26. The Road Not Taken
Sweetapple's expedition was followed by another only a week later – with an accompanying Guardian family, a widow and her children, not as protectors, but fellow settlers. And Radagast took a dozen Hobbits south, to where he had found a natural cave no more than a mile from a village of Men.
"It will do for shelter, while the Hobbits get to know the country," he told Canohando. "There's a fair amount of woodland between the villages; I want to bring someone there who has experience making these underground houses the Small Folk like so well. Once the corn is up, I think we could dig a few of those, quiet and unobserved."
"Ask Hodfast; he'll find someone for you." Canohando was limping back and forth across his chamber, supporting himself on crutches finely carved and tipped with brass; with every step they rang slightly against the stone floor. "Arato wants to get our folk out of the Tower. He's afraid the barbarians will have an eye on it this summer."
"Arato is probably right. Get them out of there – how's the leg?" Radagast motioned the Orc to sit. "You walk as if it hurts."
"It doesn't heal. I have been too long idle – I have no wish to be the last one left when everyone else departs."
The wizard's eyebrows drew together. "You know we won't abandon you. Since when does the Commander ask for pity?"
Canohando slammed a crutch against the floor, and the brass tip slid so that it shot out of his hand across the room, slamming against the wall.
"Not pity, counsel! My task is at an end; the Hobbits will need no Guardians following them about, and certainly not on horseback! I don't see myself farming, old man, even if I had two good legs – as it is, I can't walk from here to the main gate without this wound opening up again. Must I sit useless in the chimney corner? I've heard you call death the Gift of the One to Men, and now I understand."
Radagast had unwrapped the bandage and sat examining Canohando's leg. The wound had broken open as he said, oozing a pinkish fluid. The wizard shook his head, sucking on his teeth.
"The skin is too fragile; it cannot take your weight when you walk on it," he said, and Canohando sighed and rubbed his forehead.
"Where is Malawen?" the wizard asked.
"She's with the healers, telling them all she knows. The Hobbits will be scattered; they must carry each one of them the lore of the whole people. They're writing it all down."
"In a moment I'll go and find her, and all the better if she has the others with her. I hope one of them knows some way of toughening this skin. There must be something. But as to your other question –" He met Canohando's eyes, so shadowed with pain and weariness. Then something caught his attention and he pulled aside the Orc's tunic to expose his throat.
"You wear the carving that you gave to Frodo? That would make him glad, I think. So Malawen has the Jewel? I had not noticed."
Canohando fingered the tooth as if it gave him strength. "No. I sent it to her, before the battle at Tuckborough... it never reached her. The messenger was lost, the Jewel, the Shire – it has been a year of losses, old man, and each one more grievous than the last."
Radagast let his hands drop to the Orc's shoulders, kneading them with strong, supple fingers. "That is a loss indeed, yet perhaps it is for the best."
Canohando reared back, glaring, but the wizard continued as if he did not notice. "It may be found, in time. The Jewel was fashioned for these lands of sorrow, and surely there will be someone else who needs it. But you were offered passage, long ago, to the Undying Lands. Perhaps it is time to go."
There was a stillness like a long-drawn breath. When the Orc spoke at last, his voice was rough.
"How would we get there? The last ship sailed three thousand years ago."
"The vessel that brought me here could carry you. It will hold you and Malawen, and the boatman."
"No more than that? But how will you return, then?"
"I shall remain. I thought I might, but I had the boatman wait till I was certain." The wizard dug in his pocket and extracted his pipe and pouch. "I have had a long sabbatical; I am ready to work again, and I would like to do my share for Frodo's people. But you need healing, and Malawen is ill."
Radagast had been appalled at the change in her. Her mate was out of danger now, but still her face was pinched, and the once-glorious hair hung lank against her cheeks. Elves did not age, but Malawen looked old. Even as he said it, Radagast wondered if he should have spoken. the Orc had been suffering his own torment; he might not have noticed anything amiss.
But Canohando nodded wearily. "Since Haldar died – you've heard the story? She took his death to heart; she has not recovered."
"Then you must leave, if only for her sake. The Halls of Mandos are for such as he, the Elven-kind who fall. Across the Sea is consolation for her."
Canohando caught the wizard's arm in a grip like iron; his wound and long idleness had not robbed his hand of strength. "If you can give us passage, I do not think she will refuse this time. Only let me get them all to safety, the Hobbits and my children."
And in the end it was surprising how quickly it was accomplished. Men from the Tower and Hobbits from the Delving slipped away in bands of a score or so, making their way quietly north, out of the Shire. Radagast returned to the southern villages with a group of master tunnelers, and took with him – to the open relief of his harried mother – young Frodo Miner.
He had come upon Frodo and another lad one day, locked in furious battle on the floor of the second dining hall.
"Here now, there's trouble enough without, we don't need you waging a private war inside!" The wizard plucked them apart, holding them at arms' length to prevent resumption of hostilities. "What's this all about?"
"He jumped on me! All I said was, we'd better keep watch out for that Logi, in case he catches us when we go outside – "
"You said more than that! You said – " But whatever the other lad had said, Frodo was not prepared to repeat it to a grown-up, still less to the mysterious stranger who had turned hunger and despair to hope. His voice trailed off.
"I said no more than everybody knows! He's a murdering traitor, and he'd burn up Hobbits soon as look at them –"
Radagast grabbed Frodo before he could launch himself at the other lad. "Go!" he said sharply, waving the other boy away and waiting until he was out of sight.
"Now Frodo-my-lad, it's time we had some words. I want to hear all you can tell me about Logi."
And when the youngster had finished, the wizard was very thoughtful. He had heard the gossip already, of course, but Frodo's account cast the traitor in a different light entirely. When he asked Canohando what he made of Frodo's story, the Orc's face turned hard.
"Don't ask me, old man. I raised him, and when he asked me for judgment I gave it to him. Most likely he is dead."
"Your judgment was not death?"
"No, but I doubt he is alive, and better so."
But Radagast saw the Commander's eyes before he turned away, grief almost beyond bearing.
He asked no more, but he took young Frodo with him when he left, to keep him out of trouble, so he said. But it was in his mind as well that he did not know Logi, and Frodo did. If he happened on the renegade, the Hobbit was his introduction. For Radagast was unwilling to abandon any creature, however evil other folk might name him, and he had Frodo's testimony that Logi had dealt mercifully with him.
The barbarians came to the Tower at the end of May, but the Guardians were gone. They burned it anyway and those who remained in the Delving crept out to watch the flames on the horizon – the outer walls were stone, of course, but all the wooden-work inside made a mighty blaze. And still Michel Delving continued undiscovered, and the exodus from the Shire went on.
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.