Following the Other Wizard - Chapter 9: Rhosgobel
I went down in the air
They did not go back to the Shire this spring. "Won't your bird with one leg be waiting for you?" Frodo asked, but Radagast shook his head.
"She will not be there this year, Donkey. They do not live so long, the little songbirds."
"She is dead?" Frodo asked, stricken. He touched his shoulder, where Cuina perched, and she nipped at his thumb. "How do you know, Radagast?" The wizard shrugged and did not reply. Frodo ran one finger down the soft feathers of Cuina's breast; she was only a year old, but still--
"Cuina should find a mate," he said, and Radagast nodded.
"Are you ready to let her go, if she does?"
"Of course!" Frodo was indignant. "Did you think I would keep her captive, because I saved her life?" He would miss the bird, if she left him, but the wizard had reminded him that her lifespan was far less than his own. He wanted her to have a full life, whatever that meant for a bird.
They were riding through second-growth forest, the trees young and close together, and after supper he wandered away from camp by himself. When he was out of sight, he whistled and Cuina dropped to his head. He took her on his hand and held her up to his face.
"You must find a mate,' he told her. He kissed the top of her head gently. "Go, now. Raise a family, Cuina. Perhaps you will find us again when we go south in the fall." The bird stretched forward to nibble at his nose; then she sprang into the air, mounting quickly to the sky, her song trailing behind her.
The next day she came one time to him, riding on his shoulder for half a mile. Then she flew away and did not return.
On Mid-summer's Day they crested a grassy hill to find a dark forest standing out from the horizon like a wall of black. Frodo swallowed nervously. He liked woodland in general, but this place struck him with dread; it reminded him of the Old Forest on the borders of Buckland, full of secret malice.
"Mirkwood," said Radagast. "It is better than it was, but not good. We will go around it."
They turned away, but for days afterward the forest seemed to follow ominously at their right hand. Frodo kept looking over his shoulder, ashamed of his fear but unable to banish it.
It was worse at night. In the dark he could not see the woods, only the way the starry sky was cut off sharply by the black treeline. He turned his back on it, but then he could feel it behind him. Finally he sat facing it, but with the fire between him and it; he lit his pipe and smoked defiantly, staring at the blackness, daring it to frighten him.
He slept fitfully, with Mirkwood haunting his dreams, but the fourth night he thought his nightmares had come to waking life. Something moved at the edge of his sight, and he leaped up and whirled to confront it, dragging Sting from its sheath. The wizard was bent over his sack, putting away the cooking pots, and a Shadow loomed over him, monstrous, inhuman.
"Radagast!" Frodo flung himself at the thing, clutching his sword in both hands. He would kill it or be slain in the attempt; it would not fall upon the wizard without warning! Radagast spun around at Frodo's cry, gave a shout of his own and threw himself upon the hobbit, bringing him to the ground, sending the sword spinning away into the darkness.
"Stay, lad!" he gasped. Frodo lay stunned beneath him, and Radagast sat up, drawing the hobbit onto his lap, feeling him for broken bones, murmuring comfort. "Hush, it's all right. You are a brave defender, but there is no danger. Easy, lad."
Frodo shut his eyes and breathed deep. When he opened them, when he could see clearly, the Shadow had become a shaggy creature sitting placidly by the fire, still enormous, but not the monster it had seemed.
"A bear," he muttered, looking up at Radagast. "Another of your patients?"
Radagast chuckled. "At the moment he's a bear. Not a patient, but a friend. This is Grimbeorn, Master of the Vales of Anduin. You've heard of skin-changers?"
"Skin-changers? Bilbo met one on his journey: Beorn the Bee-tamer."
"This is his son," Radagast said. His attention moved to the figure by the fire. "Forgive him, Grimbeorn. You took us by surprise." He went back to his sack, withdrawing a honeycomb the size of his two hands, and carrying it to the bear. "You are most welcome at our fire." Grimbeorn took the honeycomb and devoured it in one bite.
"Go to sleep, Donkey. You need have no fear, with both of us to guard you." Frodo nodded dumbly and went to roll up in his blanket, and indeed, he had no dreams that night.
When he woke at dawn, Radagast was already cooking breakfast, and a man was pacing around the fire talking. He was tall and broad, with a full beard and shoulder-length grey hair, frizzy and wild.
"Most of the goblins have gone into the North; there are only a few dens of them left in these parts. My son took his family back into the Mountains a year ago, but I am used to the Carrock, even if I had not promised you to watch over these lands."
"My thanks to you for that," said Radagast. "I will not be staying long; for the summer only, probably. I would be grateful if you would continue your watch."
"I will do that. Get up, small one; I see your eyes are open! You will not come at me now with drawn sword?" Frodo started and got slowly to his feet; the gaze that suddenly met his own was full of lively intelligence.
"I beg you to forgive my rashness," he said with grave formality. "I did not know you for a friend, and I feared a threat to Radagast."
Grimbeorn gave a laugh that shook his enormous shoulders. "You know the wizard only a little, if you fear any harm to him," he said when his mirth abated, but Frodo stood straight and unsmiling.
