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Following the Other Wizard: journey into healing  by jodancingtree

There were thorn bushes in the Morgai; Frodo remembered those! He  had forgotten  how big they were, ferocious-looking monsters with  foot-long thorns. He gave  them a wide berth, but Radagast examined  them carefully, feeling the leaves and  flexing the branches.

"They  may not be things of beauty, Donkey, but they are healthy. There  must have been some moisture for them to get so  big."

They  passed through the Morgai and came out on Gorgoroth plain. "I  want  to see the worst we have to deal with; then we can go back and work  where  it is not so bad," the wizard said. Frodo nodded. Even Gorgoroth  wasn't too bad,  in his opinion.

Not the way he remembered  it; anything would be better  than that! The sky was clear and  high, the spring sunshine warm on his back. If  the land was barren,  it looked clean, at least. Now and then they found a narrow  stream  feeling its way among the rocks, and along the line of moisture  the thorn  bushes were taking root. Not big like the ones in the  Morgai, but green and  hopeful looking.

They were following  the old road south, staying well  away from the Mountain and the  blackened pit which had been Barad-dur. There  were water holes  at intervals, and at longer intervals, ruined towers which had  been  outposts of the Dark Lord's realm. They approached the first one  they came  to cautiously, going up to it under cover of night.  It was utterly deserted, a  few rusted bits of armor lying in the  courtyard and nothing more. The stone  walls were tumbling down.

"A  good place for snakes," said Radagast, "so  we will leave it for  them. More wholesome inhabitants than lived here before,  and less  dangerous." After that they avoided the abandoned outposts and camped  on the road.  At first they were watchful, remembering Faramir's warnings, but the land seemed empty.  

"I think Faramir can stop sending patrols now," Frodo remarked when they had been there a month, and Radagast nodded.  The paved road ran arrow-straight through a landscape of baked yellow dirt and grey rocks. There was more movement above than on the earth, puffs of cloud drifting across the sky.

They followed the road, but they didn't stay on it. The  water holes were fed by little streams coming down  from the heights – the Ephel  Duath, Mountains of Shadow, loomed  to the west, looking nearly black at this  distance. They followed  each spring as they came to it, looking for life – the  thorn  bushes were what they mostly found, but sometimes there were other  plants  along the watercourse, spiny, starved looking things, but  alive. And Frodo  nearly stepped on a toad one day, its mottled,  warty skin blending with the  yellow soil. He startled himself  as badly as the toad, and Radagast laughed at  them both. Radagast  brought out the seeds that Goldberry had given him, for  plants  with a healing virtue for ruined soil. They planted them in any  spot that  seemed damp enough to bring them to life.

"Give  it a few years, Donkey,  and we'll come by here again, see what's  growing then. When these plants come  up, they'll prepare the ground  for other things."

"What things? How will  they get here,  where nothing has grown in a thousand years?"

Radagast  chuckled.  "Not that long, Frodo. We're a long way from Barad-dur. Sauron's  hand  was not so heavy here, not until the last few years. I think  there are still  seeds in the ground which will sprout, when they  have a little shade to keep  them moist. And other seeds will drift  in, on the wind, on the feet of birds.  There will be green things  here again, where now is rock and barren  dirt."

Then  one morning they found life they had not expected or wanted to  find. Radagast was following one of the little springs, a hundred  yards away from their sleeping place, and Frodo was frying ham  over a small fire  for their breakfast. There was a sudden harsh  voice behind him, and he dropped  the fork and spun around, still  crouched over, feeling for his  sword.


Three  orcs, the small kind, not much more  than a head taller than he  was himself, but barrel-chested and heavily muscled.  They surrounded  him and his little fire with drawn bows, three arrows pointed at  his heart. He let his hand fall away from Sting's hilt. A sword was no use  against archers – he'd have an arrow in his heart before he got it out of the  scabbard. He wondered how far off  Radagast was, hoped he was out of sight.  Wondered why the orcs were standing around him with nocked arrows, why they hadn't already slain him.

