Chapter 2: Snaga-daith

The company was delayed from resuming their travels the next day. The Captain of the King's Guard reported heavy fighting between his men and orcs during the night, and wanted to secure the area before letting the King and his guests advance. Merry and Pippin were away with Lord Elrond's sons most of the day, returning at supper with tales of a glorious hunt. Merry had managed to shoot an orc while at full gallop, a feat of great dexterity, especially considering he had only received his short bow in the previous month. The Men in the company praised his courage and skill. Pippin was beside himself with pride for his cousin and for his race. The hobbits were getting a reputation for being fierce and cunning as well as loyal and unafraid.

Much to Merry and Pippin's annoyance, Frodo refused to enter into the spirit of brotherhood amongst the soldiers. He chose to fill his pipe and remove himself from the fireside to a secluded spot against a great tree. Sam hesitated for an instant, then loaded his own pipe and joined his master. Neither said a word as the smoke curled gently away in the slight breeze.

The Captain declared the next day safe for traveling. The company quickly reached a section of road passing through yesterday's battlefield. Dead orcs littered the road, lying where they were slain. The King's Guard was tasked with removing the bodies to the side so the travelers might pass unimpeded. Merry and Pippin were exempt from this duty, as they had participated so gloriously during the actual fighting. They chose to ride in front of the company alongside one of the Dunedain. Much to their surprise, Frodo joined them.

As the company passed by the carnage, Frodo noticed one of the orcs. He was typical of the small-sized breed, rough and filthy and pierced with metal ornaments and chains. But what caught Frodo's attention was the fact that he was not dead. As the Ranger grabbed the orc's arms to pull him off the road, the orc let out a grunt of pain. He had been wounded with an arrow through his thigh, and he was mostly unconscious, but he definitely was not dead.

Frodo slowed his pony in order to observe what would happen next. The Ranger continued to drag the orc to the side of the road. He then dropped the orc and remounted his horse, continuing on towards the front of the line.

"What's the matter, Frodo?" Merry asked as he rode back to his cousin. The two hobbits moved their ponies to the side of the road so the rest of the company could continue on past.

"That orc is still alive," Frodo answered, nodding towards the body lying in the grass beside the road.

"Do you want me to finish it?" Merry quietly asked. "It will die anyway if we just leave it. But if it disturbs you, I'll go over and take care of things so you don't have to worry."

Frodo frowned and did not answer.

One after another the company passed by. First were the King's Guards, then the Elves, Aragorn, Gandalf, Sam, and finally the Dunedain bringing up the rear. Frodo dismounted and went to the wounded orc.

Sam pulled up, seeing Frodo dismount, and went back to him. Gandalf noticed the missing hobbits, and called to Aragorn for a halt.

Merry sat atop his pony, his mouth hanging open at what he was witnessing. Frodo was administering first aid to the near-unconscious orc.

"Mister Frodo?" Sam called as he dismounted Bill. "Mister Frodo, sir? What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Frodo snapped. "Here Sam, help me out. This wound needs tending."

Sam glanced up at Merry and shrugged his shoulders. What else could he do? Frodo was in one of his strange moods. Sam went over and knelt by Frodo. Merry's brows creased in disgust at the thought of Frodo touching the orc, rendering aid. But he said nothing.

Frodo rolled the orc onto its side. A large full-sized arrowhead was protruding from the front of the orc's thigh. Black blood oozed from both entry and exit wounds.

"Look, Sam," Frodo said. "The arrow is coming out the front. This orc was shot while running away."

"What does that matter?" Merry angrily questioned.

Frodo shot a dark glance at his cousin. "You do not shoot a person who is trying to flee from you."

"It's not a person!" Merry almost shouted. "It's an orc!"

"Sam. Hold him on his side while I fetch some things," Frodo commanded, ignoring Merry's outburst. Frodo retrieved his water flask from his pack, and tore off a section of his shirt to use as a bandage.

"You can't be serious about this, Frodo," Merry continued. "It's an orc! Come on. We've got to keep moving. Leave him there. He'll die right enough."

