The Grey at the End of the World: 1. The Throwback

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1. The Throwback

The child was born too soon. Nearly two months early, yet he was not small: more solid than most newborns, and his head as round and hard as a stone meant to be hurled from a catapult. It was not an easy birth. 

His color troubled Malawen at first, tinged with blue like slate. She was a skillful midwife and rarely lost a babe, but the few she had not been able to coax to steady breathing had been blue like this. Logi, however, breathed without assistance, and cried as soon as the cool air touched his skin. Bellowed, in fact, sounding more wrathful than distressed. His grandmother sighed with relief at the vigor of his cry, but Canohando, listening from another room, drew his brows together and chewed his thumbnail. 

Malawen had been determined to attend this birthing, the fourth child of their youngest granddaughter, and the Commander had come to bear her company. To be on hand if anything went ill, though he had hidden that thought even from himself. Nala's last confinement had come near taking her life. 

They remained for several months after Logi's birth, until Nala was on her feet again and able to manage her household. Then Malawen took her two-wheeled pony cart and went off to tour the Shire, according to her custom every spring, searching out anyone ill or in distress, for she had the wisdom of the Elven race. Queen Mab, the Hobbits named her, with fond reverence.   

In the usual way of things, Canohando would have set out at the same time on his spring round of inspection. Four dozen stone-built fortresses ringed the Shire, manned by the Guardians, his sons and grandsons down twenty generations. When he had well tested their alertness, he would return to his own headquarters at Bridge Fort on the Brandywine, to wait for Malawen's return. 

The river was the border now; no Hobbits dwelt east of Brandywine anymore. The town of Bree, fed by increasing trade in the flush years of the Kingdom, had grown far beyond its ancient bounds, pressing finally against the very eaves of the Old Forest. But then the malevolence of the woodland was aroused, and while the Men of the town were quick with fire and axe to keep the trees in check, the Hobbits of Buckland were not able to beat back the encroachment. Yard by yard and year by year, the Forest pushed past the Hedge, trees springing up seemingly overnight closer and closer to the Hall itself, until at last the Brandybucks packed up and withdrew behind the shelter of the river.  

Canohando had wanted to contest the matter, to lay waste as much of the Forest as was needful to maintain the Hobbits' suzerainty of the land, but Marabuck, then Master of the Hall, dissuaded him. 

"There is space enough for us across the river," he said. "There are not so many Hobbits as there used to be, Commander; have you not noticed? There are smials standing empty and fields going to brambles inside the Shire. I think we had better strengthen our hold within our ancient boundaries. We are spread too thin over the land for good husbandry." 

"Why are your numbers shrinking? There is peace, and no lack of food; there is no more sickness than the ordinary run of life..." The Orc had been distressed, but Marabuck had shrugged.  

"Here, have a glass of brandy with me. To your very good health! It is no fault of yours, Commander. Folk seem not to have as many young ones as they used to, and it's uncommon now to see an old gaffer celebrate his hundredth birthday. We haven't the vigor that we had of old. I don't know why."   

Nine years later Marabuck had gone to his rest, a few months shy of his eighty-first year, and there had been no more Masters of the Hall. The Hobbits of Buckland had found untended farms inside the Four Farthings, and as time went by, many families returned from the western Downs as well, which had been added to the Shire in the days of Old Sam. The pleasant fields and orchards reverted to wilderness, but the Tower Hills Canohando kept under his own command, a guardpost on the border, for it was not long before little groups of Men began to come up from the South into the country the Hobbits had deserted. 

Yet if the Shire were smaller now, it was no less fruitful. The gardens were as bright with color, the yearly festivals as merry as of old, and songs and brown ale flowed in the taverns as freely as they ever had. Hobbit lads still neglected their chores to visit the fortresses, tying up their ponies next to the tall horses in the stables, and challenging the Guardians to contests of stone-skipping and bowmanship.  

From the beginning Canohando had encouraged this familiarity with the Shirefolk, counting on the Hobbits' influence to tame the Orkish nature of his offspring. And the strategy must have been successful, or perhaps it was the mixed nature of their heritage. For the Orc's sons and daughters had intermarried with humankind until they bore little outward sign anymore of their descent from the Elder Children, and those a few generations removed from Canohando and Malawen were not immortal; they aged, albeit slowly, and died at last as Men did. But however it came about, the Guardians for the most part were good-natured and slow to wrath, valorous when danger threatened, but not inclined to quarreling.  

So the Commander remonstrated with himself in this uneasy springtime. He had not gone to inspect his fortresses; he was still inhabiting Nala's spare bedroom, keeping himself occupied by giving the eldest lad his first lessons in archery. He sat now in the sunshine outside the house, smoothing an arrow short enough to fit a child-size bow.  

