22. I Will Not Let You Die
"Now we will see what has come up, of all we planted," Radagast told Lash as they walked. The orc nodded and blew into his flute, producing the wild cry of geese flying south for the winter. He made bird calls more than he talked, these days, and Radagast grinned. Lash repeated the cry, and suddenly it was echoed from the sky, so high up they had to strain their eyes to see the flock passing far above, black against the clouds.
Lash was startled into a harsh laugh, looking up wide-eyed to watch the geese go over; then he put flute to lips again and followed them with a cacophony of honking that left Radagast and Frodo doubled over with mirth, and Canohando shaking his head as if he wondered what madness had overtaken the other orc. Yarga stalked in silence a little way ahead, ignoring them.
They retraced the route they had been following before the rains caught them, hoping to find some of the places where they had scattered seeds. As it turned out, these places were easy to spot; the month of downpour had sprouted their plantings and sped their growth, so they found many little patches of grass and herbs already nearly up to Frodo's knees. They gathered around these bits of hopeful green, none of them more than a few yards across, and clapped one another on the back and laughed aloud; even Yarga smiled and seemed pleased to see how their work had been rewarded.
The desire to see more and more lured them on, so when they stopped it was late in the day, the sun already low in the sky. The wizard set about making the supper fire, and Frodo took the pail and started to the stream to fill it.
The sunset had stained the water crimson and he gazed from blazing sky to glowing water in delight, awed at the beauty of what had been a blasted land, before its moon of storms. The stream was high, the rushing water drowning out any other sound, and he was just about to kneel and fill his pail when suddenly he was caught under the arms from behind, savage claws digging into his ribs, and flung bodily out into the middle of the flood.
He sank, water filling his mouth, and struggled up to gulp a breath of air before the roiling water dragged him under again. The attack had been made in silence, but the second time he surfaced he heard a voice, a roar of rage or grief, and he tried to look toward the shore to find the source of it, but the water pulled him down.
He was going to drown. Already he was tired, almost too tired to fight his way up to the air, and the stream battered him against its rocky bottom and held him under. His lungs ached from the effort of holding his breath, and he got his feet against the bottom and pushed with all his strength, but the water bowled him over and he was forced back down against the rocks before he could reach the surface. Then there was an awful pain in his head, a jerk of his neck, and he was yanked up from the streambed and hauled into the air, gasping and choking, held up by his hair.
"Breathe, runt! Breathe!"
He breathed, desperately, and Canohando shifted his grip to wrap an arm around his chest, dragging him toward the shore. They were a couple of feet away when suddenly they both went down together, and the orc thrust Frodo up and out of the water, hurling him against the streambank even as he himself went under.
Frodo clawed at the rocks and dirt, pulling himself out, gasping a shout for help even before he had his feet under him. Something flashed past him into the water, and then Radagast and Lash were both in the stream, holding to one another to keep from being knocked off their feet, and they dragged Canohando up from the bottom and out onto the shore, waterlogged and unconscious, bleeding from the temple.
Radagast rolled him onto his front and pumped the water out of him, and he breathed but did not waken. Lash and the wizard carried him back to the campfire, blazing merrily now, and Frodo staggered after them with the water pail. He hung it to heat and went to where they were stripping the orc of his wet garments and wrapping him in his blanket. He wrung out a rag and began sponging away the blood, but Radagast pushed him aside to examine the wound and pull up the orc's eyelids, staring into his eyes.
"What happened, Donkey?" he asked.
Frodo held Canohando's cold hand between his warm ones, feeling again the relentless grip on his hair, dragging him back from death. "Someone threw me in. I was drowning and he came in after me."
"Yarga threw you in. We were following, but we were not close enough. He was very quick." It was Lash, bringing his blanket to spread on top of Canohando's own. He squatted next to Frodo, his eyes on his comrade's face. Canohando's breath was shallow and his skin, normally the color of slate, was pale as ashes. "Can you save him, Healer?"
"Donkey, get some athelas from my bag and bring hot water. I will save him if I can, Lash. He hit his head on the rocks."
"Yarga has run away."
"As he did before, from the Dark Tower. Go after him, Lash. Bring him back."
Let him run, Frodo thought, but he said nothing.
"All the more danger when we do not know where he is," said Radagast, as if Frodo had spoken aloud. "He was driven by love as well as hate, you know."
The wizard was washing Canohando's face with a cloth dampened in the athelas water. He withdrew the orc's arms from under the blanket, one at a time, and rubbed them down with the sweet-scented tisane before he tucked the blankets snug around him again.
"Yarga loves Canohando, remember, though he would not put it to himself that way. Love is a thing he has never known, and he feels it as the desire to keep the other all for himself. He tolerates Lash, as being another orc and the one who saved his own life, but he hates you on many counts – you are no orc, you destroyed the Ring and Sauron's rule, and most of all because Canohando seeks your company. It is beyond Yarga's imagination that Canohando might love both you and himself."
The wizard smiled at Frodo's expression of disbelief. "Why else did he go into the flood for you, Donkey? Did you not know that orcs fear the water?"
"But Lash went in, with you –"
"To save Canohando. You have seen three acts of love today, Frodo, though one was sadly perverted and may yet have a tragic end."
Darkness had fallen and the night grew cold. Lash did not return, and Canohando shivered under his blankets.
"We must get him warm. Get some rocks, Donkey, and put them close by the fire – we will tuck them around him when they are heated."
Frodo did as he was bid and then brought his own blanket to add to Canohando's coverings. The orc shivered uncontrollably and Frodo ached with pity.
"Radagast, could I warm him –?"
"The love is not all on one side, eh, Donkey? Yes, crawl in by him and lend him your warmth. I will bring the stones when they are heated through."
Frodo lay down by Canohando and pulled the pile of blankets over them both. The orc stench was strong under the covers and he willed himself not to mind. His lungs were filled with air and not water this night, only because this orc had braved the flood for him, and he wrapped his arm around the chilly ribcage, feeling the slow thud of the orc's heart.
"You must not die," he whispered. "Canohando! I will not let you die!"
After a time he fell asleep, his cheek pillowed against the orc's scarred back. Radagast wrapped the heated rocks in a cloak and tucked them under the covers on the other side. He filled a bowl with hot water and cast more leaves of athelas into it, holding it where the orc would breathe the steam.
The sky was beginning to lighten when Lash returned, his knife unsheathed, pushing Yarga ahead of him. Yarga's eyes went straight to the mound of blankets, then sought the wizard, questioning.
"He still lives, Yarga. Come and sit by him. Lash, can you make tea for us? You have seen us make it often enough." The orc looked at him doubtfully. "Put away your knife; it will not be needed."
They sat in silence watching the dawn, drinking their tea. Canohando began to shiver again, and Radagast reached under the blankets, pulling out the rocks. "Put these around the fire to get hot," he told Lash. "Yarga, will you lend him your warmth, while the rocks are heating?"
The orc nodded dumbly and lay down with his back against Canohando's chest, and Radagast drew the blankets over him. There was a disturbance on the other side, and Frodo poked his head out.
"Is it morning? How is he, Radagast?"
Yarga jerked up, glaring at him, pulling off the blankets. "Lie down!" the wizard said sharply. "If you would have him live, do not let him take a chill!" Yarga subsided, pressing his back against Canohando, and Radagast tucked the covers around them again.
"Stay there a little longer, Donkey," he said. "We are re-heating the stones, and then you can come out and have breakfast."
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.