37. The House of a Hundred Windows
"I have already sent off a messenger to Minas Tirith with the Queen's letter," he added in an undertone to Canohando as he handed the little scroll back to the Orc. "I expect a reply in three or four weeks. I would be grateful if you will stop by here again, a month from now."
Canohando regarded him beneath lowered brows. "I will do that, if it pleases you, Captain. But I wonder why you admit me to the Shire, if you have doubts about the letter."
The man smiled slightly. "The King had already opened the border for you, Sir Orc. But his Lady Mother wrote of another matter besides, which requires his attention. Come back in a month and I may be able to tell you more; in the meantime, welcome to the Shire!"
They left the fortress through a door on the Shire side of the gate, passing by several little groups of soldiers who eyed them curiously, especially the Orc. A mile down the road they came in sight of a wooden bridge with high railings, wide enough to drive two hobbit farm-carts across, side by side. The sound of the River came to them clearly, for the bridge had been built over a stretch of rapids, where the water was pinched into a narrow channel between high banks. Before they reached it, however, Farador turned aside down a wide, dusty road.
"My cousin Flora lives about five minutes from here; we'll stop on our way and say hello. She never used to believe the old stories, when we were children. Said Gandalf was no more than a bogeyman to frighten us into being good, and as for Elves --!" His face was alive with mischief. "We'll give her something to make her open her eyes."
Radagast chuckled. "A bit older than yourself, is she? Just enough to think herself much wiser than her little kinsman."
Farador nodded, his grin positively wicked. "Oh-h-h, yes! Ever so much wiser!"
He led them up a path bordered with rounded clumps of heartsease in pastel colors, to a blue door that was split across the middle: the top half stood open, and they could see a bright rag rug on the polished floor just inside, and a passage opening from each side of the little entrance hall.
"Oh, Flora!" Farador called, rapping his knuckles on the bottom half of the door. There was no answer, and he sang out again, louder. But when he had called the third time, shouting into the smial so that his voice seemed to bounce off the curved walls, and still there was no answer, he turned a worried look on his companions.
"Wait here a minute. She wouldn't go off and leave the door half-open, she's such a fuss-budget. I'd better see if I can find her." He went in and disappeared down the right-hand passage.
He was gone a long time. When he returned at length, he was more sober-faced than they had yet seen him.
"Her twins have taken ill. The healer's here, but he can't get the fever down, and they're crying with pain. Will you come and have a look, Radagast? It took us both to talk my cousin into asking you, but the healer says he'd be glad of your advice."
"Of course." The wizard ducked under the low doorway, following Farador around the corner and out of sight. A few minutes later the hobbit came back alone.
"He's going to stay and do what he can," he reported, coming out and closing both halves of the door behind him. "But I think we'd better go along to the Hall; my father is expecting us, and besides, he'll want to know the fever has broken out in Buckland. I'm glad we met up with Radagast! I hope he'll be able to help."
He had nothing more to say as they went back out to the road. The river was out of sight, hidden behind a screen of brush and willows, but they could hear the water clearly in the silence. Canohando held Malawen's hand, and after a while he laid his other hand lightly on Farador's shoulder.
"The old man is a skillful healer," he said. "I remember Ninefingers had the fever one time, when we traveled together, and the Brown One cured him."
The hobbit looked up at him gratefully, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "Did he? That's good to hear. Flora's lasses are the cunningest little things, all curls and dimples, and usually they're climbing all over me when I stop by. It was awful to see them lying there crying how their legs hurt…"
They came finally to a great hill that bordered the road on the side away from the river. It was flanked on either side by sturdy stone structures, stables and outbuildings, but the hill itself was pierced by a great many round windows, large and small, scattered across its face in the most haphazard fashion, and the entire surface was festooned with a luxuriant growth of ivy, so that whatever was not polished glass was a confusion of shining leaves.
A large wooden door was set into the hillside, and as they approached, it swung open. A young hobbit, his sandy hair a tousled mop which nearly hid his eyes, stood in the entrance.
"Hurry up, Farador, your father's waiting! Is that the Orc, then?" He brushed the hair out of his eyes with one grubby hand, his gaze traveling up Canohando's body to stop at his face. His rosy mouth opened in a round O of astonishment. "Welcome to Brandy Hall, sir," he gasped, bobbing an awkward bow without looking away. "Farador," he added in an urgent whisper, "he's grey!"
Canohando gave a snort of laughter, and Farador turned red with embarrassment.
"Don't mind my cousin," he said. "He never reads anything at all, so of course he's bone ignorant. Rabby, shut your mouth, for pity's sake, and go tell them to get a couple of guestrooms ready. I'll take them up to meet Father."
The maligned cousin closed his mouth as ordered and scurried away, and Farador led Canohando and Malawen across a stone-paved room, spotted with sunlight from the many windows, and into a hallway at the far end.
Malawen clung tight to Canohando's hand, staring about her at the rounded walls, like tunnels delved into the hill. The passage was wide enough for three hobbits to walk abreast, and well-lit by torches set in brackets on the walls. But there were places where the Orc's head barely cleared the ceiling, and there were many cross-passages and turns, and very soon the visitors would have had a hard time finding their way back to the beginning.
At last they came to a long, shallow stairway that wound up past several landings before they emerged at the top. They found themselves in a round hall with at least a dozen windows looking out over the River on one side, but Farador gave them no time to enjoy the view, turning at once to knock lightly on a door in the opposite wall.
It opened immediately.
"Come in, come in." A hobbit of middle years, neat in appearance and benevolent of countenance, held open the door and urged them inside. "I am Gorbidas, Farador's uncle, and you are Canohando the Orc, is that correct? The very same who is described so unforgettably in the Memoirs of Frodo Baggins: Travels with the Wizard of Rhosgobel – dear me, dear me! It is an honor to meet you, sir. Welcome to Brandy Hall."