Still, it was not Logi's elder brother who kept the Orc kicking his heels here, trying to reason himself out of the foreboding that sat stone-heavy on his chest.

What matter Logi's dusky complexion, the harshness of his wail? He'd had a tumultuous entrance on the world, by far too early; that was reason enough for his crankiness. That and the teething.  

It was not unknown, Malawen had assured him; it happened sometimes that a babe arrived with a pearly tooth already visible. Now at four months Logi had seven teeth, and sometimes he nipped his mother as he nursed. She brushed it aside as something the older children had done also, when they were cutting teeth; still, more and more often Canohando saw her grimace while she was feeding the babe. It added to the Orc's disquiet. 

He heard Logi now, howling for his dinner; heard Nala's footsteps, going to take him from his cradle. For a few moments there was peace, then another shriek tore the silence, the mother's voice this time, and Canohando dropped his handiwork and plunged into the house. 

"Give him to me," he ordered, but Nala writhed wordless in her chair,  unable to obey. The babe had clamped down on her breast with all his might, yanking and tearing like a dog with a piece of meat, and she clenched her teeth and moaned while the tears ran down her cheeks. She was struggling without success to pry Logi's mouth open with her finger. 

Canohando reached in and pinched the babe's nostrils shut, keeping his grip in spite of Logi's contortions trying to break free. It took no more than a minute, although it seemed much longer. Deprived of breath, the child had to let go, and Canohando drew him bellowing out of his mother's arms. 

"Go put some salve on that and bind yourself up. So my brothers did also, to our mother, but I never thought to see the like again. You will have to wean him, Nala. He can feed from a milksop and learn patience." 

But after she left the room, he prised the little jaws apart once more to look closely at the pointed teeth. Logi glared up at him, squirming and twisting in his arms and roaring his displeasure, and finally Canohando sat down with the child pressed tight against him, pinning the flailing limbs till Logi quieted. Warily they regarded one another, the grey-skinned Orc and the red-faced, angry infant. 

"You cannot behave so," the Commander said, as if he spoke, not to a babe, but a child of several winters, able to understand. "We are in the Shire, not Mordor; there is no place here for Orcs." 

Logi was still, his eyes locked on his grandfather. Gently Canohando peeled away the blanket and little garments, laying him bare and examining him head to toe and front to back. The longer he looked the more somber his expression, and at last he sighed and dressed the child again. He settled him against his chest, rocking him back and forth, smoothing the wrinkled baby forehead under his thumb. 

"There, go to sleep, little greyskin. We have a hard road ahead of us, you and I." 

From that day he took over Logi's care, and Nala made no objection. In truth, she was relieved to turn back to her other children, the older brother and his little sisters, twin two-year-olds with round blue eyes and hair as pale as wheatstraw. The Commander moved Logi's cradle to stand by his own bed, and he permitted no one but himself feed the babe or do anything for him. 

"This is our battle, Logi's and mine. Leave us alone to fight it."  

He fed the babe with a rag dipped in milk, gentle but brooking no rebellion, and when Logi bucked and writhed, howling his discontent, his grandfather swaddled him in a blanket till he could move neither hand nor foot. Then he carried him outside and paced with him under the trees, keeping up a flow of soothing talk until the child quieted to sleep. 

Malawen returned at the end of May, surprised to find the Commander of the Shire playing wet-nurse to his grandson. Soberly he told her what had happened. 

"Look closely at him, Elfling. What do you see?"  

"What am I looking for?" Malawen gathered the child in her arms, peering into the little scrunched up face.  

Even in his sleep Logi looked ill-tempered. Canohando had loosened the blanket to give him some freedom of movement, and suddenly he twisted in Malawen's arms, arching his back and then bringing his head sharply forward so his brow struck painfully against her throat.  

"Oh!" She recoiled, trying not to drop him, and at that moment the child opened his eyes and stared into her face, wide awake and well aware that he had hurt her.  

"Oh!" she said again. "Here, melethron, take him!" She passed him back hastily to Canohando and stood massaging her neck, regarding the baby in great disquiet.  

"You see the same thing I do," Canohando said grimly, and she nodded.  

"This one is an Orc. Not like our children, melethron, not like you…"  

"He is like me, as I was before Frodo. We will have to raise him ourselves, Elfling. It is the only chance he has."  

Malawen's voice was bitter. "Now I am repaid for the babe I would not keep. He has come back to haunt me." But she did not say she would not keep this child.

 *melethril, melethron - beloved



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.

Story Information

Author: jodancingtree

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/07/06

Original Post: 06/22/05

Go to The Grey at the End of the World overview

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