"I saw Gandalf fall in Moria," he said. "Even a wizard is not above all danger."
Radagast looked up from his cooking. "Don't tell me you blame yourself for that as well, Donkey! Do you imagine you could have saved Gandalf from a balrog?"
Frodo flushed. "I might have caught his wrist, stopped him from falling, if I had been quick enough, if I had not stood rooted to the ground while he struggled to hold on!"
Radagast came to where Frodo stood, going down on one knee to look into his face. "Brave heart in a small body, is my Donkey. I do not doubt you would have tried to hold him, but you have not the strength, you know; you would have been dragged with him into the abyss. Do not be afraid on my account, Frodo. The balrog is gone, and I do not think there will be any need for you to defend me, though I thank you for your willingness to do so." He shook Frodo's shoulder gently.
Grimbeorn was looking the hobbit up and down with an amused expression. "My father told me of a little fellow like you who traveled with a passel of Dwarves; hardly bigger than a mouse, he said, but he backed down for nothing. Was he a relation of yours?"
"My uncle Bilbo," Frodo said. "He told tales of Beorn, and his bees four times as big as any normal bee. Do you still keep them?"
"Indeed I do! There is no finer food than their honey; I will bring you some this summer, perhaps. Radagast, are you going into Mirkwood?"
"Not unless there is need. Is the Road safe for travelers?"
"Safe enough; there seems traffic enough on it, Elves mainly, now and then a party of Dwarves from the Blue Mountains. They stay on the Road; I would not call Mirkwood safe, away from it."
Radagast grimaced. "It will be long before the depths of Mirkwood are safe, if they ever are. Well, I have no business there; if there is passage through for those who desire it, I will not go in."
"Are the spiders still there?" Frodo asked.
"The spiders, and other things just as bad," Grimbeorn said. "Not all the evil creatures were driven out when the Enemy fell, though they are less bold than they were."
"You will keep watch, and send me word if there is need," said Radagast, and Grimbeorn nodded. He traveled with them that day, loping along next to their horses with no sign of weariness. He ate with them that evening and was sitting by the fire when Frodo went to sleep. Sometime during the night the hobbit was wakened by a snuffling grunt, and something furry brushed against him. He looked up into beastly eyes that held more than animal understanding, and then the creature moved away into the darkness. He lay awake for a time, but the bear did not return, and finally he fell asleep again.
A day later they crossed the Old Road, and that afternoon they came to a place where the ground dipped into a mossy dell shaded by grand old trees. They were still close to Mirkwood, but there was a wholesome atmosphere to this little grove that cheered Frodo; the air was scented with some spicy herb that they trod underfoot, and he breathed it in delightedly.
"Rhosgobel," said the wizard. He pointed, and then Frodo noticed the house: it encircled the largest of the trees, a sprawling place of stone and wood, crowded about with tall ferns and half-covered with flowering vines.
"Is this your home? It seems as if it must have grown right out of the ground, Radagast!" He smiled, looking at the wizard from the corner of his eye. "Did you plant magic seeds around that tree and wait for your house to grow?"
Radagast chuckled. "I wonder what you would say, Donkey, if I told you yes? Would you believe me? But no, I built it with my own hands, little by little. I came here the year Amon Sul was thrown down; it was an evil time, and it comforted me to build when others were destroying."
Frodo stared at him dumbfounded, and Radagast grinned. "Yes, Frodo, I am that old! Come, you knew I was of Gandalf's Order; how old did you think hea was?" He swung down from his horse and slipped the rope halter off Smoky's head. "Let your pony roam free while we're here, lad. Smoky will look after him." Frodo obeyed, his mind whirling with questions he did not quite dare ask, and followed the wizard through an arched doorway into the house.
It was hardly dimmer inside than it had been under the trees. The wall opposite the door was a line of windows nearly to the stone floor, inviting the outside in. Radagast led the hobbit through a series of rooms till they came to one where the great tree grew up through the middle of the house, making a circular core to the room. The other walls were curved as well, paneled in dark wood except for one section which was another row of windows opening out on the woodsy grove.
Frodo looked out and saw hundreds of birds, large and small, some drab and some as bright-colored as flowers. They were flying about, perching on trees and bushes, and a few were even flying at the windows and pecking at the glass.
Radagast laughed and clapped his hands. "Forgive me, Donkey; I must greet my neighbors! I will find something for us to eat when I return." He went out, and a moment later Frodo saw him outside the windows, the birds alighting on his arms and shoulders, flying around his head, gathering on the ground about his feet. He revolved slowly in place, smiling and nodding, his lips moving as if he were talking to them. More and more birds flitted into the grove; it was green and dim, but radiance seemed to emanate from the wizard himself, and the birds were a many-colored whirlwind fluttering about him.
Frodo stood transfixed at the window. He had journeyed far with Radagast, had grown familiar and comfortable with him, but here at Rhosgobel the wizard was revealed in another light, mysterious and compelling, as if he had stepped out of some otherwhere beyond mortal comprehension.
