'What were the Wizards like, Uncle Gwaihir?'
Gwaihir paused in his speech to the row of young eagles drawn up
respectfully on a branch of wind-gnarled mountain oak. His great golden
wings, streaked now with silver, were folded and their tips brushed the
rocky ground. There was a breathless hush. It was not permitted to
interrupt, even to speak to, Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, King of all Birds in
Middle Earth. But if he was your uncle, some liberties might be taken..
Gwaihir raised his fierce head and his great golden eye, capable of
staring straight into the sun, gazed for a moment almost longingly away
south, as if looking at something the young ones could not see. They
glanced sideways at each other; had the old bird heard them?
The elders had decided that the young folk were becoming too easily
distracted. In this new Age it seemed that they were forgetting that they
were not common birds, but Great Eagles. They had lost their race's
profound gravitas, were becoming, well, flighty. It was felt that they
needed lessons in nobility and grandeur, and who better to coach them than
Gwaihir, noblest of all? But to Moonwing, Stormwing and Starwing, he
was just Uncle Gwaihir.
The boldest of them, Stormwing, was wondering if he should repeat the
question when Gwaihir suddenly answered;
'He was always asking me to do things, Gandalf' Then he stopped and the
younglings waited with bated breath. Gwaihir shrugged and said in a
matter of fact voice;
'Of course we had our own wizard, Radagast, who looked after our
affairs. There was really no need for Gandalf to bother with us birds, but he
did. Always talking to everything. Like the Elves, always talking to
birds and beasts and even trees. Yes the Elves woke the trees up to talk
Starwing said; 'No-one speaks to us now'
Gwaihir looked at the youngster and replied sadly;
'No, there is no-one left who can. The Elves are gone, or are leaving,
and have no time for us any more. The Wizards too have gone, their Age
is over. And men never spoke to us. They see us far off and fear for
their flocks. We have retreated to our mountains fastnesses and have no
dealings with men any more...'
This philosophical discussion was not what Stormwing had in mind when
he asked the question. He made bold to try again.
'But what did Gandalf want you to do?'
Gwaihir fluffed his feathers and cocked his head in an ironical way.
'Bear burdens, mostly!'
'Burdens! said Stormwing.
'How demeaning!' Said Moonwing. 'isn't that against the rules? No
Gwaihir sighed. He would have to talk to that one's mother.
'These were no ordinary burdens; it was Gandalf himself.'
'why?' asked Stormwing. Gwaihir said simply 'He was in trouble, and
'What trouble?' persisted Stormwing. Gwaihir's eyes took on a faraway
'It was during the War. All lands and peoples were caught up in it. It
was the war against the Great Enemy, Sauron. Gandalf had sought the
help of the Wizard Saruman, who betrayed Gandalf and imprisoned him. He
called for me to free him. I came out of the North on the wind and
snatched him away from the top of the Tower of Isengard'
'An evil wizard!' exclaimed Starwing. It was a novel concept.
'He was not evil always, in fact he was the greatest of all wizards.
But he had turned or been turned to Sauron. And then he waged war on
every living thing, bird, beast or growing plant.'
'But what did it have to do with you, uncle?' asked Moonwing. 'What did
it have to do with the Eagles? Sauron was away in the South, nowhere
near us up here in our Northern mountains. He could never have harmed
Gwaihir shifted on the branch, uncurling one long shiny talon and
standing on one leg he inspected it for a long moment. Then he bent and
sharpened his beak on the rough wood. The young eaglets waited with great
anticipation, as they knew from old this meant their uncle was much
'It was our war too' he said 'Not right away, maybe, not then and
there, but sooner or later. Even the skies were not safe from Sauron; he had
his winged Nazgul, and even the eagles would not have stood against
them. But eventually he would have destroyed or enslaved every bird and
beast in Middle Earth. And we were the Noble Eagles, leaders of all
birds. We had to set an example. If we did not fight, why should anyone?'
The youngsters let this sink in. The discussion was growing
hypothetical again. Stormwing asked;
'Did you carry Gandalf again?' Gwaihir nodded, and a chuckle disturbed
'Yes, and this time he had no clothes on.' The youngsters tittered and
snorted. 'Why?' asked Stormwing.
'He said he had a fight with someone, a Balrog or something. He said it
was no loss, the clothes, as they were grey and he was entering his
white phase. Always talking about phases, Wizards. Picking him up was
tricky, clothes are useful for that...'
