32. A Time of Parting
Lash surprised Frodo one morning as they left to go hunting, taking Frodo's bow out of his hand and replacing it with a new one. It was light and perfectly balanced, carved at both tips and rubbed until it shone.
"You have hunted long enough with that weapon from a deserted armory. You are a good archer now, Light-bearer. Here is a bow worthy of you."
Frodo was a little overwhelmed, as much by the praise as by the gift. He ran his hands over the bow, satiny smooth to his touch. Its wood was such a deep brown that it was nearly black, and each end was carved into a rosette of small leaves, as if the bow had been a living branch just awakening to spring. "You made this for me? Thank you!"
Lash nodded and turned away, starting for the woods, and Frodo fell in step behind him with Yargark and Canohando.
The days got longer and brighter, and the snow began to melt. The owls had been calling at night since deep winter, but there were other birds now, whistling their mating songs in the treetops. The cub woke again, and this time Yargark coaxed him into the orcs' side of the house, the two of them sitting like old friends before the fire while the lad fed him bits of smoked fish. Tor-mrog was thin, but very definitely bigger; Frodo would have been hard put to carry him now.
The bear was shy with the rest of them, but tame with Yargark. Baby Frodo approached on cautious tiptoe, and Yargark took his brother's hand and stroked the animal's shoulder. Tor-mrog regarded the babe curiously, then suddenly swiped his long tongue over the child's face. Frodo-orc looked startled for a moment, as if he might cry, but then squealed with excitement and flung himself upon the bear, wriggling himself into the thick fur and grasping clumps of it in both hands. Lokka started forward to rescue her son, but Lash held her back.
"He will not hurt the child; look at his eyes. They will be brothers, all three of them."
And so it seemed, for they seldom saw the bear apart from the two lads after that. The youngsters ranged the woods near the house together, the bear eating whatever he could find, leaf-buds and young shoots and insects that he clawed out from under the bark of dead trees. Frodo learned not to look too closely at what they were doing, the day he found the young orcs sharing a snack of fat grubs with their "brother".
Just when they thought it was really spring, a heavy snow came one night with a wind that blew deep drifts across the doorways. It kept up all day and they stayed inside, the bear and the children rollicking around the room, until Radagast stood and headed toward his own quarters.
"You have a fine family, Lash, but I am an old man. If anyone would care to join me for a mug of tea where the youngsters will not knock it out of our hands, you are welcome to my side of the house."
He went out, Frodo and Canohando following him, but Frodo looked back in time to see Lash fling himself down on the floor, the cub in his arms. His sons piled on top so he was lost to sight in a writhing heap of bear and young orcs, and Lokka stood watching with her fists on her hips, laughing.
"You had better take this side for your own when we leave, Canohando. You will need a place of refuge when that bear grows larger," said the wizard.
Frodo took a coal from the fire to light his pipe. Leaving? Yes, it was spring, and there was still work for them in Mordor. The months had fled by without his noticing, and the time of parting was nearly upon them. He glanced at Canohando and found the orc watching him.
"What did you hope for, runt, when you came seeking us?"
Frodo smiled; he would be sorry to leave, but he was glad he had come. "What did I hope for? To find you alive, to know you had found a home." His voice softened. "To know if Yarga had thrown off the Dark – and he did. I had not thought there might be young orcs, or so much happiness. All I can wish for now, Canohando, is that you find a mate."
The orc gave a snort. "If you find one for me, Ninefingers, send me word! You are the wonder-worker here." Radagast looked at him consideringly and opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it without saying anything.
The next day the sun came out and by mid-morning the outdoors was a mess of mud and slush. Canohando waded into it, calling back to Frodo who stood in the open door.
"Come, runt, you will be leaving soon and you have not yet climbed the mountain! Today we will hike instead of hunting."
"This is hardly a day for mountain-climbing!" said Radagast. "You will slide back two steps for every one you take."
But Canohando made little of the wizard's concern, and almost before Frodo knew how it happened, he was making his way up the mountain behind the orc, a coil of rope over his shoulder and his pockets stuffed with lembas that Radagast had insisted he carry.
When they were out of sight of the house, Canohando stopped and cut staffs for them both, slashing the bottom ends to rough points. "I would not give the old man the satisfaction, loading you up with food as if he thought you would starve without his magic bag, but it's true this mud can be treacherous. Thrust the staff deep in as you walk, runt, so you have something to hang on to."
It took only a few hours to reach the top; the orcs' mountain was not one of the high peaks, and the summit was a broad expanse of soft snow with an icy crust. They had passed the tree line, and Frodo could see for miles in every direction. Jagged peaks tipped with snow rose all around him, sparkling in the sunlight, but the lower slopes were clothed in dark forest. Canohando drew a packet wrapped in doeskin from his shoulder-pack; when opened, it held strips of dried, smoked meat.
"The last of the bear we killed," he said. "What is that stuff you carry, runt? Will it go well with the meat?"
Frodo handed him a leaf-wrapped lembas wafer without comment, curious if he would really eat it. The orcs of the Tower had plundered his pack when they took him captive; they had eaten Faramir's food, but the lembas they had trampled underfoot. Canohando was different, though; Canohando wore the Elven jewel around his neck –
They sat on their cloaks in the snow, a winter picnic, and the orc laid a strip of meat on top of his lembas and downed it without hesitation. "It's good, he said. "Give me another one, runt. What is it, anyway?"