His thoughts seemed strangely slowed and dulled, and then Radagast's voice cut through his fear like a brisk  wind.

"Hungry,  lads? We have food enough to share. Sit down, make  yourselves comfortable.  Is that ham about done, Donkey?"

He sounded the same as always, cheerful, unexcited, as if there were nothing out of place in a  party of orcs, armed and hostile, showing up for breakfast.  Frodo ran his tongue over his dry lips and tried to match the calm of the wizard's  voice.

"Yes, it's done."

"Very well, give the first serving to our guests and put some more on  to cook. I'll see what other food we  have."

Our guests.  Just a few more wild things to feed – birds, wolves, bears – now it was orcs. Frodo cut the ham in three portions and piled them on his own wooden trencher. He stood up slowly, expecting any  moment to hear a  bowstring twang and feel an arrow smash into  his chest, and carried it over to  the largest of the orcs.

To  his surprise, the creature jerked its head at  the smallest of  the three, motioning it to take the food. The big one continued  to cover Frodo with his arrow while the others wolfed down their  meat. When they  finished, they nocked their arrows again and the leader  ate the portion they had left  for him.

Frodo backed away and squatted by the fire, put  another piece of ham in the pan, trying to ignore the arrows,  trying  to understand the behavior of these orcs. They had shared the meat,  none  of them trying to snatch it from the others. More, they had  covered each other,  protected each other from danger. His lips  twitched involuntarily at the idea  that he was any danger to these  three, but apparently they thought so.

The glove is quite  on the other hand, lads, he told them  silently.

His experience  of orcs was not wide, but he'd seen enough of  them on the Quest.  More than enough, and he'd never seen any that behaved like  this.  They acted like – friends. He wouldn't have said orcs were capable of friendship.

Radagast came up with his cloak bundled  around something, and  one of the orcs trained an arrow on him.  He chuckled and set the bundle on the  ground, opening it to reveal  a heap of round, crusty loaves of  bread.

"Help yourselves, lads. You can put those bows aside, you know. We  never kill anyone  before breakfast."

Frodo felt a rather hysterical  laughter  rising in him, and bit down hard on his lip. The second piece of  ham  was done, and he cut it up and carried it to the orcs as before.  Radagast put  another piece in the pan and picked up the fork,  ready to turn it  over.

"You'd best get us some water, Donkey."  He looked at the largest of  the orcs. "You can go to the spring with him, if that makes you feel safer."

Frodo picked  up the little water pail. The orc leader glared at him.  "Take  off the sword," it growled. The wizard nodded.

"Yes, of course.  That's what's making them so jumpy. Just unfasten the belt and  let it drop,  Donkey."

Frodo obeyed, hating to do it. To let Sting fall to the ground like that – he had never treated it so. Forged by the Eldar in ages past, given  to him by Bilbo  when he set out on the Quest – the sword was his greatest  treasure,  along with Arwen's jewel, which hung at his throat, hidden beneath his  shirt. But he would not disobey Radagast, and he could see  the sense in the  command. He let belt and sword fall to the ground,  and the orc relaxed a little,  lowered his bow, though he still  held the arrow nocked and ready.

"Go, and do not try to run! I am following you."

He walked to the spring, returned to camp and hung the pail over the fire, shadowed by the orc at  every  step. Radagast had set a portion of ham aside for him. The  wizard sat placidly  eating his own meal, the smaller orcs watching  him warily while they tore at  pieces of bread. They had put down  their their bows in order to eat, but their  free hands held unpleasant-looking  hooked knives. The leader said something  sharp to them in their  own language, and one of them shrugged and tucked the  bread inside his leather tunic, picking up his bow and aiming at Frodo  again.

"Sit.  There, by your master. Eat." The big orc glowered at Frodo,  and  he took his breakfast and went to sit by Radagast.

"We have not come to do you harm," the wizard said, looking up at the leader.  "You'd better sit  down and eat, and we will talk things over,  you and I."

