There were four hobbits bustling about a little clearing, chopping firewood and setting up a long, low tent. One, the eldest, by the salt and pepper of his curly hair, squatted by a small fire, stirring something in a metal bowl.
"Back so soon?" he said. "We'd about decided you'd gone back to Bree for a pitcher of ale, you took so long. Give it here; I can't make biscuit without a bit of water." He looked up then, and froze with his mouth half open.
Malawen's companion bowed slightly. "Mistress, may I present my uncle, Fordibras Took. He is the captain of our expedition, and also the best camp cook in the Four Farthings. But," he added, turning scarlet, "I forgot to ask your name."
"I am Malawen of Lothlorien," she said, holding back a smile in pity for his embarrassment. "And I forgot to ask your name, as well, after you helped me out of the stream."
Fordibras stood up, brushing flour off his hands and bowing in his turn. "At your service, and your family's, ma'am. The youngster is Farador Brandybuck, my sister's younger son. I'm pleased to hear he rendered you some assistance."
Before she could answer, a startling change came over the older hobbit's face: fear, then grim determination as he felt for the sword at his belt.
"Get behind me, ma'am! Hobbits, back to back, lady in the middle!" The others jumped to obey, but Malawen spun round to look behind her and began waving frantically.
"Stay back, stay back!" she called. "Don't be afraid," she added urgently, "he will not hurt you; he is my mate, come looking for me."
"It's Canohando!" Farador interjected. "Can you believe it, Uncle Ordi? Canohando the Orc, large as life, half a day's journey from Bree!"
The older hobbit held his weapon steady, regarding Malawen under lowered brows. "Is that truth, Lady? Oh, I see you're an Elf, plain enough -- I traveled some in my younger days; I've been to Rivendell. But Elves are a proud people, if you'll pardon me saying so, and I can't see any of them plighting troth to an Orc! And it stretches my imagination to think what Canohando would be doing here, when Frodo Baggins said outright that he left him far off in the Eastern mountains. What brings you to these parts? Lothlorien is a long journey from Bree."
Malawen was tempted to anger, but as she looked around at the hobbits, patently terrified, yet ready to defend themselves and her as well, she was moved instead to gratitude.
"You have been to Rivendell?" she said. "We have just come from there, and we are going to the Shire, for my mate wishes to visit the Ringbearer's country. They were friends, you know."
The hobbit regarded her doubtfully, chewing on his lip, but then a quiet voice spoke from the edge of the woods. Canohando had ducked back among the trees to circle around, approaching the clearing from the other side.
"I can give proof of who I am."
Fordibras started, but mastered himself and turned to face the Orc. "I would be glad to see it," he said. "Just stand right where you are, sir, and hold it up. No sudden moves, mind! There are five of us, and we know how to use our swords."
Canohando's eyes glinted with humor. His hunting knife was longer than those swords, but the hobbits' valor was all the more praiseworthy for that. He held up Arwen's jewel.
"Here is my proof. And here, also." He stretched out his hand, palm up. "I am blood brother to Frodo Ninefingers, and you are his people." How like my runt they are!
he thought. That youngling, especially.
Fordibras stepped forward and took the Orc's wrist, examining his scarred palm before he reached up to touch the jewel reverently with one finger. Then he thrust his weapon back in its scabbard and clasped Canohando's hand.
"The Queen's Jewel and that scar speak for you, Canohando of Mordor, but the best proof is your courtesy. I do not know why you are so far from home, but you are welcome - if I may presume to welcome you to a land that is not my own. And this lady is your wife, in truth? Well, I never go outside the Shire but I learn something new, but that certainly is the strangest thing that ever I heard of!"
Canohando drew Malawen close to him. "To me also it seems strange, and to her people, that she would have me. It is my great good fortune. But how do you know of me?"
Farador spoke up eagerly. "Your story is in Frodo Baggins' Memoirs
, that he wrote when he got back from Mordor. I read it when I stayed with my cousin Harding at Bag End. My brother thought old Frodo just made up the part about the Orcs, but Harding said no, Frodo Baggins hated a lie, and whatever he wrote, you could count on it being true."
The Orc smiled. The youngster really was very like the hobbit he remembered: the same blue eyes under flaring dark brows, the sensitive mouth, but his face was fresh and untouched by suffering. This is what he was like, before his fate fell upon him,
he thought, and he knew a pang of regret that Frodo had not been permitted to live out his life in peace. But then I would never have met him, and I would still be under Shadow.
It was better as it was.
There was no question of leaving the hobbits without sharing a meal. Farador was small help to his uncle in preparing it; he hovered about Canohando and Malawen, trying not to stare, and the Orc won his heart by answering innumerable questions about Minas Tirith and Mordor, from the fall of the Dark Lord to the last days of King Elessar. But at that point, Fordibras broke in.
"Supper's about ready, and it won't be any better for waiting. Come and eat, sir, and your ladyship, and afterward, if you will, tell us about the King, and what became of Queen Arwen. They visited the Shire in my mother's time, and it were a sorrow to hear of the King's passing. Young Eldarion is known in the North, and he'll make a good King, I don't doubt, but it won't be the same."
"Is everything quiet here, since Eldarion rode south last year?" Canohando asked. It had nagged at the back of his mind sometimes, wondering if the garrison in the North would remain faithful, with its commander far away in Gondor, but the hobbit looked surprised.
