3. Bronwe Athan Harthad
"This will do well enough," he said at last. "Will you get a fire going, Donkey? I have a call to make." He strode away downstream, leaving Smoky to graze the grassy verge between creek and forest.
It only went to show that the Brown Wizard could be as mysterious as the Grey one, Frodo thought with a touch of exasperation. He started half-heartedly looking for wood, but the westering sun glanced off the stream so the water shone like gold, and when he ventured under the trees the scent of new growth was as heady as wine. By the time he returned with his third load of deadwood his irritation had vanished, and he was hungry enough to be wondering what would come out of Radagast's sack for their supper. He set three rocks ready to hold the pan and kindled a fire in the middle.
Something orange flashed past him, scattering his little heap of firewood, and he jumped up. For a moment he couldn't see what had startled him; then it raced past again, bushy tail straight out behind – a fox! Strider shied and sidestepped as the little animal shot almost between his legs, and Frodo edged close to the fire – surely the creature had more sense than to run through the flames! Not that he was afraid of a fox, but the way this one was dashing about, it could easily bowl him over.
Cuina chose that moment to drop from the sky, but she would not step on his finger when he reached for her and clung to his hair, making soft chirps of distress, while he watched the fox. It raced down along the stream and back again, circling the horses so they snorted and tossed their heads, and finally it stopped a stone's throw away from Frodo, looking into the hobbit's face with bright eyes, its mouth open as if it were laughing.
"Well, so you have met Rusco*, I see." Radagast came back along the streambank. "And he has frightened poor Cuina almost out of her voice, and still she will not leave you! Truly, Donkey, the loyalty of your friends is beyond anything I have ever seen."
"No, is that why she won't get on my hand? Poor Cuina! Can't you make it go away, Radagast? I hate to have her frightened."
The wizard smiled and went to take his sack from Smoky's back. "I could, but it would hardly be courteous of me, since I asked him to dine! Let Cuina sit on your head for the time being -- Rusco won't hurt her. I have something better for him." He withdrew a bunch of purple grapes from the sack and the fox trotted up beside him.
"There, Rusco, that's a treat, isn't it? They won't be ripe here for another two months – the Brown Wizard is a friend worth having, after all!" He squatted down, holding the cluster of fruit while the fox pulled the grapes off with his teeth and swallowed them. In a short while Radagast was left holding a skeleton of bare stems, and the fox bumped his head deliberately against the wizard's hand and ran off along the stream.
Frodo realized that he was holding his breath and let it out. Cuina fluttered down onto his shoulder. "Is that who you went to call on?" he asked.
Radagast had moved to the fire, setting a pan over it and rummaging in his sack. "Yes – we'll go visit him in the morning. Fetch us some water, Donkey, and we'll get supper going. I'll cook tonight."
When morning came they left the horses grazing by their camp and followed the stream south. The woods drew closer to the water the farther they went, till the grassy area was only a few feet wide, and then it ended altogether at a giant oak that filled the space next to the stream, blocking their way.
Radagast gave a soft call that sounded like something crying, something that was not human, and he held Frodo's elbow to stop him going forward. After a moment the fox slunk around the side of the tree, so cautious and furtive that Frodo thought he would not have seen it, in spite of the fiery coat, if he hadn't been expecting it. They stood gazing at one another in silence for a heartbeat before the fox turned and went back the way he had come, and they followed.
The den was under the roots of the tree, half hidden by a boulder that must have been there when the tree took root hundreds of years before, and the oak had grown over and around the rock. Another fox waited there, only her head visible inside the dark hole.
"I have brought a friend, Runya*," said the wizard.
The vixen came forward, slipping out of the den quiet as a shadow, but there was an unevenness in her gait that drew Frodo's eyes to her feet. Three elegant black feet – but the right rear leg ended in a blunt stub a couple of inches from the ground. Another of Radagast's patients?
Runya, the wizard had called her, and Frodo thought the name well-chosen: her fur was flame red and her eyes were like dark fire. She met Frodo's stare boldly, unlike most animals, who shied away from human scrutiny. There was an intensity in her gaze, a wildness – he knelt without thinking and held out his hand. He couldn't have said what he expected, but certainly not what happened. The vixen came to him, sniffed once at his hand, and licked the scarred gap of his lost finger. Then she rose up and placed her paws on his shoulders, balancing on her one rear leg, their eyes inches apart.
After a moment she gave a little "woof" and dropped down, turning back to the den. She went in and brought out a cub, its fur still the grey wool of babyhood, and set it on the ground by Frodo. Radagast sat down cross-legged beside him, and one by one the vixen brought out three more cubs, then lay down in the doorway of her den.
