33. Leaving Mordor
Frodo and Radagast still rose at dawn, but more often than not Frodo sang while he cooked breakfast, his voice a soft counterpoint to the birds' morning chorus. "It's hot this morning," he said, breaking off his song. "Summer's coming, Radagast. Where shall we go this year?"
He had lost count of the years. Time was measured in the cycle of winter and spring, summer and autumn, as he and Radagast made their rounds from Gorgoroth to the Morgai, down to the Sea of Nurnen sometimes, and into the western mountains. They avoided the area around Barad-dur and Mount Doom, and they did not return to the northeast, where the orcs had made their home.
Radagast was pacing around the camp, smoking. Frodo shot him a glance; before breakfast was no time for a pipe, it dulled your appetite for the meal, but he said nothing.
"It is time we left Mordor, Donkey."
Frodo sat back on his heels, staring. "Is it really? And where do we go from here?"
If anyone had told him, when he came, that he would be sorry to leave the Black Land, he would have laughed. But now that the time had come --
For half a lifetime Mordor had been his home, both trial and reward of all the hope and patience he could bring to it. The task had been the wizard's, perhaps, but he had been partner to it; his own labor had helped restore this barren land to life. And if that were not enough, he had wagered on the orcs' healing, and won. He had been part of a miracle, and who in the outside world would believe him, did he try to tell them of it?
I found my purpose in Mordor, he thought. That day he saved my life, Radagast told me that was what I needed...
The wizard's voice broke in on his thoughts. "I go to the East, upon an errand that is not for you. And for you, if you are to keep your promise to your little gardener, it is time to go home."
Home! Frodo stood up, staring out to the horizon, but he did not see the flat Gorgoroth plateau, its grass bending to the morning breeze. "The Shire," he whispered. As if the name itself had power to conjure up the place, he saw the sweet green hills, Bag End set like a jewel in its garden, and Sam with a hoe in his hands, leaning into his work. All in a moment it passed before his eyes and was gone, and longing for it squeezed his heart.
"Yes, I must go home. How long have I been away?" He fell silent, trying to reckon up the years, but they folded into one another, uncountable.
"Long enough, Donkey, that your hair is grey." Radagast laid a caressing hand on his head. "You are growing old, and Samwise also. We have done what we can in Mordor, and now you must not tarry longer. Nor must I. We have reached the parting of the ways."
"No, Radagast! Will you not travel with me? After all these years, can your errand to the East not wait a little longer, to see me home?"
The wizard's grin was a flash of white in his brown face. "Don't try and tell me you're afraid to travel alone, Frodo! I know your courage better than that."
"Not afraid – unwilling to part with my master before I must." He glanced almost shyly at the wizard. "As I was to Sam, you are to me – except you saved my life, and I nearly cost him his. No," he said, smiling to forestall the wizard's anxiety, "I am not going back to those regrets – we did what we had to do, all of us. Only I would have your company a little longer. It is a long journey alone."
"I will go with you, Donkey," Radagast said. "But we will go through Gondor; I wish to have a look in the library at Minas Tirith." To his surprise, Frodo nodded.
"Yes. I would like to see Aragorn -- and Arwen."
They did not hurry, but it was only a month later they were passing through the gates of Minas Tirith; beautiful gates they were, of hammered steel, and the White Tree laid on in mithril in the middle of each. Frodo stopped to admire them, calling Radagast to wait.
"Gimli said he would bring craftsmen to help restore the city -- I wonder if the gates are of his making."
"And I wonder if Nano ever cut a jewel for the Queen's wearing," said Radagast with a smile. The gates stood open and they entered without hindrance, although guards in the livery of the city stood at attention in the gateway. No one seemed to notice the brown man in faded robes or his small companion.
They followed the stone street that wound up through the levels of the city, stopping at an open stall to buy hot bread and mugs of ale, which they drank as they stood there, giving the mugs back to the proprietor when they were done.
"Is the King in the city, do you know?" Radagast asked the man.
The fellow looked up at the top of the Citadel, where a black banner bearing the White Tree flapped in the wind. "Aye, he's at home, sir. His flag's a'waving up there, see? Did ye come to see the King?" He stared at them with open curiosity.
Radagast grinned. "Does he get many visitors, then, coming on foot without any entourage? And dusty from the road?"
"Oh, he gets all sorts, King Elessar does. He has a kindly welcome for wanderers -- he did his own wandering, so they say, before he came to Gondor. You go on up to the palace, sir; he'll see you're took care of."
They thanked him and went on, jostled by the crowd in the busy street, Frodo pointing out the few places he had memory of. "Those are the Houses of Healing up there -- I was in and out to have my bandage changed -- oh look, Radagast! I think that's the house we stayed in with Gandalf, only it has a little garden now, in front!"
"Are you sure Samwise did not remove to Gondor, Donkey? There are a great many gardens, and fountains, and enough trees to make a small forest, if you grouped them all together." Frodo looked a bit stricken, and the wizard laughed. "I'm only joking, lad. If Sam had come this far, I think we would have found him in Mordor, searching for you. More likely the Queen brought in Elven gardeners from Lothlorien."
