Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
swiss replica watches replica watches uk Replica Rolex DateJust Watches

The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

prelude:   A Different Point of View

Frodo stood at the window of his study, staring out at a sky so intensely blue he thought he could have swum in it, could he only find a way to dive up.  Swim around those puffs of cloud as if they had been islands, looking down at Sam’s planting of Michaelmas daisies and mums in the Bag End garden.  He chuckled to himself at the fancy – that would be an interesting vantage point on the world…

 You never see a sky that color in Mordor, he mused, and wondered why Mordor was on his mind this day.  Mordor and the orcs – well, Canohando, to be honest.  He thought of Lash only briefly and with a smile; Lash was perfectly content with his human wife and his little half-orc children.  But Canohando… I wish I could have shown him the Shire, he thought.  Canohando was like Frodo himself: wife-less, childless. Absent-mindedly Frodo fingered the carved bear tooth that hung around his neck, a gift from his orc brother. I will never see them again, either one of them.  The thought grieved him.

"Ready for tea, Mr. Frodo?"  Sam came in carrying a tray and Frodo hurried to take it from him. 

"Sam, why must you lug that heavy thing in here, when we could just as well have tea in the kitchen, simple and easy?"

"There's more important things than easy, Mr. Frodo."  Sam was preparing a plate for him, bread and butter sliced thin and a bowl of late raspberries drizzled with cream.  "It's more fitting, you taking tea in your own study.  I always liked having it in here, when I was Master."

"You're still the Master, Sam."  Frodo grinned; they had been repeating this same argument ever since he got home, so often that it had become a joke.  "And the proof is that we're having tea in the study, carried in by the most stubborn hobbit ever to be seven times Mayor of the Shire!"  He took the filled plate out of Sam's hand.  "Thank you, old lad.  Sit down now, and I'll pour out."

"Are you glad to be home, Mr. Frodo? Really? You were looking kind of down, when I came in."  Sam watched him, concern clouding his eyes, and Frodo rested a hand on his old friend's shoulder.

"Yes, Sam, I am glad!  Don't worry, I won't slip away from you again; I'm myself again, as I was before…  before it all happened.  Before the Ring."

Sam frowned.  "You're looking back a long way, to see back before you had that cursed thing.  You had it from the day you come of age, a good many years afore we knew what it was.  And you're not the same as you were, even those years when you already had it, before we left the Shire."

Frodo walked over to look out the window again, carrying his cup with him. He sighed.  "No, I suppose I'm not. How much of that is the Ring, and how much is just age, the things that happen to us over time?"

"What were you thinking about, when I came in with the tray?  You looked a thousand miles away."  Sam flushed.  "Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo.  I don't mean to pry; it just bothered me, you looked so –"

"Don't apologize, old lad. After the last time – I can't blame you for keeping an eye on me, can I, after I rode off in the middle of the night with never a word to you!  Although what I could have said, under the circumstances…"  He met Sam's eyes; they both knew what the circumstances had been.  Frodo had been going off to make an end, before his torment over the lost Ring drove him mad.

"There hasn't been a day since but I've thanked old Radagast in my heart, for saving you," Sam said in a low voice. "Not but what I still say they should've taken you along, Gandalf and Elrond, when they went over the Sea.  They owed you that much, after you saved Middle Earth from Sauron!"

"It was Gandalf, or whatever Power he served, who saved Middle Earth." Frodo rubbed his forehead as if it hurt.  "I had my part to play, and so did you and Aragorn and the rest… But it was Radagast who saved me."  He gave a little  snort of laughter.  "A much smaller deed, but I'm grateful for it.  It's all right, Sam – I was thinking of Mordor, but I'm not going anywhere.  I was wishing I could have brought Canohando home to meet my Samwise."

 "That orc of yours?  Well, I'm glad you didn't, then! The orcs we saw on the Quest were more than enough for me; why would I want to meet another one?"

Frodo smiled slightly.  "Because he saved my life?  He did, you know. I would have drowned if he hadn't dragged me out of the water.  Or because he became my brother?"

Sam stared at him in silence, and Frodo went to sit by him.

"I grew up without brothers or sisters, and then I came to live with Bilbo.  He adopted me, made me his heir, but you adopted me, too, Sam.  You came to the door the very first morning I was here; you took my hand and led me round the garden as if you'd known me all your life."

"It felt as if I had," Sam muttered, and Frodo nodded. 

"Yes. I felt as if I had found a little brother.  You made Bag End seem like home to me, right from the start."

"And this orc, this – Canohando? How is he your brother?"

"Well –" Frodo made a wry face.  "He certainly didn't make me feel at home!  I was afraid he might slay me at first –"  Sam looked up sharply, opening his mouth to speak.  "But he didn't, Sam!  He saved my life, when Yarga tried to kill me.  And later, much later, he offered me his friendship. His brotherhood."

Frodo held out his hand, revealing a white scar that cut diagonally across his palm.  Sam reached out and traced it with his finger, disgust written plain on his face.

"You made yourself blood-kin to an orc, Frodo?  To an orc?"

"To an orc, yes, Sam.  So I have another brother now, or are you going to disown me?"

Sam stared into Frodo's face, and slowly his old eyes filled with tears.  He shook his head.  "No, I won't disown you, Mr. Frodo.  No matter what you did, I couldn't never do that."  He bowed his head, and Frodo took his hand between both of his.

"What is it, old lad?" he asked, but Sam shook his head again without answering.

"Sam?"  An idea struck Frodo – it seemed ridiculous, after all they had been through together, but was it possible that Sam was jealous?  "Sam?  We're brothers already;  you're closer to me than Canohando could ever be.  But – would you make yourself blood-kin to me, even now?"

Sam looked up at that, his lips twitching into a crooked grin.  "A little old for that game, aren't we?  No, you're right: we've been brothers all along, ever since we were lads, though I can't say I ever thought about it in just those terms. Cutting our hands won't make it no more real than it is already, and we're just as likely to drip blood on the carpet." 

Frodo laughed until tears ran down his face, finally leaning back in his chair when his mirth was spent, and his eyes were warm with affection.  "That's what I've missed, all those years away – you'll follow me to the Crack of Doom when I need you, but you'll spare a thought for the state of the carpet!  Plain hobbit sense – Sam, I am so glad to be home!"

Sam smiled.  "Just pour me another cup of that tea, will you, Mr. Frodo?  You're closer."

 

 

Chapter 1:  Insomnia

The orc was restless.  The old stone house imprisoned him; he felt an urge to push back against the walls before they fell in and crushed him.  But even outside he felt trammeled: the forest was too small to hold him, and the mountains around his home, which had seemed bulwarks of protection when first he came here, had become prison walls that he must break out of, if he could.

The world itself is too small for me, Canohando thought morosely, tramping through the woods a day's journey from home.  He was not hunting; he took no trouble to be silent, but up ahead some small creature sat in full sight without fleeing his approach.  His eyes sharpened on it: a rabbit, a big one – this was no youngster too foolish to recognize danger.

 What ails you, creature?  Even as he watched, the rabbit moved sluggishly – towards him, not away.  Its ears were back and it staggered.  Slowly the orc fitted an arrow to his bow and drew a bead on it; the rabbit lurched toward him another step.  He let fly and his arrow transfixed the animal; it fell and was still, pierced through the heart.

He did not pick it up.  He nudged it with his booted foot, then sought about till he found a sturdy stick and painstakingly gouged out a shallow hole in the ground. He pushed the body into the hole and covered it, stamping down on the dirt.  He spent half an hour finding rocks to pile on the small grave; then at last he turned toward home.

A small occurrence, if unpleasant.  It happened sometimes that one of the wild things took some sickness; it was a precaution to kill such a creature before the disease could spread, to bury the carcass so no scavenger could feed on it and spread the evil.  In his present mood, though, it struck Canohando as portentous.

There is some sickness of soul on me, he thought.  What then?  I will not slay myself and jump into a hole!  He grimaced.  An orc lived too close to death, all his life, to seek it willingly.  I will have to leave, before the evil spreads.

 The thought of leaving lifted some weight from his mind and he walked with a lighter step.  Almost before he wondered where he would go, he knew, and he reached inside his tunic, his hand closing on the jewel that hung around his neck, the touch of  it familiar and comforting.

I will seek the Elf-queen. He had never seen her – Arwen Evenstar, who ruled in Gondor with Elessar, the King.  The jewel had come to the orc from the Ring-bearer, who had received it from the Queen's hand. Not a thing to be given away, but Frodo had seen Canohando's need, and given it to him.  "Orcs live longer than hobbits – you will need it longer than I," he had said. 

The orc wondered sometimes why the Queen had given the jewel to Ninefingers. To comfort him, so he said, but it had not seemed to Canohando that the hobbit needed comforting.  Frodo's face rose before his mind, framed by tangled dark hair he was always brushing out of his eyes.  Eyes the color of  the sky, eyes that danced with merriment or softened with compassion; eyes that were sometimes dark with fear.

Frodo had feared the orc in the beginning, and with reason.  Canohando had not been certain himself if he would follow the halfling out of the Dark, or rise up in rage and destroy him.  It would have been so easy to destroy him!  In part it had been Ninefingers' courage that stayed the orc's hand: Frodo's eyes gave him away, and the odor of fear, but his face was calm and he stood his ground, however his heart might have quaked in terror.  Courage and compassion: Canohando had not encountered such a mixture in his thousand years of life.  Compassion alone he would have despised as softness, but Frodo's courage gave it a core of steel, and Canohando's resistance had crumbled before it.

The orc smiled; the memory of Frodo warmed his heart whenever he thought of him. Ninefingers had come once to the mountains, with the old man whose servant he was – or perhaps the old man had been the servant; Canohando had never been able to work that out to his satisfaction.  They had come, in any event, and the orcs had taken Frodo along when they hunted a bear. Afterward they had eaten the bear's heart together: according to the code of the mountains, that made them brothers. But Ninefingers had followed that ceremony by pulling out his knife and cutting his own hand so that it bled – he had invited Canohando and Lash to the brotherhood rite of his own people. Canohando still bore the scar on his palm, where he had mingled his blood with that of the halfling.

How like my runt,  the orc thought now,  that his pact of brotherhood would call on him to shed his own blood.  And how like us, that we would make ours from the death of some other creature.

 Canohando had been one of  three orcs, survivors of Sauron's fall, when he first encountered Frodo and the old man.  There were four orcs now, but one of the original three was dead in battle, slain because he had thrown his own body in the way to shield Canohando.  That was why Canohando had needed comforting, why Ninefingers had given him the jewel. The memory of Yarga, dying in agony and a welter of blood –

Canohando pressed the jewel against his forehead.  Something the old man had said gave him hope that Yarga was at peace now, somewhere, somehow. And Lash still lived, Lash and his two sons; they waited for him at home.  Lash's wife had died years back; she had been a woman of Nurn, with a human's short lifespan.  Lash had mourned her, but not the way Canohando still grieved for Yarga; Lash's sons had been comfort enough for him.

For years uncounted Arwen's jewel had brought Canohando peace, but no more.  Since spring he had slept badly, waking in the night to walk outside under the stars, hungering for something he could put no name to. Hunting held no joy for him anymore, his food had no savor – even music had lost its power to lift his heart.  He carried his drum from habit and for Yarga's sake – Yarga had given it to him – but for months he had not played it.

"I will seek the Elf-queen," he said aloud, and it was as if he had been lost on the steppe on a black night, and the moon had risen in glory to show him the way.  So he had felt in his youth, sent out with blows and curses to carry a message across the wasteland, until he had learned to set his course by stars and sun from Barad-dur to the far-flung outposts and fortresses.  He did not know where the Queen made her home, but it was in Gondor; he could find his way to Gondor.  After that he would have to trust to luck. Lend me your luck again, runt, as you did when we killed the bear.

Without warning he was seized with a great longing to see Frodo again.  He had gone back to Gorgoroth in the year Lash's wife died; that had reminded him that these mortal creatures had woefully short lives, and he had been afraid.  He had sought long for Ninefingers and the old man, without finding them. But Gorgoroth had been greatly changed; the desert had become prairie, the trickles of water between the rocks were flowing streams now, bordered with willows and blackberry thickets.  Restoring the land was the task Ninefingers and the old man had set themselves, and plainly it was finished. Perhaps they had gone home.

If he found the Elf-queen, could she tell him how to reach the Shire?  And if he found the halfling's homeland, would Frodo be there?

Gondor first, and then the Shire.  He broke into a trot; he would have to go home first; he could not leave without saying farewell.

Lash regarded him soberly from across the table.  "Have you forgotten the Men of Ithilien? They will slay you for that thing around your neck, if for no other reason."

Canohando fingered the jewel on its chain.  "You could take it off," Lash said.

"My runt hung it round my neck with his own hands. It will not be my hand that takes it off."  He got up to throw more wood on the fire.  "Do you think Ninefingers did not tell the King he gave me this?  He would not break his promise."

"It is not the King who patrols the border, and it is many winters since the Ring-bearer left us,"  Lash said.  "There may be a new King in Gondor by now."

"Perhaps.  But the Queen is Elven; she will not have died.  I must go, Lash!  I cannot bide here longer; I am as restless as a treed cat!  If the Men of Gondor slay me, there will still be three orcs in Mordor."

Lash sighed.  "Will you return, if you live?" 

Canohando stared into the fire.  After a moment he sat down on the bench, shoulder to shoulder with the other orc.  "I do not think I will return, Lash.  If I live, I will go farther than Gondor.  I would like to see the Shire." 

"The Shire."  Lash shook his head.  "Do you think to find Ninefingers still living there?  The Brown One never came back to bring us news of him."

 "Who can say?  I do not know how long hobbits live. I will see his country, at least, if I can find it.  Perhaps the Queen can tell me where it lies, if I come alive into her presence." 

Not even to Lash would he admit how he yearned to find Frodo still living in the Shire, the blue eyes lighting up with welcome. It is a fool's hope, he warned himself silently. It has been too long; he is surely dead by now.  But he could not stop himself from hoping.

 

Chapter 2:  Under Cover of Darkness

Canohando left home as summer ended, the haunting cries of  migrating birds speeding him on his way. "You are quicker than I am, but I'll catch up!" he shouted after one flock.  He shifted his pack to sit more comfortably on his back and trudged on. His spirits had risen now that he was on his way, and at night he slept without dreams.

Gorgoroth was pale gold as far into the distance as he could see, the coming of autumn  turning its grass to straw that rustled against his knees.  He bent down to tear off handfuls of the tasseled seedheads,  rubbing the seeds out between his palms and casting them  to each side as he walked – See, old man, I am still planting for you!   So they had done when he traveled with Ninefingers and the Brown One, but then the patches of grass had been far apart, the seeds few and planted carefully only where there was moisture to make them grow. 

He had planned this journey as carefully as if it had been a campaign of war. Lash's warning was only too true: the Men of Gondor would kill him practically on sight; orcs were no more than vermin to them, fit for destruction. He doubted they would spare him even for the jewel he wore; supposing they found it before they slew him, he thought they would kill him anyway and some captain would take it for his own.

When he reached the Morgai he went more cautiously, traveling from dusk to dawn, sleeping by day.  The Morgai was not barren now; it was a broken landscape of boulders and rocky streams and brushy growth.  There was ample cover for him, and it would have taken a keen eye to see the orc slipping ghost-like from one clump of bushes to the next. 

He had decided against using the Pass of Cirith Ungol.  He knew from Ninefingers that the King was aware of the monster that dwelt there, and he thought it likely the pass would be watched.  Frodo had known of no other way through the mountains, but this was Canohando's home country.  He followed paths that none but a mountain goat – or an orc – could have found. He came out some little way north of the Crossroads, and went to ground like a shadow.

Now he traveled only at night.  Ithilien was a patchwork of fields and villages, but he passed among them unseen.  Occasionally a dog barked, but not more than once: the orc carried a tooth that bit deeper and swifter than any dog.  He dragged the carcasses away and buried them when he got beyond the houses; he did not want the alarm raised when morning came and some smallholder found his watchdog with its throat cut. 

He met a check when he reached the River.  It lay across his path broad and black in the moonlight, the water shining like oil, and he shrank back.  Once in his life he had plunged into a stream and nearly drowned; fear clutched at his belly as he remembered the choking sensation before he had lost consciousness.  He climbed a tree near the riverbank and slung a rope hammock high in the branches; he would have to think about this problem, but sleep came first.

When he woke, it was broad daylight and he lay still in his hiding place, looking up and down the river.  Not far downstream something was floating; as he watched, it came nearer until it reached the bank, and some men jumped ashore.  Canohando had lived all his life where the only streams were un-navigable rapids; he knew nothing of boats, and it took him some time to comprehend what he was seeing: the men controlled the thing in the water; they rode it back and forth across the river.

All day he watched, taking note of how the boatmen used the long paddle fixed to the rear of the ferry.  At nightfall the men went away, and Canohando rolled up his hammock and came down from the tree. He untied the boat and crossed the River, nearly tipping himself into the water several times.  When he was a stone's throw away from shore, the paddle snagged on something.  He yanked at it and it came free with a suddenness that jerked it out of his hands and threw him backward.  He teetered for a dreadful moment off-balance and terrified, before he toppled with a noisy splash into the water.

The bottom of the river was soft mud and he thrust against it with hands and feet, certain that his death was upon him but fighting it to the last. He got his feet under him and gave a desperate push; his head broke the surface and he found that he was only waist-deep in the water after all.  He stood trembling and gasping, letting his racing heart return to normal; finally he turned toward the shore and waded out.  The abandoned boat drifted away downstream. 

He moved warily through the darkness, alert for any sign that he had been heard when he splashed into the water, but there was none. He shivered a little as the cool air struck his wet garments; it was winter now, not the bitter cold and deep snow of his mountains, but a dank chill that seemed to creep right inside his bones. Time was passing, and it troubled him as it never had before.

 He had learned more than boat handling in his long day watching from the hammock.  The boatmen had taken their noon meal under his tree, talking as they ate, while Canohando listened above. 

"I'm off to the City next week," one of the men had said cheerfully.  "Plenty of work there for them that wants it – I hear the King's puttin' on a grand show for New Year's."

"New Year's!" one of his companions had exclaimed.  "That's not till the end of March, three months off!  Bit early to be gettin' ready, ain't it?"

"Not this year. They say all the fountains'll be full of wine, all over the city, and feasting for everyone, rich and poor.  Fireworks, too, and fancy visitors from all over, even the King of the Mark, maybe!  It'll take every bit of three months to pull all that off."

"What for, then?  What's all the fuss about?" one of the others wanted to know.

"Listen at him! Didn't you never go to school?  One hundred twenty years it is this year, since Elessar come to the throne.  That's a milestone, wouldn't you say? Worth celebrating, if you ask me!"

Hiding above them, Canohando bit back an exclamation of surprise. Was it really so long since the Dark Lord fell?  Orcs kept no reckoning of years; he knew there had been many turns of season since the earth shook and the Mountain exploded in fire, but that many?  He shut his eyes, remembering Frodo.  There had been some gray in the halfling's hair – Canohando had not realized the significance of that until Lash's wife began to age. Her hair had turned gray, then white, before she died.

One hundred twenty years was a long time, even to an orc. Was there any chance at all that Ninefingers still lived?

  

Chapter 3. Dangers

Once past the river, Canohando found the going more difficult. The country here was a maze of small houses surrounded by garden plots, or occasionally large houses with broad stretches of ground to set them off from their neighbors, but these tended to have stone walls around them as well. He could climb the stone easily enough, but he was wary of being trapped within the walls, in case someone kept watch inside to repel intruders. There were not many areas of open land where he could be sure of meeting no one between dusk and dawn.

Worst of all were the taverns, set close beside the road and brightly lit most of the night, with men going in and out. Canohando would circle miles out of his way to avoid passing one of these. Sometimes, however, he could find no way around and would be forced hide until the place closed, the lights finally extinguished, a few late revelers staggering down the street.

He feared drunkenness. In the old days, when he had been messenger in the service of the Dark Lord, he had been permitted nothing stronger than weak beer: he had to be ready at any time to set out across Mordor, not following the road but taking the quickest way he could find across country. A few times he had gotten access to stronger drink; not being used to it, he had been very sick, and on one occasion he’d been caught by his captain. He had received a savage beating in punishment for making himself unfit for duty, and after that he had contented himself with the small beer issued to him. Most of the other Orcs, however, drank heavily. In their off hours they were likely to be drunk, and the drunker they were, the more brutal. Canohando was smaller than many of them, one of a breed of mountain Orcs native to Mordor. He was an easy target for their rough play.

He had nearly forgotten the old days now; the peace of his mountain home, the deep affection between himself and Lash's family, had covered over the painful memories. Now the sight and sound of drunken men brought the past vividly to mind once more. Crouched in a dark gap between two houses, waiting for the tavern down the street to close for the night, his thoughts went back to Frodo.

Ninefingers had been prisoner of Orcs in the watchtower of Cirith Ungol. Canohando knew the place only too well: he had carried messages to that fortress more than once, and he had dreaded being sent there. The Orcs of the garrison had walked in terror of the monster that laired beneath their tower, and their fear had made them cruel even by Orc standards. Canohando had never seen any of them less than half drunk. A gang of them had caught him once, after he had delivered his message.

"Hey, no more use for this one, lads! They won't miss him, where he came from, and Her Ladyship's hungry! What say we toss him to her, turn her up sweet for a few days?"

That idea had gotten a roar of soused approval, and they had started to drag him away. Nearly fainting with terror, Canohando had pretended to faint in truth, and when his tormentors let go of him for an instant to take a firmer grip, he had broken free and run for his life. How did you survive, runt, among such devils? He rested his head on his knees and shut his eyes. My poor runt! But Lash and I did you no harm, and I saved you from Yarga. Have we repaid you for what you suffered at the hands of Orcs?

He must have dozed, for when he lifted his head again the tavern was dark and everything was quiet. He stood up and passed along the street without a sound. He was nearly to the end of the row of houses when he tripped and fell heavily on top of something, a heap of rags that stank of beer and vomit – no, not rags, a man, sodden with drink. Canohando rose to his knees, drawing his knife.

He has not seen me. The drunk mumbled and buried his face in his arms, and Canohando tensed, but the man did not seem to waken. He may be pretending; he may raise the alarm as soon as I am out of sight. Better to be sure - He rolled the drunk over on his back, unfastening the thick woolen cloak to expose his throat. The man's head lolled to one side, his eyes closed. His hood fell back, revealing a young face without a beard, very pale in the moonlight, and Canohando hesitated. A gust of wind swept down the street, making him shiver. How if I take that warm cloak away from you; will that wake you up? He yanked on the woolen fabric, one hand over the drunk's mouth in case he raised a shout, but there was no need. The man was limp; his only response to the rough handling was a weak moan. Canohando shook him again, hard, to be sure. Very well, youngling, I will give you a chance. I will take your cloak but not your life; perhaps next time you will have the sense to get home before you go to sleep.

He got to his feet, still watching the drunk for any sign of returning consciousness, wrapping the cloak around himself and pulling up the hood. The young man slept on, unknowing. At last Canohando turned away. He kept his knife at the ready for the first mile or so, but finally he sighed and slipped it back in its sheath. That was for you, runt, he thought. In the old days I would have killed without a second thought; I would not have taken a chance on him… But he was not sorry that he had let the man live, and he snugged the hood closer about his neck, grateful for its warmth. I showed him mercy, he thought, and that realization warmed him as much as the heavy wool.

The cloak did more than protect him from the cold. Hidden under its folds he felt safer; he pulled the hood down over his forehead, and in the dark he thought he might pass for a man well enough. He was broader in the shoulders and a little shorter than most of these southerners; the tribesmen of his home mountains had not been so tall, but there was no reason for anyone to look closely at him. He became bolder, hanging around outside the taverns, hoping to hear more talk of the coming New Year celebration.

He was deep inside Gondor now, but he still did not know where to find the Elf-queen. He might wander here for months, until he was caught and slain out of hand. He needed information.

And now he began to realize that the drunkenness of these late merry-makers was not a danger to him, but greater safety. They lurched out of the taverns at closing time, watching their feet to keep from tripping on the uneven cobblestones, and no one questioned why Canohando was lounging against a tree or a housefront a few doors down the street. One night a man stumbled as he passed, and without thinking the orc put out a hand and caught him, stopped him from falling.

“Thank’ee, sir,” the man slurred, “thank’ee kindly. The ship’s a mite rocky tonight.”

Canohando snorted in amusement from the depths of his hood. This drunk, at any rate, did not sound like a threat. He put his arm round the man’s waist, careful to shroud his hand, with its grey skin, in a fold of his cloak.

“Where do you live, Man? I will see you get home safe.”

“Oh, that’s a kindly deed, sir, aye it is. There’s a few good folk on land, no matter what they say. Two streets down, only a step, and that’s where I berth. See me safe home and I’ll have a copper for you.”

True to his word, when they reached his door the man fished in his pocket and extracted a coin. “Aye, well, t’ain’t a copper after all; it’s a silver penny! Never mind, then, you’ve earned it, young fellow. Take it and have a drink on me - see you drink the health of old Sarry, mind!” He opened the door and tottered inside, pulling it shut behind him.

The next day, hidden in his hammock in the high branches of a tree, Canohando examined the coin. There were faces engraved on it, on one side a stern-looking man wearing a crown, but on the obverse was a woman's face of delicate beauty, and her only ornament was the smooth hair framing her forehead and cheeks, graceful as a bird's wings. Canohando grimaced at the man's face.

The King. A fit commander for the hosts of Gondor. But at the woman's face he gazed for a long time. She wore no crown, but he had no doubt that this was the Elf-queen, who had given her jewel to Ninefingers for his comforting. I wonder what you said, when you heard he had given it to me? But the image on the coin looked out at him calmly, and he could not decide if she would have been angry or not.

A few nights later he fell in step beside another drunk who was making his unsteady way down the street in the dark. Beneath his cloak the orc held his knife unsheathed, ready to make a quick end if it looked like trouble. He must find the Queen, or his long pilgrimage was in vain.

"Are you going to the King's New Year celebration?" he asked the man.

The drunk lurched to a stop. "And what's it to you if I am?" He swayed, staring truculently at the dark-cloaked figure beside him. "Got some interest in my business, have ye?"

Canohando moved a step closer. "I hear there's work for any man who wants it. Do you know anything about that?"

The drunk spat in the street and hiccupped. "There's always work, my hearty, for anyone that wants it! Got nothin' to do with me, because I don't want it, y'see?"

Canohando kept a grip on his patience."And if I want some of that work, do you know where I'd go to get it?" he asked.

The man guffawed. "You wants to work, do ye? Dirty yer hands and break yer back so's the King can throw a party? Go on up the city, then, and tell'im you've come to help him out! He'll be pleased to see you, and any of your fool friends you care to bring along!" He turned and began to shuffle away, but Canohando kept up with him.

"One more question. Which way is this city, where I'll find the King?"

At that the man stopped to peer at him in amazement, and the Orc's hand tensed on his knife. "Well, you are a half-wit and no mistake! If you can't find Minas Tirith that sticks out like the nose on your face in the middle of Pelennor Plain, I reckon even the King won't have no use for you! You'd better crawl back beneath whatever rock you was under and go back to sleep." He staggered off, showing no more interest in the Orc.

Canohando faded back into the shadows, watching after him in case he showed any sign of raising the alarm, but after half a dozen steps the man tripped over his own feet and fell. He tried clumsily to get up again, wavered for a moment on his knees, and then sagged gently to the ground. The Orc smiled grimly and sheathed his knife. "You'd do better to crawl under your rock before you go to sleep," he said, and turned away.

He avoided people after that, drunk or not. If the man thought the King's city was so easy to find, he should not have any difficulty. He had found his way back and forth across the emptiness of Mordor often enough, running the Dark Lord’s errands. For the next few days he watched carefully from his refuge in the treetops, trying to see which way most of the carts and foot traffic on the roads seemed to be headed. If there was so much preparation for the New Year going on in the city, there should be many people going that way.

He saw Minas Tirith at last from far across the plain, hidden in his hammock at break of day. As the sun came up, the walls of the city gleamed white as a snowfield in the mountains, making him blink and rub his eyes. Mt. Mindolluin bulked behind it, purple against the sky, and the city itself was almost like a mountain, rising tier upon tier to a pinnacle of shining stone, and at the summit a tower that caught the rays of the sun and flashed like crystal. From its tip a black banner whipped in the morning breeze. Canohando sat up, his hammock rocking dangerously at the sudden movement, and stared open-mouthed at the city he had journeyed so far to find.

