stay silent and do nothing either, for the things I have done are constantly chewing away at me until I feel as if I might again be going mad. I constantly remember the faces of those I caused the deaths of!”
The merchant continued to look into the depths of the fire. “You look young, lad, to have the cares of the world on your shoulders, and yet I think your looks may be deceiving. Let an old man offer you what advice he can, though, and perhaps you may yet be able to salvage what is left of yourself.”
He stirred the fire. “The wisest course of action would be to return to your masters, tell them all, and beg their forgiveness. I think it would not be as far-fetched as you think that they might forgive you. But if that course of action feels to you too risky, then there is another, indeed more dangerous course, but perhaps more to your taste. Let me tell you a story.
My smith friend I was telling you about once had an apprentice, a brilliant young fellow, with great skill in crafting. But he was a liar, and one day he left my friend for a different master, one who was a competitor of my friend, and sold out all the secrets my friend had taught him. That competitor was eventually found wanting in morals, and was imprisoned, but instead of going back to my friend and begging forgiveness, the apprentice fled into the wild himself, went to a different place, and tried to set up his own shop, thinking to himself that he would do good on his own and become worthy of forgiveness. Soon, however, his wickedness showed through again, and he became just as evil as his old master now imprisoned.”
Saruman shifted uncomfortably, thinking this story sounded familiar. The old merchant looked at him craftily. “You look uncomfortable, Curunir. Just know the moral of the story. You may indeed try to atone for your sins on your own, but know that if you are not careful you may become as dangerous as Sauron himself, who nearly destroyed the earth twice, and may yet still linger in this world. I would advise you to steer away from positions of fame or power, to avoid war and fighting that would require you to match your strength with another’s. Instead, look to life, to living things, and turn your wisdom in that direction. Rather than gathering knowledge and power, heal that which has been damaged by evil. You have tried it before, and you might yet succeed. But know this: Whether you succeed or fail, if you turn your face back toward the Valar and throw yourself upon their mercy, we will remember you and forgive.”
With that the merchant, his animals, and his camp turned to water and sunk into the sand under them, and were gone.
Saruman awoke in a cold sweat, and realized he was still in his cave. Had he really been speaking to Ulmo, or had he just dreamed the whole thing? He turned over and realized that he was still in the form of a young boy, but instead of rags, he was now clad in a simple green robe. Next to him was a wand of willow, the wood still green. He picked it up, and felt his Maiar power flow through him again.
Considering what the Valar had said, Saruman picked himself up and stepped out of the cave. His mind was filled with new purpose. He could see the world as it had once been, in all its purity and health. He waved his wand over the dead desert sands, and watched as a spark seemed to push through it, collecting the desert dust, moistening it and bringing a sort of healthy glow back to it, only visible to him, but there none the less.
Saruman cast aside from his mind the person he had been. No longer would he be known as Curunir, Man of Skill. Now he would be known as Hiranestar the Green, Master of Healing. He would indeed go out and heal the world, and this time he would not forget his purpose. And maybe someday he might return his mind to the orcs, and try to return to them what they had lost.