Frodo had worried in case the lad would refuse to go with him and Radagast, but this savage judgment chilled him. Truly, Men were a merciless breed, implacable in their hatred. He glanced at Radagast, wondering how he would respond to Nano's outburst, but the wizard said nothing. Only the thin line of his lips betrayed his thoughts.
"How will we get away?" Frodo asked at length. "Won't they try to stop us, maybe even lame the horses? Where are the horses, anyway?" He realized suddenly that he had not seen Strider or Smoky since he fell sick.
"They are in the forest – Smoky can fend for himself in the wild, and Strider has the sense to stay with him. Hardart might be fool enough to try and hold us, but I have sent for a friend to help. Go back to your book, Donkey; Nano and I will cook supper."
The friend came soon after dark. There was a scratching at the door and Nano went to open it, but Radagast was before him. "Stand back, lad, over by the fireplace. This guest will be for me."
He opened the door a crack, and a black nose pushed in, followed by a shaggy grey body. Nano gasped, but the wolf did not look at him, only padded across the room to Frodo.
"Greyling," Frodo murmured. He stroked the massive head, and felt with his hand along the beast's shoulder. "All healed, I see, and the hair is growing back." He kissed the soft fur above the wolf's eyes. "Well met, Greyling!"
The wolf ignored Nano, standing stiffly as if he'd lost all power of movement, and went to Radagast. He stared up at the wizard, his eyes seeming to catch sparks from the fire, and Radagast laid a hand on his head.
"You brought them all? Keep watch for us, my friend. The second rising of the sun, we will leave – we will need you then."
Greyling licked his hand and slipped away into the night, leaving the door standing open. In the dark clearing they thought they could see more wolves moving in the dim light cast by the windows of the other houses.
"We could leave this morning, Radagast. I am well enough to travel," Frodo said.
The wizard touched a hand to his forehead and peered into his eyes. "Perhaps, perhaps. But another day of rest will do you good, Donkey, and me as well. We will stay within doors and let Greyling patrol the village. It will be good for them, too, to see that Radagast is not defenseless. They have grown hard, indeed, that they repay us with threats, who risked our lives caring for them!"
So they rested; in fact, most of the day Frodo slept – he was not as strong yet as he wanted to believe. Nano woke him once, pulling him to the window to see Radagast out by the well drawing water to fill the animal trough, and a dozen big wolves pushing for their turn to drink. And even that was not all of them; there were still others pacing in between the houses, watched by pale faces at the windows.
"Would they kill anyone who went out – besides Radagast, I mean?" Nano spoke in a whisper, as if the wolves might hear him.
"I think they would obey Radagast, and he would not tell them to kill. But I suspect anyone who went out there, would need a healer before he got away."
"Except you, Donkey. That wolf acted like he was your friend."
Frodo grinned. "Greyling is my friend, I think, but I don't know the others. I will stay inside until Radagast tells me to go out – and you had better do the same!"
He got himself some bread and cheese, as long as he was up, but before long he went back to lie on his bed, and soon was fast asleep again.
When Radagast woke him, there was only a faint light showing at the windows. "Come have breakfast, Donkey; we will travel far today. I wish to put many miles behind us before we stop for the night."
Frodo stretched, pulling on his clothes. "You don't expect anyone to follow us, surely? Guarded by great wolves out of the forest?"
"Men will hunt wolves, sometimes," said Radagast. "I do not like the temper of this village, and if they take Nano's uncle as headman, they may be capable of anything. We spent ourselves in saving their lives; I would be sorry to have them fall to Greyling and his pack."
"Or have Greyling take another arrow," said Frodo. He crossed the room to wake Nano. "Come, lad, up you get, or I'll eat your breakfast and mine as well!" He stripped the blankets off Nano's bed and chuckled at the boy's owlish expression, blinking and rubbing his eyes.
"Are we leaving now?"
"At sunrise," said Radagast. "Is there anything you wish to take from your own house?"
Nano shook his head. "I took what I wanted the last time I left that house; someone would have stolen it." He fastened his belt and pulled a hunting knife from the sheath that hung from it. The blade was fine steel, and the bone handle beautifully shaped. He held it out so they could see the stag's head engraved on the handle. "My father's," he said. "And this was my mother's." He touched a choker of rough-cut amber around his neck.
Radagast nodded. "Good – you have your treasures, then. Let us eat and be on our way."
They stepped outside into a wall of mist, the morning light a strange golden color. There was neither sign nor sound from any of the houses they passed, but the grey shapes of the wolves were all around them, and Greyling stalked stiff-legged between Frodo and Radagast. Frodo rested his left hand on the animal's back, caressing the rough fur, but Nano held his right hand in a painful grip. He could measure the lad's fear by the tingling in his fingers, but no one looking on would have known Nano was afraid. He held his head high and walked with a firm step at Frodo's side.
At the top of the hill, where the trees began, the mist thinned and drifted away. Heaps of leaves rustled around their ankles as they followed a narrow path away from the village. There was a piercing whistle, and a blur of wings dived at Frodo, coming to rest on top of his head.
"Cuina!" He laughed and reached up his hand, and she settled on his finger. "Oh, Cuina!" He held her to his face, rubbing his cheek against the smooth feathers, and she pecked gently at his nose. "Have you waited all this time for us? You are a faithful friend, indeed!"
"Did I not tell you, Donkey?" Radagast said. "And it was not purely for my sake, that Greyling brought his wolves to our aid."
Nano was staring at the bird in wonder. "Is that your pet?" he asked.
Frodo considered. "No, not a pet. She was my first patient, was she not, Radagast? And now she is my friend."
"She will be your friend as long as she lives. A pity that Men sometimes lack the gratitude of wild things," said Radagast, and Frodo nodded.
"Will they pursue us, do you think, Nano?"
"Those cowards?" the lad scoffed. "They will hardly dare to draw water from the well, till sometime tomorrow! How long will the wolves stay with us?"
"A day or two at most – then they must hunt to stay their hunger," said Radagast. "But by then we will be mounted and go faster."
They pushed on through the day, and when they stopped at nightfall, the wizard drew meat for the wolves from his sack along with their own food, laying it on the ground some distance from their camp. The following day they set off again, walking, but halfway through the morning they came to a little clearing in the woods, the grass well grazed, and there were Smoky and Strider, whinnying a welcome.
There were a few excited yips from the wolves, and Greyling growled. Horse and pony pushed close to Radagast, watching the wolves warily and stamping their feet.
The wizard went to one knee by Greyling. "Thank you, friend," he said. "You have well repaid your debt to us, and we will not forget. Take your people now and go hunting, and we will follow our own path. May you eat well and den warm, this winter!"
The wolf laid his chin for a moment on the wizard's shoulder, then turned and nosed Frodo's hand until the hobbit stroked his head.
"Farewell to you, Greyling, and thank you!" he said. Greyling backed away and melted into the surrounding forest, and within moments there was not a wolf to be seen anywhere. Radagast lifted Nano onto Smoky's back, swinging up behind him, and Frodo mounted Strider.
"Now for the Southlands, before the winter catches us!" the wizard cried, digging in his heels so Smoky sprang away. Frodo laughed aloud and tightened his knees.
"Come on, Strider – show him your heels!"
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.