This - this! - was the home of the Elf-queen. He fumbled in his pouch and pulled out the silver penny that held her image, looking from it back to the white walls shimmering in the distance. Oh yes, it was a fitting home for her, that shining citadel: a graceful setting for her beauty.

Death waits for me in that city, he thought, and he shivered, but did not look away. They will surely slay me, but first I will see you, Elf-queen! And then you may have your jewel again, for I shall not need it. He had seen enough of Gondor now, to understand what evil the Dark Lord had purposed here. I was in His service, he thought in despair. Ninefingers forgave me that, but the King will not.

It took him another night to cross the plain, and in the gray dawn he climbed a tree in a garden just outside the city walls, where he could keep an eye on the great gates. This day he left his hammock rolled up in his pack; he did not sleep, but observed the traffic going into the city and the movements of the soldiers who guarded the gates. He did not think he could slip by them, however cautious he might be. The guards seemed courteous enough, but there was no cart they did not casually look into, and he saw them stop a number of travelers and question them, before they waved them on. His cloak would no protection from their sharp eyes.

At nightfall the gates swung shut, guarded within and without. Canohando slid down the shadowed side of his tree and circled around the city till he was as far from the gates as he could get; then he went up and over the wall as furtive as a stray cat.

If I were King, he thought, I would make my home at the very top, where my soldiers could rally to me and we could make a stand, if enemies came. He did not bother to follow the wide street that wound its way to the summit, but sought out the wall that encircled the next level and climbed it. One level after another, he penetrated to the heart of Minas Tirith, silent as moonlight, and there was no one in the city aware that an orc had entered there.

At last he stood at the edge of a wide pavement open to the sky. In the center was a spreading tree and beside it a fountain, the leaping water catching the moon's gleam as it splashed into its pool. Canohando stood for a moment listening, carried back by the sound to the swift little streams of his mountains, the home he had abandoned. Why have I come here? His hand sought the jewel at his throat, as it had for so many years whenever he was troubled, and he nodded slowly. To see the Lady whose jewel I wear, whatever follows after.

Across the courtyard armed men stood motionless before a pair of tall doors. Canohando felt his way through the shadows around the perimeter of the courtyard and into the gap between the guarded building and its neighbor. The wall was blank, smooth stone all the way to the roof, and he continued around the corner to the rear. There was a wide, arched window there, but it was high up and covered over with leaded glass. On the other side of the building he found what he sought: a row of windows open to the night, no farther above his head than the height of two men. He dug in his pack for a long rope with a hook fastened at one end, and within a few minutes he was standing on the windowsill and stepping down inside the room.

It was empty, or at least there were no people there. A broad, long room, the high roof supported by pillars that marched in two rows from one end to the other, from the arched doorway to a raised dais at the far end, upon which stood two great carved chairs. High above the chairs, just below the roofline, was the arched window. Moonlight struck through it, glowing faintly in muted colors. But just over the chairs was a stone canopy, carved to resemble a crowned helm.

Canohando stared around him, coiling up his rope, awe sinking into his heart till he felt frozen to the marble floor. At last with an effort he broke free of the spell and stepped out into the aisle between the pillars; slowly, with his eyes on the two thrones, he advanced up the hall. Here they will slay me, he thought again, but it was a better place to die than in the Spider’s lair. One chair for the King, and one for the Queen - but which is hers? But when he reached the foot of the dais he knew, for one chair held a heap of silken cushions. He sat down on the bottom step and gazed up at the Queen’s throne, trying to picture the Lady of the coin sitting there.

4. The Elf-queen    

Morning came slowly, grey light turning pearly as it filled the vaulted space. Canohando gazed around in wonder. He had concealed himself at the very end of the hall, behind the two great chairs that stood side by side on the dais, but now he rose and walked down the long marble aisle, staring at the carved images of kings on either side.

King of Gondor! he mused. But you are one of many, it seems, stretching into the far past. How long do you live, you kings, that there are so many of you? Not as long as an Orc, yet I think you will outlive me. He reached into the leather satchel that hung from his shoulder, pulling out a few strips of dried meat, the last of the supply that had sustained him all the way from Mordor. If you do not feed me after today, Elf-queen, I will starve, but I do not think it will come to that. Will you be in this hall today, when I am discovered?

There was a sound outside the tall doors and the Orc slipped behind the last statue in the row, folding himself to the floor beside the black marble plinth, the dark cloak over him.  The light that came in the arched windows cast shadows against wall and floor where he sat, and when the first wave of gentlemen and ladies of the court swept into the hall, no one noticed the Orc sitting motionless in the dark corner.

Canohando had chosen his day well, had he but known it. It was the first of the month, the day the King gave hearing to everyone, great or small, who had any matter to bring before him. And Arwen would be present as well, for she came always on these days of open audience to lend the wisdom of the Eldar race, although in general she did not sit with Elessar when he conducted business in the public hall. 

The ladies gathered near the dais on gilded chairs that had been set ready for them. They made a pretty picture in their gowns of bright colors, a bevy of exotic butterflies. Many of them brought out bits of fancy stitchery and began to sew; Arwen disliked idleness and had always some beautiful thing that she was making, and her handmaidens followed her example.

The gentlemen stationed themselves in two groups, one by the dais and the other near the doors. They would first question those who came before the King, and present each petitioner to him; the courtiers near the throne were advisers and messengers, ready to aid Elessar in his judgments. Guards in the livery of the White Tree followed the courtiers into the throne room and stood at intervals down the hall, between the statues of the kings.

Soon after they had all arranged themselves, there was a sound of music outside, and a flourish of trumpets. The doors were thrown open and the King entered with Arwen, followed by musicians with flutes and viols and a group of angelic-looking boys who sang in high, clear voices. They remained near the doors, and Canohando peered out from behind them, his heart pierced by the music, his eyes following Arwen as she made her way down the hall. She glowed like living light, and her long dark hair flowed down her back like a veil. He wanted to run after her and throw himself at her feet, and his hands balled into fists, digging his pointed claws into the palms of his hands, as he forced himself to remain still. You have broken me open, Lady, and I do not grudge my death. It is enough that I have seen you. He did not notice that there were tears streaming down his face.

The King and Queen mounted the dais and seated themselves, Elessar himself setting a cushion under the Queen’s feet and another behind her head, seeing to her comfort before he sat down himself. At last he nodded to his gentlemen, and the first petitioner was led forward. 

One of the ladies in waiting came softly to the Queen’s side, handing her a tapestry bag, and Arwen opened it and took out an embroidery frame and skeins of silken thread in a rainbow of colors. She sat quietly sewing, listening to the man who was presenting his case to the King. Not until Elessar had finished questioning the man did Arwen look up, and then her gaze was penetrating. She asked one or two questions, then spoke softly in the King’s ear. He listened, and nodded, and gave his judgment. The man bowed himself out, and the next petitioner came forward.

It went on for hours. The musicians stopped playing and withdrew. Halfway through the morning servants came in bearing trays, glasses of wine and sliced fruit in little crystal bowls, serving the King and Queen, and moving among the assembled people. The King walked down the hall to confer with his gentlemen by the doors, and Canohando got a closer look at him: not so stern-faced as his image on the coin, the Orc decided, but there was majesty in the King’s bearing. He feared this man, not the way he had feared the Witch King, when he followed in his horde, in groveling terror, but...

You are a fit match for the Lady of the Jewel, he thought. Then he realized that the King’s hair was grey, and he remembered that the Lady was Elven, but the King was not. 

The Orc sat motionless as one man after another came before the thrones. The shadows moved across the room as the morning wore on, until he was sitting in full sunlight, but still no one noticed him. At last there were no more petitioners waiting their turn near the doors. Canohando slipped the cloak from his shoulders and left it on the floor with his pack and his sheathed knife. He rose to his feet in one fluid motion, and was halfway down the hall to the dais before anyone realized he was there, or had time to react.

The guards flung themselves upon him from every part of the room. He kept going, intent on reaching the dais before he was stopped, and then a sword drove at him from the side, the blade slicing his arm as he moved to ward it off. He spun around and caught the hilt out of the hand of the guard who wielded it, wrenching it away from him and plunging it into his heart between one breath and the next. The man was dead before he hit the floor, and Canohando stood with the bloody weapon in his hand, stricken in the horror of what he had done. The room had been an uproar of shouts and screams, but now there was silence. The other guards surrounded the Orc, their swords drawn, but keeping their distance. 

Canohando's eyes swept around the ring of blades that hemmed him in. He could kill a few of these Men, but he could not kill them all. He looked toward the dais. The King was on his feet, standing in front of the Queen as if he feared some attack on her, but Arwen still sat quietly with her sewing in her lap.

Despair rose in the Orc’s heart, choking him. He had not come here to kill, but he had killed. Now it was time to die. The jewel would be found on him, and they would know who he was – even now he had no doubt that Ninefingers had told the King what became of the Queen's Jewel. They will know who I am, but will they know why I came here?

No matter. Canohando locked eyes with the guardsman nearest him. Deliberately he reached inside his tunic and pulled out the jewel on its chain, holding it before him like a talisman. Then he cast the sword away from him; it clattered to the  floor at the guard's feet. The man bent to pick it up, without taking his gaze from Canohando's face.

There was a murmur from the swordsmen who surrounded the Orc, and they advanced cautiously. He had thrown down the sword he'd taken, but they had seen how fast he could twist a weapon out of a man's hand. Then Arwen arose from her seat with a cry, scattering the bright silks in her lap so they lay across the pavement like a rainbow come to ground.

"Stay your swords!" she cried. "Do not harm him –  this is Frodo's Orc!"  She hastened forward, her robes rustling over the paving stones, but Elessar moved more quickly still, catching her hand, bringing her to a halt outside the ring of swordsmen.

"Wait!" he said. He was a tall man, and he looked over the heads of his soldiers at Canohando. "Who are you, fellow, that you force your way into my hall and slay my man before my very face?"

The Orc held his arms away from his sides, as if to show that he carried no weapon. "I am a warrior and I struck from long habit, when a naked sword came down upon me. I will slay no more of your men, King of Gondor, not though you command them to cut me in pieces! I did not come here to kill, but to find the Elf-Queen whose jewel I wear."  He turned his gaze on Arwen.  "I am sorry, Lady. I had not meant to bring death into your presence. The Darkness runs on my footsteps, even when I flee." His voice was heavy with grief.

There was muttering among the people in the hall.  The dead guardsman sprawled grotesquely on the floor, his blood spreading out from his body in a wide pool. His comrades looked on with stony faces, awaiting the King’s pleasure.

“You did not come here unarmed,” said Elessar. “Where is your weapon?”

Canohando nodded toward the doors. “Behind the last pillar, with my pack. I had my knife, no more than that. There is nothing on me, I swear it!”

Arwen’s voice was soft as a spring breeze. “By what do you swear, Orc?” 

He looked her full in the face, and his eyes were full of worship. Awkwardly he knelt before her. “By the jewel at my throat I swear it, and by the one who hung it around my neck. In truth, Lady, I would not have brought death here!” She looked deep into his eyes and he bore it for a moment, before he bowed his head.

“Nevertheless, you did bring death, and your life is forfeit.”  Elessar’s voice was hard. “Stretch out your hands behind your back.” Canohando obeyed without looking up. 

“Bind him,” said the King.

 

5.  In the Dungeons of Gondor

 

"He can cool his quick temper in a stone cell for a month.  Then I will give my judgment." 

The King and Queen were at dinner, only the two of them alone in their private dining room.  Arwen toyed with her food, too distracted to eat.  "If you are resolved already to have his life, it would be more merciful to send him to execution this very night.  Why hold him prisoner for a month?"

Elessar took a sip of his wine.  "Do I owe him mercy?  That was a good man he killed, faithful, brave… The Orc sat all morning watching us give audience; he knew better than to rush at us the way he did. What did he expect, if not a naked sword coming down on him?"

A smile quirked the corner of Arwen's mouth.  "Should he have applied to Florian for permission to approach the Throne?  Do you think the gentlemen of the court would have brought him forward?"

The King kept his face impassive, but a humorous look came into his eyes. "I should like to have seen how Florian would have handled it," he admitted, but then he was grave again.  "The Orc has done murder, Arwen, in the open hall!  I will not send him to his death this night, for I would consider carefully what I do, but he owes us a life."  He regarded her with tenderness.  "And you would spare him, I see it in you.  For what reason?"

"He is Frodo's Orc," she said simply.

Elessar rose and walked restlessly around the room.  "So it would seem – he wears your jewel, at least.  But he is an Orc for all that, Dearest, and dangerous, as we saw this day."

"And would you not be dangerous, my love, if you were attacked? Areyou not as dangerous as he is?  For you hold his life in your hands, and you will have it, in a month's time if not tonight."

He refilled their wine glasses without answering.  "Will your brothers be here for the New Year, do you think?" he asked finally.

Three days passed before Arwen returned to the subject of the Orc, and then she did not speak to Elessar but to the Head of the Guard.  "Does our new guest in the dungeons give any trouble, Arak?"

The man shook his head.  "None at all, Lady. Does the King wait to judge him next Audience Day?  I doubt the Orc will live that long."

"What?  How is this?  Why should he not live?"

The guardsman shrugged.  "He does not eat.  Water he will take, but nothing more, and he lies on his pallet with his face to the wall, and pays no heed to anyone."

Arwen looked stricken.  "Send word below that I will be there within the hour!  Whatever preparation the Warden wishes to make for my visit, let him do so, for I am coming down."

She swept back into her own apartments and called for her maid.  "I want a basket, Lareth, and food from the kitchens – something light but nourishing, and a roasted bird, I think, and some almonds, without shells.  Get it for me, please, and wrap up a bottle of sweet wine and two glasses so I can carry them."

The maiden stared, but hurried to obey, and Arwen opened a cupboard in her room and rummaged through the bedding stored there, pulling out this and that, and tossing it behind her on the floor, impatiently.  At last she settled on a blanket of spun silk, thick and soft and as yellow as sunshine.  Lareth returned with the basket in one hand and a bundle containing the wine and glasses in the other, and Arwen threw a rainbow-hued shawl around herself.

"Come, you can carry it for me as far as the Warden's office. One of his men will take it after that."  She held the blanket in her own arms and hastened from the room with her maid running  to keep up.

They did not want to let her in. "Your Majesty, it is not fit for you here – if you wish to question a prisoner, he will be brought to you under guard. The dungeon is dark and noisome; it is no place for a lady, still less for you!"

"If it is noisome, perhaps it is time for a cleaning day, Warden.  And I will see this prisoner where you have housed him. Pray bring me to the Orc."

They obeyed her, protesting all the while. They had moved Canohando quickly, when word came down that Arwen was on her way, from the filthy cell where he had been, to one that was not so bad. There was even a tiny window high in the wall, too small for him to have squeezed through, even if it had not been barred. No one had told the Orc the reason for the move, and he assumed that his execution was imminent.

He lay with his face to the wall, as the guard had told her. She spoke his name softly, and he rolled over to stare at her, his eyes glazed as if he were in a trance. He neither answered nor got up, only lay where he was, looking into her face as if he saw some vision.

"Canohando," she said again, her heart wrenched with pity. "Come to me, dear one; they will not open this door and let me come to you.

"Get me a chair," she said aside to the Warden. "A chair, and then leave me with him."

She settled herself with the basket and bundle at her feet, the blanket on her lap. "Canohando," she said, her voice firm. "Come here where I can reach you. I wish you to tell me of  Frodo."

He got up then, limping over to her and sinking to the floor next to the bars of his cell. He was dirty and there was dried blood on his face and in his hair. Plainly he had been beaten, and he hunched forward as if his ribs hurt. His hands were still bound behind him and he could not lean back. He looked up at her and his eyes cleared a little.

"My runt," he said hoarsely. "He is my brother, Lady. There is no one like Ninefingers, no one."

"No one," she agreed, smiling through tears. "Dear one, turn and let me free your hands. Then you shall tell me of him, and we will drink a toast in his honor."

He searched her face, more awake now. "Do you not fear to loose my bonds, Lady?  Even with these bars between us, I could reach through…"

"Should I fear you, Canohando?"

He shook his head so hard that his matted hair whipped across his face. "No, Lady! I would shed my heart's blood to protect you. I will not reach through the bars." He turned around and she drew a little pearl-handled knife from a pouch at her belt, cutting through the dirty cords that bound his wrists. He chafed at them, rubbing feeling back into hands that had been numb and cold, wincing at the pain as circulation returned.

The wound on his arm had not been cared for – it was caked with blood and dirt, and it looked puffy and inflamed. Arwen made a little sound of pity. "I will call for water and bandages; that must be tended to."

Canohando met her eyes. "To what purpose, Lady? My life is forfeit; I only wait for the King to decide on a death suitable for me. If I can slip away before he thinks of something, I may spare myself much suffering."

Arwen bit her lip. "Is that what you think – that my husband is dreaming up torments for you?"

The Orc picked at the dried blood on his arm. "Is that not what all rulers do, when they are greatly angered? If he was minded to make it quick, he would have slain me in the hall that same morning."

"No, Canohando. Oh, no!" Arwen was finding it hard to talk around the lump in her throat. "He is waiting to be sure, to not condemn you and then be sorry, when it is too late. He would be sure of doing justice."

"I killed the King's man, in the King's own hall. What death will he put me to, Lady? Do you know?"

She was unnerved by his bluntness, his grim courage. "I – I think he might condemn you to the same manner of death you meted out."

The Orc shut his eyes for a moment, giving a deep sigh, and the tense lines in his forehead smoothed out. "That would be justice and mercy both at once. Quicker than starving."

"That is why you would not eat," she said, and he nodded.

"Thirst is quicker, but I could not face it," he said, and Arwen shuddered.

"He may not condemn you at all, Canohando. You killed, but you were defending yourself. And you were not carrying a weapon; that is proof that you came without intent to do harm!  But even if the King demands your life, it will not be as grievous a death as starvation."

She opened her basket, and the good aroma of roasted fowl vied with the stale odor of the prison. She broke the chicken in pieces, passing the meat to him through the bars. "Eat, dear one!  I will not see you starve in my house, not even in its dungeon."

He took the food from her, piece by piece, tearing the flesh from the bones ravenously. He had eaten nearly the whole chicken before he spoke again. "Why do you call me that? 'Dear one'?"

She laughed softly. "It is what I used to call Frodo, and you put me in mind of him somehow."

"He is my brother," the Orc said again, and she nodded. "Hold out your hands, Canohando."  He did so, and she turned them over and ran her finger down the scar that marked his palm. "Frodo showed me the tooth you carved for him, and the scar on his own hand. But I knew it was you."

She brought out the wine, and they toasted Frodo. She fed the Orc the rest of the food in her basket, and listened while he told her of his home in the mountains, and the winter Frodo and the Brown Wizard had spent there.  "He loved the sweat bath." Canohando laughed, remembering. "I thought we would have to carry him out of it – he didn't like the cold!"  The stone walls of the prison receded while they talked, and Arwen felt herself free in the mountains, following Frodo and the Orcs along trails that had hardly been trodden since the beginning of the world.

"He came here, Lady, when he left Mordor?" the Orc asked at last. "Does he yet live?"

And Arwen came back to the present as if she had slammed into a wall. She could not lie, and Canohando read her expression and turned away, covering his face with his arm. "I knew" – she had to strain to hear him – "I knew it must be so, it has been too long, but I could not stop myself from hoping –"

"Dear one –" She reached through the bars and pulled him to her, stroking his hair, matted with dried blood, patting his back. He gave a choking sob, and then he wept, his tears wetting her gown, and in truth her own eyes were not dry, although Frodo's death was nearly sixty years in the past, and she had done her crying at the time.

But when they had done weeping and Canohando backed away, wiping his wet face with his hands, there was another witness to their grief. Elessar had come quietly into the corridor outside the prison cells, and he drew Arwen up from her chair into his arms, kissing away her tears.

"How now, dear heart, what is it you do here? If this is how you comfort my prisoners, they must tremble to see you coming," he rallied her gently.

She clung to him, her cheek against his shoulder. "My King, my love, look at  him, see how they have used him! They had not even unbound his hands, they left his wound uncleansed, and they have beaten him till he can hardly walk!  If you must have his life for your justice, let it be a clean death at least, not this horror of filth and abuse –"

Elessar glanced  at the Orc. "Your hands are not bound," he said.

"Your Lady freed me." Canohando searched about on the floor until he found the cut cords, and passed them out to the King. He said nothing else, and Elessar took the cords, his face troubled. 

“You have been beaten?” he asked, and the Orc nodded. “Let me see your wound.”  But when Canohando held out his arm with its filthy, inflamed gash, the King’s mouth set in a hard line. “You owe me a life, Orc, but I would not have had you mistreated. I ask your pardon.

"Come, Arwen, you have given comfort enough here for one day. We will send a healer to tend to him, and after luncheon you shall give what orders you like for the proper housing of this prisoner.  For myself, I must take thought who to put in charge of my dungeons, for the Warden will not be staying.”

She made as if to gather up her basket and wineglasses, but the King took them from her hands. Then she pushed the yellow blanket she had brought through the bars to Canohando, and he went to his knees before her. "Thank you, Lady! Truly you are everything that Ninefingers told me you were. I am not sorry I came here, whatever comes of it, for I have seen the Elf-queen and known her kindness."

Elessar stared at the Orc in amazement before he led his Queen away.

  

6. The King and the Orc

"You must talk with him, my King. You must not condemn him before you have even heard what he says!"  They had finished luncheon, and Elessar sat smoking his pipe. The serving lad had set a  plate of dainty sweetmeats at Arwen's place, but she had not touched them.

The King knit his brows. "I hear you pleading for the life of this Orc, who did murder before your very eyes, and I think of what your mother suffered at the hands of Orcs. My love, have you run mad?"

Arwen blinked and drew back as if he had struck her, and Elessar set down his pipe and came around the table to gather her in his arms.  He carried her to a soft, wide chair and sat down with her on his lap. "No, no, my dearest, I did not mean that! But I do not understand why you fight for his life in this way."

"Do you not?  It is not in spite of what Orcs did to my mother, it is because of it!  They waylaid her and held her captive for months until my brothers could break through and rescue her; they put her to torment, and she never recovered from it; she went over the Sea and left us bereft, and all because of Orcs!  And we could hate them for what they did, but we could not truly blame them – they are slaves to the Enemy, they are not free to choose mercy, and kindness…

"And then Frodo went into Mordor – went a second time into that cursed land that nearly took his life the first time – and he broke down the prison doors for three of those Orcs! 

"One is dead already. One sits on his mountain with his sons, doing no harm. And one came seeking me!  Why did he come here, Estel? He had home and freedom, the fellowship of his friend… he had the brotherhood of the Ring-bearer, and Radagast had been there to be his teacher and adviser… and after all that, he turns up in Minas Tirith, seeking the Elf-queen. Seeking the Elves! 

"If you take his life, you will not un-do what Frodo did for him, but you will stop it from going any further."

Elessar leaned back, drawing her with him to lean against his chest, smelling the fresh, woodsy scent of her hair. He shut his eyes. The Elves – what did Canohando want with the Elves? "I will talk with him, my sweet. I will try to see what you see in Frodo's Orc. Will that content you?"

She smiled, nestling in his arms. "That is a good beginning. Where can I put him to stay, out of that filthy dungeon?"

The King's voice was sharp. "It will not be filthy much longer; I'll see to that! You cannot give him the run of the Palace, love. I will not risk having him escape  into the City and perhaps kill again. Is there any room outside the dungeons that we can set guard on, where he cannot climb out a window?"

Arwen thought for a moment and then she laughed. "Of course there is – the old nursery tower! It is high up and the windows are all barred to keep the children from falling out; there is only the one entrance – you can set as many guards there as you like."

Elessar gave a shout of laughter. "Arwen, you imp! Yes, it will serve, and I am served as well for saying you could have the care of him! You will house him like a young prince, and the Valar send that my Guardsmen do not rise in mutiny at the sight! Very well – get up now and make ready for your prisoner upstairs, and I will hie me to the dungeons and see to things there."  He kissed her soundly on the lips and took himself off.

He found the Warden lying in wait for him, anxious to assure him that everything possible was being done for Canohando. "Indeed, Your Majesty, we had not understood that the prisoner was the especial concern of the Queen! I am deeply upset that she was not satisfied with his condition –" The man bowed and fawned his way along the passage a step ahead of the King until Elessar grew weary of him. 

"I am quite certain you did not understand the situation, Warden, nor do you understand it now! I will not tolerate that any of my prisoners are mistreated, whether they are under the Queen's protection or not, whether they are under sentence of death or not – as this prisoner is not, for I have not yet passed judgment. Or did you think to make the Orc feel at home by turning my dungeons into an Orkish lockhole?  Call me a guard of six men; I am taking the prisoner up to my study for questioning."

The Warden opened his mouth to protest and shut it again as he took in the King's expression of cold rage. Quickly he bowed himself out of sight, and Elessar came alone to Canohando's cell.

The Orc was sitting on his pallet plaiting his hair into three thick braids. He got up at once when he saw the King, and came over to the bars. "Thank you, lord! Now I know  why Ninefingers was proud to be called your friend."

He was clean, in a fresh tunic and loose pants cinched tight around his ankles, and his arm had been bandaged. The King looked him over critically; even in the dim light he could see dark bruises on the Orc's arms and throat, and there was a contusion on his cheek as if a fist had ploughed into it a day or so earlier. He was standing straighter, though, and his voice was stronger than it had been in the morning.

"I wish to talk with you, Orc, but not here. I am taking you up to my study, but I will not trust to your honor till I know you better: you will have to be bound."

Canohando's answer was to turn his back and stretch his hands behind him through the bars, ready for the bonds. Elessar raised his brows in surprise, fishing in his pockets. He found one of Arwen's silk scarves there – she had tired of it when they went walking the day before and had folded it up and tucked in his pocket for safekeeping – always she covered her hair to keep the wind from blowing it into disorder, and then changed her mind and wanted to feel the breeze on her head. He bound the scarf around the Orc's wrists, twisting the soft silk to add strength and tying it firmly. A novel form of restraint, he thought wryly, but silk is strong, and I think it will hold him. The guardsmen he had requested filed into the corridor as he gave the scarf a last tug to ensure that the knots were tight, and behind them came the Warden carrying a ring of keys.

"Your Majesty, I must advise against taking him out of his cell – I cannot vouch for him if he is not under lock and key," the man protested even as he unlocked the cell door. He was patently terrified of Canohando.

"I do not ask you to vouch for him, Warden. See to the condition of the rest of my prisoners instead, for I shall inspect my dungeons from top to bottom when I have finished with the Orc. Should I find any of the others in the state he was in, it will go very ill with you."

The man paled and stood aside. Elessar pulled the door open and Canohando stepped out. "Two of you hold his arms, but don't drag him. Two ahead and the other two behind him, and I will follow. Take him up to my study." 

He thought hard on the way up. Six guards standing over them would not make for a comfortable conversation, and that was what he needed, if he was to take the measure of this Orc. But he had seen Canohando in action; he was a clever and resourceful warrior, and binding his hands would not stop him if he made a bid for freedom. Elessar did not think he was in personal danger from the Orc – his demeanor with Arwen argued against that – but he did not want him running free in Minas Tirith! 

"You." He tapped the shoulder of the guard in front of him. "Get us a set of ankle chains; I will take your place here."  He stopped before they went through the iron door of the dungeons to have the chains put on. Canohando stared down at them sadly, but said nothing. Then they went on slowly, for the Orc was awkward in the chains and was still walking with evident pain.

In the study, Elessar stationed three guards at the windows and the others outside the door; then he led the Orc to the chairs before the fireplace. "Sit down, Canohando. I regret that you cannot lean back with your hands bound, but make yourself as comfortable as you can."

The Orc looked doubtfully at him. "May I sit on the floor, King of Gondor? I am not used to chairs."

The King nodded, but the chains held the Orc's feet too close together for him to get down on the floor without assistance, and at last Elessar had to help him. Then he settled into his own chair and lit his pipe. He wanted a glass of wine, but he didn't like to drink while the Orc went thirsty, and he didn't want to have to hold the glass for him. 

Canohando sat watching the fire and Elessar wondered what he was thinking. Remembering his home, or thinking of watchfires on the eve of battles? The Orc's face was peaceful in repose, and the King wondered if he could have faced the chief of his enemies with like tranquility, sitting bound and in chains.

"Why did you come here, Canohando?"

