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Following the Other Wizard: journey into healing  by jodancingtree

26. Light-bearer

Radagast and Frodo waited only to see the orcs out of sight before they broke camp and left Barad-dur, never to return. Indeed, had Radagast wanted to go back, Frodo could not have borne it. For months afterward his sleep was broken as nightmares brought him again and again to the edge of the abyss, Yarga's knife at his throat, Yarga's voice... The grace of peacefulness he had known in reality was absent in his dreams, and he woke always in a cold sweat, moaning.

"It will pass, Donkey, it will pass," Radagast murmured in the darkness, wrapping a blanket around him and holding his trembling form tight until he calmed. "You have a strong spirit, but the body will have its say, even when the danger is no more."

"Is it truly no more? You don't think Yarga will follow us, even now?" Frodo was not afraid in the daytime, but when he was asleep it was another matter.

"He will not follow. You have won your wager, Frodo; take comfort in it! Those orcs, whatever they may become, will never be what they were before they met you. You gave them hope and they took hold of it, all three of them, each in his own way. I am glad indeed that you came with me to Mordor in all my desire to heal this wasted land, it had not even occurred to me to hope for this, that the curse of Morgoth might be lifted from any of his victims!"

Frodo let himself be comforted, and fell back into sleep. Gradually the nightmares came less often, until they came no more.

They spent the summer in the western mountains, not hiding this time. Several times they encountered patrols from Ithilien and sent messages to the King, greetings and well wishes. Near the end of summer they were tracked down deliberately by Elessar's men, bearing gifts soft, light blankets of Elven weave, a packet of delicate tea, a small vial of miruvor, the reviving cordial of the Elves, and best of all, to Frodo's mind, a goodly supply of the finest Longbottom Leaf, the seal of the Shire still on it, and a couple of new pipes.

"The King greets you and wishes you all success in your chosen task," the Captain of the patrol told them, standing stiff and formal to deliver his message. "He says further that any creature of any kind whatsoever, that you may take under your protection, is in his keeping as well, so long as it remains with you."

Radagast looked at Frodo. "I think a letter is in order, King's Friend, to apprise Elessar of what became of the creatures whose protection we claimed in his name, last time we passed this way. Will you write it?"

So Frodo accepted writing materials from the Captain and wrote to Aragorn, telling of the orcs and what became of them, but glossing over his own danger. "They are gone into the northern mountains, far to the East," he finished his account, "and I doubt they will come this far West again. Truly they are much changed from what they were, and I, Frodo, ask that the King's blessing may be on them."

He thought for a moment, rubbing the pen against the side of his nose, and added, "We thank you, both Radagast and I, for all your gifts and especially for the pipeweed! If you have occasion to send a message to the Shire, will you send word from me to Samwise? Tell him I am well, and I have not forgotten him. With all respect and affection, your faithful subject, Frodo Baggins."

They parted from the patrol with many bows and expressions of courtesy, but in truth, Frodo was not sorry to be on their own again. And that evening, sitting by the fire, he breathed deep of the fragrance of the packet of leaf before he filled his pipe.

"You may go home, you know Donkey, anytime you like." Radagast was regarding him with some concern, and Frodo smiled.

"No, I am not yet ready to leave you, Aiwendil!* But it is good, all the same, to catch a whiff of home. I hope Aragorn will pass on my greeting to Sam."

"I think you can be sure of that, Donkey. Probably with a rather complete account of your doings, as far as Elessar knows them."

Frodo laughed. "I'd like to hear what Sam says if he hears about the orcs! Ten to one he won't believe a word of it."

When autumn came they turned again toward Nurn. This time they were not stopped at the border, and Radagast looked his fill at the land and went out with the fishing boats on the Sea of Nurnen, standing in the bow with his robes blowing around him, gazing to the East. He was delighted with everything he saw the land was in good heart, and the former slaves had chosen headmen and wisewomen who kept the peace as well as could be expected, after centuries of enslavement. At least there was still freedom, and no new oppressor had arisen to drag the folk back into servitude. But his face when he looked to the East was unreadable, and Frodo wondered what was in his mind.

They spent the winter in Nurn and the spring in the Morgai. They had gathered seeds from their plantings at the end of the previous summer and they journeyed as they had before, planting any spot that seemed wet enough to bring the seeds to growth. But now as they traveled they passed many little stands of grass where there had been none before, patches of green scattered here and there in the grey land, and in the shade of the thorn bushes a few little trees were springing up, thin and pliable as whips, of some species that could endure the harshness of the land.