"And Legolas said he'd come back and plant growing things here; I wonder if he did. Oh Radagast, won't it be fine to hear what they've been doing, all these years?" Frodo's eyes sparkled, and he pushed through the crowded street at a speed that brought them very soon to the open square before the gates of the Citadel. And there they were brought to a halt by a guard of soldiers who left the gates and marched up in formation, stopping an arm's length before them.
"The King bids you welcome, Frodo Baggins, and orders that every honor be given to you and your companion." The leader of the squadron stepped to one side, and the formation split to leave an open walkway between them, five on each side, at rigid attention.
Frodo stared from the soldiers to Radagast with consternation in his face. "Come lad, you can't run back to the wilds," the wizard murmured. "They're no worse than a gaggle of orcs."
Frodo choked and struggled to contain his laughter. "Thank you, Captain," he said courteously when he could speak, and he passed between the guard of honor and through the gate, Radagast close behind him.
They were met in the Courtyard of the White Tree by a round little man dressed in black velvet faced with silver cloth, a heavy gold chain around his neck. "Good sirs, good sirs, you are most welcome! The Queen commands that I bring you to your chambers where you may wash off the dust of travel and be refreshed; she and the King request that you will join them for the evening meal."
He led them inside and through a series of anterooms, white marble floors and walls that had scenes of woods and sea rendered so skillfully that you could hardly tell they were only paint on plaster, but the outside wall of each room was lined with windows that looked out over gardens and trees, little paths meandering among them so enticingly that Frodo wished he could slip out there at once and explore.
The apartments their guide brought them to were paneled in some wood that carried a faint, spicy fragrance. Frodo and Radagast had each a bedchamber with a high, white bed curtained in deep green, and between the bedrooms was a parlor with a fireplace of stone and cushioned chairs on a velvet carpet. A windowed door opened from the parlor into a walled garden, shaded by a vine that grew luxuriantly along an arbor, masses of purple blossoms hanging from the leafy ceiling like bunches of grapes.
There was another door on the opposite wall; the man opened it to reveal a room with a deep pool of water set in the floor, little wisps of steam rising from it. There was a wooden bench with piles of towels next to the wall, and the ceiling was pierced with many small, tinted windows that cast a rosy light over everything.
"I trust this will be comfortable for you, noble sirs; you will find robes folded by the towels, and if you leave your clothes on the bench after you have bathed, they will be brushed clean and returned to you before it is time for you to join Their Majesties. There is wine and fruit on the table there," he nodded at it, "and if you have need of anything at all, you have only to pull the bell rope by the door and someone will come to serve you."
"I am sure we have everything we could want or need," Radagast assured him with a smile, "and we are indebted to you for your kindness."
"No, good sir." His obsequious manner slipped for a moment, and his voice rang with sincerity. "It is we who are indebted to the Ring-bearer, and to your noble Order. My grandfather fought before the Morannon; he would have died there, but for Frodo of the Nine Fingers." He bowed deeply to Frodo. "I owe my birth to your faithfulness, Ernil i Pheriannath," he said. "You may ask for anything you wish, and if needs be I will ransack the city to find it for you."
Frodo had turned red, but he said only, "You are more than gracious, and I thank you." The servitor bowed once more and left them, and Frodo shook his head as if to clear it.
"I had thought to defer to your greater age, Radagast, and let you bathe first, but I must get me in the water and wash off that load of unearned praise before I gag on it."
"Now, Donkey –" Radagast began, but Frodo stepped into the bath room and shut the door between them.
"I did what was required of me – barely – and it was enough," he called back through the door. "I can live with that, but to be lauded for my faithfulness is a bit more than I can stomach, even now! Pour yourself some wine, Radagast – I'll be in here for a while."
They dined in the Queen's Tower, only the four of them by a window that looked out over the twinkling lights of the Citadel.
"We will welcome you in state tomorrow night, a banquet where everyone can meet our noble guests. Yes, Ring-bearer, you will have to endure it," Arwen answered Frodo's grimace. She smiled and held out her hand to him. "You knew when you came to Minas Tirith, that you would have to submit to our celebration; consider it given in honor of your fellow-traveler, if that pleases you better!"
"You are not still condemning yourself, are you Frodo?" Aragorn asked. "You wrote to me that you were healed."
Frodo met his look, and the glint of humor in his eyes reassured the King. "I am healed; I am well indeed! But I have been half my life in the wilderness, Aragorn – I had rather face a dragon than a roomful of courtiers in fancy dress!"
Aragorn threw back his head and laughed — how Frodo remembered that laugh! Seldom heard on their desperate Quest, but it had warmed him and sparked his courage, when he did hear it. They looked well, both King and Queen; their faces glowed and their eyes met often across the table, as if there were no greater joy than for them to look upon one another.
Dinner went on, course following course, served by lads on noiseless feet, clad in tunics of white and silver. At last the dishes were cleared away and they were left with goblets of sweet wine and a platter of crisp, thin wafers. Frodo got to his feet.