"To find the Elf-queen, the Lady of the Jewel." He answered without taking his eyes from the flames, his voice soft.

"Why?" Elessar asked again, and the Orc looked up at him.

"I don't know, lord. I could not rest; it was a fire in my belly. I would like to see the Shire, as well, to set my feet in the land my brother came from, but I had to find the Lady whose jewel I wore. I cannot tell you why."

The King regarded him with misgiving. "What would you do in the Shire? I do not permit even Men to enter that land, still less an Orc!"

Canohando shrugged. " I do not think I will ever leave your city now, King of Gondor. As to what would I do in the Shire…"  He looked into the fire once more. "Walk around. Try to find the places my runt told us about, Bag End and the great home by the river, with all the windows that glowed in the sunset… I had hoped I might still find him there…"  His voice trailed off.

He did not weep, but his sorrow was palpable and pity stirred in Elessar. He remembered when Frodo had told them of the Orcs, how they had turned away from the Dark – he had wondered then, although he had not spoken his doubts.  Frodo was a hobbit, and innocent; he might have deceived himself, to believe what he only wished to be so. But with the grieving Orc sitting on the floor of his study, Elessar could disbelieve no longer. Canohando might still be dangerous – of course he was – but there was no question of his love for the Ring-bearer. Frodo had seen truly after all.

"Why did you creep into my hall in secret, and rush at us the way you did? You must have known the guards would come after you!"

"How else could I reach the Lady?" Canohando sounded surprised. "The men of Gondor would kill me on sight; I could not tell you how many corpses of Orcs I have come upon in Mordor, slain and left for the vultures. Yet I had to find her! I knew I diced with death. I learned that from Ninefingers, perhaps – I asked him once if he thought it sport, to play with death."

Elessar stared; that was a side of Frodo he had never seen. "How did he answer you?"

"He gambled, but not for sport. He gambled for our freedom, and he won." The Orc's chin sank to his chest and he closed his eyes. 

He will not weep before me, not as he did with Arwen, Elessar realized, but he is nearly at the end of what he can bear. He got up and poured a glass of wine, then went to the Orc, went down on one knee beside him. "Here, Canohando. Drink."

The Orc drank as the King held the glass for him. A drop of wine dribbled down his chin and Elessar wiped it away with one finger. "Thank you, lord," the Orc said, meeting his eyes, and for a moment the King was struck motionless. Then he got up, putting the glass aside, pouring a drink for himself.

He knew those eyes, though he had not seen them in nearly sixty years. Humble, patient in suffering – How can you call him patient, son of Arathorn? Was he patient  when he murdered your Guardsman?  But honesty forced the King to admit that he himself might have done the same, if a naked sword bore down on him and he had no weapon. 

Frodo would not have done it, he thought. But Frodo was not a warrior. In spite of that, he had been fierce enough in Moria, running forward to drive his little sword into the troll, if only into its foot! Elessar grinned at the memory; Frodo in battle frenzy was a sight never to be forgotten. 

"What do you want with the Queen, Canohando?" he asked.

For a long minute the Orc did not answer. Then he said dreamily, "I want to look at her. I want to follow after her and keep away all danger, anything that would hurt her or give her sorrow. I want to hear her voice, even if she is not speaking to me." He looked up at the King. "What do you want of the moon, lord? Only that it shines, and you are there to see it."

The King sat back in his chair, unable to think of another question, and Canohando returned to watching the fire. After a while he asked, "Is it true what the Lady says, that you will not put me to torture?" There was neither defiance nor plea in his voice; it was a simple request for information, and Elessar thought again of Frodo. In just this way the hobbit had accepted his fate, without self-pity or fanfare.

"I do not torture my enemies," he said. After a moment he added, "And I am not certain that you are an enemy."

"My brother treasured your friendship, King of Gondor. I am not your enemy,” said the Orc.

Elessar went over to the door and sent one of the guardsmen to find the Queen, to know if she was finished with her preparations. Soon after Arwen came herself, a little flushed from her labors, and he met her at the door.

"May I bring him up there now? You will not send him back to the dungeons tonight, will you?"

Elessar put an arm around her. "You sound as if you had a new puppy to house instead of a murderous Orc! Yes, if you are ready, I will bring him up – I want to look around and be as sure as I may that he cannot escape."

He thought they made a strange procession, the guardsmen flanking the Orc and following behind Arwen, while he himself was the rear guard. Arwen had started to protest the ankle chains, but he frowned her to silence. "He is a prisoner, my love. Pray don't let your gentle heart blind you to that!"

But his own heart was touched at the look on Canohando's face when the Orc saw his new quarters. Arwen had had the old playroom, the largest room in the nursery tower, cleared of nearly all its furnishings. She had left a long table with benches on each side and a low bed with a pile of bright-colored blankets.The room was bare, but sunlight gilded the polished wood floor, and the purple bulk of Mindolluin was visible through the barred windows.There was even a fire on the hearth.

Elessar examined the room carefully for security, taking the captain of the little brigade of guards by the arm as he did so. "Help me – Falk, is it?" he said softly. "If you were prisoner in this room, could you escape?" Falk looked out the windows, but it was a long drop to the roof of the main building below, and the bars were no more than the width of three fingers apart. He thrust the poker up the chimney throat, but there was a grating there, bolted in place. There were two doors, besides the entrance they had come in by, and he opened them: one led to a bedroom with no other exit, the other to a hallway.

"It would be better to seal these off," he said, and the King nodded. "How many guards, Majesty, and where will you place them?"

"Advise me," said Elessar.

The man considered carefully. "I would say six at that door to the passage, even if you seal it off. The bed chamber has nothing but the barred window," he stepped in and looked around it again. "If he got out of that, he'd fall into the main courtyard – he'd never survive that, and he'd be no more trouble to us. The main door to this room, I think you want a good dozen men, Majesty. I was in the hall the other morning when he killed. And a couple of archers at each door, in case he found a way out in spite of everything. You will keep the ankle chains on him?"

"For the time being," said the King. "I think that is a good plan you have laid out – will you put it in effect for me? I want only volunteers for this duty, men who are fast and can think on their feet. I do not want this Orc loose in Minas Tirith, and he is wily." The guardsman stared straight ahead, and the King smiled slightly. "You wonder why I do not sentence him to death and be done with it."

"Yes, Your Majesty.I do wonder that."

"Because I am not certain he is worthy of death. Will you take on the task of guarding him?"

"Yes, Your Majesty."

Elessar sent him off to find his volunteers, and himself turned back to where Arwen sat talking to Canohando, who stood before her. He leaned against the window watching them, thinking his own thoughts. How strange it feels to be in this room again! Time was when we came up here every afternoon to play for a while with the children, a pleasant respite from affairs of state. But they have been grown up for many years, the girls married and mothers themselves, Eldarion my emissary in the North. He will be home for the New Year…

Arwen had changed little with the years. Some fine laugh lines around her eyes, a bit thicker in the waist than she had been on her wedding day, but these were small things. The endless youth of the Eldar seemed still to flow in her veins, but Elessar was feeling his age. Your hair is graying, son of Arathorn, and it is one hundred twenty years since you planted the White Tree in the courtyard once more. It is high time Eldarion came home.

"My love." Arwen's voice came to him as from some distance. "May I have my scarf back now?" 

She was laughing up at him, and it took him a moment to remember what scarf she meant, and where it was. Then he looked around the room: Canohando stood by the table, his hands still bound behind him, but he was gazing across the room at the mountain outside the window. There came a sound of hammering from the passage; they were sealing up the exit. The guardsmen who had come upstairs with them were standing in a row across the main door in casual alertness, not at parade-ground attention, but they were wide-awake and on duty.

"Not yet, love, not until Falk has finished his arrangements for security. I shall remain here until all is settled, but you need not, if you have things to do elsewhere."

"I have nothing to do that I would not rather leave undone to be with you, my King.”

She took his hand and led him to the table, and they sat together on the bench with his arm around her shoulders. But Canohando walked over to stare out the window at the mountain and the sky, before he turned his back deliberately on the world outside and stood watching the Queen, leaning his head back against the bars.

7. The King's Judgment


They left the tower at last, after Falk had pronounced himself satisfied with the security of the prisoner, after Elessar had tried without much success to untie the knots he had made in Arwen's scarf. Finally he gave up and cut the Orc's hands free with his knife, reflecting that Arwen would be sure to chaff him about it when they were alone. But before they could turn away, Canohando knelt before them.

"You are noble and good, Elf-queen, King of Gondor. You imprison me in the most beautiful room I have ever seen, and you have my homage, if you will accept that from an Orc. One thing more I would beg of your kindness."

"What is it that you wish?" Arwen asked.

"The pack I left in the Great Hall – there was a drum in it. It was given to me by a friend as he lay dying, and it grieves me that it may be lost or destroyed. Will you have someone look for it, Lady? And when I am dead, you may have it, if you will, to remember me by."

Arwen reached blindly for Elessar's hand, tears stinging her eyes. "I will have someone look for it, Canohando. And I will take your homage gladly." She held out her hand to him, and he kissed it. Then he looked at the King, and without being sure if he wanted to or not, Elessar nonetheless held out his hand for the Orc to kiss.

They left then and went down to dinner, and it was a very silent meal.

“It is almost like having Frodo here again,” the King said at last. “How can that be? They cut their hands and let their blood run together -- so do lads everywhere, I suppose, in the throes of their first real friendship -- and somehow they became brothers in sober truth! He has Frodo’s eyes.”

“They were not lads,” said Arwen. “And they were alike in something else, my love: both had been bound to Darkness, Canohando from birth, Frodo because he carried the Ring, and they both fought their way free. That is why he has Frodo’s eyes; he fought the same battle Frodo did, for his soul’s freedom.”

Elessar nodded slowly. “Frodo began from innocence and the Orc from depravity, but they reached the same place. And then they pledged their brotherhood, and it is more real than you sometimes see in sons of the same mother.” He sighed. “I cannot put Frodo’s brother to death for defending himself, not though he killed one of my own men in my very teeth! What am I to do with him?”

“Give him to me.”

He smiled at her teasingly. “Should I be jealous, my sweet? What will you do with him?”

Arwen’s laughter was lilting, like music. “Were you jealous of Frodo? I will make him my friend, as Frodo was, and Canohando will be more, for he will guard us with his life. Should another madman invade our hall as he did, that one will not get two steps past the door, before the Orc stops him!”

“He owes us a life.”

“And is death the only way for him to pay the debt? There is such a thing as weregild, my King!”

Elessar chuckled. “I suppose I need not ask where an Orc will get the gold to pay it.”

“You will give it to him, dearest, in payment for his service. The Guards of the Citadel do not serve for love alone; they receive their pay. Let Canohando’s pay go to the family of the man he slew; that is justice. What the Orc hungers for, he cannot buy with money.”

The King walked away to stare out the window. Workmen were visible in the distance, building a roofed platform just outside the gates of the Citadel. There would be a parade on the twenty-fifth of March, a little over two months away, and he and Arwen, with the chief men of Minas Tirith, would sit there to review it. From the great gates of the City, through all the winding streets, the parade would come to them, musicians and dancers and acrobats, the worthies of the city in their robes of dignity, little children carrying wreaths of flowers... One hundred twenty years of freedom, of the Kingdom restored, to be celebrated on the anniversary of the day the Ring went into the Fire.

He felt a sudden chill, a premonition. I will not be on that platform, he thought. My scroll is rolling up more quickly than that…

“What does Canohando hunger for, Arwen?” he asked.

She came to stand beside him, leaning on his shoulder and running her fingers through his hair. “What we all long for, my love. To know there is some meaning to it all.”

***

The next morning was bright and clear, with a crisp wind sweeping down from the north. Elessar called for a horse and rode out with a few of his counselors to inspect the condition of the farmland and villages surrounding the city. It was not a morning for premonitions: the wind ruffled his hair and it was good to have a horse between his legs again. When they reached a broad harvest field that had not yet been ploughed, he called a challenge to his men and took off at a gallop across it.

He won the race, of course, and not because he was the King; he had schooled his followers long ago to throw their hearts into everything they did for him, even racing against him over a fallow field. But he did have the best horse; he always had the best horse. He thrust the eerie feeling of the day before to the back of his mind, but it was still there. He knew now that time was short, and he must make the most of it.

Dinner that night was a formal meal with a delegation from Annuminas, visiting Minas Tirith to give report on the year’s harvest in the North Kingdom. The King had met with them many times over the past month, and on the morrow they would begin the return journey to their own land.

“We may pass Prince Eldarion on the road, Sire,” one of them said cheerfully. “He expected to be leaving the North a week ago, and he does not favor slow travel!”

There was a general laugh at the King’s table; Eldarion was known for his fast steeds and his impatience with delay. If he had left when he intended, they might confidently expect him within the next sennight, and Elessar breathed a silent thanks to the Powers. All the same, he sought out the head of the Annuminas delegation when the meal was over.

“If you pass my son on the road, I would have you tell him to make all the speed he can; I need him here. Also --“ He hesitated, then decided to go on. “I wish you pass by Rivendell and carry a message from me to the Lord Elladan. See me before you leave on the morrow, and I shall have it ready for you.”

He would not tell Arwen, not yet, but he would try to have her brothers on hand to comfort her. The letter he sent the next morning was brief:

Elladan and Elrohir, my Elf-brothers, greeting! Even to the race of Numenor death comes at last, and it will not pass me by. There are matters I would settle with you both, and your sister will need you. Dearest friends and brothers, I need you! Come to me soon, as you love your
Estel

He saw the men of Annuminas mounted and picking their way through the mid-morning throng in the streets of the Second Level. When he returned to the Palace he shut himself up in his study, filling his pipe while he tried to think what else must be done. Eldarion was as ready as any young prince can be, to take up the scepter. He had long carried his father’s authority in the North, but he was sufficiently well-known here in Gondor. The sons of Elrond would advise him, and Arwen’s presence would aid in the transition from the old King to the young one.

Arwen, oh Lady Undomiel! He bowed his head. This would be grievous for her; he wondered how he would dare to tell her, and yet he must! Perhaps she would go back to Rivendell with her brothers, after Eldarion was crowned. That might be the best thing for her...

He wished there were some gift he could make to her, now at the last. A parting token, one last proof of his devotion, his heart’s love for his Elven Lady. Something to remember me by, he thought, echoing Canohando’s words of two nights before, and then he smiled. No, someone to remember me by, and someone to shield you from all harm, if he can do so. At least I believe he will try! He strode out of the study and up to the nursery tower, taking the stairs two at a time in his haste.

The guards were alert before the locked door, he was glad to see, although he would soon make their duty unnecessary. One of them produced a key and opened the door for him. Inside were another four guardsmen; Falk was taking no chances! The Orc sat on the floor leaning against his bed, beating out a rhythm on a small carved drum, chanting softly in his own outlandish tongue. He set the drum aside and struggled to his feet -- his ankles were still chained, and he was awkward. He stood before Elessar without speaking.

The King nodded to the guardsmen. “You may wait outside the door, gentlemen. I would have private conversation with the prisoner.”

“Majesty, it is not safe--“ one of them said; his tone was respectful, but he looked ready to contest the matter to the day’s end, no matter if it was his sovereign he addressed. Elessar raised his brows.

“Not safe? He is not armed, is he? And I have my sword; besides, he is in chains.”

“All the same, Your Majesty. You saw him the other day in the hall -- he was not armed then, either! I beg you, let two of us at least remain for your safety. We will stand here by the door, with our fingers in our ears if it pleases you, so we will hear nothing.”

The King smiled; it was insubordination, perhaps, but he could not be angry at this young man who showed such care for his monarch’s safety! “So be it; out of your own mouth, my lad. Stand by the door with your fingers in your ears and keep watch. Only two of you; that will be sufficient.” He turned to the Orc.

“I have decided what I will do with you, if you are willing.”

Canohando looked perplexed. “If I am willing --! What will you do with me, King of Gondor?”

Elessar sat down on the bed. “You came to find the Elf-queen, and you found her. You told me you wish to follow after and protect her; do you hold to those words?”

The Orc put his right fist against his heart. “As I live, I hold to them, lord! I would die ten times over, to keep her safe!”

“Very well. I will take you at your word -- and only because you are Frodo’s brother, will I trust in you! I will give your life into the hands of the Lady whose jewel you wear, and you will repay me by being her shadow, her protector, as long as you both live. Will you do this?”

Canohando’s face shone as if a fire had been lit within. “Truly, King of Gondor! I will never leave her, while I live!”

“While you both live,” Elessar corrected him, his voice somber. “If the Lady takes leave of this world, and not by your failure in guarding her, then you are free from this oath. She chose mortality, with me; she will not live endlessly, as the Eldar do.”

The King did not wait for the next Audience Day; there was not time. He proclaimed a full audience to take place in two days, to pass judgment on the Orc who had invaded the Throne Room of Gondor. As he expected, the Hall was packed and a great crowd stood without the doors on the day announced.

Canohando was led into the Hall chained hand and foot, guarded by twenty men in the livery of the Citadel. When they reached the dais, someone pushed down hard on his shoulders, and he fell to his knees.

The King’s voice echoed above him. “This Orc entered our Hall a week since, without our leave... slew one of my men. For this act, his life is forfeit...”

Canohando kept his eyes cast down. You take my life with one breath, and with the next you will give me all that I desire, he thought. The Kings of Men are a strange breed.

“...there was no weapon found upon the Orc... he took a man’s life, but plainly he did not come with the intent to kill...”

There was a shout from the back of the room, “Death to the Orc!” Canohando stiffened, waiting for others to take up the cry, but no one did. The room was hushed, and only the King’s voice rolled on, making the defense the Orc would not have thought of making for himself.

“A man may defend himself if he is under attack. Yet the Guardsman was doing his duty, protecting his sovereigns from an intruder...”

The man standing next to Canohando shifted his feet, and the Orc wondered what he was thinking. It was your comrade I slew. If you had been a little quicker, it might have been you! How will you like the King’s justice this day?

“Very soon we will celebrate the New Year, the hundred-and-twentieth since Kingship returned to Gondor. The Ring-bearer has passed into legend, and there are few of us who remember him as he really was. The Orc you see here is one of the few. For I tell you, the Ring-bearer went back to Mordor, after the War. He went again to that dark land to bring healing there, and he found three Orcs who had survived the Fall of Sauron...”

Is Ninefingers truly only a legend to these people? Oh my runt, I would you were here with me now! Why did I not seek you sooner? The Orc straightened his shoulders, fighting to keep his face expressionless.

“...wears the Jewel that your Queen gave to the Ring-bearer. For that reason he came here to find the Lady whose jewel he wears... if he had asked to approach the Throne, would he have been permitted? The people of Gondor have ample reason to hate Orcs.”

There was a roar from the crowd, catcalls and feet stamping, and the King waited for the room to quiet. Will they allow you to spare my life, King of Gondor? No one dared a word when the Witch King spoke, but your people are free with their tongues...

“...threw down the sword and let himself be taken, without resistance... expected to die in torment, for that is the way of the only Masters he has ever known. It is not the way of this Kingdom! The Orc has killed a good man, a brave man, and for that he must make payment with his life -- but not with his death.”

The room was dead silent.

“This is a brave warrior, and he is devoted to the Lady whose jewel he wears. Therefore I give him to his Lady, to be her protector and true knight, and from today he is one of the Guards of the Citadel.”

But at these words pandemonium broke out, cries of “Death! Death!,” and the men who guarded Canohando drew close around him and turned to face the crowd with their hands ready on their swords. The King waited impassively, and Canohando watched him in awe.

You will have your way in spite of them all, lord! They are not afraid to shout, but your will is stronger than theirs, and you will bend them to it.

When silence returned, Elessar spoke again, and his voice was low but it penetrated to every part of the room. “For what will you have his life? Because he is an Orc? Which one of you, attacked with the sword and already wounded, would not try to defend himself? What is justice for a man is justice for an Orc as well!”

Then the King was descending the stairs of the dais, standing before Canohando. “Get up,” he said. “Turn around.” When the Orc was facing the crowd, Elessar went forward to a little knot of people who stood off to one side, a young woman and an elderly couple, and three young children. He led them to stand before the Orc.

“This is the family of the man you slew,” he said, his voice ringing from the walls. “This woman you left widowed, these children fatherless, these parents bereft of their son...”

She reminds me of Lokka!* And the cubs -- no, they are not like Yargark and Frodo-orc, but I remember when Lash’s sons were small like that --

“... you shall be reckoned the pay of a Guard of this Citadel, but your pay shall be given, every coin of it, to this family you have wronged... your life, which was forfeit, we give to you again, on condition that you spend it in the service of the Elf-queen you came here to find.”

The Orc knelt once more and kissed the King’s hands, and two Guardsmen came forward to strike the chains from his wrists and ankles. One would not look at him, but the other met his eyes, and Canohando saw that this man, at least, was content with the King’s justice. He followed them to a side chamber, and they clad him in the black and silver uniform of the Citadel, but his head was too large for the helmet provided, and he was forced to go bareheaded. Then they led him back to stand again before the dais, but they fell back and he was alone, facing the King and the Queen on their thrones, and the Queen’s jewel glittered against his chest.

Arwen rose in her place, and she was slender and shining as a shaft of light, her dark hair streaming over her shoulders. “From the beginning, Orcs have been the enemies of Elves and of Men,” she cried, and her voice was like truesilver, clear and musical. “Now in these latter days, one Orc walks among us who is not an enemy. He has done a wrong, but he shall make amends for that by service and by weregild. This reparation he takes upon himself willingly and with a true heart. Let not the people of Gondor show themselves less noble-minded than Canohando the Orc!”

There was a moment of breathless quiet; then a voice cried, “Long live the Queen!” The Hall broke into a jubilation of shouts and huzzahs, and the King and Queen stood before their thrones, holding out their hands to their people.


* Lokka, a woman of Nurn, was wife to Lash the Orc and mother of his sons, Yargark and Frodo-orc. From Following the Other Wizard: Journey into Healing

8.  The Dark Hours
The Queen was walking in the garden under the stars. It had been a small bone of contention between Arwen and Elessar during the first year of their marriage, her penchant for rising in the middle night and going out to walk in the starlight.

"It is not fitting," he had protested, and when she answered that with an amused lift of one lovely eyebrow, "It is not safe, beloved!"

"I am in a walled garden in the center of the King's Citadel," she had answered, "and I am still an Elf, my love, for all I have made Luthien's choice. Come with me then, if you do not wish me to be alone; and we will dance under the stars, as they did in Lothlorien when Galadriel wielded the Ring of Adamant there!" And in the early years he often did so, or walked with her hand in hand, watching the changing patterns that came and went on the moon's face. But later on there was war with Harad that took him away for months at a time, and other affairs of the Kingdom kept him working into the night and up early again in the morning, and he needed what sleep he could get. He had fallen out of the habit of walking under the stars.

Now for years the Kingdom had been at peace, but Elessar was older. He woke sometimes to find Arwen gone and he knew where she was, but his limbs were weary and he was more likely to fall back asleep, than to follow her out of doors. He was troubled about it, but even as he worried, his heavy eyes would close again. They took their walks by daylight now.

But tonight he forced himself to rise, his stiff joints protesting a little, and dressed quickly in the dark. I have missed too much Elven starlight, he thought, and I shall have more sleep than I want, soon enough. He went out quietly to wait for her on the bench under the rose arbor where they used to sit sometimes to watch the moon rise.

Arwen came along the path alone, half walking, half dancing, her arms moving gracefully to some music that only she could hear. Her body swayed like a young tree moved by the wind and her gown swirled about her ankles, barefoot on the shorn grass. Elessar watched, entranced; how had he allowed himself to sleep through this for so many years? No more, no more: what time he had left would find him awake under the stars with his Undomiel, not insensible under a blanket! And then he saw that Arwen was not, in fact, alone.

Down the path behind her a shadow followed, hardly more than a thicker darkness. It moved stealthily, not dancing but lithe and smooth, keeping a constant distance from the unsuspecting Queen. Elessar rose in alarm and anger and hid himself, letting Arwen pass by him, waiting. When the shadow reached him, he stepped forward with a sharp challenge, his dagger in his hand – he had not thought it necessary to gird on his sword to walk with his wife in the moonlight!

The shadow spun around at sound of his voice, a sword ringing from the scabbard and as quickly sheathed again. "Lord! King of Gondor!" Canohando knelt at his feet, and Elessar stared down at him in astonishment.

"What are you doing here, Orc?" he demanded. He was more than half inclined still to be angry, but the orc met his eyes without reserve.

"I am doing as you commanded me, lord. I am her shadow, to protect her."

A light hand fell on the King's shoulder; Arwen had heard their voices and returned. "My love! Did you come out to keep me company? And – Canohando?" There was surprise in her tone. "Do you also keep night vigil with the Lady of Stars? I had not thought that of Orcs!"

Canohando looked confused, and the King chuckled. "Nay, dearest, he does not seek Elbereth's company, but your own. Or rather, he seeks to guard the Lady of the Jewel, for I told him he must be your shadow, not dreaming he would take my words quite so much to heart!" He turned to the orc, amused now rather than angry. "I will see to the Queen now, Canohando, and you may go to your rest. Did they find you a place in the barracks of the Citadel?"

"They did, lord, but I could not sleep there; I cannot watch over the Lady from so far away. I spread a pallet on the floor of the anteroom, outside her door. Otherwise I would not have known she had gone out."

Arwen stared from Canohando to the King, her eyes opening wide. "A pallet – in the anteroom?" She laughed softly, sitting down suddenly on the bench. "Oh, my love, what will Florian say when he finds it in the morning?"

Elessar began to grin, imagining the reaction of the fussy, self-important little Chamberlain when he entered the velvet-carpeted room of state and found an orc rolled up in his blanket on the floor – or possibly leaping to his feet to challenge a perceived threat to the Queen – He sat down by Arwen, covering his eyes with his hand, his shoulders heaving. "It is tempting to leave it there, to see what he would say! But no, that would be unkind. You will have to sleep in the barracks, Orc, and watch over Her Majesty in the daytime. There are Guardsmen outside the anteroom doors, you know."

"You made me swear to be her shadow, lord. I cannot keep my promise if I am not close at hand."

"You have to sleep sometime," Arwen expostulated gently, but he shook his head.

"I would sleep, Lady, but I would wake at once if there was need. An orc does not slumber deeply, like a man; I saw that with the Southrons who came to Mordor during the War. But I must be near by."

The King was about to end the discussion with a peremptory order for Canohando to take his pallet and go back to the barracks, but then he reconsidered. I shall not be here, he thought, soon, too soon. Changes are coming, and there have been palace coups before now, when Kings ruled. Guardsmen may be bribed or coerced from their duty, perhaps, but not the orc –"

"I will find you a place where you can sleep nearby," he said. "Go back now, Canohando, and let me be alone with my wife! See you are out of the anteroom before the Chamberlain comes in the morning, and tomorrow I shall make other arrangements for you."

The orc bowed to them with his fist over his heart, and melted away in the darkness.

"My King, truly, there is no need for that!" Arwen exclaimed. "Canohando has lived all his life in the midst of danger and treachery, but what should I fear here, in our own garden, in the heart of Minas Tirith?"

Elessar sighed and drew her into his arms. "Even here there may be danger, love, when the Kingdom changes hands," he said, and Arwen gasped and pulled away, trying to see him clearly in the moonlight.

"What do you mean?" she whispered, knowing indeed what he would say, but not willing to know it.

"Lady Evenstar, fairest and most beloved, my world is fading." He cupped his hands around her face and bent to kiss her lightly on the lips. "Lo, beloved, we have gathered, and we have spent, and now the time of payment draws near."

"No, oh no! It is too soon, my love! Surely the Numenoreans have a span of life beyond what you have yet known. It cannot be time yet, to say good-night and go to your rest." She leaned against him, burying her face on his shoulder, and his garment was wet with her tears. He could think of no words of comfort to say to her, and held her close in his arms with his cheek against her hair.

At last she raised her head. "You have been given the grace to go at your own will; so my father told me long ago. Would you then leave me before your time, and your people also, who live by your word?"

"Not before my time," he said, his voice hoarse. "I have grace to return the gift to the Giver, and not have it taken from me – but not the power to keep it willfully for as long as I may choose. And if I will not go of my own will, I must soon go perforce."

He cradled her in his arms, tender in his sorrow, his kisses raining down on her face. "My Undomiel, indeed I would not leave you willingly! But Eldarion our son is full-ripe for Kingship, and our time is nearly over. Soon the uttermost choice will be before you, beloved, to repent and go at last to the Havens, or to abide the Doom of Men."

