The Grey at the End of the World: 3. Where There's Smoke

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3. Where There's Smoke

Canohando lay under a tree with his head in his mate's lap. His eyes were shut against a sunbeam that had snaked its way through the foliage above, but he was awake. Malawen was running a tortoise-shell comb through his hair.

"It's getting long again. Shall I braid it for you?"

"Braid it or cut it. I don't like it falling in my eyes."

Malawen wrinkled her nose. "You always cut it short before you go to battle. I would rather see it in plaits." She parted his hair down the middle and sectioned off the front. "You'll have to sit up when I get to the back."

"Yes, Captain. Only command me and I obey."

She gazed out over the river as she braided; many times she had done this for him, and had no need to watch her fingers. The tree that shaded them was massive and old, but it stood nearly alone in a broad grassy area before their home; Canohando would not have their view of the country impeded, for this was a fortress before anything else, and he would permit no enemy to take them unaware. But the walls of rough granite were surrounded, incongruously, by flowers, for he would give joy to his beloved, and he also liked to walk the garden pathways when he had leisure for it. This was Sarn Ford, where the old Road came up from Dunland, and to the Commander's mind it was the most critical of the Shire's defenses.

He did not anticipate danger in the North. There were still forts there, but the territory beyond the Shire was nearly deserted now. For over a thousand years the sons of Elessar had kept the peace from Minas Ithil to the Gulf of Lhun, but the waning of their power was farther in the past than that, and for thrice that time the Guardians had kept the Shire.

The Guardians, his children and grandchildren. They had every one of them been faithful to their trust; even Logi Greyskin had grown into a warrior worthy of the name, bold and wily in battle, if somewhat erratic in obeying orders. Canohando had an eye on him to command one of the border fortresses, in a few years when he steadied down a bit.

They needed new captains; they had lost too many men in recent years, holding the Shire secure. At the insistence of the Mayor, the fallen Guardians were buried in Hobbiton in the West Farthing, where the Ring-bearer himself slept underneath the sod. Twice yearly Canohando journeyed to Bag End, to visit the little graveyard and take counsel with the Mayor. For that dignitary still served his term, twelve years instead of seven, though elections had become more form than substance. There would have been considerable dismay if anyone but some descendant of Old Sam had been named to the honor.

Some Hobbits, with a taste for ancient lore, knew the story of the Ring War. A few had even read Frodo's Memoirs and so heard of Canohando of Mordor, who befriended the Ring-bearer in the years after the War. No one really believed the Commander was the same person; it was assumed he must be a descendant, which explained both his appearance and his name. Occasionally someone would ask him how many generations separated him from the Orc of legend. Canohando always answered truthfully, but his words were taken as jest, and occasioned a great deal of innocent mirth. Since he joined in the laughter and never seemed offended, no harm was done. The Memoirs made no mention of Malawen.

So the centuries slid by, not without event, but change came slowly and the Shire was adaptable. The land of the Hobbits was still unmistakably Frodo's country.

There was a faint drumming in the distance and Malawen's hands grew still; she leaned forward trying to see around the tree.

"What's that? Do you hear horses?"

Canohando got to his feet unhurriedly, helping her up, but his other hand went by habit to his swordhilt.

"One horse only, but ridden hard. I do not think we will have any more leisure today, melethril. Come inside the walls."

She obeyed without demur; many times in the past his instinct for danger had saved them. They had just reached the fortress gate when the horseman appeared, a young man with flying hair that struck sparks from the sun, riding without saddle or bridle. He flung himself to earth almost before the horse stopped running, and ran to salute the Orc with his fist over his heart.

"Haldar!" Malawen exclaimed, and he bent quickly to kiss her cheek, but his words were for Canohando.

"Adah, there is trouble in the North! We saw smoke four days ago, and a patrol rode out to see. They said it looked as if all Chetwood were ablaze, and half the population of Bree was fleeing down the Road. They'd been attacked by a horde of barbarians, and those who escaped alive called themselves lucky! We have men scouting the area, but we haven't the numbers to challenge them outright. We need you there as quickly as may be."

Canohando stared into the North as if he might see the smoke for himself, but there was only a haze of woodland in the distance, rolling away in gentle hills. "Very well, bring your horse, and the stable lads will see to him. Come break your fast, and tell me all you can."

But there was little to tell. Haldar gulped his ale thirstily, but he waved aside the beef and bread that Malawen proffered.

"I ate dried meat on the way; I am not hungry. But I rode without stopping, only to change horses; I am fit to sleep here on your solar floor! All I know is what I told you, Adah. There was no warning. We had visitors from the town not long ago; they wanted some mares bred to that stallion that won the long race at the Autumn Meet."

"All was quiet then? Did they bring any news?" The Orc sat methodically scraping a stick of wood with his knife, a heap of wood shavings piling on the floor between his feet. Malawen looked at the mess but didn't speak.

"Nothing much. They'd had uncommonly good hunting since mid-winter – so many deer, they were a threat to the orchards. They'd been feasting on venison, though it was the wrong time of year; they brought us several fine haunches, actually."

Canohando's eyes narrowed. "Game moving, in multitude? No one wondered what was driving them out of their home range?"

Haldar looked abashed. "I'm sorry, Adah, I should have thought of that! And I call myself a woodsman –"

"There are older heads than yours that should have thought. They might have been prepared. What of Fornost?"
"Nothing, not a word."

Fornost, standing guard on the Northern Downs. A thousand years after the city was abandoned, the fortress was maintained.

"You should have heard from Fornost." Canohando got up stiffly.

"Get some rest, lad. There's still a bed for you in Logi's chamber. By the time you wake up, we will be ready to ride. Where is Logi while you're sent down south here? I had thought the two of you fastened hip-to-hip, so seldom I've seen one without the other."

"He's with the scouts. He knows every path in the Old Forest, and he has no fear." There was pride in the young voice, and Canohando hid a smile behind his hand. Plainly Haldar still hero-worshipped his elder cousin.

"Still hunts the Forest, does he? Why should that surprise me? And you go with him?" He regarded the lad fondly; his great-grandson, but tall and fair of face, like the Elves of old.

"We run well together," Haldar agreed. "We haven't forgotten how to tame the trees; remember how you taught us? No one else dares hunt there; it's our private game preserve."

Malawen smiled on him, smoothing the blond hair back from his forehead. "The perfect partnership of Orc and Elf. If we had been joined in such friendship long ago, how different the story of Arda might have been!"

"If only Orcs had been free to form such friendships," said Canohando. "Make sure he gets some sleep, Elfling, or he'll sit here the next hour and make conversation, like a Hobbit. I must set the fort in order and send out messengers. Are you coming?"

He left it up to her; he did not say, I ride to war; your place is here at home, nor yet, I want you by my side. But their eyes met in the understanding of many dangers faced and surviveded together.

"I'll get our things together as soon as I've seen Haldar off to bed. Packhorse, or saddlebags only?"

"No baggage, melethril. Weapons and a change of clothes – this is a race, who first shall reach the Bridge."

*Adah – Grandpa

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

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