Gandalf and Aragorn rode up and witnessed the scene unfolding about them. Frodo ignored Merry and continued his ministrations to the orc. He snapped the arrowhead off the shaft and pulled it out of the orc's leg. He then washed the wound with the water and bound it with the cloth.

Merry couldn't contain himself. "I can't believe you're doing this, Frodo! Look at the symbol on that orc's armor. It's part of the same company that captured Pippin and me. They were supposed to capture you and take you to Isengard for interrogation. They killed Boromir! What are you doing? Why are you helping it? Let it die. Death is better than it deserves."

Frodo continued to ignore Merry, and gently turned the orc onto its back. Frodo gave the semi-conscious orc a drink of water from his own flask, much to Sam's disgust.

"Mister Frodo. Please," Sam pleaded with the Ringbearer. "Please, listen to Merry. It's an orc. What you're doin' ain't right. You can't be forgetting what they did to you in Cirith Ungol. Come on. Leave it here to die like it's supposed to."

Suddenly a new voice joined into the conversation.

"Leave it be, Frodo," Aragorn commanded. "My men are securing the realm now. It is not right to render aid to the enemy."

Frodo looked up at the King. Gandalf was by Aragorn's side as well, silently observing.

"We are no better than orcs if we show mercy only to those of our own kind," Frodo returned his gaze to the orc. "I find it difficult to sit and watch as all else pass by this wounded being. Whilst I have no love for the orcs, I am not immune to suffering, no matter in what shape it exists.

I pity them. They are leaderless now. Whom shall they follow? Sauron is dispersed. Sauruman is defeated and gone. Aragorn, this is a chance to undo the evil wrought upon the orcs by their masters. You can begin healing all the peoples of Middle Earth, not just Men and their allies. All peoples."

Frodo had stopped his ministrations and stood to address the King.

"What is your choice, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, King of Gondor and Arnor? Can you pity the loveless? Heal the wounded? Feed the hungry? Or is mercy and justice only reserved for Men? You are King of all in your realm. This includes even orcs and rebel Men who fought against you. How else can they be taught unless through example?"

"How dare you address your King in such a manner!" One of the Dunedain in the rear guard took offence. He began to ride over to Frodo.

Aragorn quickly intercepted his kinsman. "Silence! It is not your leave to address the Ringbearer thusly." The Dunedain was abashed and backed his horse up, leaving the Ringbearer alone to face the King and the wizard.

Gandalf had kept silence at the exchange, but continued to study Aragorn. What would the King do? Frodo had issued a challenge to the King's rule. Everyone was hushed, awaiting Aragorn's answer.

"I will consider it, but now is not the time, Frodo," Aragorn frowned as he delayed the hobbit's request.

"Now is the only time," the hobbit demanded. "The Third Age is past. We stand at the nexus of a new age. How you begin your reign determines that Age. Will you begin it with mercy? For such is the path to wisdom."

"How can mercy begat wisdom when concerning something as foul as an orc?" Aragorn asked. What the Ringbearer asked for was illogical. Orcs were evil. They should be destroyed. How could he possibly show mercy to them?

"Remember, Aragorn," Gandalf's ancient voice joined the debate, "we stand here only by the mercy Bilbo Baggins showed to Gollum. Only through Bilbo's mercy has Sauron been defeated and the Ring destroyed. Frodo is correct in pointing out that even these orcs are now your subjects. What will you do with them?"

By now the entire company had halted and were gathered in a circle around Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Merry, Sam and the orc. Pippin had ridden up to Merry's side. Small murmurings of disapproval was heard amongst the King's Guard and the Dunedain. Frodo continued to stand resolute in front of the King, his arms crossed in a gesture of defiance at being kept waiting for an answer.

The orc had revived during the confrontation. He was clearly frightened at finding himself surrounded by mounted horsemen of the King of Gondor, and being tended by a strange half-sized being. But he kept his wits and remained flat against the earth. His hand quietly slipped to his side.

Aragorn looked past Frodo and saw that the orc was aware. Frodo turned around to find the orc staring into his eyes. The King dismounted to take a good look at the orc. Sam held the trembling creature steady as the King addressed it.

"Will you renounce your service to the Dark Lord?" The voice was terrible and threatening.