In summer they returned to the western mountains, but farther to the south than they had yet gone, and they met no patrols from Gondor this year. There were many valleys where the trees were thrice Radagast's height, young trees growing among rotten old stumps that testified that this forest, too, had been cut down in the Dark Years.

"It is healing itself, Radagast!" Frodo exulted. "We have never come this way before, and it is healing all the same!" He strode ahead of the wizard, a slight figure but wiry and strong, his step vigorous. A squirrel scolded from a branch above him, and Frodo pursed his lips and chattered back at it, sounding like a squirrel himself. Radagast laughed aloud, and it was not only the healing of the forest that gladdened his heart.

For more than a score of years they ranged the land, following the seasons from Gorgoroth to the mountains and back again, but never venturing into the northeast, where the orcs had gone. They did not talk of the orcs, but they came many times to Frodo's mind. He hoped they still lived, that no enemy had found and slain them, as the men of Ithilien would have done. He hoped they had found a home to their liking in the far eastern mountains. Often and often his thoughts returned to them, and he wished blessing on them.

At last one year he turned to the East when the summer's heat drove them out of Gorgoroth. Without a plan or a word spoken, one morning he doused the breakfast fire and shouldered his pack, and not even glancing at Radagast he faced the sun where it hung over the horizon and began to walk. The wizard followed him, and it was a strange thing, because always before Radagast had been the leader who said where they would go, and when.

After some days they came to the mountain spur that jutted down from the Ered Lithui along the border of Gorgoroth, and Frodo turned north, choosing a way through the hills but not up into the mountains, pushing always into the northeast. The farther they traveled, the greener the land became, second-growth forest springing up around them, the stumps of the older, devastated woods no more than moss-covered humps among the new trees.

The end of summer found them far to the east, past the spur and deep into the northern range. This forest was older, with no sign that it had ever been felled. There was little undergrowth; the tall trees had shaded out their lesser brethren, and Frodo and Radagast wandered at will with no need of a path.

And then one afternoon they found a path. It was clear on the forest floor and it ran east, straight as an arrow. Frodo stood looking at it, then glanced around in all directions, listening. There was only the sound of the birds high in the trees, the movement of flocks gathering for the long flight south. Finally he walked a stone's throw away and sat down, dropping his pack with a sigh.

"What now, Donkey?" Radagast asked. "Do we wait for them to find us?"

"I suppose. That would be better than walking in on them uninvited, would it not? In case they do not wish to see us." Frodo dug into his pack and extracted his pipe and tinderbox. He leaned back against a tree smoking, lost in thought.

Radagast busied himself scraping away a patch of forest duff to make a firepit. He began cooking supper, and the aroma of meat and onions gathered around them and was carried away on the evening air. They ate without talking as the dim light under the trees faded. When they had finished, Radagast built up the little fire again so it shone gold and orange in the darkness, and he brought out his flute. Frodo lay back on his blanket, watching the flickering light and listening to the wizard's music.

They heard no footstep, but suddenly there were bird sounds mingling in the music, birds that had no place in that deep forest, the chuckling of waterfowl and the noisy honking of migrating geese. Frodo sat up, grinning, staring into the darkness at the edge of the firelight.

"Lash!" he called. "Come and drink a mug of tea with us, Lash!"

The honking geese changed to the sound of gulls screaming over the water, and Lash walked into the light and squatted by the wizard. He gave a final blast, the raucous duck cry he had made the day Radagast first gave him the flute, and tucked it into his belt.

He was unchanged, and yet utterly changed. Ugly as he had ever been, bow-legged and barrel-chested, his smile ragged with broken teeth but even in the firelight Frodo could see the happiness on his face, the deep contentment.

"I thought you would come someday, Healer. I told them you would come. You and the Light-bearer."

Frodo started to protest at the new title so suddenly bestowed on him, but Lash shook his head.

"You carried the Ring to the Mountain, but it was light you brought to us, light and hope. You are welcome here."

He pulled out his flute once more and blew into it, and it was not bird cries now, but music, discordant and strange, compelling, and totally unlike anything Frodo had ever heard. Then there was a drum far out in the darkness, answering, coming nearer, and Frodo tensed, waiting for Yarga to appear. But it was Canohando who stepped out from behind the trees, the drum slung across his shoulder so he could play as he walked.

Frodo got up and went to meet him. The drum stopped abruptly in the middle of a phrase, and Canohando pushed it aside and caught the hobbit, pulling him right off his feet into an embrace that was at once fierce and gentle. Frodo clung to him, and when the orc set him down again there were tears in the hobbit's eyes.

"You're alive!" He was laughing through his tears, and Canohando stood with a hand on his shoulder, watching him. At last he calmed and turned to the fire, but Radagast was there already, and the tea was made.

