34. The Freedom of the Road
Malawen drew back sharply from the cook's embrace and would not meet her eyes.
For the Orc, Dartha had few words of farewell, but she looked at him a long time and finally gave a decided little nod. "Celeborn is right; you are worthy of Valinor." She kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Travel safe, you and your little one, and meet us at the Grey Havens," she said.
He did not answer, only lifted his hand in farewell.
They did not see anyone else as they departed, for it was very early. A heavy mist shrouded the valley, but as they climbed up the surrounding ridge the sun broke through, turning the drops of moisture on grass and trees to sparkling diamonds.
Malawen laughed, raising her arms in salute to the sun. "Welcome to the world!" she cried. "Elrond's House is well enough, but it echoes with the songs and tales of a thousand years. I would sooner have the open road and the sun on our shoulders - we will make our own music!"
The Orc had been walking with his chin sunk to his chest, and she came close to peek teasingly into his face, hoping to lighten his mood. Dartha's warning troubled her. He does not have to choose, she thought rebelliously. He is free to go without me! But she knew he would not go, and her conscience was not mollified.
Canohando smiled down at her.
"Sing for me, Elfling," he said. He pulled his drum around in front of him and let it pick up the rhythm of their footsteps. He clicked his tongue in counterpoint, and bent down quickly to pick up a slender stick from the ground, striking the side of the drum with it, punctuating the tapping of his fingers.
Malawen's voice rang out in the quiet morning.
Give me the road and give me the air,
The west wind blowing through my hair,
And the wild drum setting a rolling beat
To give a lilt to my dancing feet.
Free to come and free to go,
Running quickly, walking slow,
And where e'er we go there's none to say
You ought to have chosen a different way.
The wilderness is wide and free
To hold my melethron and me!
She slapped her hands against her thighs as she walked, striding along to the beat of the song, and Canohando started the verse again, Give me the road, give me the air --
They made their way down from the heights, away from Rivendell, toward the River where long ago Frodo had turned at bay, with his last strength defying the Riders who pursued him. But no dark menace awaited them at the Ford. The sun was huge and golden in the western sky when they reached the water and splashed through to the other side, holding hands to keep each other upright on the slippery river bottom.
As evening fell, Canohando began eyeing the trees they passed, looking for a place to hang their hammocks.
"We are not in Rivendell anymore," he said when Malawen protested that she would rather sleep on the ground. "The wilderness is not free only for you and me, melethril, but for those who wish us no good. Remember Itaril."
"Excellent advice, and that is why I shall journey with you, at least to the borders of the Shire."
They spun around, and Canohando's hand flew to his bow in the instant before he recognized who it was coming up behind them.
"Radagast!" Malawen was not certain if she were pleased or not. The wizard had been a friend to them, but she was happiest alone with Canohando.
He seemed to sense her ambivalence. "I would not foist my company upon you lovebirds," he said, "except that I also remember Itaril. I saw him started toward Eryn Lasgalen, but I could not spare time to escort him all the way, and he may have turned aside after he left me. I hope he may become an Elf again, but at present he is a weasel."
Canohando's expression was inscrutable. "You found me in fetters and led behind a horse, and now you think I cannot defend myself, or my mate."
"No," said Radagast. "I know you can defend yourself, unless you are surprised by a troop of archers. But I do not trust this scion of Mirkwood, and I would be sorry if you were forced to kill Itaril, after you had shown him mercy: it is bitter to have a gift thrown back in your teeth! However, he is alone now, and I doubt he will risk single combat with you. More likely, if he heard that you were going to the Shire, he might speed ahead of you to the Men who watch that land, to persuade them that Arwen's note you carry is a forgery. In that case, I would like to be on hand to vouch for you."
The Orc unclenched his fists, and Malawen took his hand.
"Can we sleep on the ground, since you are with us?" she asked, and Radagast looked amused.
"Ask your mate that, Sunshine. I am not here to settle your quarrels."
But Canohando thought back to Mordor, where first he knew the wizard. When he himself had been brutal and quick to kill -- but he had not lifted hand against the Brown One. I would not have dared, he realized, and grinned ruefully. "We will sleep on the solid earth, melethril, since it matters so much to you," he said.
