19. Around the Fire
"Now all those little streams we cleared will run full!" he exulted. "Those seeds you've been throwing on the ground will come up, Healer. What will they grow?"
Radagast laughed and pulled a hard little apricot from his sack, tossing it to him. "Taste that and tell me what you think of it – they may grow in your mountains one day, if my work prospers. What will come up first are plants to start the growing cycle – tough, low herbs to cover the ground and keep it from drying out, or washing away in floods, and a hardy strain of grass, deep-rooted, to clothe the land again and bring up minerals to enrich the soil. When there is cover and food for them, I hope the animals will return. You may hunt better things than rats and snakes, in years to come."
The orc's smile was a nightmare of jagged grey teeth, several of them missing, but his evident happiness touched Frodo. Of the three, this orc frightened him least. Even so, when Lash wanted to play a game of draughts, he thought it safer to let the orc win – although as it fell out, there was no need to "let" him.
"You play like a tark," Lash said mockingly, but to Frodo's surprise the orc then went back over the game, pointing out all his mistakes and showing him how he should have moved. "Another game, Halfling. Remember what I told you, and before the storms are over you'll be fit to play Yarga."
"We played Yarga last night, Canohando and I."
Lash grunted. "And did you win? Yarga plays like the devil he is – no one beats him. But you listen to me and you'll give him a fight before he brings you down."
Frodo didn't find that especially comforting.
Yarga and Canohando had gone exploring through the ruined fort. They came back at suppertime with a couple of dead rats and a double handful of small bones.
"Can you play knucklebones, runt?" Canohando demanded.
"As a lad I did – let me see." He examined the bones with interest, then with growing unease. They were shaped somewhat different from the sheep bones that had been common in the Shire. Longer, coarser. He dropped the one he held back into the orc's hand, resisting the urge to wipe his hands. "What sort of bones are they?" he asked, wanting to be sure.
"Knucklebones, I said. From orcs. These are good ones; must've been a big stinker."
"You play with orc bones?" He could not keep the horror out of his voice, and Canohando frowned. "I'll whittle some from wood – then I'll play you."
The orc might strike him down, but for the moment he didn't care. He turned back to the fire, checked to be sure nothing was burning in the pans he had left there, and took a stick of wood from the pile, getting out his knife.
"What do you care, runt? They are not your kind." Canohando had followed him, squatted beside him, still holding the bones.
He tried to think how to explain his revulsion. "No, they are not my kind. But they are your kind; they are not animals. Would you eat orc meat?"
Canohando didn't answer, and Frodo looked up. What he saw in the orc's face made his gorge rise. "You would! You would eat your own kindred!" He went back to his whittling with a shudder.
Radagast spoke quietly from the shadows. "He is right, you know. Orcs are not animals, and their bones deserve respect."
"That comes well from you, tark!" Yarga sat down by the wizard, drawing out his knife and starting to skin his rats. "When have the tarks ever treated us like anything but animals? Or the elves either, that you like so well!"
Radagast nodded. "There is long enmity between orcs and the other races of Middle Earth, and that with good reason. Nevertheless, orcs are of the Children, however far removed. What do you know of your own origins?"
"We are of the Dark," Canohando's voice was surly. "We Orcs of Mordor, we can bear the sunlight, but many of those who came from the North during the War could not. That is our origin, old man – Darkness!"
"It is not. Take your rats over by the doorway, Yarga; that smell would choke a horse. After we have eaten I will tell you how orcs came to be."
But when supper was over, he did not begin with orcs at all. He drew an odd, chubby-looking wooden flute from his sack, and holding it to his lips he produced a music that was heartbreaking in its poignancy, rising and falling like an eagle riding wind currents above the mountains. Frodo and the orcs almost stopped breathing to listen, the haunting sound carrying them to some Otherwhere outside of time and far outside of Mordor. When at last he lowered the flute and began to speak, the wizard's voice held them enthralled.
"It began with music," he said. "It began when Eru, who lives in the Now and has neither origin nor ending, gave life to His thoughts. And His thoughts became the Ainur, and those who are called by the elves the Valar, and they sang before Him. They sang, and so Ea was created, and they joined with Him in His creation. But the Children are of Eru's making and His alone, and the Valar had no part in them – and by this they are set apart from the animals.
"Even in the beginning there was discord, and that came from Melkor. For Melkor would have his own glory, apart from Eru, and he sought to force his own melody into the music, in Eru's despite. But Eru turned all his discord into new harmonies, richer and more beautiful than they had been before, until Melkor became sour with rage. He warred on his brethren, the Valar, and was cast down, but he did not repent and he bided his time.
"Much I could say of Melkor's spite and jealousy, and his spoiling of the works of the Valar, but that is for another time. When at last the days were fulfilled as Eru had decreed, the Firstborn of the Children awoke. But they awoke to darkness, and the shadows were deep around them, for their only light came from the stars. And in the shadows there was fear. For time and again, some one or two of them would wander a little away from the rest, and not return, nor were they ever seen again, so the Firstborn became afraid.
"And they had good reason to fear. For Melkor lurked with his servants in the shadows, and the stragglers of the Children were taken by him, and it was a bitter fate. Morgoth, he had become, the Dark Enemy of the world, and those he captured he imprisoned, tormenting them through years immeasurable, and mistreating them with fiendish cruelty, until they were changed and marred beyond recognition. He twisted them to his fell purpose and enslaved them, and they became the first orcs. But in their beginning they were beautiful and noble, Children of the One."
His voice fell silent, and Frodo came slowly to himself. The fire had burned down to red coals, and in the semi-dark the orcs were only shapes of deeper darkness. Radagast lighted his pipe, and his face was lit for a moment.
"What became of the others, the ones who did not become orcs?" said Canohando.
"The Valar became aware, after a time, that the Firstborn were awake. They sent a messenger to gather them to safety, but their fear had grown very great because of Morgoth, and many of them distrusted even the Valar, not knowing them. Some of them dared the journey to Valinor and some did not, so their kindred was divided. And Morgoth pursued them, so that they suffered much at his hands. But the orcs, as they then were, he turned against their former brethren, and they slew one another whenever they met, yet it was he that was the true Enemy of them all."
"And what do we call these 'brethren', who became our enemies, old man?" Canohando's voice was soft, but the hair rose on Frodo's neck at the menace in his tone. Radagast's pipe glowed red as he drew on it, and he said quietly,
"I do not know your name for them, Canohando, but I would call them Elves."
There was a roar that echoed from the stone walls as the orcs leaped to their feet shouting, and Frodo threw himself flat on the floor as a great shadowy arm reached for him. It passed over him harmlessly, and the wizard's voice cut through the uproar.
"Sit down, the three of you! I do not say you are elves anymore, so you need not feel yourselves maligned. Morgoth did his work too well, and Sauron bettered it. Orcs you are and orcs you will remain, for good or ill."
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.