The youngsters giggled; their uncle was getting into his tale. This was
better than lessons...
'And then Gandalf asked me for something much more than the bearing of
burdens or spying out of enemies; he asked me to muster all our folk,
all the Eagles of the North, the descendents of Thorondor and all our
vassals, and your father Landroval and I led them south, because the time
had come for the last battle. And when we got there the armies of the
West were gathered upon low grey hills on the barren plain before the
Black Gates, and out of the gates poured every shade of hideous creature
that you young folk will never see, perhaps, except in your nightmares,
orcs and Trolls and giant goblin men, great columns of black-armoured
troops intent on the death of Men and Elves. From our flight in the
skies they looked like a great swarm of stinging insects, black and shining
and evil. On one hill flew a banner with a white tree and stars and
below it I could see as I can see all things, the King, tall and stern and
silent, waiting for his fate. On the others were the banners of Rohan,
the white horse running free on a green field and Dol Amroth, the white
swan ship on a blue sea and below them the grim Men of the Dundedain
and the sons of Elrond Halfelven and I thought then, children, that there
was all that was good and growing and brave and free, and all around
all that was hateful to life and bird and beast; and I knew that they
were only isles in a sea of Mordor and that the struggle would not be long
before they were overwhelmed, even with our help, and that it was good
that we too should perish because this was the end of our world too.
But then came a crack of thunder and the hosts of Mordor faltered and
began to flee. Astonished I looked and saw Gandalf summon me, so I took
him up once again and this time he said;
'Twice have you borne me Windlord but the third time pays for all, we
have need of great speed....' and I replied;
'The North wind blows, but we will shall outfly it!'
And so I did, accompanied by your father Landroval and young Meneldor
and others keen of sight and we passed over the Mountains of Mordor that
ring the black land like broken teeth and bore down on the Mount of
Doom. Then we saw that the whole accursed place was broken up by upheavels
of the very earth, seas of molten lava flowing from cracks and rifts in
the tumbling mountains. And even to where we were came columns of
poisonous fumes. Then Gandalf leaned over and said to me
'there!' and I looked and indeed his eyes were sharper than mine and
had seen, on a little hill of ash and clinker below the very slopes of
Oroduin, two tiny figures standing hand in hand as the river of fire
approached them. I stooped and my brothers followed but as we came down I
saw the two little folk fall and lie as if dead or unable to bear the
sight of approaching death. I snatched up one and Landroval the other. I
say burdens, but this was no burden; hobbits are small folk but this
one was only bones, near death, his ragged clothes smoking and he cut and
bruised and wounded with many wounds, stings and marks of whip and
savage tooth. But the worst was his hand, from which a finger had been
bitten. I bore him as gently in my talons as I could, and so I carried the
Ringbearer from Mordor. It was his courage that freed the armies from
certain death, casting the Ring into the fires at that very last moment.
He freed all the races of Middle Earth from the Shadow, and the Eagles
carried him and his faithful servant from the fire, and so we too are
in the lays and legends for all time.'
Gwaihir stopped. The sunny hillside suddenly seemed unreal to the eyes
of the young eagles imagining the fires and smoke of battle and molten
river. The King of Birds was gazing once again southwards, a look of
undisguised longing in his eyes. Starwing broke the silence.
'And where is this hobbit now?' Gwaihir shook his feathers and returned
to the present.
'He returned to his home, The Shire. But he had been too wounded, as
indeed I had seen. After a while he slipped away with the Elves to the
West. His servant followed him much later.'
'So there are now no hobbits left who took part in the Great War?'
exclaimed Moonwing. Gwaihir shook his head.
'The last two left The Shire to die in Gondor, where lie their tombs.'
'That's not fair!' burst out Moonwing. 'They never got a reward for
saving everyone else!' Gwaihir regarded him seriously.
'Reward? They did not ask for a reward. They did not do what they did
for reward, but because it was the right thing to do. You cannot control
what will happen, Moonwing. Hopes fail, things end. They had a little
time and used it to the good of all. They gave us a safe world. That is
Stormwing, fond of practising chasm drops with the vultures, was not
too impressed by the idea of 'safe', but he was drawn to the idea of the
small folk who had brought down the mighty Dark Lord. As he pondered
this, Starwing said.
'I think that the hobbits, even though they were not eagles, were
really the noblest of all...'
Gwaihir regarded the young eagles, their flight feathers still edged
with down, and said quietly;
'That's all for today.....'