They traveled pleasantly for many days, Malawen singing as they walked, or dancing ahead. She had lost the sulkiness she had worn ever since Lothlorien, and she was bright and quick as a butterfly flitting before them. Canohando drummed for her, but sometimes when he deemed that she ventured too far from them, he would run after her, scooping her up and carrying her slung over his shoulders, kicking and laughing.
"Stay with us, Elfling. This is not Rivendell."
But he spoke little, and Radagast watched him covertly, trying to recall if he had always been so silent. There was a flatness in the Orc's eyes that troubled the wizard, remembering his blazing joy when Celeborn offered him passage to the West.
One night Canohando said, "I am going hunting tomorrow. Stay close to the old man, Elfling, and I will join you at evening."
"Why?" she exclaimed. "Radagast has food for us in his bag, and we have our lembas besides. What need for you to hunt?"
Canohando stared out at the darkness beyond the ring of firelight. "Hunting is what Orcs do, melethril. And we will not always have the old man's bag, or lembas either. I must not lose my skill."
The next day Radagast talked earnestly with Malawen as they walked, and those who knew him would have been amazed at his sternness. But she would not yield to his arguments, although by the end she was in tears. She sat on the ground crying with her face in her hands, but he was inexorable.
"There will be more tears later, when it is too late. You will have none of Valinor, but what land will make you welcome? You are condemning your mate, and your children also, when you have them, to lives of vagabondage."
She peered up at him through reddened eyes. "Canohando likes the wild lands. And perhaps we will have no children."
Radagast snorted. "Oh, you will have them! Have you never heard how Orcs multiply? But how will you mother them? Can you for one hour let go of what you desire, to think of someone else? Of all the Orcs ever born, Canohando alone is offered refuge in Valinor. And he will refuse it, to remain with you! I think you will have cause for shame, indeed, if you permit that."
"Should I leave him, then? Is that what you want?"
The wizard stooped and grabbed her by both wrists. "Do you love him, Malawen? You call him beloved, but what does that mean to you?"
She felt skewered by the wizard's eyes, dark and old as a night without stars. "I would die in Valinor," she whispered.
"Die then, and be reborn. But only your pride will die there."
"I cannot leave him. I do love him."
"Did I ask you to leave him? Sail with him!"
She jumped up and fled, running headlong down the road, but at the first break in the trees she swerved away into the woods, heedless of the brambles and low branches that caught at her like raking claws. She blundered through thickets and came out so suddenly on the edge of a little stream that she tripped and fell in. It was shallow and she took no hurt, but as she struggled to her feet, bedraggled and wet, a voice from the further bank nearly stopped her heart.
"Is something chasing you, mistress? Here, take my hand." The owner of the voice splashed into the stream to steady her, and she gaped in astonishment even as she let him help her out of the water.
He came barely to her shoulder, but he was a sturdy-looking fellow, and the arm he brought to her support was well-muscled and tanned beneath a rolled-up sleeve. He watched with a smile as she tried to make herself tidy, wringing out her dress and working her fingers through her hair, combing out bits of leaf and brier that had tangled in it.
"So we need not run away?" he asked. "No Trolls or Orcs or such-like, coming after you?"
He was such an engaging little person that she could not help grinning. "No Trolls," she assured him, "but there is an Orc -- no," she added hastily, as fear leaped into his eyes, "Don't be afraid; he is my mate; he will not harm you! He is hunting, I hope not far from here."
He looked her over, frankly curious. "You have an Orc for your husband? But you are an Elf, are you not? At least, I have never seen any Elves, nor Orcs either, thank goodness! But you look like the Elves in stories."
"Do I? I wouldn't have thought so. But of what race are you? And what are you doing here, all alone in the wilds?"
He drew himself up proudly. "I am a Hobbit of the Shire, mistress, and I am not alone. My companions are making camp back there," he nodded over his shoulder, "and I came to fetch water for our tea." So saying, he picked up a tin bucket from the ground and went to dip it in the stream.
"They will be wondering where I got myself to," he said. "Won't you come and meet them, and have a bite to eat? They'll never believe I met an Elf, if they don't see you for themselves."
As if the hobbit's casual good humor were contagious, Malawen found herself chuckling. "I suppose Canohando will find me; he will be curious, anyway, who is making a fire in the woods. Yes, I will come."
But the hobbit turned so sharply that the water in his pail sloshed out over his feet.
"Canohando?" he repeated. His eyes were round with wonder. "Canohando the Orc?"
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.