Dusk fell and the cloud of birds began to thin; soon there were only a few sitting on the wizard's arms and shoulders, and then these, too, flew away; the radiance faded. Radagast came back inside, and Frodo stared at him in silence.
"Still in the dark, Donkey? Wait till I light a lantern."
There was nothing different in his voice or manner, but Frodo was not deceived. Gandalf had been impressive, even a little frightening at times, for all his kindness and his evident affection for hobbits. But Radagast - he had said himself that Gandalf was greater than he was, and Frodo had accepted him at his own valuation. Radagast was funny and playful, sometimes even a trifle ridiculous, but Frodo's eyes were opened now. The power of the Brown Wizard was of a different kind, perhaps, from what had resided in Gandalf or Saruman, but it was no less; he was of the same Order, indeed!
Rhosgobel was a labyrinth of many rooms, opening one from another without benefit of passages or doors. Stone-flagged or floored with narrow boards, many of the rooms lined with bookshelves - Frodo had never seen so many books; the well-stocked library at Bag End shrank to nothing by comparison. Doors to the outside opened from nearly every chamber, and there were windows everywhere, walls of windows that seemed to draw the forest right inside the house. Besides this there were dozens of little round and diamond-shaped portholes of colored or crazed glass, that afforded no view but threw wandering jewels of light around the rooms. Even in some of the ceilings these small windows were set; there was one in Frodo's bedchamber that cast a halo of light on the floor next to his bed, when he woke of a morning.
And he woke gladly. For a day or two he was a bit shy around the wizard, but Radagast was the same as he had ever been; there were no more hints of something beyond everyday reality, and soon Frodo put what he had seen out of his mind.
Almost at once he fell in love with the meandering old house: cheerfulness seemed to reside in its very walls; the green light filtering through the trees soothed him, and the rows of books drew him irresistibly. And always in the background there were birds, flashing past the windows and caroling in the trees. Some tightness in him began to loosen.
"I have a number of things to see to, before we leave here," Radagast told him soon after they arrived. "I shall be busy, I'm afraid. Can you amuse yourself? There is nothing here you may not treat as your own, and no creature that will harm you. Do not be alarmed if I am gone for a few days now and then."
Frodo sat smoking in a deep, cushioned chair fashioned of bent twigs; he ran his eyes along the bookshelves on either side of the fireplace. "I'll be content exploring your library, Radagast," he said with a grin. "It's the only thing I've missed, this past year: a book in my hands."
He spent a quiet summer, for the wizard was gone more than he was at home. Frodo sat up late reading and slept till the sun was high, raiding the larder when he got hungry, exploring outside (but not into Mirkwood) when he tired of reading.
The books spanned every subject he could think of, from poetry to medicine, in a myriad of languages. He even found a small volume that seemed to be written in the Black Speech of Mordor; he could not read it, but when he sounded out the Elven letters, the result was horribly similar to the inscription on the Ring. He gasped and returned the book to its place, then went and washed his hands. Fool, he berated himself, whatever is written there cannot penetrate your skin! But he dug into the crock of soft soap and scrubbed his hands until they were raw.
Radagast returned a day later, and hesitantly Frodo asked him about the book. "Show me," he said, and Frodo got it down, handling it with the tips of his fingers only. But the wizard took it in both hands as if he caressed it, and his face was sad.
"It troubles you, because it is in the Black Speech," he said, and Frodo nodded. Radagast opened it and read a passage aloud; the sound was harsh and full of grief.
" Deep, deep I lie, and pain my only friend, by which I know I live. And only darkness covers me, pity of darkness, that I shall not see, what I've become. And one dim star remind me, what I was," the wizard translated softly. "It is a lament, written long ago by one of the Firstborn who was captured by Morgoth. The Black Speech was the only tongue left to him, but he would not be silent. He is gone now to the Halls of Mandos, and out of all his suffering."
Frodo gazed at him in astonishment. "How did you come by it, Radagast?"
"He was a friend," said the wizard. He put the book back on the shelf and would say no more about it. "Don't be afraid of anything in this house, Donkey," he said again. "There is nothing here to harm you."
By the time the summer ended, Frodo felt as if his feet had grown roots into the floors of Rhosgobel. It no longer surprised him that Radagast had remained here year after year, as the centuries slipped by; the wonder was that the wizard had ever left at all! I would stay here gladly, he thought, to the end of my days. Soon afterward Radagast came back again.
"I have an errand upriver tomorrow, and I am taking my boat," he said. "Would you like to come along?"
The boat turned out to be a long, narrow craft barely wide enough for a single person, but long enough for Frodo to lie full length, trailing his hands over the sides in the water and watching the changing shapes of the clouds, while Radagast paddled.
"How would you like to spend the winter in the northland this year?" Radagast asked.
Frodo sat up in surprise. "Here, at Rhosgobel?" His voice betrayed his delight, and the wizard smiled.
"I have been a long while from home, and my work in Mordor will keep me away for years. I would be glad to stay here for a time, if you have no objection to the idea."
Frodo laughed. "No objection in the world!"