23. What Can't Be Cured
The brown man remained less than a night at the Tower. He listened intently as Arato told him of the barbarians, how they had overwhelmed the Shire's defenses and driven Hobbits and Guardians alike into hiding.
"They have not come here yet; perhaps they don't realize the Tower is still manned. If they attack us, we will fall."
Hope ate the coarse, dark bread which was all their ration now, and drank the glass of wine Arato gave him. It was the last precious bottle the Tower had in store, kept for medicinal use, but something about the visitor impelled Arato to offer the best he had. He drank water himself, and breathed a covert sigh of relief when Hope declined a second glass.
"I must see Canohando. From what you say, I have come none too soon."
Frodo was sitting on the windowsill, so quiet they'd forgotten he was there. "How will you get into the Delving?" he asked. "I could not find the gate, and I've been there dozens of times before."
Arato smiled thinly. "We used every trick we could think of concealing the gate, but I own I was surprised that a Hobbit could not find it! I'll send a guide with you. We've had no commerce back and forth, lest we give away the hiding place, and I would be relieved to hear how they are managing and how my father is healing from his wound."
When it was dark, therefore, two horses left the Tower. Their riders were muffled in black, and one appeared oddly bulky, if anyone had been watching: young Frodo was tucked inside Hope's mantle, riding before him clinging to the mane. He had not wanted to go, but Arato gave him no choice.
"You're safer in the Delving, but I had no way of sending you before. Give my respects to Hodfast and tell him to go easy on you; you've been a cheerful guest, and we shall miss you." He eyed him sternly. "And stay inside in future!"
They reached the hill by sun-up. Their guide led them to a tangle of thorny briers and reached a long arm inside - a moment later the whole mass was lifted five feet from the ground. It had been resting on a hidden platform that could be raised by pulling on a rope. The gate was set behind, halfway down a narrow, twisting tunnel; small wonder that Frodo had not been able to find it!
They whisked him off at once to face the Mayor, and after that his mother. But when Hope asked to visit the Commander, Hodfast came himself to look him over, welcoming him indeed, as courtesy demanded, but slow to grant his request.
"The Commander was gravely hurt at Tuckborough; he does not receive visitors. I will send a message to Lady Mab; it is for her to say."
Hope allowed himself to be escorted into a well-appointed sitting room and folded himself into one of the low chairs. "Of your goodness, then, let word be taken to her at once. If he is ill, all the more reason I should see him. I am a healer."
Hodfast brightened at that and hastened away. In next to no time he returned to hustle the visitor along narrow corridors into the depths of the hill. He stopped at last before a door that plainly had been built for Men rather than Hobbits.
It opened and there stood Malawen. She looked anxious and careworn, her eyes unnaturally large in her thin face, and for a moment she stared up at Hope without recognition – then she gasped and threw herself upon him.
"Radagast! Lady of Pity be thanked! Did she send you to us from beyond the Sea?"
He caught her like a child, letting her cling to him, smoothing her hair, more silver now than golden. But she recovered quickly, and led him by the hand to a wide bed in the middle of the room.
"Melethron, see what good fortune sends us!" She perched on the edge of the bed, drawing Radagast down beside her. "My love, open your eyes; here is hope at last."
There was movement under the covers, and the figure in the bed rolled over; a hand reached out blindly for her, but it was Radagast who clasped it, and the closed eyes opened suddenly. Canohando gripped tight to the Wizard's hand and struggled to sit up.
"Wait, let me help you! There, lass, put a pillow behind his back – so – all right. Commander, what are you doing here in bed? The battle is not yet over."
"My battles all are over. Over and lost."
The Orc's voice was hoarse with disuse. Malawen made a faint moan of protest, pressing close to him, and he put his free arm around her.
Radagast said gently, "The wheel of Time is coming round again, and another Age is ending. That is no fault of yours. Your Guardianship long out-lasted Elessar's Kingdom, yet all things have their end. Now we must take counsel, you and I, how the Hobbits may be preserved."