The orc grunted,  going over to help himself  to bread, a loaf in each hand. "What did you come  for, old man?  Men still come from Gondor, hunting orcs, but they come in force.  Not an old man and a–" he looked at Frodo and shook his head,  as if he couldn't  think what to call him. He stood before them  tense and suspicious, ready to  defend himself from any attack,  tearing at the bread with blackened teeth.

"I am a healer,  for wild things and for the land. This halfling is my  friend  and companion. We do not come from Gondor."

"A healer, eh?  For  wild things. Is an orc a wild thing?"

Frodo bit off  a great chunk of  bread to stop himself from laughing. He knew  these orcs might turn on them at  any second, but the wizard's  relaxed composure was heartening, and the orc's  question struck  him as hilarious. I hope I never see anything wilder, he  thought.

"Are  you in need of a healer?" said Radagast.

The orc  said something  in his own tongue to the other two, and they came and stood on  either  side of Frodo and the wizard, arrows at the ready. The leader crammed  the  last piece of bread in his mouth and unfastened his dirty  leather tunic, peeling  it back from his right shoulder and turning  around. There was a suppurating  wound above his shoulder blade,  as if an arrowhead had been torn out of it and  infection had set  in.

"Do you heal orcs, old man?"

Radagast got up and came over to him, examining the wound, running his hands over the grey, warty skin around it.

"How long since you got this?"

"A  moon ago.  Maybe more. Do you heal orcs?" he asked again.

"I  heal any creature that  needs my help," Radagast said quietly.  "Donkey, get my packet of herbs, and look  in my sack for some  bandages." He drew the orc over near the fire. "Sit down so  I  can work on you. What is your name?"

The orc snarled, but  he sat. "You  heal wild things, you said. Do they tell you their  names?"

Radagast was  tossing herbs into the water that  hung steaming over the fire, and folding a  length of bandage into  a poultice. He smiled. "Sometimes they do, if they can  speak.  Otherwise I give them a name of my own choosing. Shall I give you  a  name?"

The orc made a harsh, guttural noise that sounded,  unbelievably,  like laughter. "What would you name me, old man?"

The  wizard soaked his  poultice in the fragrant herb broth, lifted  it out with a peeled stick and laid  it, steaming, on one of the  empty trenchers. "Let it cool a bit," he said. "What  would I name  you?" He sat back on his heels, considering. "I know very little  of  the Orkish dialects," he said apologetically. "But Quenya might  be more  suitable, considering…"

The orc growled, lowering  his brows, but Radagast  took no notice. "Canohando, I will call  you. 'Wise Commander'. You showed good  judgment, waiting to see  if we were enemies. Many would have killed without  finding out."

"It  was good for you, old man, and for your  slave."

Radagast  eased the orc's tunic down around his waist, revealing a  mass  of healed scars all over his back, what looked like old burns. He  held the  poultice against the wound, and Canohando shuddered,  but made no sound.

"He is not my slave. He is my companion,  and I doubt you will meet  anyone else of like stature, in your  lifetime."

The orc swung his head  around to stare at Frodo,  sitting on the ground feeding the fire with dry thorn  canes. One archer still guarded him; the other was watching Radagast  as though he feared some treachery.

"His stature is small  enough, if that is what you mean."

"That is not what I  mean. Donkey, come  here."

Frodo came to stand by them,  and Radagast reached out and pulled  his shirt open, exposing his  left shoulder. "How did you come by that  scar?"

A chill  ran down Frodo's spine, but he answered steadily, "The  Witch King's  knife."

The orcs started violently and the smaller ones  took a step back, but Canohando leaned forward, staring into Frodo's  face as if  he wanted to pry into his mind.

Radagast took  Frodo's hand, held it up so  the orcs could see. "Where is your  finger, Donkey?"

He swallowed hard  before he spoke. This  is when they will slay me. "It fell into the  Mountain, with  the Ring."

