It was well that the Commander had posted outriders far ahead. The foremost of them caught a glimpse of the barbarians surrounding Tuckborough and backed off hastily, carrying warning to those behind. Canohando thought first of his Hobbit refugees.
"Take them roundabout to Michel Delving; bring back as many men as my son can spare. And lads, go softly! The Delving's best defense is secrecy. Cover your tracks, and tell Arato, hide the place as best he can."
When the little squad had borne away the Hobbits, the Commander called his captains into council. "I've sent out scouts; we should have word soon how many they are, and how disposed. But we were overmatched to start with, and we've seen no evidence that they've had heavy losses, not since they crossed the River. We have to assume that we're outnumbered – twenty to one, perhaps."
There was a moment's silence; it was grim hearing, although they'd guessed as much. Then the youngest captain present quirked an ironic eyebrow.
"They don't have you to lead them! I'll take my chances on the odds, with Afar* in command."
He was no son of Canohando's. Fourteen generations divided him from the Orc, but the title struck them all as apt. All around the circle they were nodding, and an older man, a veteran of many battles, spoke for them.
"You give the word, Commander, and we'll follow. You're Father to us all."
Canohando blinked, finding it difficult of a sudden to see their faces. He stretched out his hand, and one after another the captains took hold of it, till their arms were like the spokes of a living wheel, and their clasped hands were the hub.
"For the Shire: we will not give it over!" the young man said, as if he took an oath, and the others murmured agreement. After a moment they sat down, knit closer in spirit than they were before, and began planning strategy.
There were not enough of them to stage a full assault. The barbarians surrounded the hill into which the Smials were dug – Malawen had been lucky to get away when she did, for that gap in the encirclement was closed now. The Guardians would have to strike from hiding, now here, now there, killing a score or so and melting back among the trees before their foes could gather a response.
Canohando knew there was little more he could do with so few men; knew too that it was not enough. He sent word to the nearest fortresses, "Abandon all the forts and come to Tuckborough!" And even then he would not spare more than a couple of men as messengers: the forts would pass the word from each to each.
It was a desperate move, for it left the wives and children unprotected, in the strongholds that had been their homes. The women strapped on swords over their dresses, and shut tight the gates as the last men rode away. Even to Sarn Ford the order went, but from there the women withdrew as well, and rode with the men till they came to a fortress more defensible, for Sarn was too exposed to hold, without a proper garrison.
But at Tuckborough, Canohando left it for the most part to his captains to lead the harassment of the enemy. In the dark hours he prowled around the hill, outside the enemy lines, searching for some way in. The barbarians kept closer watch now than they used to; the ease with which Logi had penetrated the camp beyond the river had put them on their guard. But the last report Canohando had had of Malawen said she was at Tuckborough, and terror for her drove him nearly frantic. He had seen what the enemy did in the towns they captured. If they broke into the Smials, he had not nearly enough men to stop the carnage, and his love, his light, was here!
On the third night he came on a small campfire, all by itself where he thought that no one was. He approached it cautiously, wondering which men of his company had set themselves so apart, and sucked in his breath abruptly when he saw.
He had not sent Logi's woman to safety with the Hobbits; indeed, since they reached Tuckborough he had given her scarcely a thought. But here she was, unbound, un-guarded, kneeling before the fire cooking something – and sitting back against a tree, eyes closed as if he slept, was Logi.
It was unnerving to come on him so sudden; Canohando had to stop and take it in. So often in his mind he'd planned this meeting: what he would say as he drove in his blade to stop that perfidious heart – nothing could have prepared him for this scene, so peaceful, so domestic. And neither of them heard him! The woman turned the stick on which she was grilling a small, plucked bird, and the fire hissed.
Canohando loosened his sword in its scabbard. He would not take the traitor unaware, to die before he knew who struck the blow. Logi must see his face, must know that retribution had come at last –
"Osta would not let me go and seek you, but there was no need for that, was there, murderer? Vengeance herself throws you in my path."
The woman gave a cry and sprang to her feet, the meat falling forgotten in the fire, but Logi opened his eyes without moving from where he sat.
"Be quiet, Freiga. Go back now; this is no concern of yours. I have some little business with my grandfather."
Before she could obey, Canohando was behind her, thrusting down on her shoulders, forcing her to the ground.
"Sit down and be silent." He glowered at Logi. "Is one betrayal not enough for you, that you send her to bring her savages upon me? You would give the Shire to them entirely, the Hobbits all to slaughter!"
"No!" Logi got up stiffly, as if it hurt to move. "Here – I saved this for you when they pillaged Hobbiton." He struggled to unfasten the string around his neck; finally he drew his knife and cut it free. "Here," he said again.
