29. Binding Hearts
It was full dark before they got back to the house. The little bear had fallen asleep on Lash's shoulder, lulled by the motion and the orc's voice, a steady murmur too soft for Frodo to make out any words. Frodo himself had carried the weapons, the orcs' as well as his own, while Canohando dragged the travois.
The big orc untied the bundle of meat and carried it into the woodshed. He took the weapons from Frodo and jerked his head toward the door. "Sleep. You are luck, indeed, runt. I was not sure we could do this, only the three of us."
The room was empty when Frodo went in, but there was a fire on the hearth and in a moment Radagast came in from the orcs' side of the house. He looked sharply at Frodo, but then his face creased in a smile.
"Ah well, no wound on you, at any rate, and only a scratch on Canohando. How did Lash fare? He is hard at work in the woodshed, making a cave for his bear to sleep where it is not too warm. I could not see if he took any hurt."
Frodo flung himself down on his bed. "I don't think he did. I wish you could have seen them, Radagast! It was terrible, and yet beautiful, too, like a dance, the way they moved together with the bear."
Radagast nodded. "They must have been very skillful, to take Morok with so little hurt to themselves. She is a deadly foe. What was your part in this hunt, Donkey? They would not have brought you along only to watch."
"No." Frodo laughed softly. "I was the baby minder. I went into the den and held the cub until – " He sobered suddenly. "Until it was over. I know they have to eat, Radagast, but I pitied the bear. She fought bravely for her life."
"And for her cub," the wizard said. "Well, the cub, at least, will be well taken care of, as well as his mother could have done."
"Lash said it was his beast-son, a brother for Yargark. Is it to make the lad fierce, like a bear?"
Radagast had been brewing tea as they talked; now he handed a mug to Frodo. "Something to warm you, Donkey. You've had a long day. No, not to make him fierce, to make him gentle. I talked long with Lokka while you were gone –"
"Is that her name? I have never heard them speak it – Lash calls her 'Wife', and Canohando says, 'Lash's wife,' even when he speaks to her direct."
The wizard shrugged. "It is the custom of their people, I suppose. But Lokka is her name, and she told me Lash has been planning from the time of Yargark's birth to get a bear cub for him. He had a cub of his own when he was young; he told her it was the bear who taught him that friendship was not weakness."
A bear to teach gentleness? Frodo remembered Lash's soft murmur of comfort to the cub, coming home – somewhere the orc had learned tenderness, and surely not from other orcs!
"So they really wanted the cub, not the meat."
"Oh, they need the meat as well, and the bearskin will make a warm bed, these winter nights. But from what Lokka said, they would not have dared the hunt if you had not been here; for some reason your presence tipped the balance. She has been much afraid – I think that is what lies behind her dislike of you."
"They would not – really? Radagast, they told me I was luck for the hunt!" It disturbed him deeply; they would not have killed this bear, if he had not come.
"Don't fret about it, Donkey. They must have meat, and it will be good for Yargark to have his bear-brother. It was not your doing, yet certainly they are lucky to come off with so little injury. Give me that mug and go to sleep."
But the morning revealed yet another outcome to the bear hunt. Frodo was wakened early by Canohando and Lash coming into the room. Radagast was kneeling on the hearth, blowing the night's coals into flame, and Canohando said,
"Will you go take your breakfast with Lash's wife, old man? We would be alone with Ninefingers."
The wizard rose slowly and Frodo sat up in bed, wondering what this was about. The orcs were solemn-faced, but they did not look angry, and Lash carried something in a wooden bowl.
Radagast turned to Frodo, questioning, and Frodo nodded. The wizard went out, and Frodo got up, straightening his clothes and combing his hair with his fingers.
"Come here, runt." The orcs had sat down cross-legged before the fire, and Canohando was adding wood to it, one stick at a time. Frodo lowered himself to the beaten earth floor to sit between them.
"My mother's people had a custom," Lash began. "It was not often done, but when two warriors had faced death together, and lived – if they were joined in heart, so each would give his life to save the other –" He broke off, adding wryly. "It is not done among orcs."
"Until now," said Canohando, meeting Frodo's eyes. "But we are one heart, Lash and I, and we would include you in this, Ninefingers, if you are willing."
Frodo was struck dumb for a long minute. At last he held out his hands to them. "I am willing. What must I do?"
Lash set the bowl he was carrying on the floor in their midst. "We are one heart, so we will share one heart. Mrog is fierce to defend her own, and we will be fierce to defend each other. We eat her heart together, to make us one."
