2. Part 2: Radagast.
“I never had any idea the White Wizard was so ignorant of matters between men and women,” Elrohir laughed. “I wonder who we could coax to show him?”
Elladan replied, “It won't be me; I do well as it is! And I hope you'd say the same!” They both laughed, and exchanged a wicked glance. “But that is not for the Istari, I have heard. Since the world was remade after the fall of Numenor, that carnal act would bind them to Middle-Earth, barring them from their fate.”
“That explains that, then,” said Elrohir. After a moment, he added, “Still, imagine thinking orcs were sexless, brewed in great pits or something like it.” Elrohir's face grew grim. “No wonder Saruman understood little of the shadow on our mother after her torment.”
They rode in silence for a time. The wilderness was quiet about them, with only the hum of late summer insects. Orcs had attempted to harry them several times on the way down, unusual for the summer. Perhaps their effective slaughter of those orcs was why they now rode unhindered. The only sign of their eternal foes that they had seen had been ten days past, closer to the lands of men. A cloud of crows had heralded a dead orc by the road, bound hand and foot and pierced by a wound. The dead orc's mystery was revealed when Elrohir pointed out a small, crow-pecked foot protruding from beneath the orc's body. It was their way, if an orc female gave birth to an exceptionally deformed whelp, to abandon them in a place of sun and stone and flee the cursed mother with all speed. So they had done with this orc. Left in her bonds, the dying female orc had arched her body over the whelp, either protecting it from the piercing light or smothering it. Either seemed a mercy. This evidence of a gruesome kindness amidst the cruel death troubled Elladan.
The road grew wider until they came to a crossing where the great road was barred by another way. Elrohir turned his horse to the right, along a faded, ill-tended path. “The old tower of Rhosgobel is nigh, and if Radagast is of a mood to be amongst men and elves, he might be there. Shall we see?” When Elladan agreed, Elrohir urged his mare to leap up the path, trusting that the road to Radagast's door would be clear. Elladan followed more cautiously, as was his wont.
They rode up a hill-side until they saw a broken tower. Elladan clicked his tongue in concern. He had not visited this old outpost of Arnor in many hundreds of years, not since Radagast had taken it as his dwelling. Time had not improved it. As they rode, a vast flock of birds took off from the tower's roof and sides, fluttering aloft with chirping and cries.
They were close when a black beast dashed out of the tower, zigzagging down the path to challenge them. Elladan had to signal his gelding to stay calm as a ragged wolf circled them, snarling fiercely. After one startled moment, Elrohir's mare did better, pawing her hooves and getting ready to kick. Elladan saw that the thrawn old wolf had but one eye, and it favored one hind leg, the other limping lame. He didn't give the beast much of a chance.
A sharp whistle from the tower cut the confrontation short. At the sound, the wolf's ferocity dissolved into a hound's stupor of joy at its master's return, and it yipped back up the pathway.
A figure clad in an amazing miscellany of brown robes scrambled out of the tower's door, tottering as the wolf limped delighted circles around him. He squinted into the sun, his face ruddy, his long beard streaked with brown and grey. Radagast said, “Sorry! Sorry about that. I took this old fellow in, and he treats the hill and all the beasts here like his pack. Couldn't hurt a lamb, his teeth are worn to pegs. My lord Elladan, well met. Don't tell me I missed the White Council again?”
“Not this long-year, good Radagast,” said Elladan.
“And Elrohir!” Radagast beamed behind his beard. “What a fine lady of a horse you ride! Lindon bred, yes?”
“She's half a Lindon destrider and half out of this steed of the South we traded from Mirkwood...” Elrohir dismounted amidst a haze of horse-talk. Elladan was all indulgence at the pleasure the two friends of beasts had in each other's company. He had known full well that Elrohir did not care for Saruman's ceremony-cloaked counsels. Elrohir had suggested that they detour on their way back to Rivendell to visit Radagast the Brown, and this had seemed wise. Radagast had all knowledge of the world's creatures. It seemed very likely that he would know more about the orcs, and be able to give them counsel. The words of Saruman still disturbed them.
Inside, the tower of Rhosgobel was gently falling apart. Birds had streaked the wooden furniture with lime, and nests of animal-hair and leaves cluttered the floor and corners. The ragged old wolf flopped onto a floor of cracked tiles, stretching out upon their coolness.
It was Elladan's turn to be uneasy. He swept off a bench and sat down, gingerly. Feeling that he should offer the Istar due respect, he said, “Radagast. We have brought you letters and goods from Saruman—“
“Splendid, splendid. Don't put them on the floor or they'll get chewed.”
“And also; it has been a while since the Elves attended Rhosgobel. Perhaps some of our folk might do some repairs for you?'
Radagast looked around, as if startled. “D'you think? I suppose...perhaps in another hundred years. Don't trouble yourselves. The woodmen trade well with me for what I need.”
