Anxiety gnawed at Canohando. If he could have split himself in two, one to search for Tulco, the other to follow the barbarians who had ridden into the North...
He lacked the strength to meet them in open battle, yet he ought to be shadowing the enemy, harrying them all he might, at the very least turning them away from Tuckborough and the Delving, where the Hobbits had fled for shelter. But he was hamstrung by the division of his forces, so instead he was combing the Shire for Tulco, torn between fear and fury – for he ought long since to have had some word from his son, and as one day followed another with no message, his dread increased.
If Logi had been commanding, Canohando would have suspected that he had given pursuit, followed the enemy home and burned his camp! Logi was too impulsive, apt to run beyond his orders –
He pulled his thoughts up short. Tulco was not Logi, and he need not concern himself about his grandson – only to slay him when he got the chance.
He drove his men without mercy. At the turn-off to Bywater they passed the first burnt-out village, and he sent a scouting party back toward Hobbiton, but went on himself with the main army. When he heard that both Hobbiton and Bywater were destroyed, he guessed the barbarians had pushed down from the north and were somewhere up ahead.
The Valar grant Tulco is coming the other way, and we will have them between the hammer and the anvil. Tuckborough will be well out of the way, and Delving also.
Although if the Mayor were right and there were Hobbits still at Woody End – there were some natural caves there, but nothing large, and not defensible. More trap than refuge, those hiding places.
The next two days they met neither friend nor foe, not till they came near Stock – what had been Stock. A ruin now, and in the blackened streets and in the fields, they found their missing army. They saw and looked away, and some of the younger men, or those with weaker stomachs, turned aside, shuddering.
Canohando's second-in-command rode up with a handkerchief tied across his face. "Burn or bury?"
"Bury. They've seen too much fire already, my poor lads."
The Orc himself helped gather in the dead, forcing himself to look carefully at each man, searching for his son. But he did not find Tulco, or else he was beyond recognition.
They went no farther on the southern road. "The rest are scattered, if any are left alive. But the enemy is at large and must be found, and if there are Hobbits still remaining in the Hills, they must be rescued."
So the Commander led them west again, on the track through the Green Hill Country into Tookland. The Yale they found deserted but unharmed; seemingly the barbarians had not followed this byway. They passed a number of small hamlets that were likewise empty, but at one farm a Hobbit stepped out suddenly from behind a tree.
"Is it safe now? Are they gone?"
They reined up, and Canohando answered gently, "No, Goodman, it is not safe. How many are here with you?"
"My wife and children, her parents and her sister – ten of us altogether. We could not leave when the rest did; the little ones were ill –"
Canohando took them up to ride each one behind a man of his company. The Hobbit would rather have loaded up his family in his farm wagon to rumble along in their midst, but the Commander would not permit it; there was no time.
Twice more they were accosted by folk who had stayed behind when their neighbors left, one family because the goodwife had been in childbed when the warning came, the others merely stubborn and determined to see out the storm on their own ground – but having second thoughts, now they were alone in an empty countryside. All of them Canohando mounted behind his soldiers, a shepherd rounding up his straying flock, to carry them to safety.
They stopped for the night in another deserted village, putting the Hobbits all in one large dwelling, where they could be protected if danger threatened. While supper was cooking, two half-grown lads wandered away unnoticed, "exploring," as they said. Of a sudden a horse bolted out of an alley-way, and the boys ran shrieking after – a dozen of the Guardians gave pursuit, and came back leading the strange mare and a red-haired woman thrown across its back, bound hand and foot.
Canohando gazed at her blankly for a moment before he realized who she was; then fury rose in his throat till he nearly choked.
"Bring her in here." He held open the door of an empty house, and ducked under the low doorway to follow them in. "Leave us," he told his men.
But when he was alone with her, he had no words. Like a cornered animal she stared at him from where they'd dropped her on the floor, and he felt his hatred freezing his blood to ice. After a long while he bent and fingered the Jewel she wore, trying not to touch her skin. He jerked it, breaking the chain, and took it from her, and the tears sprang to her eyes, whether from pain or because she was robbed of her treasure.
"He had no right to give you that!"
He let the chain fall to the floor and stepped on it, grinding it under his heel, but the Jewel he rubbed all over with a fold of his cloak, as if he wiped away uncleanness. At last he took a bit of rawhide from his pocket and threaded the Jewel on it, knotting it round his neck, and all the while she watched him.
"Where is he?" he demanded, but she shook her head.
"I don't know. I've been searching for him."
He laughed, and Freiga cringed; there was no mirth in him and his eyes were hard as basalt. "You, too? Half Middle Earth is searching for my grandson – how long can he elude us? Now you shall come with me, and when we find him, you may watch what I do to traitors."
He left her and went outside. "Guard her," he snapped at the men loitering round the door. "If she escapes, go after her, don't let her get away."
One of them asked doubtfully, "Shall we give her food and water?"
Canohando looked for a moment as if he had not understood; then he bared his teeth in a smile that made the man take a step backward. "Certainly bring her food. We would not have Logi say we starved his woman."
He stalked down the street and out of the village. In the pastureland outside, he flung himself to the ground. The Darkness was with him still, after all these years – another moment, and I would have strangled her! This witch, this whore who so bedazzled Logi – oh, she was beautiful, he'd not deny it: a brazen, poisoned beauty, to rob a man of honor.
His mind responded coldly, She could not rob him of what he never had.
He pressed the Jewel against his forehead, but instead of peace his heart was swept by grief, for Haldar but also for Logi, for the Shire, and for himself. The Darkness never rested. Again and again it returned to wear him down, and he was grown weary.
In Hobbiton, Logi staggered up at dawn from where he had slept between their graves, the Ring-bearer and the friend who would not leave him. A fine, soft rain was falling; his clothes were soaked. He shivered and squatted by one of the granite slabs, trying to puzzle out the carved inscription.
Samwise Gardner, Ever Faithful
There was more, but the letters were badly weathered, too faint for him to read in the faltering light. It didn't matter; he knew what Sam had done.
It won't be long, Old Sam, but while I live I'll be a faithful Guardian. Only ask the Holy Ones, let me find Adah...
He shrugged his quiver of arrows across his back and stood a moment by the second grave. Farewell, Frodo Baggins. Look after the little hero who bears your name.
He realized suddenly that he'd forgotten to picket his mare when he arrived, but before he could curse his folly, he saw her grazing a short way off. She came at his whistle, and he rubbed her nose and fed her a handful of clover.
"All right, my lady, off we go and raise the siege of Tuckborough." He smiled grimly at his own jest and swung onto her 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.