31. Winter of the Bear
Now that Lokka was no longer hostile, Frodo and Radagast spent most evenings on the orcs' side of the house. They played knucklebones, or Orks and Tarks, Frodo and Canohando making a team as they had years before in Gorgoroth. Lokka sat with them, saying little, but sharp-tongued and often funny, when she did speak. At the end of every evening Radagast brought out his flute, and they made music for a while before he and Frodo found their way to their own side to sleep.
In the daytime Frodo hunted with the orcs, if not again for such dangerous quarry. He gained back his little skill with the bow and even bettered it, under Canohando's relentless tutelage. They took deer, mostly, but they also filled many game bags with rabbits and grouse. The orcs seemed to live almost entirely on meat.
Frodo never really got used to the killing – he had been learning to heal the wild creatures for too long to enjoy hunting them – but he liked being out on the mountain. Lash was their tracker, and Canohando held back and followed his lead, although he had been the commander of their little band since Frodo first met them. Usually Yargark was with them as well, and Lash kept him close at hand, teaching him. It took longer that way, and Frodo and Canohando would lean against a boulder or brush the snow off a fallen tree to sit down, while Lash showed his son the fine points of following a trail.
"You should have a son of your own," Frodo remarked one day, not really thinking about what he said, only feeling that Canohando would be a good father, wise and strong. The orc looked at him broodingly.
"Where would I find a mate, Ninefingers? Perhaps the old man will pull one out of his sack for me, eh?"
Frodo realized too late that he had touched a sore spot. "There are no other orcs who have turned away from the Dark, are there? Could you not take one of the women of Nurn, as Lash did?"
Canohando snorted. "Aye, I could take one, or a woman from a mountain tribe, as Lash's father did, and the same way his father did, in a raid. But I do not wish for such a wife, taken by force and hating me all her life."
"No, of course not!" Frodo said, appalled. "But Lokka followed Lash of her own will, you said." He looked sidewise at the orc, smiling a little. "You are no uglier than Lash; probably better looking, not that I'm any judge! Why would some woman not be willing, as she was?"
"I am still an orc, runt. You don't notice that anymore, perhaps, but it would not escape anyone else's attention! Lash saved her life in that raid; he slew an orc who was dragging her away, and all her family were killed that day. She had no kin to protest when she made up her mind to have him. Even if I found a woman who was willing, her kin would not be."
He pushed himself away from the tree he was leaning on. "Come, they are getting ahead of us. You find me a wife, runt, and I will be glad to sire sons, and daughters too! Perhaps you will meet a she-orc one day, and persuade her to break Morgoth's yoke – send for me, if that happens."
Frodo spoke of it later to Radagast, and the wizard shook his head. "He is right, of course. Lokka seems happy enough with Lash, but she must have been desperate indeed to choose an orc for her mate. Canohando may have to do without sons."
It bound Frodo closer to the orc; he had no sons either. He counted himself uncle to Sam's brood – he wondered fleetingly how many there were by now – but he would never be a father. If he went back to the Shire, even now? He considered the idea for an instant, then put it away. He had left it too late, and anyway he was content as he was. But Canohando was not – he hurt for Canohando.
Yargark brought down his first deer that winter. The youngster had wounded the animal, but it was not a clean kill and he had to follow the blood trail to finish it. Lash sent him off alone, sternly: "Do not loose your arrow if you are not sure of your mark – we are not wolves, to kill with a hundred bites!" But once the lad was out of sight, Lash followed softly after, to keep him from harm. Canohando took Frodo's arm to hold him back.
"You stay here, runt; if you came on the deer, you would want to bind its wounds! There's a grouse in the game bag; we will eat while we wait for them."
They waited long for Lash and Yargark. "A blood trail can be hard to follow," Canohando said. "The wound closes a little and there is no more blood. For Lash it would be easy, but Yargark must do this himself if it is to be his kill."
It occurred to Frodo that the orcs' lives still revolved around killing, although it was for food now, not war and pillage. And it was as if Canohando could read his thoughts.