But she made no answer to him then, although she did weeks later, when he laid him down in the House of Kings to go to sleep. This night, in the first rawness of her grief, she only wept on his shoulder, comfortless.

note:  Some of the dialogue betwen Elessar and Arwen taken from Appendix A to ROTK, the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.

9. The Children of Elrond


Eldarion arrived the next morning. His parents greeted him with warmth and, in Arwen's case, tears trembling on her lashes. He smiled and blotted them away with the end of her scarf, putting them down to a mother's excess of tenderness. Then the King swept him off to spend the day in close conference, the two of them alone, and of what they said to one another, neither ever spoke to anyone else. Something, however, must have been said of Canohando, for when Eldarion encountered him in the dining hall that evening, standing guard behind the Queen's chair, the Prince met the orc's eyes with a slight smile and a nod of his head; evidently the arrangement met with his approval.

That was not the case two days later when Elladan and Elrohir found the orc in Arwen's presence. She was sitting with her ladies by the fountain of the White Tree. One of the ladies was singing and playing on a lute, and some of the others were stitching at their fancywork as their custom was, but Arwen herself sat idle, trailing her hand listlessly in the water. There were no guardsmen to be seen, for in daytime their station was on the other side of the gate, but Canohando was the Queen's Shadow, and he stood a little distance away, leaning casually against the wall, his unmilitary posture masking his watchfulness. He had plaited his hair into a myriad of small braids that hung against his cheeks and forehead, and even in the uniform of the Guard he looked uncouth and wild.

The gate opened suddenly and the sons of Elrond burst into the courtyard, in their eagerness hastening ahead of the servant who came to announce them. Canohando took four swift steps from where he had been lounging, planting himself between Arwen and the twins, his sword unsheathed in his hand. The maiden who had been singing screamed and dropped her lute, and Arwen whirled round to see what had frightened her.

"Elladan!" she cried. "Canohando, stop! They are no danger; they are my brothers!" She flung herself into Elladan's arms, catching Elrohir by the hand and dragging him with her into the embrace, and Canohando slid his sword back into its scabbard and went to lean once more against the wall, untroubled. He had been ready to defend the Queen, but she was not in peril.

“What is this, Arwen?” Elrohir exclaimed, pulling free of her hug. “Are men in short supply in Gondor, that you have some minion of Sauron wearing the black and silver? The fine trappings do not match his loutish bearing, Sister!”

His eyes on the orc were full of loathing, and Elladan added, “How is it that the King permits this, Arwen Undomiel?”

The Queen stood very straight, and in truth she was no more than a hand’s span shorter than they were, tall and lordly though they seemed. “The King does permit, and he has sworn this orc to my service, not Sauron’s! This is Canohando, who met the Ring-bearer in Mordor and turned from the Dark. Frodo gave him the Jewel he wears around his neck, and I have confirmed the gift.” A roguish smile peeked out from her stern visage, like the sun behind storm clouds. “Estel told him he must be my shadow, and I had not heard that shadows were known for military bearing! But he is very faithful, and as you saw, very fast.”

Elladan’s brows drew together; plainly he was not reconciled to his sister’s new guardian. “And if you had not called him off, what then? Can your shadow tell friend from foe?”

“You startled him, Elladan, and he does not know you.” She did not want to tell them the story of the Guardsman killed in the Throne Room, and she wondered uneasily what might have happened, if she had not stopped the orc. She and Canohando were going to have a quiet talk together, before this day ended...

“I think we will have words with Estel about this, Sister,” said Elrohir. “But for now, we will leave you and go wash away the dust of the road.”

She smiled. “I will walk with you. I am glad indeed to welcome you, my brothers.” But they noted a sorrow in her eyes that did not match her smile, and as she stepped between them and took their arms to go into the palace, neither of them was pleased to see Canohando detach himself from the wall and follow behind them.

*****

“I gave him to her for her safety, and I trust more in that orc than in twenty Guardsmen.”

The twins had lost no time in bringing their concern to the King, but he seemed little inclined to listen to them. Neither did he shrink from telling them the full story, and from him they learned of the man killed in the Great Hall, and how Canohando made amends for that death.

“You should rather have hanged him above the city gates,” Elrohir said with anger. “Have we three not fought orcs from West to East, above ground and below, since you were old enough to carry a sword? What of Celebrian, our lady mother -- would she countenance that her daughter is guarded by an orc?”

The King sighed. “Sit down, Elrohir, and cool your heat with a little iced wine. Canohando is not like any orc you have ever met, nor I either. He is Frodo’s orc, bound by friendship and blood-pact to the Ring-bearer. You heard that Radagast the Brown took Frodo back into Mordor, after the War?”

Elrohir accepted a glass of wine and passed one to his brother. “We heard rumors, but I had not credited them. Not that the Bird-tamer would not venture such madness, but that the hobbit would go with him. Did Frodo not die in his own country many years ago?”

Elessar nodded. “He did. But for sixty years before that he roamed the Black Land with Radagast, and the reports I’ve had from Mordor since then say it is no longer desolate. Life has returned there, thanks to the Brown Wizard’s labor, and a few orcs were redeemed, as well. That was Frodo’s doing. See now, my brothers!” He leaned forward, looking into their eyes, intent. “My time draws to a close, and Arwen will have a choice to make, or more than one. If she go to the Havens, it is a long journey, and not every danger has been vanquished in Middle Earth, even now. If she hold to the choice of Luthien, she may yet linger many years, and I would not leave her open to harm. You two will guard her with your lives, I know, but here is Canohando as well, ready to die for his Lady of the Jewel, and a redoubtable warrior. Would you rob her of his service, because Celebrian suffered at the hands of orcs? Canohando was never in the Redhorn Pass!”

They sat silent, and Elladan tossed back his wine in one gulp and stood to refill his glass. At last Elrohir said, “You are saying that the Doom of Men is at hand, Estel, and you are soon to depart? That was the import of your message to Rivendell.”

The King inclined his head. “Eldarion is ready for Kingship, and I depend on you, who are twice over his uncles, to support and advise him. But how if you are doing that, and Arwen choose not to remain in Minas Tirith? She may wish to return to Rivendell, I deem, or even Lothlorien...”

Elladan’s voice was heavy. “Lothlorien fades into the mist, Estel. The mallorns are dying, without Galadriel, and it will be no different from any other land before many more years have passed. And Rivendell itself is more memory than substance, these days. It is the Age of the Dominion of Men, indeed.”

There was a long silence. “Alas that the fall of Sauron should compass the fall of so much that was lovely and good,” the King said at last. “My brothers, you have also a choice to make, and time comes on apace. Will you pass over the Sea? For I perceive that it will not be long now, before the last Ship departs.”

The twins locked eyes across the table, and the King saw that they were not of one mind on this matter, yet neither would suffer the other to choose another fate than himself.

“You have problems of your own, my friends,” he said. “Suffer me to provide a guardian for your sister who has no other thought but to protect her. "

 

10.  An Orc in the Palace  

Canohando had been assigned to the First Company of  Guards, to give him a place in the mess and in the barracks, although he never slept there the whole  time he was in Minas Tirith.  The King had found a little closet off the ante-room and ordered it emptied; there was room enough for the orc’s pallet and his few belongings, and there he slept, ready at all times to follow his Lady.

He had to eat, however, and Arwen had commanded that he be given food whenever he asked for it, regardless of the regular hours of the mess.  He fell in the habit of going to the kitchens while King and Queen were at breakfast together, and again in the evening when they walked in the gardens.  He accepted whatever was given to him without comment, sitting on the floor in a sunny corner to eat, and watching the busy comings and goings of the kitchens.

“Oh, he just gives me the willies, so he does, with that grey skin and those greasy-looking braids all over his head!”  Thus one of the stout, matronly cooks to another, soto voce, and the women gave him a wide berth while he sat with his meal and his mug of ale.  Canohando heard her well enough and smiled to himself, remembering Lokka and her sharp tongue - it had been Lash’s wife who taught him to braid his hair and anoint it with bear’s grease, to keep it tidy and out of his eyes.  But Lokka had been a tribeswoman of Nurn, not a citizen of the King’s city.

However one of the men who tended the roasting spits also heard the remark and saw the smile, and he warmed to the orc.  Joram, his name was, a man of fifty-odd winters who in his youth had marched with the King against Harad.  He noticed that Canohando liked meat better than any other food, although the orc never asked for anything in particular, and Joram began to save out a juicy shank bone or a rack of ribs for him.  He set the meat to grill while the King’s breakfast was cooking, knowing that Canohando would arrive in the kitchens soon after the trays had been carried up to the Queen’s morning room.

“Go sit down,” he told the orc when he came in, “I’ll bring it to you.”  And when he had done so, he stayed, leaning against the wall near Canohando while he ate.  “They say you knew the Ring-bearer,” he said conversationally.

Canohando nodded, his mouth full of hot meat.  “’S my brother,” he said when he could speak.  “Frodo Ninefingers.”

The man whistled in surprise.  “Now that’s something I didn’t know!  An orc, was he? I’d always heard he was a Periannath.”

Canohando’s brows came together, and Joram tensed, ready to run.  “He was not an orc, Man, nor whatever you said;  he was a halfling.  Are you so quick to forget, in Gondor, that you do not remember Ninefingers?  Your city would lie in ruins, but for him!”

The orc’s voice was rough, but Joram heard his indignation for the Ring-bearer’s honor and relaxed again.  “He is not forgotten,” he said, placating.  “Every spring at the New Year his tale is sung, and all drink to his courage.  He went into Mordor and wrestled with the Dark Lord himself, they say, and cast Sauron down so hard, his stronghold fell to the center of the earth!  It is a wonder to me that a halfling could do any such thing, but so the story goes.  And you knew him?”

Canohando looked at the man open-mouthed, forgetting to eat in his amazement at this version of the story.  At last he gave a snort of laughter and returned to his meal.  “No, you don’t remember him,” he said.  “But I do, and he left Mordor Masterless, in truth, though not the way you tell it.”  He finished eating in silence, took a long drink from his tankard, and got up to return to the Queen.

He started to look for Joram whenever he entered the kitchens, for the man always had roasted meat ready for him, and usually stayed to keep him company while he ate.  It was pleasant to have someone to talk with, and he heard all about the man’s service in the war with Harad, and his life since then, his family and his little plot of land outside the city where he grew plums and pomegranates.

“You should come see it sometime, when you’re off-duty,” he told the orc one day, but Canohando shook his head. 

“I am the Queen’s Shadow,” he said.  “I do not leave her, only long enough to come here and eat, while the King guards her.  I cannot go to your house, Man.” 

Joram said no more, but a few days later when Canohando came in, there was a chubby lad turning the meat on the spit while the man stood by, watching.  “This is my grandson, Miko,” he introduced the child.  “He has heard tales of the orc who guards the Queen, and he wanted to see you.”

Canohando grinned and sat down in his usual corner.  “Well, and now you have seen me, youngling.  What do you think?”

The lad stared for a moment, unsure, and then his face broke into a smile.  “I think you are not so bad as they say.  You do not look dangerous.”

Canohando took his meat from the plate and tore into it.  When his first hunger was satisfied, he wiped his mouth on his arm and reached out to grab the child’s hand, pulling him down to sit beside him.

“You should not judge so easily, youngling.  I am very dangerous, and I could rip out your heart while you are still thinking about drawing your sword to defend yourself.”  He stared hard at the child, making his voice menacing, but Miko did not back away. 

“You would not do it,” he said with certainty. “If I was an enemy you would, but not when I’m just sitting here.  You don’t have cruel eyes.” 

For a moment Canohando was speechless, and Joram came over, bringing him a tankard of ale.  He took a long drink before he answered, “But you have wise eyes, young Miko.  No, I would not harm you, but be on guard if you ever meet another orc!  We are not a race you should trust.”  There was something in his throat and he drained his ale, trying to force the lump down.  The yearning for a son of  his own, held at bay by brute willpower during many years, had returned with shattering force.  He did not want anything more to eat; he wanted to flee, and yet he wanted also to remain with this child.

“Come again and see me, if you wish, youngling,” he said, getting to his feet.  “Do you have a bow?”

The lad grinned.  “Yes, my grandfather made it for me.  And arrows, too!”

Canohando nodded approval. “That is my weapon, the bow.  I do not have one here.  Bring yours, and I will see how well you shoot.”

He went back to the Queen’s bower, perching on the windowsill at the far end of the room while she visited with her brothers.  They  had grown accustomed to him by now and stopped throwing him dark looks; it might have been that they were mollified by the orc’s evident worship of their sister.  However wild his hair and appearance, his eyes followed Arwen with adoration, and no one who saw him could doubt that he would lay down his life for her without a moment’s hesitation. 

 

11. The Doom of the Firstborn

Until today, Canohando would have said that all his desire was fulfilled.  Morning till night  he followed on the Queen’s footsteps, and she smiled on him and talked with him a little.  He basked in her presence like a plant in sunshine, asking only that her light fall upon him.  But young Miko’s trusting confidence had torn open the old wound, his childlessness, and today he watched his Lady with aching heart, craving some balm for his pain.

That was perhaps why he saw her suffering, where before he had been unaware.  Elladan and Elrohir sat talking to her in low voices that did not carry to his end of the room, and their faces were solemn, but Arwen’s eyes were like bruises in her face, and Canohando was shocked out of his own sorrow by fear for her.

After a while the twins embraced their sister and withdrew, and for the moment she was alone.  Canohando went to her, his heavy boots quiet on the velvet carpet, and knelt before her.

“Lady, what has happened? Who has brought grief to you - tell me, and they will never again come near you, I swear it!”

Arwen gave a soft laugh that was almost a sob.  “You would have to separate me from myself, Canohando, for I brought my grief down upon my own head.  I bought a great treasure once, at a heavy price, but only now do I feel the weight of what I must pay. Take care, dear one, of the bargains you make when you are young - but there, you are not young, are you?”

She looked at him as if only now did she truly see him. His hair was dead black with no trace of silver, his face coarse-featured but unlined.  He was broad in the shoulders and thick-muscled, but for all that he was lithe as a cat.

"How old are you?" she asked  suddenly, and he shrugged.

"Orcs keep no count of years, Lady.  I was old enough to go to war, when the Witch King came to Mordor."

She put a hand to his cheek.  "You are of the First-born, then, and it is our doom  to watch those we love pass too swiftly out of this world.  You gave your heart to Frodo, and he is gone – and soon my beloved also –"  She shivered, curling in upon herself with her arms around her body, as if to hold in the sorrow  that threatened to rip her apart. 

"Lady –"  The orc knelt at her feet in anguish, racking his mind for something he could do.  Here was no enemy for his sword, and he dared not embrace her to offer comfort.  At last he bowed to the floor, kissing both  her feet in turn before he  rose.  "Stay here, Lady, please stay!  I will get the King –"

"No!" she exclaimed, but Canohando was already gone.

He found Elessar in the Throne Room with a couple of visitors.  He understood the proper protocol now, and  spoke first to Florian, at the door, chafing at the delay.  The Chamberlain would have put him off,  saying the guests with the King were too important to be interrupted, but the orc bent a look on him so fierce that the little man stepped back in alarm. 

"The Queen needs him!  If you will not bring me forward, I will go without your leave."

Florian settled his chain of office more becomingly across his chest, looking down his nose.  "Very well then, come along –  and it is on your own head, Orc, if the King be angered at your want of manners!" 

 Canohando took the man by one elbow and hurried him the length of the Hall at a pace quite unsuited to the Chamberlain's dignity. Elessar saw them coming and broke off his conversation with the visitors. An Elf and a Dwarf, Canohando noticed in passing, thinking it was odd they should be together and then forgetting all about them.

"She needs you, King of Gondor," he said.  "She is in distress."

"In her Bower?" Elessar asked.  "I will go to her.  Stay here, Canohando, and tell these guests about your brother."  He turned on his heel and was gone with a swirl of his short cloak, and Canohando stared after him, wanting to follow but knowing he had better not.

"His brother, is it?" said a gruff voice at his shoulder.  "Is one Orc running tame in Minas Tirith not enough, but he must have a brother as well?"

There was a quiet laugh from his companion, and Canohando dragged his eyes away from the empty doorway where the King had disappeared, to look at the visitors he had been charged with.

"Aragorn was always  broad-minded in his choice of friends, Gimli.  Come then,  Orc, let us find someplace to sit down, and perhaps you will call for a jug of wine for a pair of weary travelers, before you tell us about your family."

The Elf was tall, slender and elegant with a young face, but he had the eyes of one who has seen many years and many battles, and Canohando fought back the urge to kneel to him as he did to Arwen.  The Dwarf  was shorter than the orc but twice his girth, and he carried a battle axe at his belt.  He glowered at Canohando.

"Wine for the Elf, and beer for me. Where are we going, Orc?"

Canohando led them out into the courtyard of the White Tree, stopping at the door to tell Florian to have refreshment brought to them.  The Chamberlain brushed him away  officiously.  "Yes, yes, I know what must be done;  I do not need a grey Orc out of Mordor to teach me my duties! Go and entertain them, since the King commanded it, and leave me in peace."

Canohando grimaced, wishing he were free to return to the Queen. The King will care for her, you fool, better than a grey Orc out of Mordor! he berated himself. He brought the Elf and the Dwarf  to chairs that stood always in the shade of the Tree, but he himself sat down on the grass with his hands flat against the ground.  The touch of the living earth steadied him and brought him comfort, and then he remembered the Jewel around his neck. Living daily in the Lady's presence as he did, he seldom fingered it anymore, but now he  rubbed it against his lips as he looked up at these oddly paired visitors.

The Dwarf reached out and caught his wrist in a hand of steel, his face inches away.  "Where did you get that?" he demanded, angry and suspicious.  "The last time I saw that gem, it hung at Frodo Baggins' throat; how did it come to yours?"

The Elf had half-risen. "Slowly, Gimli, let him answer!  There is some mystery here I would be glad to see unraveled."

Canohando had stiffened when the Dwarf grabbed his wrist, his other hand coming up without his volition nearly to Gimli's shoulder before he recollected himself and pulled it back. He could bring down this bloated ox easily; it only needed a sure touch near the back of  the Dwarf’s neck – no, he thought, I am the Queen's Shadow, and this creature is no threat to her –

"Frodo Ninefingers gave the jewel to me," he said evenly.  "My brother, my Light-bearer."

Gimli grunted and dropped the gem, sitting back.  "You had better explain yourself, Orc."

But they sat enthralled, both of them, while Canohando told the story.  Servants came with wine and ale, small hot breads and smoked salmon sliced thin and balls of sweet butter, and the Elf and the Dwarf ate absent-mindedly, captivated by the scenes the  orc painted for them with his words. 

Listening to him, they forgot of what race he sprang.  He grew eloquent when he spoke of his runt, and they could almost see Frodo with the starglass in his hand, facing down the soldiers of Gondor who would have slain the orcs – Frodo on the tower, pledging himself to stand with  Canohando  against the Dark – Frodo with the bow Lash carved for him, hunting in the mountains.

"We became brothers," Canohando finished at last, holding his hand palm up for them to see.  The Elf reached out and clasped the rough-skinned hand in his smooth one.

"I am Legolas Greenleaf, one of  the Ring-bearer's companions on the Quest. I had believed I knew the hobbit, but you have shown me that there was even more to him than I knew. I am glad to have met you, Frodo's Brother."

  "And I also," Gimli rumbled.  He cleared his throat. "I would have sworn I would never strike hands with any Orc except in battle, but if you are Frodo's brother – and I see that you are – then Gimli is your friend."  He caught Canohando's wrist again, but it was a salute this time, and the orc returned it. "And he gave that jewel to you," the Dwarf marveled.  "He would not allow me to so much as touch it – he must have loved you indeed!"

 

12.  Those Who Are Called

Canohando looked for Miko every day when he went to the kitchens, but he did not see the child.  Finally he asked about him, and Miko's grandfather looked uncomfortable.

"His mother will not let him come, my fool daughter-in-law!  She is afraid of you.  I'm sorry."

I should have expected that, the orc thought, but truth he had not.  He took his meat and sat down to eat without answering.  The roast mutton had smelled savory when he first came in, but now it was tasteless and dry in his mouth.  He tore at it anyway, cracking the bones with his teeth when he was done and sucking out the marrow.  Food was life; an orc did not refuse food, not even when his chest hurt as if he had been beaten with the butt end of a spear.

The man was still talking. "Miko was disappointed; he tried to talk her round, but she would not listen.  His father died in the last war, when the lad was a babe in arms – his mother thinks he is still a babe."   There was anger in Joram's voice, and Canohando regarded him curiously.  Why was the man angry?

For a moment their eyes met;  then Joram looked away. As if he had read the orc's mind, he said,  "The lad likes you, and it would be a good thing for him, if you  taught him to shoot.  His mother mollycoddles him, and he is too much with women."

Canohando grunted and reached for his tankard of ale.  "Teach him yourself," he said. He took a long draught and added, "He is a brave cub. I would have liked teaching him."

He handed the empty mug to Joram and left the kitchens.  When he got back upstairs, he found the Queen and Elessar both in her Bower, and her brothers and Eldarion with them.  The orc slouched against the wall by the door, picking his teeth with his fingernail and wondering if he would run into Miko out in the courtyard sometime, but the King beckoned him over. 

"This concerns you, Queen’s Shadow; you had better hear it." 

He went to stand by  Arwen; she was sitting very straight in her chair, pale as starlight, her chin high.  "I shall be making a journey, Canohando.  In a month, perhaps; that is up to the King."  She cast a burning glance at Elessar, entreaty and grief and frustration all in one, and Canohando reflected that there seemed to be no peace in the Palace this day, in his own heart or anywhere else.

"Lady Evenstar," the King said, as if he called her back from the edge of something.  He turned to the orc.  "Canohando, I am mortal.  To all men there comes an end at last, and my own end draws near. The Queen will not remain in Gondor after my passing, by her own desire..."

"I will go to the Golden Wood," Arwen interrupted.  "Under the mallorns I will abide the Doom of Men, in the land where I was young.  Gondor I have loved for your sake, my Estel, but Lothlorien is my home."

Eldarion looked pained, moving to put an arm around her, and she leaned against his shoulder.  "Mother, will you not stay and be our Evenstar, even to the last?  I cannot leave Minas Tirith within a month of my crowning, yet my heart is sore to think of you alone so far away, under the fading trees!  You have heard my uncles: Lorien is no more the land you knew; even the mallorns are dying."

She reached up to clasp his hand.  "The final glory of an Age is dying, my son.  The last of the Numenoreans, your father… the mallorns are fading, and the remnant of my people who remain are passing into the West, following the Call now at the very end.  It is your Age now, the Age of Man's Dominion.  You will be the first King of the new era, and certainly you cannot abandon the Citadel of your Kingdom! And what would it avail if you went with me?  I have made Luthien's choice, and I will not repent of it.  I go to the Golden Wood only to take my leave."

 “It is a long road.”  The King’s voice was somber. “Long, and not without some danger: Fangorn Forest lies by the way, and Elrohir tells me there are a few bands of  Orcs still in the mountains, north of the Limlight. They may raid down into the plains from time to time.”

Canohando stood listening, only half comprehending; he had never heard of Luthien, but the King would die soon, he understood that much, and the Queen wished to go to Lothlorien.  He spoke up.  “King of Gondor,  give me only a guide who knows the way, and twenty Guardsmen who will stand with me at need - I will bring the Lady safe to Lorien, or may Vengeance take me!”    

He did not step back from the look Elessar leveled on him.  “She will come safe to the Golden Wood, lord: I swear it!” 

The orc stood a head shorter than anyone else in the room, but nobody smiled.  Eldarion and the Queen’s brothers had not seen him in action, but they had heard the tale; looking at him now, they could well believe he would be formidable in combat.  His face was hard and menace seemed to radiate from him, savage force and speed held on a short leash.

“Thank you, dear one,” Arwen said softly.  “We will find Guardsmen who will stand with you, if need arises.”

The King scanned the faces of Eldarion and the twins.  “Well?  Will you trust the Queen to his protection?”

Elladan stirred restlessly, picking up small objects from a side table and putting them back without purpose.  “I would trust him,” he said.  “I would trust him, and yet I cannot find it in me to let my sister journey bereft and alone to Lorien, with no more company than an Orc and a company of guards!  If you are bound to go, Arwen, I will go with you, and I will stay until you do not need me more.”

“Elrohir, will you remain here with my son?” asked the King.  “I would have someone I can trust beside him, in this first year of his reign.”

Elrohir sighed.  “I will stay with him.  You will come back to Minas Tirith, brother, when you are finished in Lorien?”  A look passed between the twins: doubt on one side and reassurance on the other.

“I will come back," said Elladan. "To whatever fate we go, it will be together, unless indeed some peril of the journey prevent it.”

"But I will not send Guardsmen, used to easy service here in the Citadel," said the King.  "A full company of soldiers, seasoned in battle, and the captain must be a man who will serve under Canohando's command.  The orc has pledged his life to bring Undomiel safe home, and he must have the ordering of his men."

Canohando knit his brows.  "I think you will search a long time, King of Gondor, before you find a captain who will take my orders."

Elladan  laid a hand on the orc's shoulder.  "I will be  Captain, and I will follow your leadership on this venture, if you will allow me to advise you as seems needful.  We are of one heart in this, at least, to safeguard the Queen."  He turned to the King.  "Will you come with me and choose out a company for this mission, Estel?  For always you knew your men, by name and reputation, and I would have you handpick those we bring."

"I will come.  Are you content, Canohando, to have Elladan at your side?  I would not foist a captain on you who is not to your liking; there is too much at stake."

The orc nodded.  "I will be glad to have the Queen's brother beside me, lord. Your soldiers will harken to him as they would not to me, and between us we will bring the Lady home."

Elladan and the King went out then to choose soldiers for the journey.  Eldarion kissed his mother and left with Elrohir to meet with the King's Chancellor, for Eldarion must make himself familiar now with affairs in Gondor, after his years in the North Kingdom.  Left alone, Arwen drooped against the back of her chair, her eyes closed, her lashes making dark half-moons against her cheeks.

"Lady, drink this." Canohando knelt on one knee beside her chair, holding out a glass of wine.  "If I could shield you from this sorrow – but I cannot – "

Arwen took the glass and sipped.  "I am glad you came here, Canohando.  My husband trusts in you, and it comforts him."

"Do you trust me, Lady?"

She touched his cheek.  "You know the answer to that, dear one. We are come to the dregs of the wine, Estel and I, but even now I deem the Powers have put a drop of  mercy in the chalice.  It was Frodo's faithfulness purchased our happiness, and now it seems you have been sent to us at the very last…"

He sat down on the floor at her feet.  "Lady, who is Luthien? You said you chose her fate, but I have never heard the name."

But when she had told him the story, he was silent for a long time.  "You are an Elf," he said finally.  "And you make yourself – not an Elf, for the King's sake.  As Luthien did also – both of you, you gave away your heritage."

"Yes, that is what we have done, for love's sake."

"My ancestors were Elves," he said.  "They lost their heritage, but not for love's sake; it was taken from them.  What is the Call you spoke of, Lady, that your people now follow at the last?"

"The Call to Valinor, to the Blessed Realm.  Many of the Firstborn who are still in Middle Earth will take ship now, who were unwilling before.  Legolas will go, I suppose, whom you met with the Dwarf Gimli."

"You said I am of the Firstborn, but I am not called to Valinor."  Canohando's voice was bleak. He was beginning to  understand, as he had not done before, the tragedy of his ruined people.

"No, dear one."  Arwen touched the Jewel that hung around his neck, settled it so it lay centered against his chest.  "Not to Valinor, but you were called to me, and I think also to Frodo's land, hereafter.  You are known, and your change of heart is known - you will not be put to shame by the One who gave music to the Ainur."

Like a child, the Orc sat at her feet, and as if he had been a child she caressed his head, not drawing back her hand from the stiff, oiled braids, and after a while she sang softly under her breath, a lullaby she had sung to her children long years before. 

 

13. The Queen's Company

 

The King drew Canohando aside after dinner the following evening.

“You must make yourself known to the men of your company, if they are to follow you.  And I would have time alone with the Queen, while there is any time left.  Leave her to me in the daytime, Canohando.”

“I may guard her door at night, lord?”

“Yes, and I will send for you, if I must leave her for any reason. You are her Shadow still, but I held that place before you came, Orc.” Elessar smiled a little, and Canohando felt suddenly that he had found a friend, as well as liege lord, in the King of Gondor.

