Hello, and welcome to college course LOTR 103, the study of parodies of Mr. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Today's class will be a continuation of the last two sections covered in class, A Night of Worry and In Lothlórien. The topic for the day is An Unexpected Meeting, of which the course material may be found below. Your task is to read and review the subject materials, think on them, and formulate suggestions for the author. What would you have her do from here? What advice would you tell her? Is her writing style appreciated? All suggestions are considered of merit, and this will be a completion assignment rather than content-based.

As this is a college assignment, you may assume that I am not, in fact, Mr. Tolkien himself. (Nor am I a professor, though it seems I can write like one! *grins wickedly*) I do not own the materials presented, although snippets of dialogue and inspiration for this "class" are taken directly from Master Tolkien.

Inspiration for this chapter belongs to my faithful reviewers, most especially StarLight9. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much those reviews mean… Who am I kidding? You're all fanfic writers, too! *laughs* You know exactly how I feel! Please stay with me – and complete the "assignment"!

An Unexpected Meeting

"'Tis just an old man," I hear one of them say.

"It is Saruman," another snarls in my direction. "Do not let him speak, or put a spell upon us! Shoot first!" It is strange that I can hear them so clearly, when I remain so far from them. I listen to the whispered debate, the words easily carried on the breeze for my keen ears to hear.

"What could he do?" I hear the lighter, more musical voice ask. "He looks harmless enough."

"And carries the guise of a wizard," the shortest grumbled. "I do not trust him." He turned to the one that had yet to speak. "Aragorn?"

This one looked thoughtful, as if unsure what he believed. He glanced back down at me, then traded another look with his friends high above me on the edge of the cliff. "Legolas is right. We must wait."

It was at that moment that I reached the bottom of the rock-wall. "Well met, my friends," I call to them. "I wish to speak to you. Will you come down, or shall I come up?" Understanding that the trio were not likely to give up the high ground, I started climbing without bothering to wait for an answer. Several times I saw the dwarf grasp his axe-handle, as clear a threat as had ever been given to me in this new guise.

I must say that I was of a rather short temper at this time, in my defense. No one who is accused of being an enemy by their friends is of a sound state of mind when it occurs, and I was no different. Giving the three standing before me a piercing gaze, I informed them of their own errand, since they were not inclined to engage in friendly conversation of any kind, playing the game of the Elves in avoiding an answer to a question.

I was not inclined to give them my name, you see. Rather uncharitable of me, in hindsight, but it is quite ingrained in my personality. I couldn't really expect them to recognize me when they all thought I was dead, but I did so anyway.

It really shouldn't have been a surprise that they would attack me when they first saw my white robes. They had suspected that I was Saruman, after all, and I was still keeping my name hidden from them. But it annoyed me nonetheless. Raising my staff, it was the work of a moment to throw Gimli's axe to the ground, cause Andúril to blaze with a sudden fire and make Legolas' arrow, shot high above me in more joy than all else as he recognized me at last, vanish in a flash of flame.

It was Legolas who first named me, calling "Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" for any and all to hear. Each of them stood in wonder for a time, joyful and fearful all at once. I watched the play of emotions run across their faces, amused at their bewilderment, before settling my gaze upon Aragorn.

The look in his eyes stopped me cold. There was joy in them, but a pain and deep fear that did not belong. The tasks I had given him were heavy, I knew, but I hadn't known just what they had done to my old friend. It was a shock to look into the depths of his eyes once more, to read the depth of the anguish surrounding my fall and his forced leadership of the Company, the disasters I knew had befallen them only lending more agony to a burden I had hoped he would never receive. I saw, in that glance, more of Aragorn's soul than I'd seen in nearly all the time I'd known him. It wasn't like him to show his emotions, not like this – and it was then that I knew I needed to speak with him.

It was not a talk I was looking forward to. If I knew Aragorn – and I rather think I do, after all the time I've spent with him over the years! – he was going to ask many more questions of me than I'm willing to answer. I nearly sighed, but caught myself before I let it escape. Aragorn read it in my eyes anyway, and gives me a half-smile, acknowledging both the emotion and the need for speech. But it must wait, at least until the Elf and Dwarf are not around. For my friend will not want to involve them in what I know will be somewhat traumatic, for both of us.

It never was easy, for either of us, to accept what we knew was coming. And although it looked like Aragorn had worked his way through some of the grief surrounding my fall in Moria, I knew that my reappearance had wrecked any sort of control he had regained over his emotions. This would be a long night.

"Gandalf," he said at last. "Beyond all hope you return to us in our need." I know he means it in more than one way. We really must discuss this foresight of his… but not now.

I nod in acknowledgement. The other two will not learn of this wordplay. "Yes. We meet again. At the turn of the tide."

Gandalf has returned. I can hardly believe my eyes. Surely this is a dream, a nightmare, even, for I do not need tormented by this image of my fallen friend. I hear his voice often enough in my head, saying things I know he would have had he still been alive. Ai, Mithrandir, I am sorry, but you cannot be real. I have seen too many images of you, projections of my mind that I wish were truth for you to be real. You are simply another imagination of my mind.

Or perhaps, more sinister yet, you are Saruman, come to end our quest once and for all. You wear white robes, as you have shown us, just as the traitor has. But if this is so, why do you not attack us, bend us to your will, attempt to capture us, anything that I would know how to fight against? Why do you stand here before us, speaking in a friendly, if frustratingly vague, voice, when you could have overpowered us in an instant?

I know not which you are, but surely you are not the Istar I once knew. He is gone, forever, and no matter how much I wish for his return, he will never more come to my aid. It is something I have forced myself to accept, loathe though I am to admit it. My friend cannot come back. He has taken a route I know that I will not avoid, but it is one that I will not travel for many years yet – that of death. It is not a road that one can travel both ways upon. I have seen far too many die, often under my command, to believe that this is possible. It simply cannot be. You are not he, no matter if you look like him, act as he would… No. I cannot let myself believe it.

You are not here, mellon nín. And you never will be again.

And yet… something tells me that it is you. And my heart shatters to pieces once more at the joy, the pure, indescribable joy that overtakes every fiber of my body. I can do nothing but watch you, take in every detail as you scrutinize Legolas and Gimli before turning to me. And as I meet your eyes, I struggle to hide the tears that threaten to spill down my face. It is you, Gandalf. Against all chance and hope, you are here, standing before me without a wound on you. I give you a half-smile, afraid to do more lest I lose any more control.

At last, I reign in my emotions far enough to allow for speech, attempting to hide the sudden roughness that has robbed me of my normal voice. "Gandalf," I whisper, "Beyond all hope you return to us in our need."

I can see that the wizard understands, perhaps more than I do. He gives me a nearly invisible nod. "Yes. We meet again. At the turn of the tide." I know that he has multiple meanings in those few sentences, and the tears once again threaten to show themselves. That's Gandalf, all right. He never could resist speaking in riddles whenever possible.

Don't forget today's assignment! [See the top if you're completely confused now…]