And Frodo saw what was in the bowl, the great, dark heart of the bear they had killed. Stars above! But it was friendship they offered him -- more than friendship -- brotherhood. And they have been on my heart these many years, he realized. I will not be free of them while I live, and I would not change that, even if I could.
"One thing, runt," Canohando warned. "You cannot cook this -- it is not meat, it is a promise. You will have to eat it raw, but I will chop it fine for you – you could not chew it with those little teeth of yours."
Frodo swallowed. "I think we are one heart already," he said. "But I will eat."
Canohando took out his knife and cut the bear heart in three parts, then shredded one portion till it was finely minced. He took one piece and ate it, and handed the bowl to Lash. Lash put the second piece in his mouth, and it was Frodo's turn. He picked up a mass of the chopped meat in his fingers and crammed it into his mouth. It was strong-tasting, musky, and he was afraid he would gag, but he forced it down and took some more. It took many mouthfuls, and then he sat with his teeth clenched, willing himself not to be sick.
Lash pushed a mug of water into his hands, and he drank gratefully, ridding his mouth of the awful taste. "It is done," the orc said. "Do your folk do anything like this, Light-bearer, to make them one?"
Frodo nodded, remembering. "It is not often done, no more than with you," he said. "But sometimes hobbits who are friends will mingle their blood, to make themselves kin, even though they are not so. Or even if they are, to bind their hearts."
Canohando was watching him. "You have done this," he said with certainty. "Who did you bind your heart to, runt?"
Frodo smiled suddenly. "My cousin Merry. It was when I left Brandy Hall to live with my uncle, and Merry was beside himself – he was sure we would grow apart, and we had been so close. He was fourteen years younger than I was, and I had carried him around and played with him, all his life…"
Merry had been seven, far too young for any such ritual. It was the night before Frodo was to leave, and he had heard his little cousin crying as he passed his room on the way to bed. He'd gone in, of course, and tried to console the lad, but it was hopeless.
"You'll forget all about me, away in Hobbiton, Frodo! Bilbo doesn't come to visit more than once or twice a year – when you come back it will be all different, you'll think I'm just a child, too little for you to bother with–"
All Frodo's words had failed to penetrate the lad's misery, and he had been at wit's end how to comfort him. Suddenly Merry had choked back his sobs and sat up tall in Frodo's arms. "I know – we will make ourselves blood kin; then you will not forget me!"
"No, Merry, you're too young for that. And we're already cousins, anyway."
"That's not the same; how many cousins do you have, Frodo? Fifty at least, if you count the whole Shire! But you have no blood-kin. We'll be brothers; then you will not forget me."
"Merry, no! I'll never forget you; how could I, you scamp –" But Merry had snatched his small penknife from the bedside table and slashed it across his palm, gasping at the smart, but determined. Frodo had stared in horror at the little, bleeding hand, and as if in a dream he had taken the knife and cut his own palm, pressing his hand against Merry's to mingle their blood.
"Now you won't forget me," Merry had said with satisfaction as Frodo bound up his hand with a strip of cloth torn off the bottom of the bedsheet.
"No, rascal, I never will. But you get to explain the torn sheet to your mother, mind! I'll be leaving right after breakfast."
Merry had giggled. "I'll be on water rations for a day," he said, "but that's all right. Now we're brothers, Frodo."
"Was he the one who followed you to Mordor?" Canohando asked, and Frodo came back to the present with a start.
"No. No, but he went with me when I left the Shire; he would not let me go alone into danger. I left him at Parth Galen, thinking to save his life, but he was captured… he was one of the two who went to the Ents, and grew tall …"
"But it was another who went with you to the end."
Frodo nodded. "Sam was my heart's brother, without any blood at all, of kinship or of mingling." He sighed. He missed Sam suddenly with an intensity that made him ache, and he thrust the feeling down, unwilling to weep before the orcs.
"We have bound ourselves according to your custom," he said. "Shall we do it according to mine?" He pulled out his knife and, pressing his lips tight together, he drew the blade across his palm, leaving a thin red line. The line thickened as the blood welled into it, and he held out the knife to Canohando.
The orc never took his eyes from Frodo, cutting his own hand and passing the blade to Lash, then reaching to grasp Frodo's hand. When they had all three performed the ceremony, Frodo went to the wizard's sack that hung from a hook on the wall. He took out the jar of ointment and smeared a bit on the orcs' hands, then on his own.
Canohando sat looking at him thoughtfully. "You always surprise me, Ninefingers," he said at last. "There is always more to you than I expect."
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.