The next morning, when he had eaten, the orc went in search of the soldiers’ armory. Joram had given him directions, and he made his way down through two levels of the city, followed by curious eyes. There were few in Minas Tirith who had not heard of the Queen’s Orc, but most people had never seen him. He heard whispers as he passed, but no one accosted him.

“I need a bow,” he said to the soldier on duty. “Arrows, a quiver - is the Queen’s brother here this morning?  Prince Elladan?”

“No. He left orders for the men of his company to muster at noon, on the practice field.” The soldier's tone was civil enough, but the glance he cast at Canohando was hostile. He jerked his head toward the supply building without further comment.

The weapons master brought out one bow after another for the orc, and Canohando bent them in his hands, strung them and tried the draw, shaking his head and whistling through his teeth. “They are all too heavy, Man,” he said at last. “Do you have any of Elven make?”

The master seemed surprised at the request, but he opened a different closet, revealing a rack of  bows, longer than the others, fashioned of some silver-toned wood with a soft patina.

“They are too long for you,” he said dismissively, but Canohando was examining them as he had the others, running his hands over them and looking very much more satisfied.

“I can amend that,” he said. “I would make my own, but there is not time. This one will do; it has a good feel. Let me see your arrows.”

But the arrows did not please him at all; he wrinkled his brows and gave a sigh of exasperation. “Have you got some shafts that are not cut yet? Yes, these will do. Give me points and feathers, then; I will fletch them myself. You make your arrows too short.”

The man looked at him coldly. “We won the War, Orc.”

“Get me a quiver, Man, the longest one you have: my arrows will be two hands longer than the ones you use. Yes, you won the War, but not because you were better archers. Ninefingers won it for you.”

The master bristled with resentment, his lips shut tight; he shoved a quiver at the Orc and Canohando took it, but did not turn away. He stood  motionless until the man looked him in the face, wondering what more the Orc would ask for.

“I am not sorry you won, Man of Gondor, only do not forget how it happened!”

He went out, carrying his new weapons, and sat down against the wall of a building on the edge of the practice field. Ignoring the soldiers who were gathered in little groups around the field, fencing or wrestling with one another, or just lounging about, he began fitting points to his arrows. 

When he had a few of them finished, he turned to the bow. He took his knife and cut off both ends, stood to measure it against himself, and cut a little more. He tapered the raw ends and smoothed them with the back of his knife blade, cut new notches and finally re-strung it. Then he gathered up his belongings and went in search of a place to try it out.

There was an earthen mound along one side of the field with a row of targets; he smiled grimly when he saw that besides the standard bulls-eyes, there were also a number of figures fashioned to resemble Orcs, sawdust trailing from many holes in their leather hides. Deliberately he took a stance before one of these, noticing from the corner of his eye that he was being observed by several of the men.

He put an arrow through the painted eye of the leather dummy and went to retrieve it. 

“Why’n’t you go shoot a real one, Grey-skin, and make the world a little cleaner?” The speaker was a blonde giant with a heavy bow slung across his back; with him were two other soldiers not much smaller than himself. They grinned at their comrade’s wit, but their eyes on Canohando were full of malice.

“You are an archer in the King's army?” Canohando asked.

The blonde held up his bow. “And I have a man’s bow, not a little stump of a thing like yours. Were you the runt of the litter? I always heard Orcs were half again as big as Men!” He stood head and shoulders taller than Canohando, and he smirked down at him, contemptuous.

Canohando fought the temptation to laugh. Here is one who was not in the Hall the day I came, he thought, nor his comrades either, else they would drag him away before Grey-skin strangles him with his own bow-string! And I am wearing a sword now! How did such numbskulls win the War? But he knew the answer to that.  

“I will have a contest with you, Man,” he said aloud.  “Choose your target.”

The giant guffawed.  He strung his bow and shot an arrow into the dummy’s chest. “Split the arrow, if you call yourself an archer,” he roared. “Kill your brother twice over!”

Abruptly Canohando lost any urge to laugh. “I do not slay my brothers,” he said. “Take that for your target, Man, and I will find another.” He might have to kill Orcs on the journey to Lorien, but they were not his brothers. Or were they?

The blonde soldier shot, splitting the arrow neatly and starting a small cascade of sawdust from the leather figure. His friends slapped his back, hooting at Canohando.

“All right, Grey-skin, your turn! What’s your target?”

The Orc looked up into the sky. “There,” he said, pointing.

“What? Where? You’ll hit a cloud, will you?” The soldiers were raucous in their scorn, leaning against each other as if they could hardly stand up upright for mirth. A small crowd had gathered by now, watching, and in the forefront was a boy –

Miko?

Canohando sighted along his arm and fired in a great arc toward the sky. The onlookers craned their necks to follow the flight of his arrow, blinking against the brightness of the sun. Suddenly a wild bird fell dead at their feet, the arrow through its breast. Miko leaped forward to snatch it up from the ground, holding it over his head.

"Canohando wins! I couldn't even see it up there – can all Orcs shoot like that? Will you teach me how? I don't care what my mother says; I want to shoot like that!"

Canohando smiled at the child's excitement, but the blonde soldier he had been shooting against glowered. "Who let you in the gate, boy? This is a practice field for soldiers, not a play-yard for snot-nosed brats." He reached out as if to grab Miko, and a grey hand closed around his wrist.

"Do soldiers fight children in Gondor? I have seen that among my own kind, but I had thought Men knew better."

He pressed the man's arm back against his chest, the blonde's muscles straining as he tried in vain to resist. Canohando shoved him back against his two comrades, staring at them with black eyes that were all the more disturbing for their flat calm.

"You are not a bad archer, but I would not have you in my company: a coward seeking easy prey. Get out of here and go brawl with those more nearly your own size."  The Orc twisted a little to one side, shifting his feet and thrusting forward sharply with his forearm: the man fell back heavily, nearly knocking his friends to the ground. They caught him and caught their balance with difficulty, staggering back a few paces. Canohando stood watching, ready in case they rushed him, but they only mumbled imprecations under their breath and walked away.

"You've made a few enemies there," said a voice at his back. "But I suppose it hardly matters; most of  the men here must count themselves your enemies anyway, without even that much excuse."

Canohando looked round to find that Elladan had come up behind him. The Elf-lord looked amused. "You do not trouble to be diplomatic, do you? What if he were one of the company the King had chosen for you?"

"I would have thrown him out of it." The Orc turned to Miko. "Take that bird to your grandfather and tell him to cook  it for the Queen – the flesh will be sweet, what little there is of it. And save me the flight feathers for my arrows; the creature should not die for nothing."  He clasped the Miko’s shoulder for a moment before the lad ran off to do his bidding. 

"Do you tell me that fool was one of our company?" he said to Elladan.  

"Hardly! The King knows his men - you will have no cause to complain of the soldiers he has chosen for you."

Canohando unstrung his bow and hooked it to the quiver, to hang at his back. "For us, Queen's Brother, not for me alone. We share this command, as we share the task to bring her safe to Lorien. And I have not led Men before."

The soldiers Elessar had handpicked were beginning to gather in the center of the parade ground.  They milled about, talking among themselves, while Elladan and Canohando stood off to one side.

“How many?” the Orc asked.

“Two hundred forty: a Gondor company, and every one of them has fought at least one campaign.”

“Against Men or Orcs?”

Elladan lifted an eyebrow. “Men, for the most part. What Orcs remain are chiefly in the North.”

“You have fought Orcs, though.”

“Many times,” Elladan drawled.

“Then you know that Orcs do not fight the same as Men, Queen’s Brother. We will have to train our soldiers; if we meet enemies on this journey, they are likely to be Orcs.”

Elladan nodded, sober-faced, and led the way to the front. “Men of  the Queen’s Company!” he shouted, and the soldiers formed themselves quickly into straight lines; he waited until they were still before he continued. “You were chosen by the King for a special mission, at the behest of Queen Arwen, my sister. I am your Captain.” There was a scattering of cheers, and he held up a hand for silence. “I have a superior officer in this Company, by order of the King,” he said, and there was a sudden hush. “I present to you our Commander, Canohando the Orc!”

And silence descended as if every man on the field had been turned to stone. Only their eyes moved, from Elladan to the Orc, and their faces were slack with disbelief.

Canohando left Elladan’s side and walked along the ranks slowly, looking each man in the face. Now and then he stopped and held a man’s gaze for minutes at a time before he moved on; a few times he reached out and touched an arm or a shoulder. Watching him, Elladan realized that these were the men who looked most outraged or appalled; after Canohando passed by, they seemed bemused, as if their assumptions had been challenged and they no longer knew what to think.

The Orc finished at last, having met the eyes of every man in the company. It was so quiet that they could hear the noise from the street outside the soldiers’ compound, children shouting in some game, a hot bread seller hawking his wares.

Canohando stood beside Elladan once more, contemplating the men of his command.

“My name is Canohando,” he said finally. His voice was hoarse, not full and rich like Elladan’s, but it carried. “I was not born to this name, nor was I born to serve the King of Gondor. The name was given to me by the Brown Wizard, when he came to Mordor after the War. I do not know the Elven tongue, but he told me that my name means “Wise Commander”. I will try to be that to this Company.

“I have another name, given to me by your King. I am the Queen’s Shadow, and I have taken oath to protect her with my life. Every one of you will take that same oath, or you will not be part of this Company. I give you over now to your Captain, for you will need special training for this mission, but each of you must come to me, by yourself, and swear your oath in my hearing before nightfall tomorrow. I will be over there, making my arrows.” He pointed toward the place against the wall where he had been sitting earlier, said a quiet word to Elladan, and turned away. Under their eyes he walked across the field and settled himself against the wall again, taking up an arrow and beginning to work on it.

“I never saw anything like it,” Elladan told his brother later. “I’ve seen Orc captains before; their followers are terrified of them, and the captains are as quick to turn and kill their own as they are an enemy, for the slightest disobedience! I expected that he would try to cow them, but all he did was look them in the eye and demand their oath to defend the Queen.”

“Did they give their oaths?”

Elladan took a sip of his wine. “They did, indeed. They slipped out of their ranks, one after another, and went over to him. He didn’t even get up, just sat there on the ground making arrows like a common fletcher, but he watched their faces while they swore to him. I think nearly the whole company had given oath before we left the practice ground today, even though he gave them until tomorrow. It was the strangest behavior I've ever seen in any leader of men.”

“What do you think, will they follow him? Although since you are Captain, I suppose that won’t matter; certainly they will follow you!”

“Of course,” said Elladan. He stared into his wine, then emptied his glass in one swallow. “I think after today, they might follow him even if I weren’t there, most of them. There’s something about the way he looks at you...”

The ensuing weeks were given over to training the soldiers to fight Orcs. Canohando spent hours with the archers, taking his own turn shooting with the rest of them.

"Aim high," he told them. "The eyes or the throat. You won't pierce Orkish armor easily; you're wasting your arrows there, and you must kill or disable with a single shot, for you won't get a second one."  But he taught them also how to parry a sword thrust with their bows, and the trick of wrenching a weapon out of an enemy's hand to use against him. 

Elladan meanwhile worked with the rest of the men, making half of them take the part of Orcs and pretend to ambush the others, using tactics he had seen Orc captains use in battle. They trained morning and afternoon, day after day, and soldiers who were not part of the Queen's Company came to watch, standing around the sides of the practice field.

"What's it all for?" they asked the men of the Company, but no one knew. They ran and shot and hacked at one another with dull practice blades till sweat ran down their backs under their armor, even in the chill of late winter, but nobody could say what battle they were training for, except that they would be fighting Orcs, and they were led by an Orc.

Then one night Elessar was closeted for a long time with Eldarion and the Queen's brothers, and when they came out of that meeting he called Canohando to him. 

"In three days there will be a solemn Council for the leaders of the Kingdom, to announce the coming transfer of power to my son.  The Queen does not wish to be present, but I want you there, Canohando."

Canohando knit his brows.  "Will she be alone, lord?" 

"No. Gimli and Legolas will bear her company. They are notable warriors and old friends; still, if you wish you may send five or six men of your own Company to strengthen the guard at her door. I do not think it will be necessary."

"All the same, lord, I will bring them. Our men are sworn to defend her, even as I am myself."

Elessar smiled. "I had heard that already from Elladan. Radagast named you well, I think."

The day of the Council dawned rainy and cold. Canohando flung the black cloak of his uniform over his shoulders before he went to the kitchens for breakfast. He had not been there since he began training his Company, taking his meals rather in the soldiers' mess, sitting at table with his men instead of comfortably on the floor. In the kitchens Joram greeted him warmly.

"I've heard nothing from Miko these past weeks but the excitement of the practice field, you and  Prince Elladan training your soldiers. What mission are you entrusted with, that you prepare them to fight Orcs?"

Canohando took his meal and sat down in his usual corner. "Wait a little longer, Man.  I think the King may announce it today at the Council."

Joram drew a mug of ale for the orc and one for himself, sitting down on a bench. "Miko has been watching the archery; he would like for you to see him shoot, when there is time."

"Tell him to bring his bow to the practice field; I will make time for him. His mother does not object to him being there?"

"She does not like it, but he has uncles and cousins in the army. He used to go from time to time, visiting them – not every day, as he does now!  I am glad to see him spending his days there, to tell the truth."

Canohando ate, considering Joram's words. "You had better take him in hand, Man," he said finally.  "When we leave on our mission, he will be wandering again." He had noticed the child hanging around the field, but had been too busy to spare him more than a word or a smile in passing. But I will see him shoot, he promised himself. 

The Council was held in the Throne Room, for there were a great number present, but there was no music this day, nor any bevy of Court ladies adding brightness to the scene. The windows looked out on a melancholy landscape, cold rain plopping on the windowsills, and inside the room was grey and damp.  Canohando had been instructed to stand at the front, with the courtiers, and he leaned against a pillar, his cloak pulled close around him, waiting with the rest of them for the King. 

Elessar came at last, flanked by Eldarion and the Queen's brothers. He moved quickly toward the front, not stopping to greet anyone, although he nodded to this one and that as he came. He mounted the dais and turned to face them.

"Men of Gondor," he said, but then he stopped for a moment, gazing around the Hall as if he committed it to memory before leaving on a journey. 

Finally he began again. "Men of Gondor, for one hundred twenty years I have reigned in Minas Tirith, and only a handful of you can remember the day of my Coronation, for there are few left anymore of the descendants of Numenor. Most of you were not yet born when Kingship returned to Gondor. Nevertheless, there have been many Kings, as you may see by their images set in honor up and down this Hall. 

"No man may live forever on the earth, even the race of Numenor, and the time fast approaches when Gondor shall have a new King."

A rustling disquiet swept down the Hall, as if all present sucked in their breath by one accord. Elessar waited, letting the room die back to silence before he continued.

"According to our custom, the crown passes to my son Eldarion, and he is here before you."  He stretched forth his hand, and Eldarion stood forth, alone at the foot of the dais. "This is the Prince who shall be your King, a week hence."  The room stirred again, and he waited. "He is true-born heir to the throne of Gondor, of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Numenor, prepared  from childhood to hold this Office, tested in battle, and experienced in administering the North Kingdom in my name.

"Men of Gondor, shall Eldarion my son inherit the crown? Will you swear fealty to him here in my presence, that the Kingdom may continue in peace and harmony, secure within and without, after I have gone to my rest?"

There was silence in the Hall, so deep that nothing could be heard but the sound of raindrops hitting the windowsills. Eldarion stood like a marble statue at the foot of the dais, and Elessar at the top, looking from one face to the next of the leading men of Gondor. At last the King's voice rang out, a clap of thunder startling them all awake, "Answer me! How say you?" 

"Aye!" shouted one man, and others took it up, till the Hall rang with their shouts, and they stamped their feet and cried aloud their approval, their voices echoing from the stone walls. And one after another they bent the knee, till there was not a man left standing in the Hall, except the King and Eldarion only.  Canohando knelt among them, his heart uplifted by he knew not what, and along with the Men of Gondor he swore faithfulness and lifelong allegiance to Eldarion, who would be King.

 

14. The Silent Street

A week later, the King and Queen took the noon meal alone in their apartments. The trays were carried in and all was arranged upon the rosewood table, but Arwen did not stir from where she reclined on a couch before the fire, her head on a cushion.

"Come, beloved," Elessar said, taking her hand and helping her to arise, gentle but firm. "You will not eat later, I know, and I would not have you faint with hunger. Dine one last time with your Elfstone, and we will drink to the years of our happiness and be thankful, if we cannot be merry."

Canohando had been loitering in the anteroom. The whole of Minas Tirith knew that this was the day appointed, and all over the city people mourned, quietly in their homes or drunkenly in the crowded taverns. The Orc slipped into the dining room behind the serving boys, longing for a glimpse of his Lady, and Elessar called him over.

"You must see to it that she takes food when I am gone, Canohando. She forgets to eat when she is sad."

The Orc regarded the King with sorrow and wonder. In a few hours he will be dead, he says, although there is no wound on him, nor any weakness. And all he can think of is the Lady's comfort…

"I will care for her, lord." He laid his fist against his heart. "You need not fear for her, King of Gondor. Trust me for this."

The King's eyes probed his, and the Orc stood a little straighter.

"I do trust you," said Elessar. "Go now yourself and get something to eat, Canohando. At sunset we will leave."

Canohando let himself out, shutting the door behind him as quietly as he knew how. He was not accustomed to eat at noon, and he went out into the courtyard of the White Tree to stand by the fountain, listening to the play of the water and watching as the sun made little rainbows in the spray. It had no power to soothe him today, and he turned away with a sigh.

He walked at random, not thinking about where he was going, and found himself turning in at the gate to the practice field. A fit place for a warrior to pass the time, he thought. A unit of Guardsmen was drilling in the center of the field; he sidestepped them and went to the row of targets.

He shot all afternoon, stony-faced and silent, till he had reduced one target to shreds of leather and a heap of sawdust. At last the sun was far in the west, and he unstrung his bow and started back to the palace, following behind the company of Guards who were also marching toward the Citadel.

Minas Tirith was unnaturally still. There were no children playing in the courtyards, no hot bread sellers hawking their wares at street corners. There were people in the streets, but they stood silent, waiting, and more people kept joining the crowd, coming out of the houses or in from little side alleys. Canohando quickened his steps to pass by the Guardsmen, anxious to reach the palace before the King came out.

When he got to the Citadel, he found a scene of ordered chaos. A curtained litter stood to one side, its bearers wearing the uniform of the Guard. Courtiers bustled in and out of the buildings bordering the courtyard, on what errands the Orc could not fathom. Two horses with scarlet harness stood near the palace stairs, held by men from the stables. Florian was arguing with the grooms, insisting that they take the animals outside the Gate, but they showed no inclination to obey him.

"His Majesty sent word to bring his mount and the Queen's, Chamberlain, and here they are. Right here's the note he sent down to the stables."

Florian puffed up like an angry pigeon, not even looking at the paper the man waved in his face. "You know well enough that horses are not permitted inside the Citadel! Without doubt His Majesty meant for you to have the horses ready for him outside the Gate, and I must say you've chosen a poor day to flout law and custom. Now out with you!"

He flapped his hands at them, as if he would shoo them toward the exit, and one of the horses shied and danced away. The man holding her reins calmed her with difficulty, and the other groom bent a furious glare on Florian. "Go back to your doorkeeping, Chamberlain," he said, his voice vibrating with intensity but low, not to excite the horses further. "His Majesty rides to join his longfathers this day, and he'll find his horse ready at the door!"

Canohando stood listening, out of everyone's way. Orcs would have come to blows by now, he thought. Even when they are angry, they are more peaceable than we are, even fools like the little Chamberlain.

A trumpet blast ended the argument and everyone stopped where he was, turning toward the palace doors. Elladan and Elrohir came down the marble stairs, walking side by side, their eyes straight ahead. As they reached the bottom, Prince Eldarion emerged from the palace and started down alone. A little distance behind him his two sisters followed, on their husbands' arms. There was a pause of several heartbeats, and then the King and Queen appeared in the doorway.

Arwen was all in black, her face so white it appeared bloodless; even her lips were pale. She held herself proudly, nonetheless, her hand tucked under the King's arm, but with dignity, not as if she needed his support. And the King wore mail of hammered gold over his tunic, as if he rode to a tournament and not to his last sleep; under the winged crown of the Sea-Kings his face was solemn, but serene.

He looked out over the courtyard at the people gathered there, but his gaze lingered on the White Tree beside its fountain. It was the first of March, and the tree was beginning to bud.

"Now the Kingdom is restored, and one King follows another, generation by generation, as it was of old," he said, and his voice carried clearly to every person present. "As you have served me faithfully, I charge you to serve my son, that Gondor may prosper and be blessed. Now I go to my rest, and the dawn will see a new King reigning in Minas Tirith. Come then to the Hall of Kings at the third hour tomorrow, and swear homage to Eldarion my son. For myself, I bid you good-night."

He started down the stairs, the Queen at his side, and at the bottom he helped her onto her horse before he mounted his own. The Guardsmen Canohando had passed on the street earlier took their places behind and ahead of the King and Queen, a guard of honor, but the Queen's brothers, with Eldarion and his sisters, walked ahead, and from the side two others joined them: the Dwarf Gimli and the Elf who was his friend. But as they passed by where Canohando was standing, Legolas called to him softly.

"Come, Queen's Shadow, you march with us." And Canohando looked up, startled, and hastened to fall in beside him.

They went through the Gate, out of the Citadel, and turned west. Behind the rear rank of the Guards came a crowd of people who had been in the courtyard, silent and wide-eyed, some of them clinging to one another's hands, like children bereft of their father.

When they came to Fen Hollen, the door to the Tombs, the King's son stepped forward to meet the Doorkeeper.

"Open the way," he said, "for the King comes, seeking rest." And the porter unlocked the door and swung it wide, and they passed in. But when the last of the Guardsmen reached the door, they turned to face the people who followed behind, and they blocked the way.

"The King has said good-night," the Captain said to the crowd, and his voice was choked with tears. "Go home now, and tomorrow the new King shall bid you good morning." He waited with his men until the crowd began to turn and drift away; then the last of the Guards passed through the doorway, and the porter locked it behind them.

The sun was setting as they followed the road down, a blaze of crimson that fired the sky and cast rosy light on the pale domes and columns along the way. There was no sound but the measured footsteps of the Guardsmen against the marble pavement. And then a voice rose from the midst of the cortege, a woman singing a lament in the ancient Elven tongue, and her song was of such sorrow as to break a heart of adamant, yet beautiful withal. The boots of the soldiers beat a solemn rhythm, and Arwen's voice soared above them, and Canohando clenched his fists as he walked, not to sit down on the cold stone of the roadway and howl in an abandonment of grief.

They came at last to the House of the Kings. Arwen was silent now, and the Guard split to the right and to the left, standing in formation. The King slid from his horse and helped his Lady down, before he turned to those who had walked ahead in the procession.

He embraced the Elf first, Legolas, who had stood with him in many dangers, and then Gimli, and what he whispered in their ears was for them alone and they never repeated it. Then he came to the Orc.

"It seems you are the Treasure-keeper," he said. "Frodo entrusted a Jewel to you, and now I leave you to guard my heart's treasure. Do not fail me, Canohando!"

The orc knelt, reaching for the King's hands to kiss them, but Elessar drew him to his feet. "I know you will not fail," he said, embracing the Orc. "You are Frodo's brother, as true-hearted as he was himself. Guard her until she does not need you more, and the blessing of Aragorn rest on you ever after."

He turned and took Arwen's hand once more, and with his family he passed through the narrow door into the tomb of Gondor's kings.

The light of sunset faded, and shadows grew long in the street. Canohando stood with Gimli and Legolas, and for a time no one spoke. At last Gimli said, "Meriadoc and Peregrin are laid within there, are they not? They are far from home."

"Far indeed, but at least they are together," Legolas answered, and seeing the Orc's look of bewilderment he added, "Cousins to the Ring-bearer, who were of the Fellowship with us. Perhaps Frodo told you of them."

Comprehension dawned. "They went to the Ents," the Orc said. He smiled slightly. "Ninefingers said they grew tall."

Gimli gave a little snort of laughter and stifled it quickly, looking around. "In a manner of speaking – for a hobbit! They were noble of heart, though; it is fitting that they lie with the great of Gondor. Frodo should be here as well."

"He is happier sleeping at home in the Shire," Legolas said softly. "Rath Dinen is too quiet for him; he would want birdsong around his tomb, and squirrels…"

They spoke no more after that, and the street was as silent as its name. The Guardsmen still stood in their ranks but no longer at rigid attention. Night fell and stars began peeking out, a few at a time, until the sky was spangled with light. Canohando sat down on the stone steps and stared up at them.

Is all the City holding its breath while the King dies? How long will it take, without wound or illness? It took Yarga an hour, drenched in blood…

He shut his eyes, trying to blot out the memory of Yarga's face, contorted in anguish; the low groans the Orc had tried to suppress. Canohando had pressed bandages to the dreadful wound, staunching the bleeding, but he had not been able to ease Yarga's agony. He wondered now why he had not ended it with one merciful stroke of his knife, but he had not let himself admit that Yarga was dying; he had been determined to save him.

I hope the King is not in pain.The Valar send – but would the Valar permit an Orc to call on them for anything? What had the Lady told him – he was known to the One –

Send that he dies easy, he thought. Show him mercy, as he showed to me.


16. The Age of the Dominion of Men

It was past midnight before Eldarion emerged from the House of the Kings. The white crown of the King was upon his head and he seemed to have grown taller, to have put on regal dignity along with the crown, but the torchlight caught a glint of tears on his face. His sisters came behind him, weeping openly with their arms around each others’ waists, and their husbands followed with the Queen’s brothers. But Arwen was last of all, lagging behind as if she came reluctantly. She shed no tears and her visage was white and still as something carved in stone. She made no effort to mount her horse, but went and lay down in the closed litter that had been carried empty to Rath Dinen.

Canohando stood over her, appalled at her appearance and trying to think of something he could do.

"Close the curtains," she said. She shut her eyes, crossing her hands on her breast as if ready for her own funeral cortege, and after a moment he obeyed, drawing the damask curtains, hiding her from view. He fell back to walk with Gimli and Legolas. There was no music as they made their way back up the winding street to the Silent Door.

In the morning Arwen robed herself in black velvet and covered her face with a sheer black veil that hung almost to her knees. She walked with Eldarion in slow procession to the Hall of Kings, preceded by musicians and followed by her brothers, her daughters and their husbands and children, and the highest officials of the Kingdom. A Company of Guards came before and behind.

No one had told Canohando where his place was on this day, and he took his position unbidden among the Guardsmen. The men made space for him without complaint, and when they stood to attention at each side of the doorway, Canohando continued down the Hall alone, behind the Royal Family and their entourage. He stood to the right of the dais with the Princes of the Kingdom, and if there were many who looked askance at his presence among them, he did not notice. All his attention was given to his Lady.

The Throne Room was packed, courtiers in rich garments of silk and velvet crowded together with ordinary people of the city, tradesmen and soldiers, housewives and laborers, anyone and everyone who could push their way into the building. Outside the Courtyard of the White Tree was a seething mass of people as well, but there was little sound of voices. The citizens of Gondor waited, in hope and trepidation, to be greeted by the new King.

Eldarion stood at the top of the stairs, letting his gaze wander from face to face, lingering on one or another that especially struck him. An old woman near the front; the tall men standing protectively on either side of her looked like brothers: they must have used their elbows to good effect to bring their elderly mother to a place where she could see clearly. A mischievous-looking lad balancing on the plinth of one of the columns, a quiver and bow strapped to his back. A pair of lovers, their arms around each other, but their eyes looking at him hopefully.

It is up to me to keep Gondor strong, he thought, so that child grows up to be a good man; so those lovers can raise a happy family in peace. The crown felt very heavy on his brow, and he wondered if his father's head had sometimes ached from its weight.

"I give you good morrow," he said at last. "King Elessar my father sleeps with his forebears in Rath Dinen, and he has left his place to me, to rule and to protect this realm of Gondor. The princes and officials of the Kingdom have sworn fealty already, and now I call on all of you, the men and women of Minas Tirith, to pledge your faith to me, as I pledge mine to you. As a father will I be to you, and you shall be my children."

He had hardly finished speaking when the cheers began, and jubilation filled the room and the courtyard outside as people shouted and stamped their feet, throwing their hats in the air, laughing and clapping their hands, until the roar of sound echoed from the walls. At last the Chancellor of the Kingdom stepped forward, resplendent in robes of midnight with a golden chain around his neck, and raised his hands for silence.