Frodo gave him several more, his lips twitching with amusement. "Elven waybread," he said. "Smell the leaves it's wrapped in, Canohando; they're mallorn, from Lothlorien."
The orc sniffed at them. "Spicy sweet and strange. That's the smell of Lothlorien, eh? Does the old man carry seeds of mallorn in his sack?"
"I don't know." Frodo watched in amazement as the orc rubbed the leaves between his hands to bring out the scent and breathed deeply of the fragrance. If he had had any doubts that Canohando had really changed –!
The orc's eyes were distant. "I suppose it would not grow here, so far north." He sighed and met Frodo's gaze. "You have seen Lothlorien, and Moria, and what other places I have never even heard of, runt? And now soon you will leave us, but I would not have you go without some remembrance."
He drew something from the pouch at his belt and held it out. It was the bear's tooth Frodo had seen him carving, polished now to a sheen like ivory, suspended from a strip of twisted rawhide. Frodo took it in his hand. The creamy surface was engraved with fine lines, a rough picture but unmistakable: an orc and a hobbit with hands clasped, and in the hobbit's other hand a knife.
"You will not forget that we are one heart, runt; I know you too well to think that. But I wear the jewel the Elf-queen gave you, and so I give you something to wear in its place."
Frodo slipped the rawhide thong over his head. "Thank you, brother." He smiled a little. "It's been strange, having nothing hanging round my neck; I felt a bit naked. I will wear this all my life, and think of you."
They stayed on the mountaintop to watch the sunset, the snow turning lavender and rose all around them, until the sun vanished behind the peaks and only the snow itself gave them light to find their way home. Then they slipped and slid down the mountain, thrusting their pointed staffs through the mix of mud and crusted snow, and the moon came up and cast a blue, mysterious glow on the path ahead.
A fortnight later it was truly spring and time to go. They spent one last evening making music round the fire, sitting up later than they ever had, none of them wanting it to end. When they finally separated to seek their own quarters, Frodo found a soft doeskin shirt laid across his bed, so pale that it was nearly white, laced up the front with a thong of the same leather. Lokka's parting gift, and perhaps her unspoken apology for the hard welcome she had given him. It was not fringed like the one she'd made for Yargark, and when Frodo put it on in the morning, it hung nearly to his knees, like a tunic, split up both sides.
The moment of parting came, and they stood outside in the spring morning, a caroling of birdsong in the trees above them. Frodo and the wizard hugged the youngsters, even the bear, and Radagast laid his hands for a moment on Lash and Lokka's heads, as if in blessing.
"Your shirt fits you well, Light-bearer," Lokka told Frodo. "Wear it in health."
"You were good to make it for me. Be well and happy, here on your mountain." He clasped her hands in his, and she blushed and smiled. "I am happy," she said.
Frodo turned to Lash, but he could not leave him with only a handclasp. He embraced the orc as he had the children, and Lash held him close for a long minute. "Be at peace," Frodo told him. "Be happy," and the orc nodded without speaking.
"I will walk with you for one day," Canohando said, and Frodo was glad that this farewell could be put off a little longer. They started down the mountain, looking back to wave, and Frodo's last glimpse of the orcs' dwelling was of Yargark and his bear, clambering up the rough wall of the stone house and standing on the roof-beam, side by side.
They talked only a little as they walked; being together was enough, the forest floor soft under their feet and the sunlight glinting through the trees. Frodo began Bilbo's old walking song and Radagast hummed along with him. Canohando beat the rhythm on the drum at his belt, then improvised on it until the song was changed almost beyond recognition, and Frodo couldn't sing anymore for laughing. They camped at sunset, and Frodo slept soundly all night, unaware that Canohando sat sleepless beside him, but Radagast woke up near midnight and saw. And in the morning it was time to say good-bye.
"I will come back," Frodo said. "In a few years, we will come again--"
"No," Canohando said. "Do not come back, Ninefingers."
Frodo stared at him bewildered; had he offended the orc in some way without knowing it? But Canohando bent to look into his eyes, a hand on his shoulder. "There must come a time of farewell, runt. You leave us now and we live, we are well, and you also. We are one heart, sealed in blood. Nothing can add to that. If you came again and sorrow or death had found us, you would grieve. It is good this day; let it remain so always."
Frodo fingered the tooth that hung round his neck. He stared at the orc, trying to memorize his features, wondering how he had ever thought him ugly. He was Canohando, that was all, and Frodo's heart contracted at the thought of never seeing him again. "You will not forget me?" he asked, and the orc shook his head.
"I know as well as Lash does, what you are to us. You were a light for us to follow out of the dark, but – I do not forget my runt, pledging himself my shield-brother at the top of a ruined tower, and all the while afraid that I would dash him to death against the rocks." He caught Frodo in a hug that nearly crushed the hobbit. "You were my comrade in arms in the hardest battle I ever fought. Live as long as hobbits may! I will not forget you, not if I live to the unmaking of Arda, like an Elf."
Frodo took the orc's hand, tracing with his finger and then pressing to his lips, the thin white scar that remained from their blood-mingling. "You are my brother, Canohando. I will not forget you." He turned then and started away into the woods, leaving Radagast to follow in his own time. If he stayed another minute he would weep, and he would not have Canohando remember him drenched in tears.
Canohando watched him till he was out of sight, then looked at the wizard. "I may come again, if you are willing, when he has gone back to his home," said Radagast.
"Come, and be welcome," said the orc. "Bring us word of him, if you can."
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.