4. The Other Wizard
"How did you know it was there?" It was the least of his questions, but the only one he could frame in words.
"Filit? Oh, she nests in the same spot every year. We are old friends – I come each spring to check on her."
"Filit – little bird," Frodo translated.
"I am not very creative with names, I'm afraid."
Frodo laughed, finding suddenly that he liked this man who mingled his peremptory ways with such gentleness.
"No, you certainly are not! 'Donkey,' indeed – at least you could have said it in some Elven tongue!"
"But you are a hobbit, you see. Elvish would not fit – whereas Donkey suits you exactly. Meek, but stubborn. Why do you believe yourself beyond healing?"
The stranger was pacing about, scuffing at the ground with one sandaled foot. He stooped and came up with a mushroom.
"We could use that bag of yours again, Frodo Donkey. One apple does not make a breakfast."
Frodo obediently fetched the saddlebag and helped search for mushrooms, not Death Angels this time. When the bag was full they returned to the fire, now reduced to coals. The stranger rummaged in a cloth sack that Frodo hadn't noticed before, which lay on the ground next to the cave entrance. He brought forth a small pan of some shining metal.
"No butter," he said cheerfully. "Have you still got some water in your bottle, Donkey?"
"How do you know I have a water bottle?" Frodo was finding the fellow's prescience a bit uncanny.
"You wouldn't stray from home without water, not after Mordor. If you have any left, pour it in the pan. I'll find us a bit of wild thyme for flavor."
Frodo did as he was told, sitting cross-legged by the fire, stirring the mushrooms with a peeled stick. The man returned with some leaves of thyme which he shredded into the pan.
They ate in silence. They had gathered two or three varieties of wholesome mushrooms, but Frodo regretted the Death Angels – the food warmed and filled him, but brought him no closer to his desire. The darkness would return, and he was so weary of resisting.
"If you had a beast, Donkey, worn down and injured, but a good beast at heart – how would you care for it?"
"I don't know – I wouldn't know how to care for it. I'm not good with animals; I didn't even remember to bring an apple for my pony last night!"
"No – he told me about that. He said you were sorry, though."
Frodo stared at him, the last mushroom halfway to his mouth. "My pony talked to you --!
No, this is too mysterious – who in Middle Earth are you? You're like Gandalf, only – are you the other wizard? The one who talks to birds?"
"Radagast the Brown, yes. The foolish animal-lover who sits all day under a tree talking to the birds and worse yet, listening to them! Yet the animals are wise. They make little noise in the world, but they live closer to their purpose than many of more pride, Elves and men and wizards."
"And their purpose is --?"
"To rejoice in being alive in the midst of a living world, and so delight the heart of Eru who gave them life."
Frodo moved restlessly, breaking to pieces the stick he had used for stirring the mushrooms, dropping it bit by bit into the fire.
"Our friendship would prosper better if you would speak your thought, Donkey. It serves no purpose for you to darken like a storm cloud."
Frodo shrugged. "You paint a pretty landscape, Aiwendil – your name in Quenya suits you very well! But nature is not quite the idyll you make it sound. They feed on one another, those wise animals of yours."
The brown man beamed on him. "That is a name I’ve not heard in many years -- I had forgot you are scholar as well as burden-bearer! You are right, Donkey. There is much amiss in creation, and the beasts know pain as well as blessedness. You have yourself helped in amending that evil, and I believe it is part of your life's purpose. Yet it is not your only purpose, and you are not the only soldier striving against the Dark. The animals kill sometimes, and they suffer death, but they do not despair. I have found no bird flying deliberately against a tree, to destroy her life."
"You would get on well with Sam. I don't believe he has ever known despair."
"Sam? Ah yes, the little gardener who followed you to Mordor. He has had his hands enough in the good earth to draw strength and wisdom from it, although he could not tell you what he knows. You could more easily lose your shadow, than that lad! He'll be searching for you."
Frodo looked around in disquiet. The sun was high, the early mist all burned away. Sam had probably broken into his room by now. Would he set out in pursuit, or would he let his master go?
He raised resentful eyes to the wizard. "If not for you, by now there would be no danger of him finding me." His voice was bitter.
"Not alive, at any rate. It is an odd chance that I was here this morning, Donkey."
"How so? You come here every spring, you said."
"These four years I have come. Before that I had never seen your Shire. I came the first time seeking Gandalf, with a message from Saruman. And then I sped back to Saruman, for the fear of the Nazgul was upon me. But my speed was nothing to Gandalf's, and I came in sight of Orthanc to find him there already and marooned atop the tower! I sent Gwaihir to him, for I cannot fly, however much I talk to birds! But I gathered my courage and went back to the Shire, in case there was any aid I could give here."
"Not to hobbits, but there was a bird caught in a snare. I rescued her, but her leg was broken and it would not mend. At last I cut it off her, and then she healed clean. It was while I was tending her that I saw you here, lad. Then the summer was ending, and I carried her away with me to the south, but in the spring I brought her home. Each year since I come to see how she does, and every year she nests here, by the cave that you call yours, and I call mine. So I was here, when your misery drove you here seeking death."
"And not finding it."
"Death flies from you, it seems, yet you will catch up to it at last. Or you might find healing first, by that same tenacity. The choice lies with you, Donkey – which one will you pursue?"
Frodo shook his head hopelessly, staring at the ground. “I would not know where to look for healing."
(1) aiwendil – bird-lover
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