"Were you so afraid for me, runt?" The orc sat by the fire as he had so many times, his mug in his hand, and it was as if the years had rolled back. But there were only two orcs.

"I was afraid for all of you, for who is there, who is not your enemy? But where is Yarga?"

Canohando put another stick of wood on the fire before he answered, poking it until it blazed up and the light was strong. "Yarga is dead these nine years," he said at last, his eyes intent on Frodo. "Will you mourn for him?"

Frodo met his look without dissembling. "Yes, I will mourn for him." He moved around the fire to sit by Canohando, his shoulder against the orc's side. "I can see you grieve, even now. How did he die?"

"What did I tell you of orcs, runt? We live until we are slain. He was slain, in the fields of Nurn."

"You went back there "

"We went back to trade my flutes," said Lash. "We had gone two or three times before, no more than that, for it is a long way. We stopped at the border and the folk would come and trade with us, for they have things we cannot make." He smiled at Radagast. "Things you taught us to want cooking pots, tea and they liked my flutes, so they were willing.

"But that time we crossed the border, for there was a noise of battle in the distance and a great column of smoke going up. We had come to like the folk well enough, and there was trouble."

"It was a party of orcs," Canohando took up the tale. "We had passed them sometimes in the mountains, but they were unchanged from the Dark Years and so we kept to ourselves. They came to take what they wanted in Nurn, or maybe to make themselves masters there again, I do not know. They had killed many of the folk and fired the village before we came. They were many, but our arrows brought them down."

He fell silent, staring into the fire. "And Yarga?" Frodo asked finally.

"Yarga had used up all his arrows," Lash said. "A big orc rose up behind Canohando with a battle ax in his hands, and Yarga shouted a warning but he did not hear. Yarga threw himself in the way maybe he thought he could unbalance him, throw him over backward, but the ax caught Yarga in the side. Then Canohando heard and he turned and slew that orc with his own ax, but it was too late."

"He died in my arms." Canohando's voice was flat and he did not weep, but Frodo could feel him trembling. He took the orc's hand and held it in both of his, leaning his cheek against it. Truly, truly he grieved for Yarga, hearing how he had died.

Lash touched Canohando's arm. "They gave him a warrior's funeral pyre, the people of Nurn. Others had seen the smoke and come to help, but it was already over. It was good that there were some of the folk who knew us, and a few in the village still alive who could say we had not been with the attackers! They buried their own dead in the ground, but that is not our custom, so they made a pyre for Yarga and sent him off with music and drumming."

Canohando pulled his drum forward so Frodo could see. "We sent a drum with him, but not his own. This he gave me, to remember him, before he died. To remember him," he repeated, and he bowed his head and moaned deep in his throat.

"We remember him also, and with honor," Radagast said. "He cast off Morgoth's hold indeed, and gave his life for his friend. You made a song for him?"

Lash nodded and put his flute to his lips. He waited until Canohando began a pulsing rhythm, like a heart beating, and then the flute wound over and under and around the drum, and the drum speeded up like one who runs into battle, shouting defiance at the foe, and the flute shrilled a battle cry. Canohando began to sing, and the uncouth Orkish was suited to the music and was even beautiful, because it fit so well. Frodo could see the battle as it unfolded in the song, and Yarga's cry of warning and the fatal stroke of the ax. He heard Canohando's rage as he brought down the assailant, and his terrible sorrow at Yarga's death. And then the drum stopped and Canohando's voice was still and the flute went on alone, and it sang of freedom. Another flute joined in, and it was Radagast. He blended his playing to Lash's music, and then he drew it to a deeper pitch and it sang of going home. And then there was silence but for Canohando's choked weeping, as if he were torn asunder by his grief, even after so many years. Frodo wrapped his arms around him and the orc leaned against him till the hobbit was nearly overborne by the weight, and scalding tears fell on his neck.

At last it was over. Canohando straightened up and rubbed his wet face with his hands and shook his hair out of his eyes.

"There are four orcs now," he said, and Frodo grinned.

"I am glad to hear it, but how?"

"I have sons," said Lash, and looked embarrassed as Frodo jumped up to shake his hand and congratulate him.

"You have found a mate," said Radagast, beaming, and Canohando grunted.

"Not an orc," he said. "One of the women of Nurn, who survived the attack on that village. She followed him into the mountains; all the way here she followed him! She would not be left behind."

Lash shrugged. "Her family were all slain she was driven mad by grief. But she is a good wife."


* Aiwendil - "Bird-tamer", Radagast's Quenya name.

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