There was a furious roar behind him, and an  arrow  sailed past his head. He felt frozen in the moment, unable to move,  watching it fall to the ground many yards away, waiting for the  next one, which  would not miss. His muscles tensed, anticipating  the impact, the slam of an iron  point into his back. Canohando  shouted a command, and the other orcs snarled in protest but obeyed,  throwing their bows down on the ground.

"Explain!" he  demanded.

Radagast  made a long story of it, with heavy emphasis  on the corrupting  nature of the Ring. The way he told it, it was inevitable that  Frodo  would have claimed the thing; the only wonder was that he had resisted  right to the very Crack of Doom. The way he told it, it was Frodo's  own mercy,  his mercy for Gollum, that saved him in the end.

The  orcs followed the  tale with frightening intensity. At the mention  of Shelob, Canohando stiffened.  When he heard that Frodo had been  bitten by the Spider and captured by orcs of  the high pass, he  silenced Radagast with a gesture and jerked Frodo to the  ground  beside him, yanking his shirt roughly away from his neck. He fingered  the old scar, his claws sharp against the hobbit's skin, his hands  hot as if he  burned with fever.

"Orcs saved you that time,"  he growled.

"Yes."  Frodo had never thought of it that way,  but it was true. It was the orcs who had  known he was not dead,  when Sam had been blinded by grief. Apart from Shagrat's  patrol,  he would have been left for dead in the pass, until Shelob returned…  Of  course, what the orcs were saving him for – that might  be better left  unsaid, with this one gripping his shoulder like  a vise.

The orcs laughed  uproariously at the idea of the  hobbits trying to keep up on a forced march, and  Canohando spat  disgustedly.

"Stupid Uruks, not to see you were no orcs!  Bone between their ears. You wouldn't have got by me, if I'd been  there!" And  Frodo could believe it. There was nothing stupid about this orc.

The tale wound to its end, and there  was silence. At last Canohando  spoke, and his voice was heavy.  Wrath, or something else?

"Mordor was  full of orcs. Full.  All races, all kindreds. Thousands." He stood up, shaking  off  Radagast, who was still holding the compress to his wound. He looked  off in  the distance, turning around to stare in all directions,  then glared down at  Frodo.

"All gone now, all dead. I ought to kill you, little rat! Because of you –" Frodo met his gaze  without flinching, and the orc looked away. "Only  us left now, three of us. We met another, westward by the mountains, a moon ago.  He followed behind us, unseen, and put an arrow in my back." He  nodded to the  smaller of his companions. "Yarga killed him. So  – I will not kill you. I am  sick of death, and the healer makes  a good poultice."

He sat down, his head between his knees, and Radagast returned to working on his back, pressing  on the  sides of the wound and wiping it clean. "There's another compress  soaking there, Donkey – lift it out to cool, and get me some  dry bandages, there's a  good lad."

He bound the fresh compress  over the wound, and helped the orc  pull his garment back over  the bandages. "How is it that you travel together,  you three –  and Yarga kills to protect you?"

The orc exhaled noisily. "I was a messenger, sent out from Lugburz. The Mountain belched  fire and the earth  twisted under my feet.The road broke open and there was fire everywhere, and fumes that burned my breath."  He shivered at the memory. "I ran, not seeing, not knowing, and  pain ran with me. I fainted, and when I came to myself again, I was  in one of the small outposts, and these two were putting wet  cloths on my skin." He looked at the other orcs, and his eyes  kindled. "They are my right hand and  my left. Yarga. Lash. I would  kill for them."

Like the Fellowship, Frodo thought. Like Sam and me. I would kill, even now, to save Sam.

Yarga spoke for the first time. "We were stationed in one of the forts along  the road,  and when the Mountain roared, the earth opened and the  fort –" He shook his head  as if he still didn't believe it. "There was a hole in the ground, huge, gaping open, and the fort tipped to one side and just – slid into it, orcs, weapons,  everything. They were screaming… We were coming in the gate from outside and  I  fell, I was sliding into the pit, and Lash grabbed my arm and  dragged me back, and we ran."