"Here stands Eldarion, the son of Elessar, confirmed and crowned by his father, of the line of Isildur and Elendil, true King of Gondor. If anyone contests his right, let him speak now and show just cause."

There was silence so deep, it seemed that no one so much as drew breath.

"Kneel then, in sign of your allegiance to King Eldarion!" the Chancellor said in a loud voice, and with a great rustling of garments and scraping of shoes against the floor, every person in the Hall went to his knees. As they saw what was happening within, the people on the steps outside knelt also, and those in the courtyard, and Eldarion looked out over a sea of bowed heads.

"You are my people," he said, his voice rough with emotion. "While I live I will rule you with justice, and lead you with wisdom, and judge you with mercy, as the Valar give me grace so to do. You may rise."

He sat down in his throne, but Arwen beside him remained standing as the people got to their feet. There was a blast of trumpets announcing the beginning of the new reign, but when the sound died away Arwen lifted her arms and spread them wide.

"Now come the years of the Dominion of Men," she cried. "The time of the First-born is over, and my people pass away. Use well the time, you favored of Iluvatar, until Arda is unmade!"

She turned and kissed her son on the forehead, and then she descended from the dais and passed down the long aisle to the door. But the people who thronged the Hall of Kings bent the knee once more as she went by, and behind her glided her Shadow in his uniform of black and silver.

Later in the day the Queen called her brothers to her. They sat sipping wine and pressing her to eat something, but Canohando leaned in the doorway, trimming his fingernails with his knife, sharpening them into pointed claws.

"I shall leave in a week's time," Arwen said. "Are your men ready?"

"They are ready, Lady," Canohando said without hesitation, but Elladan leaned forward to take his sister's hand.

"Will you not wait till after the New Year, Arwen? It is less than a month, not too much time to see Eldarion steady on his throne, and yourself a little recovered from your grief."

Her eyes were very dark behind her veil; even here in her Bower she had not put it off. "Think you I shall recover from this sorrow? There is one cure only for my grief, and that I shall find in Lorien. No, I will not stay for the New Year; Estel should have stood beside me on the platform, and I will not stand there without him. Eldarion is King now, and he will receive his people's homage. A week from this day, Brother, at early morn."

Her brothers went out soon after, to meet with the new King, and the Queen regarded Canohando with regret. "I wish you could have seen Minas Tirith at the New Year,” she said. “We had planned a very special celebration for this year, the one hundred-twentieth anniversary of the New Kingdom. I never thought the King would not be here to share in it."

The Orc came to sit at her feet, trying to see past the filmy veil into her eyes. "He would be with you if he could, Lady. It was not his desire to leave you."

She looked away. "I know. Send someone to find Legolas for me, and Gimli." She smiled faintly. "Where they find one, the other will be, I think. I do not know how long they will remain in the City now, and I would have speech with them both."

They came promptly, but while Gimli went at once to bend over the Queen’s hand, Legolas took Canohando aside. "You should be with your soldiers, Commander, getting them ready to march. You cannot linger here in the Queen's Bower if you are to leave in a week's time."

Canohando stared at him in surprise - how did the Elf know - and Legolas smiled sadly.

"I know my Undomiel,” he said. “She will delay a week, not to appear as if she is fleeing the City, but they will not be able to hold her here longer than that. Leave her to our protection during the day, Orc, though I do not know what danger you fear in the heart of the Citadel. But it may comfort her to have old friends about her, and I would spend what time I may with the Evenstar of my people, before she fade away. Aragorn said you watch her door by night?"

“Always,” Canohando said, and the Elf nodded.

"Good. I do not think there is danger, but if there were, it would be more likely to strike by darkness. In daytime trust her to us, while you order your Company. It is no light matter for an Orc to command a troop of Men. You must not neglect them; the Queen's safety on the road may depend on their willingness to obey you."

It was that argument that convinced Canohando. He spoke to Arwen and she sent him off at once: "Of course, Legolas is right. Not for nothing is he Prince of Mirkwood and honored for his generalship! Go, Canohando, and make ready to march."

When he got to the practice field, he was glad he had come. The place was crowded; soldiers from all over the City had gathered there, whether they were on duty or not, as if they sought each other’s comfort in the wake of the King’s passing. They were sitting idle, throwing dice, some of them, or standing around talking in low voices. Quite a few had bought beer from vendors outside the entrance and were drinking steadily, although it was still early. Canohando stopped in the gateway to take in the scene and did not like it at all; his fear of drunkenness came sharply back to him.

He went into the post and confronted the soldier at the desk there. “I want the Queen’s Company for drill; send word for me, youngling. Where will I find the captain on duty this morning?”

The young soldier looked surprised. “He’s in the planning room with his subalterns, sharing a bottle of something, I shouldn’t wonder. You want me to call out your company now? The King died last night, Commander - I don’t think your men are expecting drill this day!”

Canohando perched on the edge of the desk, folding his arms and staring down at the young man from beneath lowered brows. “If you wanted to attack a great city, what better opportunity than the day after the King’s death? This is no time for the defenders of Gondor to get drunk; it is a time for watchfulness. Now call my men: they will have drill today, whether they expect it or not.”

But when the Company was assembled, not in the best of tempers at having their holiday cut short, Canohando treated them to a drill the likes of which they had never experienced. While he was waiting for them he had gathered a motley group of men from among those hanging around the field, promising them some entertainment. They were bored and many of them were already tipsy, and they were ripe for mischief. The Queen’s Company had no more than lined up on the practice field, when their Commander leaped among them with a shout.

“You are under attack!” he bellowed. “The Orcs are upon you!” And Canohando led his ragtag band of “Orcs” in a mock skirmish that shocked the Company out of their sullen mood and forced them to fight as nearly a real battle as was possible with blunted practice weapons; indeed, they might have been routed from the field if their Commander had not switched allegiance halfway through and come over to their side against the “Orcs”. When it was over they sat around exhausted on the ground, and Canohando walked among them saying a quiet word to this man or that, letting his hand rest for a moment on their shoulders.

“That was not bad,” he said at last for all to hear. “But you cannot wait for me to tell you what to do - what would become of you if I fell? And keep your eyes open, for you do not know when an enemy may rise up from the very stones!”

He turned suddenly and fell upon the soldier nearest him, pinning the man's arms as he whipped out his knife. But before he could raise it to the man's throat, the fellow had twisted out his grip and drawn his own knife; he had his feet under him, crouched ready to defend himself.

Canohando laughed, sliding his weapon back into its sheath. “Good!” he exclaimed. “You will live to see your grandsons and teach them to fight Orcs in their turn, till there is no more need for such warfare.” He looked around at the Company, manifestly pleased with them, and many of the men grinned back at him, warmed by the praise of their barbaric Commander.

 

17. Shadows on the Moon

Canohando passed Joram in the courtyard the next morning and stopped to speak with him.

"Does your grandson know how to make his own arrows, Man?"

Joram shook his head.  "Even I did not make my own, when I was in the Army.  I made some for the lad to practice  with, but I'm no fletcher." The orc grunted; he had examined Miko's arrows when the boy came to the practice field. 

"He is not a bad shot for his age, but with better weapons he could be very good.  He came a few days ago and showed me what he can do.  If you will have him in the kitchen at the time of the evening meal, I will eat here instead of in the soldiers' mess.  It will give me a chance to show him how to make arrows."

"I'll see that he's here, and you can show me too, if you will. The story's got around how you refused the arrows in the armory and made your own instead, and everyone has heard about the bird you shot out of the sky. I'd be glad to see how you do it."

Canohando went off to spend the day working with his men. He had them all to himself, for Elladan was  in close conference with the new King, giving Eldarion as much guidance as he could before they left the City. The Company had come together as a cohesive group now, although Aragorn had chosen them out of a number of different units, and they seemed to have accepted their outlandish Commander as well.

At sundown the Orc returned to the Palace, carrying his own weapons and also a second bow. Miko was sitting on a bench against the  wall, swinging his legs, but he jumped up and ran to meet him.

"Canohando!  Grandfer says you're going to teach me to make arrows!  Did you always make your own, even when you were in the Orc army?"

The Orc ran his hand over Miko's hair, careful not to let his claws scratch the tender scalp. It was a measure of the child's innocence that he could talk so casually of the Orc "army". Better call it the horde, Canohando thought. We had no loyalty, no discipline: we were bound to terror and bloodlust, we delighted in torture…

He pulled his thoughts back to the present. "Always, youngling – bow and arrows should fit the archer, not the other way around, so I make my own when I can.  But these Elf bows are well-made; see, I have brought you one from the armory. It is too long, but we will cut it to size."

Miko took the bow, his eyes round with awe. "A real Elf bow! The master really let you take it for me?"

Canohando snorted. "I did not say who it was for; I told him I needed it, and he did not argue with me.  Stand still now, and I will see how much we must trim it."

Joram brought over meat and ale, and Canohando snatched bite and sup while he worked. He altered Miko's bow more than he had his own, for it had to be much shorter, and then it was too thick and had to be shaved down. He worked patiently, and when Miko's attention wandered he called the lad back sharply. "You will outgrow this in a year or two, youngling, and I will not be here to make another for you. You had better watch what I'm doing so you know how to do it yourself." But Joram hung over him, watching intently, and he paid close attention as well, when Canohando brought out some uncut shafts and began making arrows.

"You feather them a little different from how we do ours," the man observed.

"I get better control this way," said Canohando. "See now, if you set the feather like this, you can put a little spin on it in flight. Come here, Miko, let me see you do one."

Miko's arrow was a sloppy imitation of Canohando's, but the Orc nodded. "You will need to practice, but you have the idea. Keep one of mine aside and do not use it, then you will have it for a model."  He stood up, stretching. 

"Time for sleep. Bring your new bow to the field tomorrow, and you can shoot while the men are at drill." He turned to leave, but he was halted by Miko's small body launched at him, arms wrapped around his waist. 

"Thank you! I will practice, I promise, and I will always make my own arrows, just like you. Someday I will be an archer in the King's army, too!"

Canohando laughed, but he was warmed by the child's affection, and he went up to the Queen's apartments with a lighter heart than he had known since he learned that Elessar was soon to die. He greeted the Guardsmen on duty outside the antechamber and went in, but instead of the darkness he had expected he found the room washed in moonlight. He walked over to look out the window, and the beauty of the night smote his heart. 

The moon was nearly at the full, huge and white, and dark blue clouds clustered around it, wisps of them drifting across its face. He was tired, but he could not bear to turn his back on the glorious vision to lie down in his stuffy closet. He stood for a long time watching the heavens, the changing shadows on the moon and the stars burning holes in the dark sky. Finally he wrapped his blanket around himself and lay on the floor beneath the window, where he could feast his eyes until they closed in spite of his efforts to stay awake.

He thought afterward that the moon might have saved his life.

When he woke some hours later, the moonlight was gone and the room was very dark, and something was moving near the Queen's door. He rose to his knees slowly, drawing his knife out from under the pack he used as a pillow. 

There was a faint whisper and another movement by the door of his closet – there were two of them, then, if not more – were they looking to see if he was asleep, before they broke into the Queen's chambers? He got to his feet and made his way softly around the edge of the room, straining his eyes to see how many intruders there were. If there is danger, it will strike by darkness, Legolas had said; the Elf was a shrewd captain. 

One man was crouched directly in front of the Queen's door, and Canohando took him first, an arm thrown around his neck and a quick upthrust of his knife under the ribs. The man gasped, his cry cut off by the pressure of the Orc's arm against his windpipe. But even that little sound was enough to alert the other intruder, and he ran for the outer door, not troubling to be quiet. Canohando thrust aside the body he held and dove after him, but the man reached  the door and flung it open, throwing himself out of the room before the Orc could reach him.

"Stop that man!" Canohando roared, charging out to confront the Guards. They backed away, staring  at him with their mouths open -  belatedly, they took up the cry and hared after the escaping intruder, bringing him down just before he reached the stairs. But Canohando had not missed their expressions of amazement and fear: they did not expect me to be alive, he realized. Whatever devilry is afoot, those two are part of it.

He slipped back into the anteroom and locked it from the inside, quickly, before the Guardsmen could return. Then he ran to the open window and leaned out; throwing back his head, he let out a howl that shook the night. It rose and fell, eerie and wavering, until it sounded as if a pack of wolves had invaded the Citadel and prowled in the Courtyard of the White Tree. Lights flared in the darkness as torches and lanterns were lit; voices shouted and feet pounded through the passageways, and the door to the Queen's chambers was thrown open, Arwen standing in the doorway in her dressing-gown, a terrified maid cowering behind her.

"In the name of Elbereth, Canohando, what madness is this?"

There were men shouting and beating on the outer doors. "Let them in!" Arwen said sharply.

"Wait, Lady!" He moved to stand in front of her, shielding her with his body. "Be certain first that they are loyal to you: I slew a man at your door a moment ago, and another got away. Do not unlock the doors until we hear the King's voice, or your brothers…"

She was carrying a lantern; in its light her eyes were shadowed, and she shook her head numbly. "You slew - at my door? Where?" She held the lantern up high, shedding its light around the room. The man Canohando had killed lay facedown, his blood a dark stain on the carpet around him. "Who is it?" she whispered.

Canohando rolled him over. "You!" he exclaimed. It was the blonde soldier who had mocked his archery, the first day he had gone to the practice field. The man who had threatened Miko, the bully Canohando  would have thrown out of his Company, if the King had assigned him to it.

"You know him?" Arwen asked.

"I have met him; I do not know his name," Canohando said, but at that moment there was a rattling of the doors and the King's voice.

"Mother! Can you hear me? You men – break me down these doors!"

"No!" Arwen cried, hurrying forward. "Wait, Eldarion, I will unlock them." But the Orc was ahead of her, shouldering her gently aside.

"Stand over there, Lady, till we know it is safe. I will open the doors, but if there is an archer among the traitors – stay to one side, out of range."

He flung the doors wide, moving back quickly to put himself in front of the  Queen, but Eldarion thrust him out of the way and caught his mother in his arms. "Mother! You are unharmed? What is it, has the Orc run mad? Hold him!" he said over his shoulder, and half a dozen Guardsmen surrounded Canohando, yanking his hands behind his back and binding them quickly.The Orc endured it without resistance, searching the mens' faces as they hustled him away from the Queen. Which of these men had been in the plot, he wondered, and what evil had they intended? 

"Let him go!" Arwen's voice was low and fierce, and she beckoned Canohando to her. "There was an intruder here tonight, and thanks to the Powers that my Shadow kept the door! Eldarion, send for your uncles –"

But there was no need to send; Elladan and Elrohir were there, and Elladan had already slashed the cords that bound Canohando's wrists. "Come into your Bower, Arwen; you will take a chill. Your Majesty," he said quietly to the King, "in your place I should send for the Queen's Company to guard the doors. If an intruder entered this room, your Guard is compromised, for how could anyone get past the men on duty without their complicity?"

Eldarion nodded grimly. He stepped out into the great open chamber outside the anteroom doors, his eyes passing over at least twenty Guardsmen until he found a young page who had wormed his way to the front, agog to see what was going on.

"You, lad! Hie you to the Officer on duty at the barracks, tell him I am calling up the Queen's Company, here at the Palace, as quickly as they can get here!" Then the King looked around at the silent Guardsmen. "Who stood at these doors tonight?" he asked. Two men stepped forward, still gripping the elbows of the man they had caught by the stairs.

"We caught this one when he ran out, Majesty," one of them said. 

"Did you indeed?" said the King. "Bind his hands and feet; we will be questioning him soon. Which of you men were not on duty tonight?"

Half a dozen of the Guardsmen lifted their hands. "You men and those who were at the door come in, and bring the prisoner. The rest of you are dismissed." But when they were assembled in the anteroom he said, "You two who were on the door are under arrest as well; hand over your weapons."

Their dumbfounded expressions would have been comical, if Eldarion's face had not been so bleak. Only a few days King and already he faced treason in the Guard, a threat to his own mother! There had not been such a thing in all the years of Elessar's reign – but Aragorn had come to Minas Tirith a victor on the field of battle, tested and proved. This was Eldarion's first test, and his reign might be short if he did not pass.

"Bring him in."  The King motioned to the man who had been taken at the stairs, and a couple of Guards held his arms as he shuffled into the Queen's Bower, his footsteps hampered by the length of rope that tethered his ankles.

But the questioning was short.

"What were you doing at the Queen's door, soldier?" Eldarion asked sternly. "King Elessar is no sooner gone to his rest, than treachery raises its head against the Lady Arwen?"

The man burst out as if in horror. "No! It was not treason, we meant no harm to the Queen! Never to the Queen! The Orc – only the Orc –" 

Arwen lifted her head, her gaze boring into his face. "What about the Orc? What business had you with him?"

"No business, Your Majesty; we came to take him out of here. Your Grace, he has bewitched you and the King! He is a monster, lording it over true Men of Gondor, calling himself our Commander –"  His voice faltered as he looked from Eldarion to Elrohir, to Elladan and the Queen herself. 

"You came to take him – where?" Arwen's voice was soft. "Or do you not mean that you came to slay him, although he was named my Shadow and protector by King Elessar himself?"

The man stood mute, and Eldarion drew his brows together. "You will answer the Queen, sirrah. Did you mean to slay the Orc?"

"Yes," he muttered. He met the King's eyes. "He is an Orc, Your Majesty!  Why does no one see that he is an enemy, an animal, filthy –"  The man's voice was rising as he spat out his hatred. "He sits in the mess hall tearing at his meat like a wild beast, sucking on the bones – our weapons are not good enough for him - he did  murder before the King and the whole Court, and instead of execution he is given a Company of his own and sleeps at the Queen's door –"  The man was nearly screaming now, spit flying from his lips. "He walks with the great ones of Minas Tirith, but for all that he is an Orc, and any true son of Gondor will strike him down!"

Eldarion looked sick. "And that is what you are, then? A true son of Gondor, who creeps upon your enemy in the dead of night while he sleeps, to take his life before he can defend himself. The Valar send that I have not many of these true sons of Gondor in my soldiery!"

"You have not, lord," said Canohando from where he stood next to the Queen's chair. "I have captained one company of your soldiers, but I have met many others. They are brave men, for the most part. Many of them do not like having an Orc in their midst, but they honor the King's word, that sets me among them and gives me command."

The young King sighed. "I hope you are right. Very well, we know what manner of man this is, and I have no desire to see more of him. Take him back outside – have the men of your Company come yet?"

Elladan opened the door to the anteroom. "Yes, they are here. Will you have the Guardsmen who were on duty next?" Eldarion nodded, sitting down across from the Queen, and Elladan motioned the prisoner and his guards from the room, following them out.

"I am glad you are a light sleeper, Orc," said the King, and Canohando snorted.

"Not light enough," he said. "They should not have been able to get in the room without my knowledge. I live too well, here in the city."

The door opened once more and a squad of soldiers came in with the two Guardsmen, Elladan behind them. The King ran his eyes over the Guards with the air of one who examines a horse for soundness, from their winged helmets to their polished boots. At last his gaze settled on their faces.

"How did those murderers get in tonight, gentlemen?"

The men made no answer. They stared at the floor by the King's feet, and the silence stretched on and on.

"Will you not say they must have climbed in through the window?" Eldarion asked. "Or you fell asleep perhaps, both of you, at your post? Or you had urgent business down the other end of the passage and left the door unguarded –"

Arwen broke in. "Do not tempt them to lie, my son. They let them in; that is the truth of it. Here are some more 'true sons of Gondor' who care more for their inherited hatred than they do for the King's word."

Eldarion nodded. "Thank you, Mother. That is the truth, you men? You let the others in; did you know what they intended?"

"To kill the Orc," one man said in a hoarse voice.

Canohando fingered the Jewel at his throat. "That is what they told you. What if it had not been true?  How if killing me had been only a step on the way to their true intention: to bring harm to the Queen?" The man who had spoken looked aghast. "You had not thought of that," said Canohando. "But if you choose not to follow your orders, you must think of everything."

Elrohir stirred impatiently. "There was no choice for them to make. What do we do with sentries who stand aside and let intruders pass unchallenged? These men are traitors, and the other I think is mad."

"Take them out to the anteroom and guard them well," Eldarion told the soldiers. And when they were gone, he looked around at those who remained with him.

"What shall we do with them, indeed? Canohando, I do most sincerely value your service to my mother, yet if she chose now to remain in Minas Tirith, I would be in a quandary what to say to you. You are more faithful than many Men in Gondor, but there are those who refuse to see it."

"That is not a difficulty," said Arwen. "I shall leave at the end of the week, as I told you. But you have four men at least who are proved rebels to the King's command: one of them is dead already, but to the others you must deal justice, lest your authority be set at nought."

"The penalty for murder is death, and the first man came to do murder, by his own admission," said Elladan. 

"And the penalty for sentries who are unfaithful to their duty is death."

No one said anything, but Canohando shifted his feet and blew his breath out between his teeth. After a long silence, Arwen said, "Is that the sentence?"

"Can it be anything else?" the King asked.

"Your father found another sentence for me," said Canohando.

"That was a far different case," said Eldarion. "You did not come with intent to kill; you defended yourself, but then you threw down your weapon. These men plotted foul murder, in the dark, of a sleeping – I almost said, man. They imagine they are excused because you are not a Man, but it was still murder they planned, and only your quick wits saved you."

"Lord, they are mortal; in a few years they will die whether you condemn them or not, and they did not slay me, whatever they intended. But life is better than death, and the old man would have spared them, as he did Yarga."

"What old man?" Eldarion asked.

"He speaks of Radagast the Brown, I think," said Elladan.  "The Bird-Tamer of Rhosgobel: if we are to consult his example for justice, malefactors will be free to do their worst without fear of reprisal from this day forth."

Canohando frowned. "Is it reprisal you desire, Queen's Brother? We knew reprisal under the Witch King.  Sentries who failed of their duty as these men did – in truth they would have died, and begged for the release of death! But I learned better things from the old man, and from Ninefingers."

Arwen reached out her hand and drew him close. "You did, dear one. Radagast was not a fool, though some have named him so," she said to the rest. "And it was Frodo's mercy that saved him in the end.  Take care how you pursue justice, that you do not slay wisdom along with your malefactors."

The King rubbed his forehead as if it ached. "Very well, Mother, but what am I to do with sentries who so abuse their trust? Are the Guardsmen to rule Gondor from henceforth, in defiance of the King's word?  My father appointed the Orc to your service, remember."

She bowed her head. "That is true. What would he have done in this case, I wonder?"

"You cannot trust them any longer," said Elrohir. "After this, I would not want them in Minas Tirith at all; they are proven traitors to their sworn word, for they vowed obedience to the King. And besides that they are cowards, to strike in the dark at a sleeping man. It must be death or banishment, I think."

Eldarion stood up. "Gimli tells me there are still Orcs in the depths of Moria; the Dwarves have had some trouble with them. I will send these men under guard to Khazad-dum, in lifelong banishment. Since they cannot be reconciled to have an Orc as brother-in-arms, let them go where all Orcs are enemies. They can find their courage and their redemption there, if they are minded to do so."  He bent to kiss his mother's cheek. "Go back to bed, Motherie. Your own Company keeps the door, and there is nothing more to fear."

She smiled and took his hand in hers, holding it to her cheek. "I am not afraid, dearest. My Estel gave me a protector indeed, and he proved his worth tonight. But Canohando, have you a few men in your Company that you can trust? Not to guard me – to stand with you, if you are attacked again."

The Orc thought for a moment.  "I would trust nearly all of them to watch my back, Lady," he said at last. "The old King chose them well; they are brave men, and faithful."

 

18. The Road to Lothlorien

They did not start as early as they had planned on the day of their departure, for Arwen lingered inside with Eldarion and her brothers, determined to leave and yet loath to say the final farewell. Canohando waited in the courtyard and a groom held the Queen's horse outside the entrance to the Citadel; they would travel mounted, of course, and the rest of the Company was assembled by the City gates.

"So, Orc, we have come to wish you safe journey." Canohando turned at Gimli's voice.

"I would be glad if there had been more time for us to know each other," Legolas said. "It will be a strange tale I carry to the Undying Lands, of an Orc who wears the black and silver and guards Arwen Undomiel at the last. There will be some who will not believe me, and I am not sure I understand even now, how such a thing came to be."

Canohando fingered the jewel at his throat. "Ninefingers," he said.

"That is the answer, yet it is passing strange," said Gimli. "Frodo Baggins – when I saw him first in Elrond's House, even when he stood forth to take the Ring, I thought he was too innocent, too soft, for the task he set himself –"

"He was," said Legolas. "He was gentle to a fault, but he knew what was at stake and he would not give in. I thought it had broken him beyond mending; when I saw him last I feared that I would hear next that he was dead, or driven mad." The Elf looked at Canohando curiously. "What did Radagast do for him, do you know? From what you have said, Frodo was hale and strong when you met him."

"When I met him he had fought his battle already, and won. I do not know if the old man freed him or he freed himself, but he was not soft. Gentle and courteous, but he would not back down - even Yarga could not break him; in the end Yarga fled rather than face Ninefingers..." The Orc sighed. "There is no one like him, but I would see his country, if I could."

Legolas smiled. "The Shire? Aragorn set a ban on that land many years ago; Men are not permitted there, but I don't suppose he thought of forbidding it to Orcs. Perhaps you will see Frodo's country one day, Canohando. He would like that, I think."

Canohando did not answer, but after a moment he turned to Gimli. "And what will you do now? The Lady says the Elf will go to Valinor, so will you return to your own land? Does your road lie with ours? I would not be sorry to have your axe on our side if we meet with enemies."

Legolas laughed. "No, Orc, you cannot have him! Gimli goes with me; our friendship is of too long standing to be broken now!" He looked down at the Dwarf with tender humor. "He has clung behind me on horseback, and now he will brave the Sea at my side, trusting his life to my boat-building."

"For the Lady Galadriel's sake, mind you," Gimli said gruffly. "Else you could as well come back with me to the Glittering Caves, and endure your sea-fever a while longer! But I will go with you to Elvenhome, if you are certain the ship will not sink to the bottom at having one of Durin's race aboard."

"It will not sink," Legolas said with certainty. "Permission has been granted, and Galadriel herself will rejoice to see you on the white shores. We are come to the end of many things, my friends, and this Middle Earth will be far different in the Age to come."

Gimli nodded, his face sad, and he reached up to grip the Elf's shoulder for a moment. But Canohando gazed around the courtyard at the fountain and the White Tree, reflecting that he had gained far more than he lost when the world changed. He grieved over his Lady and the good King he had served for so short a time, and there would always be an empty space in his heart for Frodo. But he was free to grieve, free to love…

The Queen came forth at last. She embraced her son and Elrohir, kissing them and stroking Eldarion's hair back from his brow.

"You will be a worthy King of Gondor, my son. Do not sorrow overmuch for me, but live gladly the years that are allotted to you. They are swift, the passing years; do not let them run through your fingers!"

"I will not," he said. He helped her to mount her horse, and then he walked beside her, through the twisting streets of Minas Tirith, all the way to the great Gates with their mithril images of the Tree that was the emblem of his house, and he stood there as the Company of soldiers surrounded her, fore and aft, a guard of honor and protection.

Finally all was ready; Elladan gave a shout and signaled with his hand, and the Company moved out. Arwen Undomiel rode with her head high, not looking back at the city where she had known her most poignant sorrow and her greatest joy, following the same road that had brought her here more than a hundred years before. Her face was calm and only Canohando close at her side saw the tears that ran down her cheeks and fell on her gloved hands, holding her horse's reins.

Canohando would not ride, but loped along beside the Queen, mile after mile, tireless and well able to carry on conversation while he ran. The Men were amazed at his endurance, but he shrugged it off. “It is the one good thing about Orcs: our hardiness.”

Arwen spoke little, yet she did not close Canohando out as utterly as she did the others. To him she could speak her thoughts without holding back; he was as hardy of mind as he was of body, and nothing she said ever put him out of countenance.

"Your children would have had you stay with them, Lady," he said one day, when they had been traveling nearly a week.

"Yes." She sighed. “I could not stay and let them see how much less they are to me than he was,” she said, and Canohando knew she spoke of the King.

“They know that, Lady, surely? For him you gave up your birh-right, the call to Valinor...” He ran for a little while without speaking, then added, “I would give much to have a son of my body.” It was as if the words were torn from him; he had thought it often, but never spoken it aloud.