"My thanks to our gracious host," he bowed to Aragorn, "and to our hostess." He bowed to Arwen as well and went to kneel before her on the tiled floor. "Lady, I would make confession to you."
"How now, Frodo," she said in surprise, "what have you to confess to, dear one?"
He reached into his shirt and brought out the carved bear's tooth he wore round his neck. "I have given away your gift, Lady, and now I wear another token."
"Let me see it," she said, and he drew the leather thong over his head and handed her the necklace. It was crude enough, in all truth, and it looked more so in her graceful hands, a great fang engraved with rough lines, on a strip of rawhide. He lifted his chin; he would not be ashamed of Canohando's gift, however it might appear in Minas Tirith! He shut his eyes, trying to bring the orc's face into his mind.
"I see two figures here," said Arwen. "One is an orc, surely, and the other must be yourself. Why does the picture show you with a knife?"
Frodo held out his open hand. Arwen bit her lip, looking at the stump of his missing finger, but he shook his head at her, tracing a white line that ran across his palm from the base of the middle finger to the fleshy pad below his thumb.
"The knife was to make this cut, to mingle blood with my orcs. They are my brothers now, Lash and Canohando." His voice was tender on their names.
"They carry the scars on their hands as well," said Radagast. "And Canohando wears the Queen's Jewel."
"You wrote me that you had given it to him," Aragorn said to Frodo. "And I gave orders that if ever an orc was taken wearing Arwen's jewel, he should not be slain, but rather be brought before me. No such orc has been seen."
"The jewel was yours, Ring-bearer, to keep or to give away." Arwen said gently. "And Canohando carved this tooth for you? Will you tell me why you gave my jewel to him?"
She handed the necklace back to him, and he replaced around his neck before he answered. "He needed it, Lady, as much as I did when you gave it to me long ago." Arwen nodded, encouraging him. "He turned from the Darkness, but he was so alone -- Lash had wife and sons, but Canohando had only memory, of Yarga slain defending him. There were blood and fire in his eyes, and he fought so hard to hold them in..."
He looked up at Arwen with his own eyes full of tears. "The jewel had brought me comfort, as you told me it would. I gave it to him for his comforting, and I ask you to forgive me."
Arwen took his chin between her fingers and leaned forward to brush a kiss on his forehead. "You are forgiven, dearest. It is plain how you love your orcs, as you name them, and I hope my jewel will bring peace to Canohando."
Aragorn sat turning his wine goblet in his hands, his eyes far away. "It is a strange turn that you returned to Mordor, and that these orcs should cross your path and be so changed. I had not envisioned any such thing when I sent Radagast to you, Frodo."
"You sent Radagast?" Frodo stared at Aragorn, and the King smiled slightly.
"I was not easy in my mind about you, especially after Elrond and Gandalf sailed. Arwen sent word for me to the Brown Wizard, to seek you out and see if he could bring you aid."
"The truth at last!" Frodo's eyes brimmed with mirth. "Why did you tell me you came to look after your bird, when you found me? And how did you find me, there at the cave?"
The wizard shook his head. "That was happenstance, Donkey, if you believe in such. I was on my way to Bag End, but I stopped on the way to see my patient, and there you were! Yet if I had not made that detour, I would have missed you."
Frodo's amusement vanished. "If you had gone to Bag End direct, I would have been gone already… and Sam would have brought you along when he went to the cave, I suppose…" Radagast nodded. "I would have been dead before you got there," Frodo finished. Suddenly he was cold to the center of his being.
Radagast left his place and came to stand behind the hobbit, his hands on Frodo's shoulders. "Sometimes a kindly purpose leads us by the hand, even as we think we are choosing our own paths," he said. "And what has sprung from that morning when I came upon you cooking mushrooms, and gave you an apple instead? Everything from the life of your little bird – do you remember Cuina? – to the liberation of three orcs from the yoke of Morgoth! For mark you, Frodo, had you not gone to Mordor, they would not have been freed. You forged the bridge they traveled over, and only the Ring-bearer could have led them across."
Frodo leaned back against the wizard, closing his eyes, and Radagast massaged his shoulders, his fingers giving comfort and reassurance. But Arwen stirred among the silken cushions of her chair.
"And what will spring from that, think you? To undo that ancient evil for even one victim -- that is a mighty deed, and must have its own consequences. One is dead, you say, but what of the other two? If they do no more than sit quiet on their mountain, breeding a race of orcs that is not enslaved to Darkness—"
"I doubt Canohando will sit quiet all his life," said Radagast. "He was growing restless already, when last we saw him. You may find him in Minas Tirith one day, seeking the Queen whose Jewel he wears."
Frodo looked troubled. "Do you really think he would come here, Radagast? I had not thought of that, when I gave it to him."
"No, you gave it to him for his comforting, Donkey. And it did that, I think, but it may also inflame his thirst to know what he is -- and what he may become."
"And would he be a danger, if he came?" Aragorn asked.
Radagast considered for a long moment. "Not of his own will," he said at last.
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.