Canohando shook his head slowly against his pillow. "Inside here they are safe, until they starve. But food is running out and they are not moles, to live forever underneath the ground. And we have lost too many of them..."
"And many of your own. Arato told me the little force at Tower Hills is all that remains, of thousands of your men."
"Fallen, all fallen," Canohando murmured. "Dead or – " He clamped his teeth and for an instant shut his eyes, as though he steeled himself. "If that were not enough – " He tossed the blankets to one side and Radagast drew his breath between his teeth: the Orc's left leg had been amputated at the knee.
"I do not fight as well from horseback, but I no longer have a choice. If you have wisdom for me, Brown One, how to save my Hobbits, I am all ears. I do not have men enough to guard them, in the Shire or any other place. The tribes are on the move: not this horde only, but the outlanders we were fighting twenty years ago, and more will come next year or the year after. And they cannot protect themselves; they are too small! Nor I would not wish to see them turning warlike – it would be against their nature."
Hodfast had ordered a chair brought in, of suitable size for the visitor, heavy wood ornately carved, fat cushions stuffed with goosedown. Radagast leaned back, wriggling his shoulders until they dug comfortably into the feathers, and began filling his pipe.
"Did the Great Ones let you smoke in Valinor?" Malawen sounded amused, and Canohando thought suddenly how long it had been since he heard her laugh. They had been so deep in gloom, the two of them, they had as well been living at the bottom of a well.
"No," the Wizard answered. "For that alone I am glad to be back, if for no other reason.
"And no, my friend, the Hobbits cannot defend themselves against these warriors, nor should they try to. But I fear the time is past when they have the luxury of a country all their own. Indeed, they would have lost it long ago, if you had not shielded them round about. The earth is filling up, and what land is still wild and empty will not be so much longer."
"What then? Must they be slaves to brutal masters? I will fall on my sword, old man, I swear it, before I see that day!"
The Wizard blew a smoke ring at him. "Not so hasty, as my friend Fangorn used to say. Do rabbits live in slavery? Do the squirrels? Sometimes I grant you they live afar from Men, but not always. When the land is settled they do not disappear, they only grow more furtive; they take their share from the garden and the barn, they shelter in attic and shed. What the wild things do, the Small Folk can do also."
"Here in the Shire? Beggars and thieves in the land that was their own?" It was hardly better than slavery after all, thought Canohando. He wondered what the Ring-bearer would have said to it, and decided he didn't want to know.
"No, not in the Shire. These newcomers are too fierce; even the rabbits may have short lives here for a while. In longer-settled lands, where harvests are plenty and folk more easy-going – the Hobbits have their puckish side, you know! I can see young Frodo helping himself to a jug of milk in the cow-byre at midnight, a basket of apples when the Men have gone home to dinner! Yes, and he'd pay his way – he'd pick off the cabbage worms when he raided the garden, and plug up holes in the henhouse where the weasel could get in. Any farmer with a family of Hobbits sharing in his harvest might well be grateful to them, did he know that they were there."
"Humph. How do we get them to this fruitful country? We have about six hundred here at Delving – I hope others have survived in hidden places elsewhere. Some horses at the Tower, perhaps a score of ponies, not more than fifty Guardian warriors, if that many. Will you call down the Eagles and carry them away?"
Radagast chuckled. "If any of the great Eagles remain in Middle Earth – it's an idea. But there never were enough to carry such a multitude. No, we will have to use our wits, and we will call in Hodfast to our council, and such of his people as he recommends. The Hobbits are no fools, and it is their future we are deciding, after all. But first I want to see you on your feet! Did they not make you a wooden leg to replace the one you lost?"
"They made it; he will not use it," said Malawen, and Radagast looked under his brows at Canohando. The Orc grimaced.
"Very well, I will try! But it rubs me raw, Brown One; can you do aught for that? I will wear it, if you can find a way to save my Hobbits."
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.