9. Mischief in the Wrong Place
They stayed most of the winter near the Sea, exploring the coastal plain of Andrast and bathing in the warm current that washed around the peninsula. Some days Radagast himself cast off his brown robe and took to the water; he was a stronger swimmer even than Frodo, and together they were able to cajole Nano into putting his face in the water and paddling a little. When Radagast came in with them, the smaller fish swarmed around them like so many butterflies around a flowering bush, bumping against them softly under the water.
The coastal plain was narrow, however, and mountains ran down the middle of the peninsula. Nano would have explored those also; he was a born climber and the heights drew him like a lodestone, but Radagast called him back, when he gravitated to the mountains' feet. One day the child slipped away and climbed to a ledge some forty feet up, shouting down at them in triumph, and the wizard went up the slope at a speed that seemed unbelievable in one so old, dragging the lad back none too gently.
"You will stay down from there, imp!"
Nano cringed at the wizard's tone, and Frodo looked on in astonishment; he had never before seen Radagast angry. Even when Nano's uncle had threatened them, the wizard had seemed more rueful and amused than anything, so how could the child's innocent mischief so rouse his ire? But Nano was not easily daunted; a few days later he was gone again and they could not find him.
Radagast paced along the base of the mountain, biting his fingernails, with Frodo trotting at his heels. "We'll follow him, then," Frodo said reasonably. "He can't have got far, Radagast. My little cousins used to run off sometimes, when they were scolded, and I used to find them, out in the woods. Come on, we'll search him out and dunk him in the Sea for disobeying!" He smiled, but the wizard turned back toward the beach.
"It is not that simple, Donkey. Help me now -- we need firewood, a lot of it, and quickly! Pile it on the beach, as much as you can gather."
Frodo stared at him for an instant, then hurried to obey. Together they built a tower of wood and piled kindling inside. "Light it," the wizard said tersely, and turned toward the waterline. He brought back armfuls of seaweed that had been washed up on the shore in long windrows; once the fire was well alight, he draped the damp stuff over the logs. The fire blazed up higher than Frodo's head, and a column of smoke ascended into the sky.
"Get more wood," Radagast commanded. "We must keep it going. If only someone sees the signal --" Frodo started back into the woods, wondering who it was the wizard meant to signal. They had seen no other person since they reached the Sea, months ago. He was searching for more firewood when he heard a cry and spun around to see Nano being carried past him by the strangest figure he had ever seen.
"Donkey! Donkey, help me!"
Frodo ran toward him, loosening his sword in its sheath, but before he had taken more than a couple of steps, an arm came around him from behind and pinned him.
"Stand, little man," said a voice above him. "Wild Men take child to Brown One. Not hurt him."
Frodo stopped struggling. The arm that held him shifted and a hand gripped the back of his neck, propelling him forward, but the other hand closed on his wrist, holding his sword arm tight against his chest. Pushed from behind, he came out on the beach and up to the fire. Radagast stood there with Nano sprawled on the ground at his feet, confronting a short, squat man with fat arms and stumpy legs. He wore the skin of some animal like a skirt around his waist, but no other garment.
"One more," said Frodo's captor. "With weapon." He yanked Sting from its sheath before he thrust Frodo forward to fall on the ground by Nano.
"They are no danger to you," said Radagast. "The child is obstinate but not ill-willed. The halfling is gentle-hearted, but with courage to defend his friends."
"This is Druwaith Iaur, Brown One." The Wild Man's voice rumbled deep in his chest. "Small place for Druedain now in world, but these mountains remain to us."
Radagast sighed. "You are in the right, Dwann-guri. I should not have brought them here, perhaps; I wanted a winter refuge by the Sea, where no people were. We would have been no trouble to you, if the lad had stayed out of the mountains."
Nano had squirmed over to Frodo, pressing against him, and Frodo put an arm over him, patting his back.
"Child stay out of mountains now." Dwann-guri's voice was grim. "Come in again, go out never."
Radagast nodded. "Do you hear that, Nano? These mountains are the home of the Druedain. They will not bring you back to us, next time."
"I understand." Nano's voice was muffled against Frodo's shirt, and Frodo sat up, pulling the child with him.
"Mind your manners, lad," he whispered. He stood, forcing Nano to stand also. "Now your promise," he said softly. "And your apology -- you trespassed where you had no right."
Nano looked up at the Wild Man. "Forgive me. I will not bother you again."
"Good. You come once more, we find wife for you; you stay, be Wild Man too."
Frodo bit back a laugh at the expression on Nano's face, but Dwann-guri turned to him next. "You, with weapon. Whose blood on it?"
Frodo shook his head, bewildered. "There is no blood on it; the blade is clean."
"Blood has been on it; not now. Whose blood?" The Wild Man's eyes bored into him, inexorable, and Frodo lifted his hands helplessly.
"Orcs' blood. And -- Shelob's, I think. The Spider of Cirith Ungol." Even the name stuck in his throat, but Dwann-guri smiled.
"Good," he said. He motioned to his companion, and the other Wild Man handed Sting back to Frodo, hilt first. "Kill more gorgun when you find them. Stay out of mountains."
A moment later they were gone, fading silently back into the woods. Frodo slid his sword back in its sheath and turned to Nano. "You have given your promise," he said.
"And I'll keep it! I don't want a wife of that sort!"
Frodo kept a straight face, though he laughed with Radagast later, when Nano was asleep. "I think he'll keep that promise," he said.
"Oh yes," said Radagast. "Even without the threat, I think he would have kept it. He is not a bad child, only willful and untaught. He may grow up to be a credit to us, if he survives."
"He is quick to run into danger, isn't he? Would they have killed him, Radagast? The Wild Men?"
"They do not suffer outsiders to come into their mountains, Donkey. I doubted there were any Druedain still living here, or I had not brought you to Andrast, but still, it is wiser not to take chances with them." He puffed on his pipe, thoughtful. "We must find a home for Nano, you know. Can you bear to go in settled lands for a while?"
Frodo smiled faintly. "I am not an invalid. Where shall we go?"
Radagast sighed. "To find his mother's people? She might have come from any one of a score of tribes, from here to the Anduin and northward. Elessar might remember, but that would mean bringing Nano to Court, and he is not ready for that. He is wild enough, the Valar know, and daring -- he might do well in Rohan."
"Best teach him to ride, then. He needs a pony of his own."
Radagast laughed. "A horse, lad, not a pony! He's growing fast; he'll soon be too big for any pony."
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.