Elrohir took a seat. The wolf lifted his head and snuffled at Elrohir, then laid his head on Elrohir's knees with a beseeching whine. Elrohir began to scratch at the wolf's ears. Elladan flinched to watch it. The wolf seemed goodly enough, and tame as a hound in Radagast's presence, but it was probably crawling with fleas. Elrohir was heedless of this as he said, “We would have your counsel as well, if we may. What do you know about orcs? The Elves say they were corrupted from Elves. Others that this cannot be so, and the orcs must be sprung from Men or even beasts.”
Eagerly, Elladan added, “Thus we wonder how much orcs are, as it were, truly people. Do they act on instinct and follow orders like tame beasts? Or do they have true thought and will for themselves?”
Radagast looked into space and muttered, “Hmmm. Hoom. Hm.” Finally, he said, “I have little to do with orcs. It is so busy here, I don't get around as much as I should, eh?” He looked at Elrohir roughly petting the wolf. “Perhaps I cannot answer your question as I understand it. But I can tell you what orcs are not.”
“Yes?” they both said, leaning forwards.
“Orcs are not beasts.” Radagast nodded in satisfaction after this pronouncement.
The pair waited for another instant. The silence was only broken by the wolf's tail thumping from side to side. Elladan spoke first. “That is... somewhat useful, honoured Radagast, although our query deals more with the ineffable nature of being--”
Elrohir raised his eyebrows and, in a slightly louder voice, interrupted. “Why not?”
This was the right tack to take with Radagast, who said, “To think so is an insult to beasts! It's like the difference between wolves and wargs. Wolves are beasts. Oh, they hunt, they harry, but they're just being wolves. Wargs are a thousand times worse. That fellow there can tell you all about it, eh?” Radagast pointed to the one-eyed wolf.
“What have wargs got to do with it? Wargs are not orcs,” snapped Elladan
Elrohir gave him a curt look and reminded Radagast, “We cannot talk to animals like you do.”
“Of course, of course. I always forget. Elladan, hold this for a moment, will you? No trouble at all, just don't want her underfoot.” Radagast scooped up a wildcat kitten from one of the nests on the floor and dumped it in Elladan's lap. After one yellow-eyed glare, the tiny animal yawned with disdain and curled up on his suede surtout. Elladan looked at it, thinking in part of the vermin he too would now carry, and astonished that the tiny thing was tame with him. With him distracted by the kitten, and Elrohir waiting patiently, Radagast rambled into his explanation.
“A wolf is a wolf, and nothing more; and it is a fine beast. Wargs are different. Long ages of the world ago, not all Maiar-spirits took the form of people. They mimicked what they saw in the world, beasts, plants, clouds, waters. I myself...ah, that was a fine time. Some chose the shape of wolves; and some of those who took that shape chose the side of Morgoth.” Radagast's voice shifted from its half-chant to be slow and ponderous. “Morgoth encouraged them to beget new wolf-creatures; thus the spirits of old were bound to those shapes. They bred with the free wolves in turn, and Morgoth called some of those whelps to him. Corrupting the Maiar and beasts was but his first work, before he turned to breeding his orcs.” Slowly, Radagast nodded, staring into space and memory.
“So wargs are partly powerful spirits,” said Elrohir.
Elrohir's voice seemed to bring Radagast back to the present. He blinked and said, “I fear so. Luckily, they are much diminished from what they once were, as the blood of the wolf-spirits of old is mingled with that of wolves. I cannot say what orcs are for certain, but I do know what they are not, and I say again, they are not beast nor mingled beast and spirit. Wargs and other beasts of evil are different from the orcs, but they serve the same master.” He did not need to add that the master was Sauron, now.
“Have the wizards Pallando and Alatar, who went to the East, been troubled by orcs?” Elladan asked. “Saruman was not able to say.”
“The East, the East. I must ask the cranes; yes, I must. No bird flies as far as the cranes do, not even the blessed Eagles. But -- the Blue Wizards. They're set up like Saruman, and myself too, last I heard, towers and mortals as allies and such. I don't know if they were exactly agreeing with each other all the time. But they're still there!” said Radagast, cheerfully.
On Elladan's knee, the kitten had gone to sleep. He began to think better of Radagast's wisdom, for all that Radagast had not answered their question as he had hoped. The little cat was not unpleasant. It might even be good to have one or two such beasts around the library at Imladris, soft and quiet, hunting mice; he recalled that they had such animals in Gondor. He went to move the kitten gently so that it did not tumble off his lap. At his touch, the animal shrieked and, in a trice, slashed his hand open with its claws.
The kitten streaked away, the wolf giving chase with a howl, as birds that had been hiding in the rafters hooted and screamed. Elrohir jumped up and grabbed his brother's wounded hand. Radagast floundered about in his robes, upset. “Dear me, ever so sorry, they're meek as fox-kits when they're tiny as a rule, usually it's when they're larger that they'll shred you to bits...”
Though it was he who was wounded, Elladan was the only calm one in the room. The kitten spitting on the window-sill, its eyes yellow slits, swiped at the wolf's nose. To his own surprise, Elladan felt no grudge for the little animal, despite the hurt it had done him. Just as the orcs were more complicated than beasts at their worst, he realized, so too was how he himself felt about the orcs and their evil.
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