28. The Hunt
"Something is not right here, Donkey; don't you sense it? You were drawn here, you say – there was some reason for that, and not just that I should plant a few seeds of athelas on the hillside. We must stay until it becomes clear."
"If we do not leave soon, winter will be upon us before we can journey down out of the mountains," Frodo argued. "I can tell you what is not right: the Mistress has heard too much foolish talk about the 'Light-bearer', and she can hardly bear the sight of me. I do not think it will mend matters, if we are snowed in with them all winter!"
"Perhaps not. Well then, we will build our own house nearby. The Mistress will not have to see you, and we will be on hand if there is need."
But the orcs were overjoyed that they planned to stay, and they would not allow Frodo or Radagast to build anything. "Building with stone is what orcs do best, old man – it is in our blood," Canohando said with a laugh. "You and the runt work up a store of firewood; you will need plenty here in the mountains. Leave the house to us."
It was finished before the last leaves drifted down from the trees, a sturdy room with thick walls and a fireplace that ran the whole length of one side. The orcs had built it hard against the wall of their own house, with the enclosed woodshed between the two dwellings, and Frodo and Radagast spent their days cutting wood and filling the woodshed from the floor to the stone roof. Frodo met the woman sometimes when she stepped in for an armload of firewood, and they nodded to one another without speaking.
When the building was done, the orcs readied themselves to hunt. Canohando spent most evenings in the new house, making arrows and talking with Frodo and the wizard, and Lash joined them when his wife had gone to her bed. Frodo wondered if the orcs were aware of her antipathy to him, but no one spoke of it.
"We hunt better things than rats and snakes now, Healer," Lash said, sliding a finished arrow into a quiver that was nearly full.
Radagast puffed on his pipe, sending a ring of smoke to drift about the room. "Your mountains here seem almost untouched by the Dark Years. It is a good home you found for yourselves."
"A good home. You will hunt with us, runt," said Canohando. It was not a question, and Frodo nodded.
"I will go with you, but I am out of practice with my bow. I can carry the game bag, perhaps."
The orc gave a snort of laughter. "You can carry something, runt, but certainly not the game bag."
It snowed the first time a few days later, not deep, but the weather had turned cold and the snow lay without melting. One evening soon after Canohando came into the new little house with a filled quiver on his shoulder.
"This is for you, runt. Come on our side now, you and the old man."
The woman sat back in a corner with Yargark, little Frodo in her arms. Both lads were wide-eyed with excitement, but Yargark was solemn, motionless, while the baby bounced up and down in his mother's arms when he saw Frodo, reaching out for him. The woman quieted him with some difficulty.
"In the morning we will hunt," Canohando said. "Tonight we call the game." He took his drum down from where it hung on a hook above the doorway and squatted by the fireplace. Lash stood on the other side with his flute. Radagast leaned forward, drawing his hand out of the pocket of his robe, casting something into the fire. It flared up suddenly with a green flame.
"There is my blessing on your hunt," he said quietly. "Call your game." He drew Frodo back into the shadows and they sat on the floor.
Lash began on a note that was ear-piercingly high, but not loud. Canohando's voice answered him, and for a long time the light, high flute and the deep voice called back and forth to one another, as if they followed each other in and out among the trees. The drum came in at last, throbbing, and Frodo felt himself drawn by it, impelled forward against his will. He was rigid with the effort to remain in his place, not to run toward that pulsing drumbeat, and Radagast put an arm around his shoulders.
"Steady, lad. You are not game."
It seemed to go on for many hours, and after the first few minutes Frodo was able to listen calmly, admiring the weird beauty of the music without feeling compelled to follow the sound wherever it might bring him. No one fed the fire, and after a while it died down to glowing coals. As the flame diminished so did the sound, until there were only the red coals and a faint throbbing of the drum, and the seven living creatures breathing quietly in the dark room.
