Frodo stood at the window of his study, staring out at a sky so intensely blue he thought he could have swum in it, could he only find a way to dive up. Swim around those fluffs of cloud as if they had been islands, staring down at Sam’s planting of Michaelmas daisies and mums in the Bag End garden. He chuckled to himself at the fancy – that would be an interesting vantage point on the world…
You never see a sky that color in Mordor, he mused, and wondered why Mordor was on his mind this day. Mordor and the orcs – well, Canohando, to be honest. He thought of Lash only briefly and with a smile; Lash was perfectly content with his human wife and his little half-orc children. But Canohando… I wish I could have shown him the Shire, he thought. Canohando was like Frodo himself: wife-less, child-less. Absent-mindedly Frodo fingered the carved bear tooth that hung around his neck, a gift from his orc brother. I will never see them again, either one of them. The thought grieved him.
"Ready for tea, Mr. Frodo?" Sam came in carrying a tray and Frodo hurried to take it from him.
"Sam, why must you lug that heavy thing in here, when we could just as well have tea in the kitchen, simple and easy?"
"There's more important things than easy, Mr. Frodo." Sam was preparing a plate for him, bread and butter sliced thin and a bowl of late raspberries drizzled with cream. "It's more fitting, you taking tea in your own study. I always liked having it in here, when I was Master."
"You're still the Master, Sam." Frodo grinned; they had been repeating this same argument ever since he got home, so often that it had become a joke. "And the proof is that we're having tea in the study, carried in by the most stubborn hobbit ever to be seven times Mayor of the Shire." He took the filled plate out of Sam's hand. "Thank you, old lad. Sit down now, and I'll pour out."
"Are you glad to be home, Mr. Frodo? Really? You were looking kind of down, when I came in." Sam watched him, concern clouding his eyes, and Frodo rested a hand on his old friend's shoulder.
"Yes, Sam, I am glad! Don't worry, I won't slip away from you again; I'm myself again, as I was before… before it all happened. Before the Ring."
Sam frowned. "You're looking back a long way, to see back before you had that cursed thing. You had it from the day you come of age, a good many years afore we knew what it was. And you're not the same as you were, even those years when you already had it, before we left the Shire."
Frodo walked over to look out the window again, carrying his cup with him. He sighed. "No, I suppose I'm not. How much of that is the Ring, and how much is just age, the things that happen to us over time?"
"What were you thinking about, when I came in with the tray? You looked a thousand miles away." Sam flushed. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo. I don't mean to pry; it just bothered me, you looked so –"
"Don't apologize, old lad. After the last time – I can't blame you for keeping an eye on me, can I, after I rode off in the middle of the night with never a word to you! Although what I could have said, under the circumstances…" He met Sam's eyes; they both knew what the circumstances had been. Frodo had been going off to make an end, before his torment over the lost Ring drove him mad.
"There hasn't been a day since but I've thanked old Radagast in my heart, for saving you," Sam said in a low voice. "Not but what I still say they should've taken you along, Gandalf and Elrond, when they went over the Sea. They owed you that much, after you saved Middle Earth from Sauron!"
"It was Gandalf, or whatever Power he served, who saved Middle Earth." Frodo rubbed his forehead as if it hurt. "I had my part to play, and so did you and Aragorn and the rest… But it was Radagast who saved me." He gave a little snort of laughter. "A much smaller deed, but I'm grateful for it. It's all right, Sam – I was thinking of Mordor, but I'm not going anywhere. I was wishing I could have brought Canohando home to meet my Samwise."
"That orc of yours? Well, I'm glad you didn't, then! The orcs we saw on the Quest were more than enough for me; why would I want to meet another one?"
Frodo smiled slightly. "Because he saved my life? He did, you know. I would have drowned if he hadn't dragged me out of the water. Or because he became my brother?"
Sam stared at him in silence, and Frodo went to sit by him.
"I grew up without brothers or sisters, and then I came to live with Bilbo. He adopted me, made me his heir, but you adopted me, too, Sam. You came to the door the very first morning I was here; you took my hand and led me round the garden as if you'd known me all your life."
"It felt as if I had," Sam muttered, and Frodo nodded.
"Yes. I felt as if I had found a little brother. You made Bag End seem like home to me, right from the start."
"And the orc, this – Canohando? How is he your brother?"
"Well –" Frodo made a wry face. "He certainly didn't make me feel at home! I was afraid he might slay me at first –" Sam looked up sharply, opening his mouth to speak. "But he didn't, Sam! He saved my life, when Yarga tried to kill me. And later, much later, he offered me his friendship. His brotherhood."