"Until you came to the outpost,"  Radagast said.

Yarga  nodded. "It was deserted; I don't know where they all went. We ran a long way. And a day later he came, out of his head, burned… He fell down senseless right in  front of us."

"I thought he was dead," said Lash. "Everyone was gone, it was just Yarga and me, and this one comes along and dies at our feet.Then I saw he was breathing, so we cared for him. Three is better than two."

"What do you do now? How do you live?"

Canohando shrugged. "We go from one outpost to another, hunting. Not near the Mountain; not by Lugburz. The earth is burned black there, and around the Mountain is grey ash up  to my hips."

"And what do you hunt?"

"Rats. Snakes. There are enough to keep us fed. And other orcs, to not be so  alone, but those we do not  find. Only corpses, sometimes, near the western border. The Men of  Gondor…"

"Only one orc we found alive," Yarga said, "and him I killed."

Radagast put away his packet of herbs, and Frodo went to the spring for more water. The orcs made no protest, and he boiled the water and  made tea. He carried the first mug to Canohando, and the orc glowered at him.

"What is this?"

"Give it to me, Donkey,"  said the wizard. He swallowed it down, showing his pleasure in  the drink. Finally he said, "It warms the heart and brightens  the spirits. Also it aids healing."

The orc looked over  at Frodo, who was warming his hands in the steam of his own mug, between sips. Radagast passed his mug to the orc, and Frodo got  up and refilled it. Canohando drank slowly, watching their faces. Finally he handed the empty  mug back to Frodo and jerked his head toward the other orcs. Frodo filled the mugs once more and carried them to Lash and Yarga.

"That shoulder will need tending for many days," said Radagast. "You are welcome to travel with us until it is healed."

"Where are you going, old man? What are you doing in  Mordor?"

"I told you I am a healer. The very earth needs a healer here."

Canohando grunted.

"In past years, before the Dark Lord returned, there was good hunting in Mordor." It was Lash, his voice filled with regret. "Not just rats and snakes, those days. Conies, foxes. There were fish in the streams, and in the mountains there were bears. All gone now."

"What keeps you here, in this ruined land?" asked Radagast.

Lash looked surprised at the question. "Mordor is our home. Where would we go?"

"To the West are the Men of Gondor," Canohando said heatedly. "South is Harad – we would find no welcome there…"

His voice died away, and Radagast said softly, "You would find no welcome anywhere, even among your own kind."

Canohando stood up and went to Lash, pulling open his tunic and turning him to face the wizard. The orc's bare chest was scarred all over, a crisscross of white lines on the rough grey skin. "His back is the same, and so is Yarga's. So was mine, before the fire. Big orcs beat small orcs. Now the whips are all burned up, and we do not seek to find them again."

"So Mordor is your  land, and you do not wish to leave. Will you help to heal  it?"

That was how it happened, and even years later it was a wonder to Frodo when he remembered it. The orcs stayed with him and Radagast, and every day the wizard poulticed and pressed the infected wound, until the infection subsided and it healed to just another scar on the horribly scarred back.The orcs hunted as they went along, rats and snakes as they had said, and even  offered to share their  meat.

Radagast refused the rats, courteously, but the day Yarga brought in a slender red snake, he accepted a share, to Frodo's horror.

"Now, Donkey, would you have them think us ungrateful? This, at least, of everything they have offered  us, I know how to cook so we can eat it!  Wait and see."

The orcs ate theirs raw, as they ate most things, but they gathered  around the fire to watch the wizard at his cooking, and they willingly tasted the meat when it was done. Frodo choked his piece down by sheer willpower, trying not to show his disgust, but the orcs  smacked their lips and came back for more, sitting around the fire as the evening darkened and the stars came out, and it reminded  Frodo of nothing so much as long-ago camping trips with his cousins, in the far-off Shire.

Then he looked across the campfire and saw Yarga staring at him, his eyes like black holes in his face, picking his teeth with his knife.


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