When even the coals were darkened and the room was utterly black, the drum ceased. A moment later Frodo felt Canohando's hand pulling him up, and Radagast rose beside him. They made their way out of the room, through the woodshed and back to their own side in silence. Canohando's hand closed over Frodo's mouth, a clear signal that there was to be no talking, and then he was gone and the door closed behind him.
They left before daybreak, and Radagast remained behind. "I do not hunt," he said. "My task is healing and my food is provided, but that is not so for you. Go and return in peace." So Frodo and the orcs set off alone, the woman standing in the doorway with the babe in her arms, waving skinny arms and chortling his farewell. But Yargark followed fifteen or twenty paces behind them until at last Canohando stopped and fixed him with a look that froze him in his tracks.
"I can hunt!" the youngster said.
"You can hunt," the big orc agreed, his voice quiet. "Can you obey?"
"I can! I'll show you I can!"
"Show me now," Canohando said. "Go back and guard the house. Even here there may be enemies, and the old man does not kill." The boy stared at him, his eyes mutinous, but then he turned around and started back the way he had come.
"Is there danger to them, alone there?" Frodo asked.
Canohando shrugged. "While we live there is danger, runt, but he is safer at home than with us. We are not hunting rats this day."
"What are we hunting?"
"Sticky Mouth," Lash said softly. "Be silent, Light-bearer. We are too few to make a wolf pack and howl on the trail."
The words conveyed nothing to Frodo, but he said no more. He had his bow and Canohando's gift of arrows; the orcs carried heavy spears in addition to their bows. The day was overcast as if another storm were brewing, and in silence they hiked for several hours through snow that came to Frodo's knees, before the orcs stopped at last.
They leaned their weapons against a tree and squatted down facing each other, patting the snow with their hands, flattening the area between them. They continued in this way, moving slowly, until they had a patch of beaten snow twice Frodo's height and four feet across. Then they went to opposite ends of it and began making narrow extensions out from the central area, two at each end. Canohando stopped with that and stood up, but Lash went on working, making a shorter, broader extension between the first two, then drawing it into a narrow point.
Frodo walked around the pattern they had made in the snow, and finally it came to him what it was – the shape of a bearskin, spread out as if it had been a rug lying warm and soft before a fireplace. Sticky Mouth! No wonder they carried spears!
He stared at the orcs. Did they have no fear at all, to hunt a mountain bear with such weapons, just the two of them alone? Almost alone. What was he here for? What possible use could a hobbit be on this hunt? The hair on the back of his neck prickled with sudden apprehension.
"Come here, Ninefingers," Canohando murmured. "Come walk on Broadfoot's back. Lend us your luck."
Frodo went forward as commanded, stepped into the area of flattened snow and walked all around in it, his bare feet making it smoother, firmer. Bilbo had been the 'lucky number' for the Dwarves, when they went to reclaim their stolen treasure. Now he was luck for the hunt. He didn't believe in luck, but he hoped some Power would watch over them this day.
He walked over every inch of the snowy bearskin, from the snout to the back legs. "Enough?" he mouthed at last.
"Enough," said Canohando. He spoke almost inaudibly by Frodo's ear. "Broadfoot sleeps now, with her this year's cub. When we have killed her, you will bring out the cub from the den. Not to kill!" he answered Frodo's indrawn breath. "Only do not let the cub come out until Broadfoot is dead."
He was not here only for luck, then. "Elbereth!" he whispered under his breath. This year's cub would not be much smaller than he was himself.
They went forward to a slope covered with low bushes, a clearing where one of the forest giants had been felled by some disaster and lay on the ground, half covered with leafless vines. Canohando grabbed Frodo's arm and stopped him, pushing him back into the brush and holding up a hand. Stay here. The orcs went on.