He glanced at her, half afraid of what she would say: he came of a cursed race; how dared he wish to perpetuate his kind! But she smiled down on him. “You must find a wife, then. I would be happy to know that you had a family; you would make a good father, and a devoted mate.”

He snorted and looked ahead once more. “Who would have me, ugly as I am?”

Arwen stretched out her hand, brushing his shoulder. "You are not ugly, dear one, to anyone whose sight is clear." She murmured something in Quenya.

After a moment Canohando asked, "Will you tell me what you said, Lady? I do not understand the Elven tongue."

"It is time you learned, then. I said, 'The Valar grant that you find your mate, for your own sake and for the world's.' The Fourth Age will need your children."

After that Arwen took pains each day as they traveled, to teach him a few words. It was not Quenya she taught him, however, but the Sindarin of the Wood Elves. “You will not hear Quenya, soon, anywhere in Middle Earth,” she said sadly. “Those who can still speak it will be all of them beyond the Sundering Seas.” Her grief indeed was not abated and there was no light anymore in her lovely eyes; still, there was kindness.

They followed the Road as far as Edoras, stopping there for a week to rest and reprovision themselves for the second half of the journey. Arwen was gracious and gentle, accepting the proffered hospitality of the King of the Mark -- although it was Eomer’s grandson who reigned in Rohan now, and he was a man of middle years, grey-bearded and somewhat over-awed to find himself entertaining Gondor’s Queen. He gave one banquet for her, and Arwen sat dry-eyed at the table, trying to put the King and Queen at ease with pleasant conversation, but pale as death and eating next to nothing, crumbling her bread to bits between her fingers, to lie in a white mound on her golden plate.

Canohando stood behind her chair, watching, and the people of the court watched him as well, covertly from the corners of their eyes. No one would gainsay the right of Arwen Evenstar to keep whatever servitors she chose, yet it was past understanding to the folk of Rohan that she would have an Orc in her entourage. But after dinner was over and she had gone to the apartment prepared for her, Canohando sent one of the young soldiers of the Company to the kitchens.

“I will not leave the Lady’s side in this strange place, and they might welcome me with their carving knives, if I entered the kitchens,” he said wryly. “But she did not eat enough tonight to keep a bird alive, and she will be fainting by the side of the road if this goes on. Beg the cooks for a tray for her; tell them she eats but little, so send food that is light, but strengthening. And ask the Quartermaster for a skin of our own wine.”

And when the food and wine were brought, the Orc went into Arwen’s chamber himself, with her leave or without it, and knelt by her chair, where she leaned back with her eyes closed as if it were too much exertion even to allow her maid to undress her and put her to bed.

“Lady, you must eat. You must,” he said.

She did not open her eyes. “Why must I? Go to your rest, Canohando. There is no danger in Meduseld, where the golden-haired giants of Rohan stand guard in every doorway.”

“They are outside the door, Lady, and the danger lies here within the room. You will not reach Lothlorien if you do not eat; we will be digging your grave by the side of the road, and I will slay myself on top of it, for I swore to bring you home.”

She sat up at that. “They would not bury me by the roadside; they would carry me back in state to lie in Rath Dinen beside my lord. And you shall not slay yourself anyplace at all, Orc, but live and journey on to see the Shire, your brother’s land!”

“Not while I can serve you, Lady. My runt told me of the Golden Wood, and I would be glad to see it. Will you show it to me?”

He was pouring wine as he spoke and holding out the glass to her; she took it, and he held out the tray of little dainties from the kitchen: small pastries with a poppyseed filling, pieces of herbed beef sliced thin and rolled, and a fluted ramekin of custard, delicately browned. Arwen sipped her wine and took one of the pastries, biting into it and looking down at him in gentle exasperation.

“I chose mortality, dear one. You cannot stop death from finding me, and I do not wish you to.”

And once again she saw the Ring-bearer in his eyes: the resignation to whatever pain must come, and stubbornness withal, to keep his promise.

“Under the mallorns, Lady, you said you would abide the Doom of Men. I think the King would be glad to know you came there safe, whatever happens after.”

She sighed. "Have you got a spoon there? I will eat the custard, but you will have to finish that meat yourself."

He smiled, magnanimous in victory. "I will, if you will finish the pastries, Lady."

The Danger Unprepared For

From Edoras they turned north across the wide plain of West Emnet, dotted with scattered villages each with its row of paddocks opening one into another, where the brood mares were confined till they should drop their foals. But out on the open range they passed large herds of horses, their caretakers boys near the edge of manhood who rode bareback and reckless, making their mounts rear and laughing over their shoulders, showing off for the soldiers of Gondor. Occasionally one of the boys caught sight of the Orc running in the midst of the Company, and that lad would stop his clowning suddenly, staring after them open-mouthed.

They made camp each evening well before sundown, for it took some time to pitch tents and prepare food for so many, and they were in no hurry.

"I would have the Queen travel in such comfort as we can manage, and if we do not reach Lorien till Mid-summer's Day, it matters little," said Elladan, and Canohando agreed.

The longer upon the road the better, he thought, for how long will she linger when she is once beneath the mallorns? He would not have her suffer and he could see in her eyes that she did, but yet his throat closed up at the certainty of the Queen's passing.

They forded the Entwash without difficulty; it was broad and shallow enough for the horses to wade without swimming in all but the very middle. Canohando clenched his teeth and walked into the river at Arwen's side, but when the water reached his neck he fell back a little and caught hold of her horse's tail, letting the animal pull him through the deepest part. No one said anything to him when they came out on the other side, but Arwen noticed his set face and drew her own conclusions. The next river they crossed, she would insist that he ride behind her.

The land grew wilder as they went north, and they came into a region of rolling hills. They would spend half a day climbing a long, steep slope, and reach the top only to find another hill rising on the other side of a narrow valley, and another beyond that as far as they could see. There were few trees, just the new grass of springtime pushing up through the dead straw of last year's growth, but there were flowers nestled in the sheltered hollows: violets, both white and purple, and fairy lilies of delicate pink with golden stamens.

Off to the west a dark smudge sat on the horizon. "Fangorn Forest," said Arwen, when Canohando pointed it out to her. "Two of the hobbits who traveled with Frodo went in there during the Ring War."

Canohando grunted.

"I know; Ninefingers told me. I do not understand how they came out alive, but he said they did. My father used to threaten us with the Ents, if we were not quick to obey."

Arwen glanced at him in surprise. It had never occurred to her that Canohando must have had a father, a family.

"Did you have brothers and sisters?" she asked.

He laughed without mirth. "Dozens," he said. "Orcs multiply like locusts. We were not like you and your brothers, Lady."

"No," she said softly. "I suppose not."

"No. The older ones beat the younger, and the weak ones ganged together to take vengeance on the strong. When we got too raucous, my father beat us all, and my mother as well. Some of us did not live to go to war."

His voice was strained, and when Arwen stretched out her hand he caught hold of it, clinging to her fingers even as he ran beside her.

"What did you say, dear one?" He had muttered something that she did not catch.

"I killed one of my – brothers. He bound me to a tree for jest and left me two days without food or water. I got free at last, and then I lay in wait for him. I shot him through the heart."

He tried to let go of Arwen's hand, staring straight ahead with a face like iron, but she would not let go.

"You were not Canohando in those days, dear one. You have left that life behind."

He said no more, but he clung to her hand for another mile or two until they stopped to water the horses. When they camped for the night, after she had eaten, he came to sit by her in the firelight.

"Can you trust me, Lady, even now? Knowing what I did?"

She peered through the dim light, trying to read his face. "You are my Shadow," she said. "You are Frodo's brother, you are Commander of the Queen's Company, you are honored and beloved by Arwen Evenstar, as you were also by Elessar the King. And you did not seek vengeance on the Guardsmen who tried to murder you." She laid her palm to his cheek and he sighed, leaning against her hand, closing his eyes.

"I am your Shadow, Lady," he agreed.

Arwen would not visit Fangorn, when Elladan suggested it. "I doubt the Ents would be glad to see all this company of men and horses, though they might dissemble for courtesy's sake. And Canohando would not be welcome there."

The Orc snorted, and Elladan looked at him curiously. "What do you know of the tree-herders, Orc? Fangorn is a long way from Mordor!"

"My father's sire came from Moria. There was strife there among the different races of Orcs, and a band of them fled toward Mordor; they met Ents on the plain north of Fangorn. My grandsire escaped with three or four others. He told tales ever afterward of the terrible Ents."

"We will not turn aside to Fangorn," said Arwen.

They crossed the Limlight, with Canohando mounted behind Elladan, at the Queen's command. The north side of the river was not as hilly as the country they had just passed through, but it was clothed in thick forest.

"Now we must be watchful," said Elladan, "for a troop of Orcs could hide among these trees, to take us by surprise."

The road through the woods was narrow and the Company was spread out in a long line, two or three abreast. They sent scouts to ride ahead and off to each side of the main party, but in spite of these precautions they did not truly expect to meet enemies. They were coming near Lothlorien, and for many years now there had been peace. On the second afternoon when they heard shouts up ahead, they thought for a moment that the scouts had met up with Elves from the Golden Wood, coming to welcome the Queen and bring her home. Then they heard the screams of gored horses and knew better.

"Back, Lady! Turn back – out of her way, you men - fall in behind!" Canohando had Arwen halfway to the rear of the column before Elladan had finished dispersing his men among the trees.

"We'll make our stand here," Elladan said as he spread them out, "better than marching on them in a narrow file, to be cut down at their pleasure. They will come to us, whoever they are, and we will be ready!"

They waited. There was no further sound from the scouts up ahead, and the men who had been riding outlier came in, alerted by the screams, but they had seen nothing. The forest was dead silent, frozen, and then there was a crash of underbrush just north of the road, and a monstrous figure stood among the trees.

Elladan, the tallest among them, might have touched the creature's belt buckle, if he stretched as high as he could reach. Not that he would have ventured any such madness, for the monster was as broad as three men and carried a club the thickness of a man's thigh. A mountain troll...

While they stood staring, their hearts hammering in their ears, another troll appeared beside the first, and then a third. Elladan moistened his lips. He had fought a troll once, but it was long ago - in the war against the King of Angmar, and he had been one of a great host of Men. Even as he considered how to marshal his little Company against this menace, a fourth troll strolled down the path toward him. It held a bloody bone to its mouth; impossible to say whether it was from man or beast. There was an audible intake of breath from the men and they began to back away, then to turn and run blindly, bumping into trees and into each other, tripping, but getting up at once to flee…

"Stand!" Elladan shouted. He grabbed the soldier nearest him and dragged him around to face the enemy. "Do not give in to fear; we have won against them before!" The man he had collared seemed to get control of himself; he squared his shoulders, drawing his sword, and Elladan turned to gather more of his scattered forces.

Some of the men had clustered in little groups, facing out with their swords ready; others yet hesitated between courage and flight, and Elladan ran among them, trying to hold them steady, all the time glancing over his shoulder at the trolls. They had gathered around the fellow on the path, jostling him, trying to snatch the bone from him.

There was a shout from behind, and Canohando was hurtling toward the trolls, ducking in and out among the trees, followed by his archers.

"Let them have it!" he roared. "In the eyes – aim for the eyes!" Fifty bowstrings sang, and arrows filled the air. Two trolls fell shrieking, but the others surged forward. The archers gave way to the left and the right, firing again and again, but now they were not directly facing their enemies it was not easy to target their eyes. The arrows glanced off the trolls' thick hide or buried themselves in tree trunks, and the trolls left the path and charged.

"Axes!" Elladan called, his voice a trumpet over the clamor, and a score of axemen ran forward. The Prince himself grabbed an axe and joined in the attack, and Canohando brought his archers around in a wide circle so they were facing the trolls again, ready to fire when the axemen should fall back.

Another troll fell to the axes, but the fourth slipped past them and lunged down the path toward where the Queen sat surrounded by her horsemen. Canohando threw himself forward, crying, "Away, Lady! Get her away, you men!" and the horses turned as one and galloped off with Arwen in their midst. The troll lumbered round once more to face the archers, but he was wary now. With one hand he swung his great spiked club before him, but his other arm he held across his eyes, shielding them. The axemen could not get near him, and the arrows bounced harmlessly off his massive arm.

For six or eight paces he came on, and they could not stop him. Then he angled away, still swinging his club in a wide arc to hold off the axes, and started after the Queen. Despite his bulk, he was fast, and the men had to run to keep up with him.

Canohando barged ahead, outdistancing Elladan and all the rest. When he got close, he feinted to one side and the troll swung his club a mighty blow to crush him, but the Orc leaped the other way and flung himself against the huge body, dropping his bow and catching hold of the troll's garments, pulling himself up hand over hand as if he had been climbing a rope. He was on the creature's back and it could not get its arms back far enough to catch him; then he was clinging to the troll's shoulders, reaching one arm round its neck. His knife drove into the monster's throat and the blood spurted - for a long moment the creature clawed and fumbled at the knife, but then, even as it fell, it plucked Canohando from its shoulders and hurled him to the ground. The Orc lay motionless, stunned, and the troll pitched forward and fell, shaking the earth, directly on top of him.

The men of the Company had stood, rooted and transfixed, watching Canohando's single combat; now they gazed in horror at their fallen enemy. They knew the Commander lay beneath the corpse, but they could see no sign of him. There was no sound; even the hoofbeats had faded in the distance, of the horsemen bearing Arwen away to safety.

In the Twilight

Elladan stood for a moment, frozen, before he ran forward, vaguely aware that a rush of men ran with him. It took a crowd of them, lined up on both sides, to shift the dead troll off Canohando. The orc lay face-down, half crushed into the soft, muddy ground, still keeping a death-grip on the bloody knife.

"Raise him – gently, now!" Elladan rasped. He cleared his throat, trying to get control of his voice; it was inconceivable that he should grieve over an Orc, but an iron fist seemed to be clenched around his heart. And then he realized that some of the soldiers prying Canohando out of the mud had tears on their faces, and he was ashamed. The orc had won the respect of the Queen's Company, Elladan knew that already, but he had not known that Canohando was loved.

They turned him over, and two men brought up a litter hastily fashioned of hewn saplings and someone's cloak. One man squatted next to the orc, scraping mud from the battered face with his hand and folding the limp arms across the chest before they lifted him. There was a low moan, and Canohando's knife hand came up, striking feebly. The soldier jumped back, laughing even as he clutched a shallow, bleeding cut on his arm.

"He's alive! Elendil's beard, no wonder we were hard pressed in war against these creatures: you cannot kill them!" But the man's voice was a paean of joy, and Elladan pushed past and fell on his knees beside Canohando, feeling his pulse and pushing up an eyelid, all the while keeping one hand on the orc's wrist, lest the knife strike again.

"Even swooning he will not surrender! Easy, Queen's Shadow: the battle is done. We are all friends here." Elladan motioned to the men closest to hand, and together they stripped Canohando of his heavy leather corselet, wrapping him in his cloak and easing him onto the litter.

"Back along the road a few miles," Elladan ordered. "We must make camp and see to the wounded before nightfall." And bury the dead, he thought but did not say. Tomorrow would be soon enough for that, and for burning the carcasses of the trolls.

Before darkness fell the campfires were burning and the cooks were making the evening meal. The men who had been wounded were gathered in a couple of tents and medics bustled about, caring for them. Those men who had no other duty lounged about the outer perimeter of the camp, staring uneasily into the forest shadows; the usual contingent of guards had been posted, but in truth the whole camp was on guard tonight, wary and on edge.

Canohando had been carried into his own tent, and Elladan worked over him there, binding broken ribs and calling for splints to set a broken leg. The orc had not moved again, but he groaned deep in his throat when the leg was set, and Elladan had soldiers holding him down as a precaution.

"I would we had Elrohir with us," the Elf-lord muttered. "He took more of healing lore from our father than I did. One of you men, have scouting parties sent out and make sure there are no other enemies in the vicinity. If we are secure here, we must send someone to bring back the Queen and her escort."

It was long before the camp settled to sleep, and even then there were many who were not on night watch, who yet kept vigil with those who were. No more enemies disturbed them, however, and the Queen returned soon after sunrise, tired and wan after a night out in the open, but unhurt. The messenger had given her an account of the battle and Canohando's single-handed slaying the troll, and she hurried into his tent as soon as she dismounted. Elladan was there, sponging the orc with athelas water, and he got up to embrace her.

"You are unharmed?" he asked, subjecting her to careful scrutiny.

"Of course; I was out of danger and the escort took every care of me. How is your patient?" Canohando lay on a low cot with his eyes closed, as still as death. Arwen drew up a camp stool to sit beside him.

Elladan sighed. "I have attended to the wounds I could find, and they were many. But I fear what I cannot see; his breath is shallow, whether because of the broken ribs or some other injury deep within, and I do not know why he continues insensible. Now indeed we miss Elrond, and the King also, with his hands of healing."

"He has not wakened at all?"

"No. I don't understand how he survived, crushed under the troll as he was; lucky that the ground was soft, or he had surely died! But I am not certain we can save him, even so."

Arwen looked up sharply. "Brother, we must! Nay, do not shake your head at me; we must save him. There is more for him to do than slay a troll in my defense; it is not for nothing that he came to Gondor. At the least he must reach Lothlorien; he is called there, I am certain of it!"

"Ssh, Arwen, calm yourself. We are a few days from Lorien, no more than that, and it may be there is still healing there, even in these days of fading. We will try if we can bring the orc there alive. Have you eaten yet today? Sit with him while I get something for you, and talk to him a little. He may respond to your voice; I would be easier about him if he came out of this swoon."

He kissed the top of her head and went out, and Arwen bent her attention on the orc.

"Canohando! Wake up, dear one, it is morning. You have slain your enemy and kept your promise; open your eyes, now, and let me thank you. Canohando, wake up!"

She took his hand in both of hers, chafing his wrist and calling him, and his eyelids flickered, opened a slit and shut again. He moved restlessly, his hand closing on hers, and muttered something incomprehensible.

"That's right, dearest, wake. What did you say? I could not hear you."

"I got you out." The orc's voice was slurred, but loud enough to be heard. "I won't let him kill you."

"No, you didn't," she said, smiling. "You killed him instead." But Canohando frowned, pulling his hand away and struggling to sit up before he fell back again on the pillow.

"No! I will not kill him! He is my right hand, and Lash is my left…" The orc thrashed about weakly, trying to rise. "I got you out, runt," he said again, and was still.

Elladan came in followed by a soldier with a folding camp table bearing a covered bowl and a pewter tankard; this he set by Arwen, and bowed, backing out of the tent.

"Some of last night's stew, and a mug of ale. Rough fare, but strengthening," Elladan said. "Has the patient wakened?"

"He spoke, but I don't believe he knew who I was. His mind wanders."

"That he spoke at all is a good sign. Eat, Arwen, and then you must rest; you look exhausted."

"No!" She shook her head decidedly. "We must press on to Lorien; we cannot care for him properly here in the wild, and it will be slow going carrying him in a litter."

Elladan could not dissuade her; she would take no time to recoup her own strength, but they must go on at once, to reach Lothlorien as soon as might be.

"Why would you stop here?" she demanded at last. "Where there was one lair of enemies there may be more – were there no other reason to hasten away from this place, that would be enough. I pray you, Brother, have them break camp and make ready, for I could not rest here if you housed me in a stone fortress. Let us go!"

He could not withstand her. His second-in-command had called out burial parties as soon as it was light; by mid-morning the dead had been buried with what dignity they could manage in haste, in the wild, and the Company was on the march once more.

They went slowly, carrying their fallen Commander while Arwen walked her horse beside the litter. She spoke to him from time to time, and she thought he heard her; he moved a hand sometimes, or turned his head as if he listened. But when they stopped for a rest in early afternoon, the orc had not awakened. They sponged him with athelas water and dribbled a little of it into his mouth, stroking his throat to make him swallow, but he did not open his eyes.

They had passed by the dead trolls without stopping.

"It would take most of the day to bury them," said Elladan, "and we might set the forest aflame if we tried to burn the carcasses. There is no one living nearby, and no one besides ourselves is likely to travel this road. Let the scavengers have them; by the time anyone comes this way again, there will be nothing left."

Arwen nodded without answering.

After four days they came to the edge of the Golden Wood. The great mallorns stood out from the lesser trees through which they had been traveling, tall and stately with silver bark, smooth and fair. But although the trees were beginning to leaf out, the leaves seemed too few and far apart for such giants of the forest, and they hung limp. When once the travelers had passed under the eaves of the forest, the air around them seemed hushed; the ordinary woods outside had been alive with the song and fluttering of birds, these spring mornings, but under the mallorns sound was muted, and even the birds seemed to sing in whispers.

It was evening before they saw any hint that someone still lived here. There was a little house tucked in against one of the tree trunks, not a sylvan mansion such as the Elves of Lorien had been wont to build in Galadriel's day, but a tiny hut roofed with slabs of silver-grey bark. It had no windows, only a solid wooden door, shut tight.

At a nod from Elladan, one of the soldiers went and knocked on the door. They waited, but there was no answer, though he knocked a second time and a third, harder and more peremptory.

"There is no one here," said Arwen at last, "but I would have our patient under shelter all the same. Have them open it, Brother."

The door resisted their attempts, but the men were persistent and it yielded at last. But even as it swung wide, an arrow flew out of the dark interior, grazing the arm of the man who stood nearest the opening, and he jumped back with an oath.

The Queen rode forward, slipping past Elladan's hand stretched out to warn her back, bringing her horse to a halt close by the house, but off to one side, out of range.

"Cease this madness!" she commanded, her voice clear and hard as silver mithril. "Arwen Undomiel am I, and this hut is Elf-built or never the Two Trees grew in Valinor! Lay down your bow and come out!"

But the foe who emerged from the hut filled them all with amazement. She was Elven, by her pointed ears and delicacy of feature, but never was Elf so shrunken and raffish-looking. Thin, almost starveling she appeared, and her hair was pale nearly to whiteness, hanging half over her cheeks and trailing lank and uncombed to her waist. But as she looked up at Arwen, her hair fell back, and her face seemed at first a vision of loveliness, until she turned her head a little and they saw her left cheek. It was a mass of scars, from the corner of her mouth to just under her eye, the flesh puckered and red as if she had fallen in the fire.

"What does Arwen Undomiel seek in Lorien?" she asked, and her voice surprised them again; it was deep and vibrant, all out of keeping with her waif-like appearance. "There is no one here any longer, to wait upon a Queen."

Her tone held neither courtesy nor welcome, and her eyes were hard as she glanced around at the mounted men who filled her dooryard. "I cannot offer you hospitality, Queen of Gondor. My home is tiny, as you see, and my larder is bare."

Arwen heard her with astonishment plain on her face; then she slid from her horse and sank down on a rough wooden bench that stood by the door. Sitting, she could meet this ragamuffin child eye to eye.

"Why do you not open the door, at least, when someone knocks? And why greet us with arrows?"

The girl lifted her chin defiantly. "I do not want visitors, and it is the action of an enemy to break open a locked door. There is no army of Elves guarding Lorien anymore, Arwen Undomiel. We protect ourselves, the few of us who remain."

"So there are others? Where are they? I have a wounded soldier here; I seek shelter for him, and a healer."

The waif dropped her eyes, seeming to consider. "I am Malawen," she said at last. "I am a healer, the only one left. You must have medics with you, so many men all armed for war; why do you seek other help? What ails your wounded man?"

Arwen reached out as if she would take the girl's hand, but Malawen stepped quickly out of reach. "Show him to me," she demanded.

But when they led her to where Canohando lay insensible on his litter, she gazed down at him in disbelief. "An Orc," she whispered. Then her voice rose, startling in its shrillness. "You have brought an Orc into Lothlorien, and you ask me to tend to him! Oh, I will heal him for you, Queen of Gondor – see, here is the best medicine for Orcs!"

Elladan had quick reflexes, or it had been the end of Canohando. The Prince caught Malawen even as she struck, disarming her of the knife that had appeared suddenly in her hand and restraining her as she fought to free herself.

"Stand still, you fool!" he shouted over her screams, hugging her arms tight against her body. "If you kill that orc, the Queen herself will not be able to save you from the rage of his men. He is Commander of this Company, and he fell defending Her Majesty."

Malawen went rigid, staring silently from Elladan to Canohando.

"I will not ask you to heal him, child, only to leave him alone." Arwen sounded weary. "I little thought to find such malice in Lorien, when I fled homeward in my grief. Elladan, we cannot stay here. Let us seek out Galadriel's house and hope it is in fit state to shelter us."

"It is fit to live in, Lady," Malawen said in a small voice. "They keep it clean and in repair, though no one lives there now."

"Good. Then we will trouble you no more." Arwen mounted her horse again, but with an effort; all at once she seemed older, and very tired. "Come, you men, bring your Commander. Let us go."

The Company began to move, surrounding her and Canohando, but Elladan waited until the orc was several yards away before he released Malawen. She stood staring after the Company as the Elf-lord mounted and spurred to catch up with Arwen.

"Lady," she called, "don't go. You may stay in my house, Arwen Undomiel – I will not harm your orc!" But the rear guard of the Company rode past as if they did not see her, and she could not tell if the Queen had heard her offer.

21. Waking

Arwen Evenstar and Prince Elladan rode off, the soldiers with them guarding the Orc as if he had been Gil-galad himself, fallen in battle. Malawen retreated into her tiny house and shut the door. She could not lock it; the Men had broken the bolt and she would have to make a new one.

She was glad they had gone, although Galadriel's house was still too near. She would rather they went west to Rivendell. She would rather they had never come to the Golden Wood. She unstrung her bow and hung it up, feeling her way around the hut without striking a light. Darkness was her refuge; in it she felt sheltered, cradled, safe from harm. In the dark no one could stare at her ruined face or see how stunted and ill-grown she was. In darkness and solitude there was comfort.

She seldom went out by day, although she wandered far afield after sunset, seeking food and watching the creatures of the night. She saw the owls fall soundlessly on their prey, and she had her own prey - rabbits that she took with snares, and ground-nesting birds. But she killed only what she needed to stay alive, so little that she was always somewhat hungry. She did not like killing; she would rather dance under the stars, singing to herself as she leaped and darted among the silver tree trunks, dancing as she had danced long ago in the years of her innocence, when her face was unmarred and her spirit undarkened.

She was not a child, though the Queen had named her so. She had been half-grown in the days of War, when Orcs flooded down from the mountain passes and surrounded the Golden Wood, when Galadriel and Celeborn had held the evil back, Elf arrows singing defiance against the filthy horde. Lorien had not fallen, but there had been casualties, and Malawen was one of them. Orcs had broken through here and there, burning and slaughtering. She had been an object of the Orcs' cruel play, and she had seen her mother die on an Orkish spear.

She had been rescued, she had lived, and in time her wounds had healed, the burns on her face had subsided to angry scars. But she had stopped growing, and when she reached maturity she was tiny, hardly taller than a Dwarf. She had seen a Dwarf once. One of that race had visited Lorien in company with two warriors of Men and some sad-faced children. She had been fascinated by the Dwarf, and laughed to see that he was no taller than herself, child though she was. But soon after that the War had come, and the Orcs, and she had never gotten any taller.

Now once again there was an Orc in Lorien, and her whole heart rose up in rebellion. What right has Arwen Undomiel! She left here long ago, she went away to Rivendell and Gondor, to wed the King. She was not here when the enemy came, she did not suffer – but she makes an Orc commander of her soldiers, and brings him to Lothlorien!

When night fell Malawen went outside. Without thought or purpose, she flitted through the darkness in the direction the Company had taken, drawn like a moth to the Queen of Gondor and, had she but known it, to the grey-skinned Orc who had lain so quietly on his litter, surrounded by those who loved and protected him.

***

"She is as quick with a knife as he is himself," said Arwen. "A pity she has such hatred for his kind, for I think they have much in common – of course, he is more gentle!"

Elladan chuckled. "And more courteous." Then he added more soberly, "Lothlorien has fallen on evil days indeed, if she is an example of its children."

They were in the dressing room off Galadriel's old bedchamber, which they had turned into a sickroom for their patient. Arwen had been dripping rich meat broth between the Orc's lips, waiting patiently for him to swallow each mouthful.

"Does he look any better to you?" she asked. "He seems..."

Elladan leaned over Canohando, inspecting him carefully. "His color is better, and I think he is breathing easier. It must have been hard on him, even unconscious, being jogged along on that litter." He touched the back of his hand to the Orc's forehead. "No fever. He may yet recover, and if he does it will be thanks to your faithful nursing. You look worn out Arwen; will you not go to bed and leave him to my care?"