The orc narrowed its eyes, then nodded its agreement.

"Of course it's going to agree," Merry snorted in disgust. "It's not stupid. It knows that's the only way of saving its skin!"

"Shut up, Merry!" Sam snapped. The orc shifted his gaze back and forth between the King and Frodo. It was clear even to the orc that the King wished to be rid of this problem and the only thing saving it was the small stranger standing up before the King.

Gandalf again addressed Aragorn.

"Mercy is not predicated upon conditions, my friend. Mercy is given freely to those to whom no mercy is deserved. Frodo is wise beyond his years. Yet the decision is yours, as King. What will the King do?"

The Dunedain and King's Guard looked at Aragorn expectantly. Aragorn walked past Frodo, not looking at him. In less than a second the King had drawn his sword from its scabbard and was at the orc's side.

The orc flinched and tried to back away, but Sam held him firmly in his grasp. Aragorn bent down and placed the edge of his sword at the orc's throat, then quietly removed a small knife the orc was clutching unnoticed in its hand. Aragorn passed it over to Frodo, who accepted the deadly instrument without comment.

"I do this to honor the Ringbearer."

The King turned to the orc. "What is your name and where are you from?"

"Snaga-daith. From Moria."

"Snaga-daith of Moria. You are spared, but by naught of your own doing. Only by the compassion shown to you by the Ringbearer."

Merry turned to Pippin and whispered, "I don't like the way this is going."

"I don't either, Mer," his cousin whispered back.

Aragorn turned and addressed the rest of the company.

"Hear, ye people of Gondor and her allies. I make this decree this day. My kingdom shall be founded on mercy, but tempered by justice. We shall continue to secure the kingdom and roust our enemies from our borders. But mercy is to be shown to those who sue for mercy. If the enemies surrender their weapons and swear an oath to refrain from destruction in our realm, they may be shown to the borders and released unharmed. Care for their needs as you would have them care for your own. But if any offer further resistance and are unrepentant of their evil ... "

Aragorn looked directly into Frodo's eyes, " ... slay them." Frodo said nothing and did not release Aragorn's gaze.

Aragorn continued, "More than this I will not do, not even for the Ringbearer."

Frodo bowed to Aragorn. "It is a good start. Thank you, King Elessar."

As the King's Guard took the orc to lead him away to one of the healing huts, it stopped and addressed Frodo.

"You are the Ringbearer?" Snaga-daith asked.

"Yes," Frodo replied.

"You do not look to be a great Elf warrior," the orc looked puzzled. "Nor does your touch burn the flesh, as we were told."

"You have been deceived and lied to," Frodo answered. "Free yourself and your people by seeking the truth and accepting the King's mercy." The orc was lead away.

The company resumed its traveling arrangements and continued on. Nothing else was said about the incident, but tensions were running high. As night fell and the company settled in for sleep, Pippin went over to Frodo, who had just burrowed down into his bedroll.

"Frodo? Why did you help that orc? He would have killed your or any of us if he had a chance. He's probably going to die from his wound anyway."

Frodo turned over and propped himself up on one elbow. His cousin was so young, yet had seen so many terrible things during the battles of the War. How could he explain this?

"Pippin, I, myself, am in need of mercy. Mercy which I do not deserve." Frodo raised himself into a sitting position. Pippin sat at his side.

"None of us is perfect, Pippin," Frodo continued. "We have all done deeds which are evil. Look in your own heart. Look there with the bitter light of self-knowledge. You will find actions you will regret for the rest of your life. Words said which trouble you and cause you and others pain. If we cannot show mercy to others, then we deserve no mercy for ourselves. It is up to us to heal the wrongs done to all Middle Earth. We must show mercy and wisdom where-ere we go, even to those who fill us with disgust, hatred and loathing, lest we succumb to evil while thinking we do good."

Pippin looked at the ground, and then into Frodo's eyes. "What you ask is hard to do."

"Yet we must try our utmost to do it," Frodo answered. "The easiest path is not always the right path. Now, let me get some rest. See you in the morning."

"Good night Frodo," Pippin softly called out as Frodo curled back into his sleeping roll. Pippin resumed his guard duty, short sword drawn and ready.