They drove the bear out of her den with arrows, creeping to the entrance, hidden under the fallen tree and shielded by bushes, and firing inside, screaming and howling until they sounded like twenty orcs instead of two. She came out raging, her roar shaking the air, and charged Canohando full on. Lash put an arrow between her shoulders and Canohando dove out of her way behind the tree trunk. She turned on Lash and Canohando slipped to one side and buried an arrow in her flank. Maddened, confused, she turned back and forth between them, and the arrows drove her farther and farther from the den to where their spears waited, stuck in the snow a few yards apart.
Frodo watched, forgetting to breathe in his fear that one of the orcs would be a second too slow in ducking away, and those massive claws would tear him open. Then he heard a sound from the den behind him and whirled around. There was a whimper, piteous and lost sounding, and he ran to push the bushes aside and catch the cub in his arms before it could come out, falling with it and rolling, both of them together, down into darkness. The furry creature struggled and he clung to it with both arms, wrapping his legs around it and trying to make himself heavy, heavy, to hold it down. It flashed through his mind that if the mother escaped the orcs and returned, he would never see daylight again.
She did not return, however. The cub relaxed in his grip, mewling like a baby, and Frodo petted it and talked to it soothingly, as he would have talked to a frightened child, trying to ease its fear. Then there was a voice from outside, calling.
"Light-bearer! Bring him out now – let me see my beast-child!"
Frodo staggered up, pulling the cub onto his back, its paws over his shoulders. He felt his way out to the entrance, the little bear bumping against the back of his legs, and the glare of sunlight on the snow hit his eyes like a blow, so he squeezed them shut. Lash reached past him and pried the cub off his back; when he could see again, the orc stood with the little bear in his arms, and his ugly face was soft with tenderness.
"Ah, but you're a fine one, Mrog." Lash was examining the cub, talking to it all the while, and the animal submitted as if dazed, limp in the orc's big hands. "A male? Yes. That is good. Tor-mrog I name you, Brother Bear, and you shall be brother to my Yargark."
The mother bear lay dead fifty yards from the den, the spears buried in her body. There was blood spattered on the snow all around, and Frodo looked away. Canohando stood beside him, a bloody gash down one shoulder, his leather shirt ripped open. He grinned and clapped Frodo on the back.
"You did well, runt! Lash thought you could not hold the cub, but I knew better!"
"So we'll take it home, a pet for Yargark?" And had that been the whole purpose of this hunt, he wondered.
"Not a pet, a brother. Come, you and I must skin Broadfoot and make ready the meat; Lash cannot have her blood on him. He will carry the cub and make it understand, it has a father now."
Frodo nodded and followed Canohando to the carcass. He knew nothing of cutting up a kill, but he obeyed the orc's commands and between them they removed the thick pelt and wrapped it around the slabs of meat. At last they gathered wood and built a fire, burning the bones.
"For respect," Canohando said. "If we leave her bones to be gnawed by wolves, Broadfoot will be angry."
Frodo regarded him with amazement. "Do orcs always do this, when they hunt? It seems to me that we do not understand your kind at all, Canohando!"
"No, I think you understand very well, runt. Orcs would not burn the bones, not for respect. Lash learned this from his mother when he was a child; she was from one of the mountain tribes."
"Human? So Lash is only half-orc?"
It explained what had puzzled Frodo from the beginning; he had always felt that Lash was unlike the others. It had been Lash who reached out to save Yarga when the ground split before them, when the Ring went into the Fire, and he had no doubt it had been Lash's decision to care for Canohando, when he fell at their feet burned and near death. All the enormous change in these orcs had begun with Lash.
"Half orc, half human, half bear," said Canohando. He had fashioned a travois from peeled saplings while they talked, balancing the skin-wrapped bundle of meat on it and binding it on with lengths of sinew. "There, that will travel smoothly. Come, we will eat now."
He led the way back to the den and ducked inside. Lash was there already, the cub still in his arms, both of them asleep. Canohando nudged the other orc with his foot. "Wake up," he said, "you may be half bear, but you cannot sleep away the winter. It is time to eat and go."
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.