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To Walk in Dark Places

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Saruman the White, Leader of the Istari, Head of the Council of the Wise, sat thinking in the darkest chamber of the Tower of Orthanc. In recent days, he had spent much of his time in deep contemplation, and his thoughts were troubled.

He had many causes for worry. His search for a certain Ring of Power was not going very well. He knew that the spies of Sauron might be closer than he was. He had bought time by leading the Council of the Wise to attack his rival, but the Dark Lord's servants were on the move again. The White Wizard was no nearer to the One Ring. Perhaps if I used the palantír, he thought but then shook his head; it is too dangerous; I know not what has become of the other six. No, he would wait and watch. In time, the Ring would reveal itself to its new and rightful master.

If he could keep that thrice cursed Wizard from learning of his true designs. Fortunately, Gandalf seemed to be content to skulk about the backward lands of the Halflings. Perhaps he had grown unduly fond of their pipeweed and no longer cared.

And then there were the Children of Eorl, who were not exactly co-operating with his plans for them. The Rohirrim may well be a crude and primitive people, but they had a fierce independence that went unmatched even in Gondor. They seemed perfectly content to live, breed and die in their rude thatched huts. He had told them that with his influence, they might have lives of comfort and order. They did not seem that interested. All the Horse lords cared for was their herd.

But that too was only a matter of waiting. Every generation of men grew weaker than the last. Soon they would fall to his will.

It was but a single man that caused his current concerns. The alias he was using at the moment was Nashir. But he had travailed under many names over his forty-some years of life, each one causing the wizard more grief than the last. In Rohan, he had begun to turn the people against Saruman. After that, he had saved Gondor from her enemies. There could be found only rumours of what he had done in Harad and the East. However, the Wizard felt sure that whatever he had been doing, it would not prove helpful. Now, after almost twenty years of wandering, Nashir was returning to his home in the North. Once there, he could not be touched, not safely anyway. From what his sources in the North told him, worse might well be coming. No other man had the ability and the authority to rally his race against the Wizard.

Saruman had decided that he had best rid himself of this troublemaker before he could act on any plans. He could not of course do anything personally. Nashir had many friends, some of them not unversed in the powers of wizardry. He knew that the Grey Pilgrim in particular would be trouble if he investigated his pawn's untimely death.

The obvious solution had been to hire assassins. They were plentiful enough in the Southern regions of the world, and it was easy to keep his name out of it. The manner of men that he employed preferred not to use real names.

He had many agents in that part of the world, as in all others, and they had made the arrangements for him. The assassins were said to be the best, four well-practised brigands who made a living off the deaths of others. On a winter's night several weeks earlier, five of them had attacked Nashir in a back alley.

They were all dead, now.

As was the agent who had hired them.

The White Wizard still had an irritatingly alive problem.

Thus, Saruman was sitting alone in his darkened chambers brooding. He considered Nashir's weaknesses. He didn't have many; he was a skilled warrior, a brilliant tactician and a gifted speaker. If that wasn't enough, he seemed to have an uncanny sixth sense that warned him of hidden enemies. He could see the true hearts of men just by catching them with a piercing grey glance.

Truth be told, in all his meditations he had only found two potentially fatal flaws. Nashir had an endless need to prove himself worthy of the prize he sought, and a stubborn code of honour.

Yet, those two things were enough.

It would need a little cunning and patience, not to mention the use of many of his spies and agents, but he in the end would succeed

The problem of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the last heir of Elendil, would be solved before the first flower of spring opened.