21. The Green Country
"There is a stew there, if you' re hungry," was all he said.
Frodo went at once to get his bowl, and Canohando gave a bark of laughter. "One more day, runt, and you would have shared my meal! But today I will share yours; that rat was just enough to whet my appetite." He added something in his own tongue, and the other orcs looked at Frodo. Lash gave him a gap-toothed grin of approval, but Yarga's eyes were hard.
The wizard pulled a rag from the pocket of his robe, rubbing at his carving and turning it in his hands, using the obsidian delicately from time to time to smooth away a bit of roughness.
"Tell us about the Shire, Donkey," he said suddenly. "I have seen only the outlying woods, and our friends here have never seen anyplace like it at all."
Frodo was at a loss for words. How to describe his homeland? Camped out in an abandoned Orc fortress, the Shire seemed like a dream he had once had, impossibly remote and lovely. But they were all staring at him, waiting for him to begin.
"It is so green," he faltered. "Not in winter, of course; then there is snow, sometimes – the ponds freeze, and we have skating parties." No, the orcs would not know what skating was. He tried again. "There are trees, and gardens – some hobbits build houses of wood, but many still live in holes dug out of the hillsides, as our people have done as far back as we can remember. You hardly see a hill that does not have its round door and a few little windows, with flowers all around.
"Brandy Hall, where I lived as a child, is carved into a great mound of a hill, tunnels and rooms enough for the whole clan, practically, and we always said it had a hundred windows, though I don't know if anyone ever really counted. It looks to the west, and at sunset those windows catch the light like a hundred mirrors – and at night they glow with firelight; you can see them all the way across the River, coming home on the Ferry—"
He gulped and got up to get himself a mug of tea. How long since he had thought of home? He hadn't missed it until he began to speak of it.
"Tell about your family, Donkey."
He seated himself by the wizard, the hot mug comforting between his hands. "My parents drowned when I was twelve," he said. The old desolation rose in his heart and he hurried on. "I lived with my aunts and uncles after that, and when I reached my tweens I went to live at Bag End with Bilbo – my cousin, but he was so much older than I, he was like another uncle. And my friends were almost all cousins, too – Merry and Pippin and Fredegar –"
"All except your little gardener," Radagast put in.
Frodo smiled. "Samwise. He was the best friend of all, though I didn't realize that till later, when I needed him most." He had a sudden thought and glanced at Canohando. "Sam killed for me, or tried to. He fought the Spider; he saved my life."
The big orc had seated himself close to Lash and Yarga, and he reached out and laid a hand on each of their shoulders. "These are my cousins," he said. "They saved my life."
Frodo doubted the orc understood what cousins were, but it didn't matter. He had the idea.
"It was your cousin Bilbo who traveled with Gandalf and the dwarves," Radagast said.
"Yes. That was before I was born, of course, and I grew up hearing tales of his adventures, the Lonely Mountain and Mirkwood, the Dragon and the spiders." No, he didn't want to think about the spiders.
"He was always telling stories of his travels, but most hobbits didn't believe him. They thought he was the most awful old liar! Well, it really did sound unbelievable, sitting around the Ivy Bush with a flagon of ale, and Bilbo going on about trolls turning to stone, and him and the dwarves being carried through the air by Eagles!" He laughed in remembrance. Only he and Sam, he thought, had ever really believed Bilbo's tales.
"And when you got back home, did your old neighbors believe your stories?"
Frodo shrugged. "I didn't tell many stories. I wrote it all down, of course, because it ought to be remembered. It was important! But it wasn't anything I wanted to talk about down at the Green Dragon. I didn't go there very often anyway."
"And they wouldn't have believed you, if you had tried to tell them," said the wizard.
"No, probably not. The Shire isn't much interested in things so far away, Radagast. They put up a nice memorial to the hobbits who were killed fighting the ruffians, and I suppose Pippin and Merry will be Captain Peregrin and Meriadoc the Magnificent to the end of their days! As they should be," he added quickly. "But the whole War, the defeat of Sauron and the return of the King – that doesn't mean much to the Shire, so long as Elessar keeps the ruffians from coming back. It's too far away, and hobbits are only little people, when all is said and done."
"Little people who fight the Spider of Cirith Ungol and escape," growled Canohando. "Little people who bring down the hosts of Mordor and leave the land empty and Masterless."
"Not so little, eh, Canohando? But they really are, you know. Donkey has courage and tenacity, and his little Samwise has a great heart, but it was not these things that brought them victory." He gave a last, loving polish to his piece of wood, and leaned over to hand it to Lash.
"It is a flute, like mine. If you wish, I will teach you to call the birds with it, for Mordor will be full of birds in a few more years, unless I am much mistaken."
Lash examined the flute with delight, cradling it as if it were the most precious thing in all the world, the polished wood a strange contrast to his scarred, broken-clawed hands. He held it to his mouth, blowing in a sharp blast, and it emitted a plaintive squawk.
Radagast laughed. "I have a heard a wood duck make a noise like that! Be patient, Lash, and you will have many bird calls in your repertoire."
Canohando tossed a stone into the fire. "You talk in riddles, old man," he said testily. What brought the runt and his cousin to victory, then?"
"Remember the story I told you, Canohando. The Dark One tried to twist the song of Eru, and Eru turned it back on him, to sweeter harmonies. In all of Ea there is a tilt that favors life and lovingkindness, for that is the nature of the One who made it. He who fights against that is like a swimmer making his way upstream against a waterfall – soon or late, he will be swept away. Donkey and his companions rode the current instead of fighting it, and that was their strength."
Canohando nodded, tapping his front teeth with his empty mug and then getting up to refill it. Lash sat caressing his flute, the conversation passing by him unnoticed. But Yarga glowered under his brows at Radagast, and when he looked at Frodo there was murder in his eyes.
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.