Radagast had picked up the cub nearest him and was running his hands over it as if examining it for soundness. "Fine, healthy pup," he said and reached for the next one. Frodo petted them as the wizard set them down, burying his fingers in the wooly fur and picking them up to look into their baby faces and rub his cheek against their softness. As he put them down, they shook their heads and scratched their ears, and without warning one of them jumped on another's back, knocking him over in a heap.
That seemed to be the signal for a free-for-all, and suddenly all the pups were pushing and shoving at one another, climbing over each other, nipping at each other's ears and feet. They scrambled over Frodo's and Radagast's legs without hesitation, and one burrowed under the wizard's knee to escape from a brother who had a grip on his ear. Radagast chuckled and dug the cub out from under his robe, and Frodo laughed, taking it from his hands and nuzzling his face in the cub's soft fur.
"You rascal! Two minutes ago you were chewing on your brother's tail; don't think I didn't see you!" He set the cub down, and it returned at once to the fray. Very soon, however, the vixen rose to her feet and caught one of the cubs by the back of the neck, carrying it back into the den. One by one she carried them inside, and after the last, she did not come back out.
"Feeding time," said Radagast. He made a soft sound in his throat, and it was answered from inside the den. "Time to go, Donkey." The male fox trotted beside them till they were in sight of their camp, but then he stopped and Radagast went to one knee.
"Thank you, Rusco. I am glad you do so well, you and your family." He stroked the orange head and the fox permitted it, gazing into his eyes, then suddenly leaped up and bounded away into the stream and across, to the meadow beyond.
"Hunting. He has many mouths to feed, that one. Well, Donkey, how do you like my foxes?"
"They're wonderful!" The delight was still on him: Runya's blazing eyes and her friendship, the innocent playfulness of the cubs. "Was the vixen your patient; is that how you know her?"
"No, she came by that injury before I met her – chewed herself out of a trap, I suppose. Rusco was in a trap when I found him, fortunately before he tried to chew himself free. These lands seem deserted by Men, but from time to time some lonely trapper will winter here. One of them must have lost track of one of his traps, for it was well into summer when I found Rusco."
"The trappers don't come in summer?" Frodo asked.
"Thicker pelts in cold weather, Donkey. Rusco was young then; he knows the smell of a trap now, and so does Runya. If only they can teach their cubs to be wary!"
"Runya is –" Frodo could not think how to say what he meant.
"She is, isn't she? I wanted you to meet her. A very knowing animal, and she has a passion to live – " His voice trailed off, and Frodo stared straight ahead. A passion which I do not have, he thought rebelliously. Forgive me, Radagast, that I am not more like a fox!
They scattered the ashes of their campfire and mounted, ready to leave. "Back across the stream and turn south," Radagast decided. "I have a fancy to ride in sunlight this day, not in forest shadows."
They rode all morning without talking. The ground began to fall away in a series of rounded hills, and the stream became narrower and swifter. Cuina must have been following them from above, for she dropped onto Frodo's shoulder when they stopped for the noon meal. He lay back on the ground after they ate, his eyes closed against the brilliant sunlight, letting her strut around on his chest, pecking at his buttons as if she thought they might be good to eat.
"Did you ever hear Gandalf's name for your little gardener?" Radagast asked abruptly.
"No, I don't believe so. What was it?"
"Harthad Uluithiad, he called him. Hope Unquenchable."
Frodo nodded. "It's a good name; it suits him well. Even in Mordor – it was a mercy that Sam still had hope, for certainly I had none."
"It would have suited my little vixen, too – what hope she had, freeing herself from a trap, all alone and at the cost of her foot! Without hope she would have lain down to die." He sighed. "Gandalf had a name for you as well, Donkey."
He paused, and there was a long silence. "Are you going to tell me?" Frodo said at last. "Or is it not fit to repeat?"
"It is fit, but are you ready to hear it? He called you Bronwe Athan Harthad."
Frodo sat up slowly. "Endurance Beyond Hope," he translated. "Is that what he thought of me?"
"It is what you brought to the Quest, Frodo. That, and your capacity for mercy. You would not kill Smeagol, or even allow him to be killed by someone else. Few would have let him go free, knowing he might betray them – and few could have driven themselves through what you suffered in Mordor, when hope was lost. Your uncle could not have done that, and your little Sam had not your mercy."
But Frodo wasn't listening. He sat with the lark on his hand, stroking the soft down on her belly with one gentle finger, his eyes full of tears. Bronwe Athan Harthad: Endurance Beyond Hope. Oh, Gandalf –
*Rusco – Fox
*Runya – Red Flame
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.