"Certainly it's quiet; the Rangers are still here, and Celeborn in Rivendell, though I heard the Queen's brothers went south when Eldarion did. I try to keep up on things," he added apologetically. "I got interested, when I was in Rivendell. But the North will hold to the King, whoever he is. It's good to know the roads are safe for those that wish to travel on them, and the King's men keep the borders of the Shire."
Canohando nodded; he had heard about the invasion of ruffians during the War. It had been hard to imagine, an army of little people like his runt, fighting with pitchforks and hunting bows against Men twice their size. But when he had realized that Frodo could name off every hobbit killed in the battle, the Orc had been struck speechless. That had defined the Shire for him, more than anything else Frodo told him: every dead soldier had his name, and was remembered with honor.
"Celeborn is leaving, though," said Malawen. "They are all going to the Havens."
"No! Are they indeed? And so you are going as well, Lady?" Fordibras cast a curious glance at Canohando, but Malawen spoke decidedly.
"No. I am staying here."
"Are you bound for Rivendell once again?" Canohando asked the hobbit. "You may meet them on the road, unless you hurry. They sail at summer's end."
Fordibras took out his pipe and began filling it. When he had got it lit and was smoking comfortably, he said, "We are going to Rivendell, yes. You asked me if all was quiet in these parts. Well, it is, and it isn't, in a manner of speaking. Not all's well, at any rate, and I want Celeborn's counsel. We've had sickness in the Shire the past two summers, some kind of fever, but one we haven't seen before. It strikes the children, mostly, and it kills. Or sometimes it doesn't kill, but it leaves its mark, a withered limb, or a weakness that lingers even when you'd say the child was well again. The Elves have a reputation for healing..." His voice trailed off.
Malawen drew Canohando's arm around her shoulders and leaned against him. "Elves do not get fevers," she said. "My father was a healer. He was teaching me, but it was all caring for wounds and injuries, not sickness."
"Perhaps not, Elfling, but this is Celeborn," said the Orc. "He would know more even than your father, would he not?"
"Do you know aught of healing, Canohando of Mordor?" asked Fordibras, but the Orc gave a sour laugh.
"Thrust the stump in fire, if you lose hand or foot," he said. "A hot poultice for putrefaction. Orcs have no healers; we tend our own wounds, or die."
"Yet your two friends cared for your burns," said a soft voice beside him, and he looked down in surprise at Farador.
"You are right, youngling. I must not forget that, for it was a great marvel." Canohando regarded him with approval, and the young hobbit flushed.
"I thought Rivendell had a name for healing," he said. "I thought Bilbo Baggins sent there for books on herbs and things."
"And so he did," Fordibras agreed. "Perhaps it was Elrond rather than Celeborn, but without question there was such knowledge in Rivendell. At any rate, we will make a push to reach there and find out, for our own healers have no remedies to meet this need. I don't suppose Elrond carried his library with him, when he departed into the West; the wisdom we need may still be there."
They talked on, as darkness fell. Finally one of the hobbits gave a yawn that seemed likely to split his face, and Fordibras stretched and stood up.
"There's ample room for you in our tent, and we'd be honored to have you under our roof, such as it is," he said.
Malawen shook her head.
"We would rather have the stars over our heads than a strip of cloth."
"It is good to be with my brother's people," Canohando added. "We will find our own bed, but we will come to breakfast, if you are willing."
The hobbit chuckled. "I cannot imagine telling an Elf she is not welcome to a meal, nor the Ringbearer's Orc, either. We will be delighted to have you join us. Early, mind you, for we must be going on as soon as we have light to travel by."
He disappeared into the tent, and Canohando and Malawen went off to find a sleeping place. But when they were settled at last, Canohando asked,
"Why are you not with the old man, melethril? And where is he?"
They were lying in their hammocks, high up, for the Orc would not sleep on the ground when Radagast was not with them.
Malawen did not answer, hugging herself and staring up through the crossed branches of the tree. It was very dark. Canohando waited, but when she still said nothing he sat up, stretching out a hand to pull her hammock close to his.
"He has been trying to persuade you to sail. Did you run away from him?"
She shivered, turning her face away, and he let go. A moment later he had left his own hammock and was climbing into hers, making it rock wildly as he maneuvered himself to lie beside her, pulling her into his arms.
"I am so ashamed." Her voice was husky. "To hold you back, when you deserve the Blessed Land more than many Elves... I am so happy in the wilderness, alone with only you. But you will hate me someday, if you do not sail. You should go, melethron."
He wrapped himself around her, feeling how her taut muscles softened and her shivering eased as the heat of his body warmed her. "I would sail gladly, if you came with me," he said. "I will not go without you, Elfling, and I will never hate you. You will give me sons, and we will be happy. Could we have children in Valinor?"
A little gurgle of laughter welled up in her. "Is that the price of your happiness, a son? How many will it take to content you, and what if I give you a daughter instead?"
He buried his face against her, kissing the hollow at the base of her neck. "A dozen sons, and as many daughters as you like. Orcs have large families."
"A dozen --!" She pushed away to stare into his face. But it was too dark to see, and she let herself fall against him once more. "Oh, you are teasing me! Will you be happy, truly, so long as we have children?"
He chuckled deep in his throat. "Ah, no, melethril, I am not teasing!" He ran his fingers over her face, her lips and cheeks, feeling along her jawline and down her shoulders...
"I will love you, always I will love you, and we will have many, many children, and we will love them..." His voice trailed away as his lips took up where his fingers had left off. Malawen closed her eyes, sliding her hands up under his tunic, her fingertips light as thistledown, tenderly exploring the pits and ridges of his scarred back.
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.