"We kill to live, runt, but we take no pleasure in giving pain. We have left that behind," the orc said, and Frodo nodded, comforted. They were hunters but not murderers, not anymore.
Lash and Yargark returned at last, carrying the deer slung from a pole between them, Yargark all but prancing with excitement in spite of the heavy load. Canohando examined the animal critically; it was a young buck in prime condition.
"Three hunters now," he said to Lash, as if Yargark were not present. "We will do well in our camp, with three hunters." Lash only grunted, but his eyes shone as he gazed on his son, and Yargark looked fit to burst with pride.
Lokka made a buckskin shirt for Yargark from his deer, cutting a deep fringe at the bottom and along the sleeves. Canohando laughed at the fringe, flicking at it with his fingers. "What is this for, then? It will catch in the brush and tear off."
"He will not wear that shirt in the brush; he will wear it when we go down to Nurn. My brother had one like it," Lokka said with some heat. "Yargark is human, too, not only orc! "He should have what other lads have."
"He will have, Wife," Lash said. "We will go back, when he is old enough, and you shall try if you can arrange a match for him."
Frodo's eyes went to Canohando; the orc sat regarding Yargark as if he weighed his features one by one. "Perhaps," he muttered. "If his mother takes a hand, perhaps…"
Radagast brought out his flute then and began to play, and Lash joined in, but Canohando passed his drum to Yargark. "See what you can do with it," he said. "I have other use for my hands tonight." He sat close by the fire where the light was strong, carving something with a small knife that Frodo had not seen before. He moved beside Canohando for a closer look.
It was one of the big curved teeth from the bear they had killed, and the orc had drilled a narrow hole through the pointed end. Now he was engraving the tooth, cutting deep, fine lines in the hard surface. "Get out of my light, runt," he grumbled. "You can see it when it is done."
Lokka sat sewing on the other side of the fireplace. "Do your people make no music, Ninefingers?" she asked. "You listen, but you never join in."
Frodo smiled. "Oh, we make music! I used to sing, but I made rather a fool of myself one time, singing; I stopped after that."
She laid down her sewing to stare at him, her smile mocking. "No! The Light-bearer played the fool, even once in his life? You will have to tell me that story, for I will not believe it otherwise!"
Lokka had been friendly enough since the bear hunt, but now her tone grated on Frodo; it seemed she would be glad to hear something to his discredit, and he saw no reason to tell tales on himself. He had not felt like singing since the night in Bree when his song had nearly been his undoing, but he had no wish to talk about that occasion.
"You will not hear the story from me, Mistress," he said lightly, "and as no one else here knows it –" He met Radagast's eyes, questioning, and the wizard shook his head.
"Sing for us, runt." Canohando spoke without taking his eyes from his carving. "I did not know you could sing, and I would hear what music you make in your homeland."
That put a different light on it, and Frodo tried to think of something he could sing for the orc, running his fingers through his hair as he considered and rejected one song after another. And would he even remember the words, after so many years? But there was one he would never forget.
The road goes ever on and on, down from the Road where it began, and I must follow if I can—" His voice was warm and clear as a summer day; Radagast shut his eyes to listen, wondering why he had never thought of asking Frodo to sing.
They were quiet for a moment when the song ended, then, "Sing another one," said Canohando. "I can almost see it in your voice, that country of yours. Peaceful and clean, and full of little folk like you, with gentle eyes." There was something in the orc's tone that made Frodo yearn to take him by the hand and show him the Shire, lead him through flowering lanes and fields of corn, from Hobbiton to the Woody End…
And the Shire folk would be terrified, he reminded himself. He sang an old lullaby that was the first song he ever knew, and then a drinking song he'd learned from his cousins, and Bilbo's bath song – he sang one after another until he had to stop because he was growing hoarse, and the words came back to him as he sang, without effort.
Canohando never forgot that night of music, Frodo singing the songs of the far-away Shire; he believed in after years that the whole course of his later life had been set that night. But as for Frodo himself, that evening gave him back his voice. For years he had not sung, but after that he sang often, and long after they left the mountains he blessed Canohando for it.
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.