17. Frodo's Wager
Autumn came to Gorgoroth. The thorn bushes turned a dull, mottled purple and the sky was slate grey. Flocks of birds passed overhead, flying south. Even at night they flew over, and Frodo listened to the rush of their wings and their keening cries as he lay sleepless in the moonlight.
He was often sleepless now. Canohando's attack had shaken him, though he tried not to let the orc see it. "If I hadn't mentioned the Ents –" he said to Radagast, but the wizard shook his head.
"It would have made no difference, I think, Donkey. Canohando's heart is a battlefield right now. He sees something in you that he wants for himself and he struggles to grasp it, but at the same time he is repelled by it. What else can you expect from an orc? The wonder – the miracle, even! – is that some part of him wants what you have. Wants it enough that he did not kill you, he even regretted hurting you. I saw him when you did not notice, staring at your bruises…"
"I'm afraid, Radagast." Frodo was ashamed. It had been better, in some ways, when he desired death; at least he'd had no fear then.
The night air felt heavy; it seemed to crush him against the ground, and he sat, pulling up his legs and wrapping his arms around them. The wizard moved behind him and began massaging his shoulders, until the tension in his muscles eased and he rested his forehead on his knees. "I do not think you need to fear Canohando, Donkey. In truth, I believe he would step between you and any threat! The danger lies in another direction. Try not to be alone with Yarga."
"Yarga?" He had never given a thought to Yarga, the quietest of the orcs. So quiet you might call him sullen, now he considered the matter.
"I could wish to know more about Yarga," said Radagast. "He is angry, more so than either of the others, and I think he resents Canohando's friendliness to you. I would like to know where he was in the years before Sauron's fall."
"In an outpost, he said –"
"At the end, yes. But before that? He it was who loosed an arrow at you, the moment you spoke of the Ring. He may have been in Barad-dur itself at some time, and deep in Sauron's service."
"It is perilous work we do, Donkey. The land will heal in time, sooner if we tend to it. But the orcs – they have each a choice to make. I believe I see how Canohando and Lash will choose in the end, but Yarga is a tumult of bitter anger, and there is no predicting which way he will jump."
"He's jealous because Canohando seems friendly to me – when he's not threatening to kill me!"
"There you have it, I'm afraid. I am sorry, Donkey. I had not anticipated such complications, else I had heeded Faramir's warnings and left you in Ithilien. I can protect you when I am present, but do not be alone with Yarga."
"Radagast – I am not seeking death, not anymore –"
The hands massaging his shoulders didn't slacken. "You do not have to stay in Mordor, Donkey. I may be wrong even about Lash and Canohando, and Yarga is a danger beyond any doubt. You wager your life on the possibility of their healing, every day you walk with them." He paused. "You have a sword, remember. Would you defend yourself?"
"I doubt I would have the chance, they're so fast! But no –" He sighed. "Look at them, Radagast. The last three, of how many myriads – and they are so lonely! I could not slay them, even to save my life." As much as he feared them, he pitied them more. "If I leave, cannot you heal them?"
"Neither you nor I can heal them, Donkey. This is a path which they must walk, if they will – but see, you are a beacon to them. You wrestled with the Dark that lives in them – it invaded you, and you thrust it out again! Canohando, at least, yearns to do as you did; that is why he shadows your steps, drawing hope from you, and strength for his battle."
"And if I leave?"
"I think they would all three go back to hunting rats in the ruined outposts. They would not stay with me, were you not here."
"There would be no hope for them."
Radagast sighed and stretched, flexing his fingers. "There is always hope, Donkey. They were no ordinary orcs when first we met them; they were friends! That is a wonder in itself. But there are many brutal men who are bound to one another in friendship, the while they wreak death and terror on everyone outside their fellowship. I do not think these orcs will move beyond that, without help."
Frodo lay back on his blanket, looking up at the stars. When he had staggered through this land under the weight of the Ring, he had seen no stars. The sky had been empty, shrouded in smoke and fog, and the fiery Ring itself had blinded him. But the land had been teeming with orcs.
Now the air was clear and the night sky blazed with stars, thousands of them, dazzling against the black. There was the Hunter, striding across the horizon, and the Bear with her cub – he remembered Gandalf teaching him their names long years ago, on one of his visits to Bilbo.
So many stars that the sky was bright with them, but the land was empty now – three orcs left, of all the hordes that had gathered here. And that was mercy, he thought, remembering the malice and cruelty of those hordes. But these three –
"I will stay," he said in a low voice.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.