Canohando took the bear tooth, staring at his grandson, stunned at the change in him. Logi was thin to gauntness, a red scar, barely healed, running the length of his arm and another on his forehead, but it was more than that. His face was hollow-eyed, like one who stands at the foot of his own grave looking in.
"I came to face your judgment. Send me after him, and in the world of shades I will search him out; I will bow down and kiss his feet."
"Lose yourself in your barbarian, murderer! You will forget." Too late for this remorse, he thought. Too late for Haldar of the laughing eyes, for Malawen crying herself to sleep –
"It was not like that! We loved each other." Logi sank to his knees as if he had no more strength to stand. "I think she still loves me; I don't know why. It doesn't matter. Make an end, Adah! I was born black-hearted, and there is no cure. Cut it out of me."
Freiga moaned softly, rocking back and forth.
Canohando could not look on his grandson without pity, and he steeled his soul against it. He glanced at the fire, picked up a stick absent-mindedly from the ground, and dropped it in.
"The sword is too easy. I should burn you, as you burned him."
Logi made no answer and Canohando drew his sword, wondering at his own reluctance. Was this not the vengeance he had sworn? Hardly enough, in truth – quick, not the long agony of fire. But it was not so easy, while Logi knelt waiting, to raise the blade and thrust. He had expected to meet him on a battlefield, with the bloodlust in his eyes.
He lifted the sword at last, holding it upright in salute. "Die then, as you have killed. Seek his forgiveness, if he will give it to you." But as he moved to strike, the woman threw herself against his arm, deflecting the blow so it went wide and knocking him off-balance.
"No! You shall not slay him, you must not; he is mine!"
She flung herself across Logi, shielding him, locking her arms around him and fighting his efforts to throw her off, her mass of hair blinding him. "You swore yourself my husband; you shall not throw away your life! Will you have him die for nothing, that one you killed?"
Canohando rammed the sword back in its sheath and dragged her off. He backed her against a tree and held her there, looking her over as he might examine a horse for defect.
"What spell did you lay on him, to so betray a friend who ran at his heels from childhood? And burned to death! The Holy Ones themselves must have wept to see it!"
"But he did not – he burned, but not to death. Logi took sword and slew him."
In his surprise he released her. "That is truth?" he demanded.
"It makes no difference." Logi's voice was flat. "I could not bear his screaming; I made it quick. He was my brother and I delivered him to death. Adah, please –"
Freiga crept over to him where he still knelt, touched his arm pleadingly, but her eyes besought Canohando.
"Spare us a little time, only a little. He may be slain tomorrow; there is not one man in all this war who does not want him dead! My people hate him more than you do. The Shining One is gone, you cannot bring him back – " Distractedly she kept talking; the grandfather would not kill while she kept talking.
"Stand aside," ordered Canohando.
"No! You say I bewitched him – then I should die as well. Both or neither, Adah!"
"I am not your grandfather, woman. How did you find him here?"
She rested her cheek on Logi's back and wrapped her arms around him. "He came, he rescued me – he saw where I was bound, and set me free."
"It was no fault of hers that Haldar died," said Logi. "Don't lay it at her door; the crime was mine."
"Indeed. And she will hold to you? So be it, then. Logi, stretch out your arms to either side. Woman, if you do not stand back, I will run him through!"
Logi spread out his arms, and she backed away two steps. Canohando raised the sword, swung it down in a mighty arc, severing Logi's right arm above the elbow. Freiga shrieked and threw herself on him, tearing at her garment to staunch the blood, but Canohando caught her around the waist and dragged her back.
"Thrust it in fire, if you would not bleed to death," he ordered sharply. "Taste the flames yourself, as you made Haldar taste them!"
Logi scrambled over to the fire, plunging the bloody stump of his arm into the heart of it. He cried out and tried to jerk away, but his grandfather was there, holding him to the flame, until the bleeding stopped. He drew him away then, in a dead faint.
"Now it is up to you," he told Freiga. "If you take care of him, he may live. If you abandon him -" He shrugged.
She was ashen. "They will slay him – I cannot nurse him here, on a field of battle! Have pity on us; give us a place where I may tend to him!"
Canohando met her plea with stony silence, but she was importunate; she would not be denied. At length he stooped and slung Logi over his back. "Come."
He led her downhill, a quarter mile away, and pushed aside some vines to reveal a small, dry cave. "The shepherds use it," he said, "but not this summer."
He laid Logi down on a musty pallet in the corner. "There's a spring a few yards farther down the hill. I'll bring you food and bandages, but I will not nurse him. I spared his life; that is enough. Now he will live or die by your faithfulness."
"He will live!" she said fiercely.
*Afar = Father