Frodo held out his hand, revealing a white scar that cut diagonally across his palm. Sam reached out and traced it with his finger, disbelief written plain on his face.
"You made yourself blood-kin to an orc, Frodo? To an orc?"
"To an orc, yes, Sam. So I have two brothers now, or are you going to disown me?"
Sam stared into Frodo's face, and slowly his old eyes filled with tears. He shook his head. "No, I won't disown you, Mr. Frodo. No matter what you did, I couldn't never do that." He bowed his head, and Frodo took his hand between both of his.
"What is it, old lad?" he asked, but Sam shook his head again without answering.
"Sam?" An idea struck Frodo – it seemed ridiculous, after all they had been through together, but was it possible that Sam was jealous? "Sam? We're brothers already; you're closer to me than Canohando could ever be. But – would you make yourself blood-kin to me, even now?"
Sam looked up at that, his lips twitching into a crooked grin. "A little old for that game, aren't we? No, you're right: we've been brothers all along, ever since we were lads, though I can't say I ever thought about it in just those terms. Cutting our hands won't make it no more real than it is already, and we're just as likely to drip blood on the carpet."
Frodo laughed until tears ran down his face, finally leaning back in his chair when his mirth was spent, looking at Sam. "That's what I've missed, all those years away – you'll follow me to the Crack of Doom when I need you, but you'll spare a thought for the state of the carpet! Plain hobbit sense – Sam, I am so glad to be home!"
Sam smiled. "Just pour me another cup of that tea, will you, Mr. Frodo? You're closer."
Chapter 1: Insomnia
The orc was restless. The old stone house imprisoned him; he felt an urge to push back against the walls before they fell in and crushed him. But even outside he felt trammeled: the forest was too small to hold him, and the mountains around his home, which had seemed bulwarks of protection when first he came here, had become prison walls that he must break out of, if he could.
The world itself is too small for me, Canohando thought morosely, tramping through the woods a day's journey from home. He was not hunting; he took no trouble to be silent, but up ahead some small creature sat in full sight without fleeing his approach. His eyes sharpened on it: a rabbit, a big one – this was no youngster too foolish to recognize danger.
What ails you, creature? Even as he watched, the rabbit moved sluggishly – towards him, not away. Its ears were back and it staggered. Slowly the orc fitted an arrow to his bow and drew a bead on it; the rabbit lurched toward him another step. He let fly and his arrow transfixed the animal; it fell and was still, pierced through the heart.
He did not pick it up. He nudged it with his booted foot, then sought about till he found a sturdy stick and painstakingly gouged out a shallow hole in the ground. He pushed the body into the hole and covered it, stamping down on the dirt. He spent half an hour finding rocks to pile on the small grave; then at last he turned toward home.
A small occurrence, if unpleasant. It happened sometimes that one of the wild things took some sickness; it was a precaution to kill such a creature before the disease could spread, to bury the carcass so no scavenger could feed on it and spread the evil. In his present mood, though, it struck Canohando as portentous.
There is some sickness of soul on me, he thought. What then? I will not slay myself and jump into a hole! He grimaced. An orc lived too close to death, all his life, to seek it willingly. I will have to leave, before the evil spreads.
The thought of leaving lifted some weight from his mind and he walked with a lighter step. Almost before he wondered where he would go, he knew. He reached inside his tunic, his hand closing on the jewel that hung around his neck, the touch of it familiar and comforting.
I will seek the Elf-queen. He had never seen her, of course – Arwen Evenstar, who ruled in Gondor with Elessar, the King. The jewel had come to the orc from Frodo the Ring-bearer, who had received it from the Queen's hand. Not a thing to be given away, but Frodo had seen Canohando's need, and had given it to him. "Orcs live longer than hobbits – you will need it longer than I," he had said.
The orc had wondered sometimes why the Queen had given the jewel to Ninefingers. To comfort him, so he said, but it had not seemed to Canohando that the hobbit needed comforting. Frodo's face rose before his mind, framed by tangled dark hair he was always brushing out of his eyes. Eyes the color of the sky, eyes that danced with merriment or softened with compassion; eyes that were sometimes dark with fear.
Frodo had feared the orc in the beginning, and with reason. Canohando had not been certain himself if he would follow the halfling out of the Dark, or rise up in rage and destroy him. It would have been so easy to destroy him! In part it had been Ninefingers' courage that stayed the orc's hand: Frodo's eyes gave him away, and the odor of fear, but his face was calm and he stood his ground, however his heart might have quaked in terror. Courage and compassion: Canohando had not encountered such a mixture in his thousand years of life. Compassion alone he would have despised as softness, but Frodo's courage gave it a core of steel, and Canohando's resistance had crumbled before it.