He held out his hand to Canohando, and when the Orc took it, the hobbit pumped his arm up and down vigorously. Canohando stared down at him in mingled wonder and amusement, but a voice from across the room made him look round.
"Very well, Gorbidas, you're not running for Mayor, and he couldn’t vote for you if you were! Pour us out some of the Hall's finest and sit down, cousin. Come have a seat, Canohando. Is the lady your wife? Welcome, my dear."
The speaker had risen from behind a table of polished rosewood, bowing slightly. He was no taller than the other hobbits, yet he filled the room with his presence. His eyes were penetrating, seeming to take in every detail of his guests' appearance even as he indicated a seat to Canohando and came personally to escort Malawen to a cushioned chair.
"The Guardsmen apprised me some days ago that I might expect you, but I take it they had not been told of your companions. If I am to welcome an Orc, however, I don't know why I should cavil at the presence of an Elf and a Wizard! It seems this is a season of visitations. But where is Radagast the Brown?" He looked around, as if he thought the wizard might have slipped in without his notice.
"He's at Flora's smial, Father," said Farador. "The twins have the fever – I stopped there to introduce her to our visitors, and found everything in an uproar. Radagast is a healer, and he stayed to see if he could help."
The older hobbit raised his brows. "Indeed? Was Marabuc there already, then, and willing to have a colleague join him on the case?"
Farador nodded. "Of course. You'll understand when you meet Radagast, Father; you can't help but trust him."
"I shall be glad to have the opportunity of meeting him. Well, I should introduce myself: I am Sariadoc, the Master of Buckland, and sufficiently informed about Frodo Baggins's travels that I know who you are, Canohando. He did not mention in his book that you were married; am I to congratulate you upon your nuptials?"
Canohando had ignored the seat the Master pointed out to him, sitting cross-legged on the floor by Malawen's chair. He fingered the Jewel at his throat as he considered the question.
"You use too many words I do not know, Master of Buckland," he said finally. "Malawen is my mate, but Ninefingers never met her. Yet it was his gift that sent me searching for the Elf-Queen, and so I came to Lothlorien, where she was... that is a strange thought." He met the Master's eyes, suddenly intent. "Farador tells me that you still keep the bear tooth I gave my runt. I wonder why."
Gorbidas chose that moment to come between them with his tray of brandy glasses. Canohando took one and brought it to his lips, but when he tasted the fiery liquor he made a face and set the glass down on the floor, sliding it out of the way under Malawen's chair.
Gorbidas held the tray before Malawen, indicating a slender flute of some pale liquid, alone among the fat brandy glasses. "Dandelion wine," he murmured, but she reached out deliberately and took one of the brandies.
"I drink what my mate does, and nothing else," she said clearly.
Gorbidas looked over at the Master, distressed at her rudeness and the Orc's uncouth manners, but helpless to find a proper response. Sariadoc looked from his beleaguered kinsman to the challenging mien of the Orc, and swirled the brandy in his glass, inhaling the aroma with a beatific smile. Then he met Canohando's gaze again, and unexpectedly he began to chuckle.
"Now at last I see what I have missed by staying close at home, instead of seeking adventure in the wider world," he said. "I begin to regret my lost youth, and I may have to take to the Road in my old age. Why, Canohando, what would you have had us do with that tooth of yours? I don't have it, by the way; it is kept at Bag End, in Frodo's old home, under a crystal dome, I believe. A strange mathom to keep in one's parlor, I always thought, in spite of its historical interest. But what would you do with it?"
The Orc frowned. "It belonged to Ninefingers. Why take it from him?"
"You would have buried it with him?" The Master nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, that would have been appropriate. It was his, as you say. But, you see, it was considered a badge of honor: the mark of one of his two great accomplishments. He destroyed the Ring - and tamed an Orc! (I hope you will forgive me for putting the matter so baldly.) We hobbits are rather prone to keep souvenirs of that sort. Do Orcs not do so?"
Malawen had emptied her brandy, and was looking around vaguely, blinking. Canohando took the glass from her hand and slid it under the chair with his own.
"You are a strange people, you halflings: so gentle-seeming, yet tough as old boot-leather. I thought my runt was one of a kind, but I think now he had many brothers."
Sariadoc's face softened. "Ah, no. Frodo Baggins was unique, in the Shire as elsewhere. When you have been here a while longer, you will begin to see the difference. But come, I will show you some of my souvenirs. If Frodo had a brother, other than his Orc, it was Samwise Gardner - and Mayor Sam was my wife's grandsire. My mother did a rather good sketch of them together, the last summer of their lives, and I inherited it. I think you may find it interesting."
He rose and led them back out to the round room at the top of the stairs. In a little alcove facing the windows, there hung a framed charcoal sketch. Canohando looked at it and drew a long breath.
The round-faced hobbit in the fore of the picture he passed over without interest, but the narrow face slightly to the rear, with its high cheekbones and humorous eyes, was no less familiar and no less dear, than it had been when he said farewell in a mountain clearing more than a century before.
Malawen crept under his arm and leaned against him, still muzzy from the brandy. He drew her in front of him and wrapped his arms around her, drawing comfort from the touch and scent of her, and tears ran down his face and fell, to glimmer softly on her blonde curls.
Sariadoc watched without speaking, and at length he took Farador by the arm and urged him away, back into his study.
"Leave them in peace for a bit, my lad. We'll just have another glass while you tell me more about this Wizard you left caring for the twins. I don't think the Hall's finest agrees with our guests, one way and another. I must say, I never thought he'd have such a strong reaction to my mother's little drawing. It seems old Frodo wasn't so far off after all, when he called the Orc his brother."
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.