The orc smiled; the memory of Frodo warmed his heart whenever he thought of him. Ninefingers had come once to the mountains, with the old man whose servant he was – or perhaps the old man had been the servant; Canohando had never been able to work that out to his satisfaction. They had come, in any event, and the orcs had taken Frodo along when they hunted a bear. Afterward they had eaten the bear's heart together: according to the code of the mountains, that made them brothers. But Ninefingers had followed that ceremony by pulling out his knife and cutting his own hand so that it bled – he had invited Canohando and Lash to the brotherhood rite of his own people. Canohando still bore the scar on his palm, where he had mingled his blood with that of the halfling.
How like my runt, the orc thought now, that his pact of brotherhood would call on him to shed his own blood. And how like us, that we would make ours from the death of some other creature.
Canohando had been one of three orcs, survivors of Sauron's fall, when he first encountered Frodo and the old man. There were four orcs now, but one of the original three was dead in battle, slain because he had thrown his own body in the way to shield Canohando. That was why Canohando had needed comforting, why Ninefingers had given him the jewel. The memory of Yarga, dying in agony and a welter of blood –
Canohando pressed the jewel against his forehead. Something the old man had said gave him hope that Yarga was at peace now, somewhere, somehow. And Lash still lived, Lash and his two sons; they waited for him at home. Lash's wife had died years back; she had been a woman of Nurn, with a human's short lifespan. Lash had mourned her, but not the way Canohando still grieved for Yarga; Lash's sons had been comfort enough for him.
For years uncounted Arwen's jewel had brought Canohando peace, but no more. Since spring he had slept badly, waking in the night to walk outside under the stars, hungering for something he could put no name to. Hunting held no joy for him anymore, his food had no savor – even music had lost its power to lift his heart. He carried his drum from habit and for Yarga's sake – Yarga had given it to him – but for months he had not played it.
"I will seek the Elf-queen," he said aloud, and it was as if he had been lost on the steppe on a black night, and the moon had risen in glory to show him the way. So he had felt in his youth, sent out with blows and curses to carry a message across the wasteland, until he had learned to set his course by stars and sun from Barad-dur to the far-flung outposts and fortresses. He did not know where the Queen made her home, but it was in Gondor; he could find his way to Gondor. After that he would have to trust to luck. Lend me your luck again, runt, as you did when we killed the bear.
Without warning he was seized with a great longing to see Frodo again. He had gone back to Gorgoroth in the year Lash's wife died; that had reminded him that these mortal creatures had woefully short lives, and he had been afraid. He had sought long for Ninefingers and the old man, but never found them. But Gorgoroth had been greatly changed; the desert had become prairie, the trickles of water between the rocks were flowing streams now, bordered with willows and blackberry thickets. Restoring the land was the task Ninefingers and the old man had set themselves, and plainly it was finished. Perhaps they had gone home.
If he found the Elf-queen, could she tell him how to reach the Shire? And if he found the halfling's homeland, would Frodo be there?
Gondor first, and then the Shire. He broke into a trot; he would have to go home first; he could not leave without saying farewell.
Lash regarded him soberly from across the table. "Have you forgotten the Men of Ithilien? They will slay you for that thing around your neck, if for no other reason."
Canohando fingered the jewel on its chain. "You could take it off," Lash said.
"My runt hung it round my neck with his own hands. It will not be my hand that takes it off." He got up to throw more wood on the fire. "Do you think Ninefingers did not tell the King he gave me this? He would not break his promise."
"It is not the King who patrols the border, and it is many winters since the Ring-bearer left us," Lash said. "There may be a new King in Gondor by now."
"Perhaps. But the Queen is Elven; she will not have died. I must go, Lash! I cannot bide here longer; I am as restless as a treed cat! If the Men of Gondor slay me, there will still be three orcs in Mordor."
Lash sighed. "Will you return, if you live?"
Canohando stared into the fire. After a moment he sat down on the bench, shoulder to shoulder with the other orc. "I do not think I will return, Lash. If I live, I will go farther than Gondor. I would like to see the Shire."
"The Shire." Lash shook his head. "Do you think to find Ninefingers still living there? The Brown One never came back to bring us news of him."
"Who can say? I do not know how long hobbits live. I will see his country, at least, if I can find it. Perhaps the Queen can tell me where it lies, if I come alive into her presence." Not even to Lash would he admit how he yearned to find Frodo still living in the Shire, the blue eyes lighting up with welcome. It is a fool's hope, he warned himself silently. It has been too long; he is surely dead by now. But he could not stop himself from hoping.
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.