She stifled a yawn. "You need not ask me twice," she said, getting up stiffly and going to wrap her arms around his shoulders. "Thank you, Elladan. Always you have been the kindest of brothers to me, and now most of all."

He lifted her hand to his lips. "You are the dearest of sisters, Undomiel. Good night."

She went away to sleep in Galadriel's old bed, carried back in dreams to her girlhood in this house, halcyon days before ever she fell in love with mortal Man and saw the choice of Luthien before her. And Elladan sponged his patient down with athelas water and dribbled a little wine into his mouth, before he sat down wearily to drink a glass of wine himself and fall asleep in his chair while he kept vigil.

Malawen crept into the house hours later. The place was familiar to her, although she had never been inside it while Galadriel dwelt here. But since the land emptied, the solitary girl had spent many nights wandering from room to room, imagining what it must have been like when the house was filled with light and tall Elves glided up and down the long staircase, carrying out the commands of their Lord and Lady. Now she went into Arwen's bedchamber without hesitation, standing for a long time in the moonlight watching the Queen as she slept. Then she turned to the little side room, but she paused when she saw Elladan sitting by the Orc's bed.

The Elf-lord was asleep, but she could still feel his grip on her arms earlier that day, and she was afraid of him. From the doorway she watched him warily, and then she looked at the Orc and stepped back in sudden alarm. His eyes were open, and at her movement they focused and she realized that he saw her. He made no sound but gazed intently into her eyes as if he wondered who she was. She stood frozen, confused, looking back at him until at last he sighed and closed his eyes. Then she slipped away, back to her own little hut, and sat down to make a new bolt for her door.

In the days that followed, Arwen seldom left Canohando's side, and Elladan marveled at her tenderness. She felt her debt to the Orc, of course; he had vowed his life to her protection, and very nearly he had lost it in her defense. All the same, Elladan found it strange to see his sister sitting hour after hour by Canohando's bed, singing lullabies to him as if he had been a child and telling him little stories of her life with Elessar, laughing through tears sometimes, recalling the days of her happiness for the hearing of a grey-skinned Orc who lay silent and unresponsive before her.

But Canohando was not so deeply unconscious now. When Arwen went away to sleep, or at her brother's insistence to walk for an hour in the sunshine, the Orc was restless and difficult to manage, muttering in his own harsh tongue and turning his head away when Elladan tried to drip liquids into his mouth.

Yarga lay in a pool of his own blood, his eyes probing Canohando's face. I took the blow for you. Would you have taken it for me? He was beyond speech now, but the question was so plain in his eyes that Canohando answered aloud. “I would have, brother. I swear it, I would have!”

The Orc thrashed on the bed, knocking a cup of herb-laced wine out of Elladan's hand. The Elf-lord sighed in exasperation, picking it up and going to refill it. No doubt it was a good sign that Canohando could move with such energy, but in truth Elladan was tiring of the physician's role. A pity that ill-favored girl was too hostile to be of any use; she had named herself a healer.

Yarga tugged feebly at his drum; it was still attached to his belt, miraculously untouched by the axe-stroke that had cut him down. Canohando unhooked it as carefully as he could, to cause no greater pain, and Yarga mouthed, “Play...”

“I will make a song for you,” Canohando said, before he remembered that he had never made one. But Yarga’s lips pulled back in a grim parody of a smile, so Canohando beat out a simple rhythm. Then another spasm of agony contorted Yarga’s face, and Canohando dropped the drum and slid his arm under the other Orc’s shoulders. Yarga turned his face against Canohando’s chest, and Canohando put both arms around his friend -- never had an Orc met death in such a way, cradled in the arms of a comrade who wept at his passing. Yarga convulsed and went rigid for a moment; then he was limp in Canohando’s arms...

Canohando rolled over suddenly, falling on the floor with a crash. Elladan jumped back, the cup he had just refilled sloshing out its contents over his hand. He set it down, going to lift the Orc back on the bed, and Canohando looked up at him.

"Queen's Brother..."

"Yes, I am here. Welcome back, Canohando." Elladan knew he was grinning like a sailor on shore leave, but it didn't seem important. "Welcome to Lothlorien."

The Orc's eyes widened and he glanced around the room, the dome of the ceiling blue like the sky, upheld at each corner by posts carved to resemble the trunks of mallorns. The windows were high in the walls, and sunlight slanted down in long rays to lie across the floor and the bed.

"The Lady?" he asked.

"She is walking in the garden; I sent her out for some fresh air. She has been sitting with you, Orc, every moment I would allow her."

"I remember..." Canohando began, but no, that had not been the Queen. He remembered a white little face with haunted eyes, staring at him from the dark. He shook his head, bewildered; he could not recall ever seeing that face in waking life.

"I must send word that you are better." Elladan opened the door and the soldier outside sprang to attention; there was always one of the Company out there waiting for news of their Commander. The man's face broke into a great smile when Elladan told him, and the Elf-lord let him step in the room for a moment, to see Canohando for himself and hear his murmured greeting. Then the man hastened away to spread the glad tidings.

A few days later the Orc was so much recovered that they carried him outside to sit in the sunshine, his splinted leg propped up before him and Arwen settled nearby.

"A month, at least, before you can put weight on that," Elladan told him, and Canohando grimaced.

"Get him some crutches -- it is better if he begins to move about," a husky voice said from the shadows under one of the mallorns. They looked over, startled, and Elladan moved quickly to shield Canohando with his body, but the Orc leaned forward to see around him.

It was the same face, the little pointed chin and enormous dark eyes, and it belonged to a slip of a child with waist-length hair nearly as pale as her face. "Come here," Canohando said, and when she hesitated, "Don't be afraid; I will not bite."

Her eyes went to Elladan. "May I? I will not hurt him," she said, and Canohando lowered his brows for a moment before he laughed.

"No, youngling, I do not think you will hurt me! Stand back, Queen's Brother; she is afraid of you."

"She has cause to be," Elladan said. "Watch her knife hand; you would never have wakened if she had been a little quicker." But he went to the girl and slid her weapon out of its sheath, before he nodded for her to approach Canohando.

"So you thought I was food for your blade?" Canohando regarded her curiously. No need to ask why; he was an Orc and that was reason enough. "I had thought Elves waited until the enemy woke up."

"That is customary," Arwen said dryly. "Malawen's education must have been somewhat neglected."

The girl ignored the Queen, but her eyes bored into Canohando. Slowly she lifted the hair away from her face and turned her ruined cheek for him to see. He grew very still, his hand moving involuntarily to the jewel at his throat, his fingers closing tight around it.

He had only to see the scar to know what had happened to her: the stick of wood pulled from the fire, glowing red at one end, and pressed against the face of a captive held spread-eagled in the midst of a mob of howling Orcs. And that was only the beginning...

"You were rescued," he said. "It would have been your other cheek next, and your eyes..." It would have been more than that, and his voice failed.

Arwen drew in breath sharply, and Canohando nodded. "I have seen this game," he said. "No, Elfling," he added for Malawen's benefit, "it was never my hand that held the branch! But I have seen it done, and I am sorry they used you so, my brother Orcs…"

He turned his head away and shut his eyes. They were my brothers, whatever has come to me since then, he thought. I never held the brand, but I have watched that game, and laughed to hear the screams… He felt sick, wishing he had not wakened to see this child's ravaged face, wishing he need never have wakened to know himself an Orc, and brother to such savagery.

But as the days passed, again and again he saw Malawen lurking nearby. One of the medics in the Company had found crutches for him, and he swung himself along the neglected garden paths and through the downstairs rooms inside, building up muscles that had wasted while he lay a-bed. And not infrequently he would catch a glimpse of her from the corner of his eye, watching him from behind a tree, or just outside a window.

Her presence unnerved him, filled him with guilt. In her face he saw every act of torture he had ever witnessed and taken pleasure in, all the long years before the fall of Mordor. He had left that behind him, and never allowed his memory to range back further than his meeting with Yarga and Lash, when they found him nearly dead and saved his life, after the War. But the sight of Malawen brought the other memories to the front of his mind, and he could not banish them again.

We are monsters, I and all my kind, he thought in despair, and while his body grew daily stronger, his spirit faltered. But when he thought he could not bear it longer, the memory of Ninefingers came back to him, Frodo hanging a white jewel around his neck, and he steadied.

Arwen came down seldom from her upper chamber, and Canohando could not manage the stairs with his broken leg. Elladan slept in the little dressing room, taking the Orc's place to guard the Queen's door, and Canohando would have spread his pallet at the foot of the great stairs if the Elf-lord had not intervened.

"You have a Company of men at your call, Commander. Dispose them however you will to guard Her Majesty, but you must sleep in a bed and take your rest, or all her care for you is undone."

"I am her Shadow..."

"When she comes downstairs you shall shadow her, or when your leg is healed. She is worn out from nursing you, Canohando; do not let it be for nothing!"

So Canohando gathered his men and assigned guard duty, day and night, and sent out hunting parties as well, for the supplies the Company carried with them were running low and there were but little stores of food in the abandoned dwellings of Lorien.

A few Elves had come to the house, when the rumor spread that Arwen Undomiel had returned. There were not many still living in the land, but two or three of them came with their wives, and they put Galadriel's house in what order they could for Arwen, waiting on her and caring for her as best they might.

And Canohando's men looked after him. The medics who had not known what to do for him when he lay unconscious, were yet skilled enough to change his bandages and show him how to flex and exercise his leg, to bring its strength back. The sergeants came to him for orders, the mess cooks saved the meatiest bones for him, and of their own accord the men took it in turns to guard his door at night.

"What is this?" he demanded in astonishment one night when, unable to sleep, he left his room to walk outside in the moonlight.

There were three men on duty, and they sprang to their feet in chagrin.

"Sorry, Commander! It's a very sloppy guard, that's what it is, but seeing no one ordered it and it's unofficial-like... But we keep awake, never you fear, however slovenly we look."

He regarded them ironically. "What are you guarding me from?" he asked, but they would not meet his eyes and seemed reluctant to answer.

Finally the man who had spoken first said, "There – was an attack on you, while you were unconscious, Commander."

"The little Elf with the scarred face?" he asked, and the man nodded.

"She was like a wild thing when Lady Arwen asked her to help care for you. She does not know you, Commander – you are not like other Orcs."

Canohando sighed, looking across the foyer at the moonlit garden framed a by row of graceful arches. He knew how weedy and overgrown it was, not like the perfectly tended green spaces of Minas Tirith, but in the soft light it was luminous, enchanting.

"We will follow you, if you want to go out, Commander," said the soldier, but Canohando shook his head, laying his hand for a moment on the man's shoulder.

"Thank you. Do not frighten the child, if you see her. I am awake now."

He went back inside his room, leaning his crutches against the wall and sitting down on the wide windowsill to look out. They forgot about the window, he thought, and realized he should go back and remind them; it was sloppy guard work indeed, to set three men at the door and neglect to secure the window!

He leaned back against the cold stones, craning his neck to see the moon through the trees. He didn't want a soldier standing outside his window, and he was not afraid of the Elf-child. I am no longer what I was, he thought. This little one carries more darkness inside than I do, anymore. I know what battle you fight, Elfling...

22. The Fading of Lothlorien

For four days Arwen had not come downstairs, and finally Canohando went up to look for her. He sat down at the bottom of the long curved stairway and hauled himself up, step by laborious step, dragging his crutches with him. At the top, drenched with sweat and breathless from the effort, he sat leaning back against the wall waiting to get his strength back, and so the Queen found him.

"Canohando! Dear one, how did you come here; what have you done to yourself?" She leaned over him in consternation and he looked up into her eyes.

"I feared for you, Lady, when you did not come down," he said.

"Come into my solar and rest. You will make yourself ill again, if you do not take care."

He struggled to his feet, following her on his crutches, and she made him lie down on a low couch, tucking pillows under his head. He protested, but he could not hold back his sigh of relief, and she smiled.

"Go to sleep, dear one. Close your eyes," she said, but he shook his head.

"Then I cannot see you, Lady. If you will not come down, then I must come up where you are."

She sat down by him and took his hand. "How is your leg? Are you still in pain?"

He shrugged. "It is healing. I will be glad to be rid of the crutches. How are you, Lady? Why do you not come down and walk in the garden, as you used to?"

She turned her head away. "I grieve. I will never stop grieving, and the garden is full of memories."

He fingered the jewel around his neck. "My mind is full of memories also, and they are very evil. Your memories would be good ones, Lady. Why do you flee them?" His eyes were pleading. "Come downstairs again, my Queen. Lothlorien is your home, you said, and you were happy here. The memory of that happiness cannot be evil."

"No," said Arwen softly, "my memories are good and beautiful, but they hurt."

He raised her hand to his lips. "You are no coward, Lady. When I exercise my leg it hurts, but it brings healing. Come downstairs again."

She gave a wry laugh. "And if I do not, you will come up to see me, although it leaves you breathless and trembling at the top of the stairs," she said, and he nodded.

"Very well, I will come down, and I will walk with you while you exercise your leg and grow strong. Only for a season, Canohando! For I did not return to Lorien to heal, but to say farewell. Now rest a little, before you go back downstairs."

After that she came down every afternoon, walking slowly with the Orc along the flagstone paths, and Elladan went with them. As Canohando grew more sure-footed they left the paths to wander among the trees that bordered on the garden. Summer had arrived and the mallorns were in full leaf, but still they seemed half-naked, the leaves were so few and small on all the branches. Arwen reached up now and then to touch them, sadness in her face.

"You were right, Brother, they are dying. Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen, yeni unotime ve rdmar aldaron!* There is no room for the Elder Children in this Age of Men, not even for the mallorns."

Elladan did not answer, and she halted in front of him, forcing him to stop. "What will you do, Brother, when you return to Gondor? Will you depart over the Sea with Elrohir? For I know he wishes it, but he will not go without you."

He moved impatiently, putting his arm around her shoulders and urging her to walk once more. "I do not know. I am torn both ways, to remain and lend what strength or wit I have to this new Age, that we keep whatever good we have managed to save from the fire - or to follow our father and our kindred. And what would I find to do in the Blessed Realm, Arwen? Yet I know that Elrohir longs to sail, and I am not easy that he remains only for my sake."

"You have been all your life fighting for the Light, but you do not know how to enjoy the victory," Arwen said, and Elladan gave a sour laugh.

"And that is a victory for the Dark Lord after all, is it not? The warrior has become prisoner of his own sword."

Canohando had been keeping pace with them, so silent that they nearly forgot he was there, but now he spoke.

"The Lady gave up her birth-right to wed the King, and he was such a one to be worth the sacrifice. But if I were called to Valinor, Queen's Brother, not you nor all the Orcs ever spawned, nor the Witch-King himself could keep me from it! I will not call you fool, for you are wise in most things, but not in this."

"You desire to go to the Blessed Realm, Canohando?" Elladan asked in surprise. "For what reason?"

"Because it is the land of Light, and while I live I battle against the Dark. I was hungry and did not know what I hungered for, but now I do know. It is the Call upon the First-born, and I feel it but I cannot answer it; my race is cursed! But there is no curse on you, Queen's Brother, to keep you in the shadows." The orc's voice was rough with feeling.

Arwen laid her cheek caressingly against Elladan's shoulder. "What more can you do here, Brother, that Eldarion and his children cannot do as well? Strange that you are so like Elrohir in appearance and so different in this! For he hungers to follow the Call, I deem, as much as Canohando does, yet he will not sail without you."

Elladan stood stroking her hair, his face full of indecision, and Canohando went a few steps forward, pointing with the tip of his crutch to a young sapling no higher than his waist, pushing up through the leaf-mold that covered the ground.

"The trees are dying you say, Lady, yet here something new is growing."

They came over to look, Elladan squatting down to examine leaves and bark. "Oak," he said. He glanced a few yards away at another whip of a tree, hardly more that a bunch of leaves a-top a slender wand. "And that is beech, I think."

They began to search among the great silver trunks of the mallorns, and they found many young trees taking root, beech and oak and chestnut, the tallest of them higher than Elladan's head.

"This will be woodland still," Arwen said at last, "yet it will not be the Golden Wood. There are no seedling mallorns here."

"But the others are still trees," said Canohando stubbornly. "I do not know what grew on Gorgoroth Plain before the Dark Lord came to Mordor, but it is good country now, with what the old man planted there. Fair and full of life."

"And this land will be fair. Birds will nest here and deer will walk beneath the trees when they are grown – but it will not be Galadriel's Wood; it will not be Lothlorien," Arwen said. Her voice was sorrowful, and Canohando had no answer for her.

But later, when the Queen had retired to her chamber and Elladan had gone to talk with the Elves who waited on her, the Orc went out to the woods again, searching for more little saplings. He had never paid much attention to the different kinds of trees, only to choose the proper sort to make his bows and arrows, but now he touched the leaves delicately, comparing their shapes. He made his way slowly from one to another, running his fingers down the bark, even bending down to smell the leaves, moved by some yearning he could put no name to.

"My mother could hear them talk," said a voice overhead, and he looked up to see Malawen perched on a platform in one of the mallorns, a yard or so above him.

He was startled, and annoyed with himself for letting her take him by surprise; he would not have survived in Mordor if an enemy could have come so close without his knowledge! But she was a lovely sight, half up on her knees like a bird about to take flight, her short dress the color of the leaves and her pale hair flowing over her shoulders like a cloak. Looking at her, he forgot his irritation and smiled.

"And can you hear them also, Elfling? What do they say?"

"They say they do not like Orcs! What do you want in Lorien, Tree-burner?"

He sighed, leaning back against the trunk of the mallorn. "They burned your forest, did they? But I would not do so, little one. Do you know the names of these new trees, the ones that are not mallorns?"

She pointed. "By your side there, that's a beech."

He bent to examine it, touching the leaves and turning them over to look at the backs. "Do you grieve too, Elfling, that the mallorns fade and these trees grow in their place?"

She did not answer, and he glanced up. She nodded mournfully, but when she spoke her voice was hard. "What does it matter if I grieve? What good does it do?"

He shrugged. "What good does it do to hate?" he asked.

She glared at him for an instant before she swung herself down from her flet, vanishing behind the tree. Canohando got his crutches under him as quickly as he could and followed, but she was gone.

Yet late that night he woke out of a sound sleep with the sense that there was someone in the room. He lay quiet, listening, letting his eyes adjust to the shadows. Malawen stood just inside the window, but when she realized that he had seen her, she slipped away.

After that she came again and again, usually when first light was beginning to creep in through the window. She would curl up in a chair in the corner, and after a while her steady gaze would penetrate his dreams until he roused and saw her. She did not speak, but her eyes were full of unhealed torments and Canohando met them without looking away, not hiding himself from her, letting her search his heart.

*Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! (from LOTR Book 2, Galadriel's song of farewell)

23. The Passing of Arwen

Canohando's leg healed and he brought the crutches back to the medic. He went out once with the hunters, for the men of the Company were boisterously glad to see him walking unassisted, but he was slow and awkward, and he turned back before they had gone more than a mile.

"You will take no game with me staggering after you like a wounded bear," he said, making jest of his clumsiness, and he waved them on. But once they were out of sight, his smile faded and he took his time going back.

An Orc does not recover from such injuries as mine, he thought. Among my own kind, I would have been left to die. He clenched his teeth, setting each foot down with care, trying to move smoothly, without noise. I will hunt again, he swore silently. I will not feed for the rest of my life on another hunter's kill!

He was so intent that he did not notice Malawen watching from a high branch. Against her will she was touched to sympathy, for she knew why he moved with such painstaking attention. She, too, had had to learn how to walk again, and she remembered how hard it had been to get back the use of her broken limb.

The Orc could climb stairs now, although with difficulty, and he went back to sleeping outside Arwen's door. He was afraid she would keep to her own chambers again, but instead she spent more and more time outside. As autumn drew in, she wandered ever farther from the untidy gardens, and she wanted no one with her, neither guard nor companion. Canohando shadowed her from a little way off, using a spear as a walking staff, thinking he could still throw it accurately if danger threatened, and his bow hung at his back. Arwen knew he followed her, for she waited sometimes when he fell too far behind, but Elladan she set aside, gently but inexorably.

"Go home, Brother. You brought me safe to Lothlorien and I shall not leave here more, save by one door only. Go back to Elrohir and take ship, and bring to Elrond my love and my farewell."

And though she was out every day walking in the sunshine, she seemed daily to grow more pale and chill, and her eyes were distant as if she looked beyond them at things they could not see.

Elladan refused to leave, but she would not have him by her any longer, only repeating, when he came near, that he should go back to Gondor and join his twin. And the few Elves who remained in Lorien, who had come to serve her, she sent away.

Canohando knelt before her one day with tears in his eyes, fumbling to unfasten the silver clasp behind his neck. When he got it undone, he held out the Jewel to her, trembling on its chain and throwing sparks of light around the room because his hands were shaking.

"Take it, Lady! You gave away your talisman, and my runt and I were strengthened by it, but now you need it yourself. Put it on again, and be comforted!"

But Arwen took it from him and fastened it again around his neck. "Since my Estel died there is no comfort for me. You may give the Jewel away, dear one, as Frodo did, if you find someone who needs it, but it has no virtue for me anymore."

A time came when she would not return to the house even at night, but slept outside wherever she happened to be at the end of day. Elladan came again and tried to reason with her, but she would not hear him and finally he arranged that two men – and most often he was one of them – would keep her in sight during the day, and when she stopped for the night they set up a pavilion to shelter her and prepared a meal. This she tolerated, but only Canohando could persuade her to eat, and that very little.

Winter came, or so Elladan named it, although to the Orc it seemed that autumn lingered beyond its season; the nights were cool enough to call for extra blankets, but the days were sunny and pleasant. The mallorns were a mirage of fluttering golden leaves against their silver branches, and when Canohando came out suddenly from beneath the trees to see the great mound of Cerin Amroth a little way ahead, flowers of white and yellow shimmered in the grass around it.

Arwen was already starting up the hill, but she climbed slowly, seeming weary indeed and weighed down with sorrow. Canohando came to the bottom and stood uncertainly, not knowing if he should offer his shoulder for her to lean on. He was steady on his feet now, although the leg still pained him at times.

"Come, my Shadow, can you climb to the top with me? From the high branches I will show you my Lothlorien, and that which lies beyond."

He strode forward gladly at her invitation, and lent his strong arm to help her up the slope. But she was more nimble than he on the ladder up into the tree, and it swung and creaked beneath his weight until he would fain have been on firm ground again. He looked down once, and after that he kept his eyes fixed on his Lady, five or six rungs above him.

Once he stepped out on the high flet, however, he forgot his fear. Lothlorien spread beneath him as a field of silver and gold, and far away the River gleamed like silver molten and flowing.

"Look to the North," Arwen said, and she turned him around. "That is where you must go, when you leave here, to Rivendell west of the mountains, and then on to Frodo's country. That I think is your safest way, for there are few left in that valley to hinder you, and anyone you find there will honor the word of Arwen Undomiel."

She reached into a brocade pouch at her belt and brought out a bit of parchment, rolled and tied. "I had them make a map for you, dear one. And I wrote on the back, look you, to say you are my knight and by my leave you may enter the Shire, for it is a guarded land. Show this to anyone who challenges your right."

He took it and opened it, handling it like a rare treasure. "Will you show me how to read it, Lady? I have never seen anything like this."

And she was startled for a moment out of her cloud of sorrow, laughing a little in her disbelief. "You cannot read, Canohando? No, forgive me, why did I assume that you could? If I had known – but it is too late now to teach you letters. Look at the map then. See, here are the mountains, and the Great River on the east. Follow the river until you come to the Ford, and turn west along the Road there…"

Patiently she taught him to read the little map and showed him where the Shire was marked on it, far away to the West. At last she rolled it again and pressed it into his hand. "Put it away now, and when I have departed, you leave also. You must find the Shire, dear one, and you must pass through Rivendell. Something awaits you there… it is not Elrond alone who is gifted with foreknowledge…"

After that day Arwen did no more wandering. She spent her days in the high flet – she did not invite the Orc to climb up with her a second time – or she walked restlessly through the field dotted with elanor and niphredil, her arms hanging loose at her sides and her eyes on the far horizon.

Canohando guarded her from the edge of the meadow, sitting against a tree trunk making arrows, although his quiver was full already. His hands bound point to shaft automatically and he glanced at his work only in snatches; his eyes followed the Queen in her ceaseless back and forth across the field, and his face was wet with tears.

After a while Arwen turned and began climbing the mound again, but when she reached the top she did not go to the ladder; she lay down inside the double ring of trees as if she meant to take a nap.

"Good," Canohando murmured, talking to himself. "She slept hardly at all last night."

"You watch her even when she sleeps," said an accusing voice beside him, and he looked up without surprise to see Malawen.

"I am her Shadow, Elfling," he said. "I am sworn to watch over her."

She looked at him with her head tipped to one side and her tone was mocking. "You have been weeping. Who ever heard that Orcs had tears?"

Even as she said it a thrill of apprehension ran through her, yet she could not resist baiting him. Fool! He is a deadly foe – can you outrun him if he rises up to come after you? But Canohando made no move toward her.

“I have tears,” he said. “Have Elves compassion, or is that given only to the Half-Elven?”

"Most Elves have. I lost mine in the War." She met his eyes, but they seemed to see right through her bravado and she looked hastily away.

“You should not have let it go," he told her. "Something is awry when an Orc knows pity and an Elf does not."

She thought suddenly that he was not so ugly, this Orc. The light under the tree was muted and shifting, making his skin look swarthy instead of grey, and even the heavy brow line seemed strong and somehow noble... He's like a savage prince, she mused, but then she took herself sternly in hand. Savage, but no prince - he is an Orc! She held her hand to her scarred cheek.

"Orcs have no pity!" she snapped, but Canohando nodded.

"Most have not. I found mine when the War was over."

Her lip curled, but then curiosity overcame her. "How? And what are you doing here, with Arwen Undomiel?" She wondered suddenly why she had never asked before; it was strange enough, surely, that this Orc followed Undomiel, and that the Queen allowed it!

For answer Canohando held up the Jewel on its chain. "I wear her token," he said, and Malawen leaned forward to finger it, staring in wonder at the lovely thing that was luminous even in the shadows.

"But that is no answer," she argued. "Where did an Orc learn pity? You must be the only one since Morgoth sent forth his Worm against the sons of Finarfin, at the Siege of Angband!"

Canohando raised his brows. "You must tell me that tale some day, Elfling. You would be a storyteller to rival the Brown One, I think. But I am not the only one of my kind to know pity - there was Lash, who saved my life. I learned from him at first, and later from Ninefingers."

She shook her head, confused.

"Have you never heard how the War ended, little one?" His tone was gentle. "It was not the clash of armies; it was a halfling who dragged himself to the edge of Doom and was carried away maimed and broken. But he brought down the hosts of Mordor, and when he was healed he came back again to my land. He turned me to the Light and gave me the Lady's jewel, and so I came to find her and be her Shadow."

"The Ring-bearer... Frodo of the Nine Fingers…" she stammered in awe.

"You have heard of him, then."

She nodded. Of course. Who in all the West had not heard the Lay of the Ring-bearer, full of terror and wonder? She had heard it, but she had never thought it was true.

"You knew him, really?" she demanded.

"I knew him. Oh, he was real enough, Elfling!" He smiled at her, but then he sighed. "There are few left who did know him; it is all legend now. The Lady loved him and mourned for him…" He sat smoothing the shaft of the arrow he was working on, looking up at the mound. Sharp-eyed as he was, all he could see of the Queen was a scrap of blue, the hem of her veil lifted above the grass by a breath of wind.

Malawen asked no more questions, but she did not go away. She sat down by him, not bothering any more to stay out of his reach, and pulled some long strands of grass which she began to plait, adding new pieces as she went until she had a braid longer than her outstretched arm. The Orc set feathers to his arrow and slid it into his quiver, and a bird somewhere in the brush began its evening song. There was a scent of wood smoke on the air; someone had kindled the supper fire.

"Time to go." Canohando got up and set off across the meadow to wake the Queen. Malawen remained where she was, watching him.

He was walking without a limp, she noted. The likeness to some savage chieftain occurred to her again: from behind he looked like a Man, with broad shoulders and powerful legs, one a little thinner than the other, the last trace of his injury. His hair hung in four thick braids over his shoulders.

He had reached the Queen now; Malawen saw him bend over, reaching out one hand hesitantly to rouse her. And then abruptly he fell to his knees; he bowed nearly to the ground, and then he raised his head and a terrible cry rang through the evening hush, an agony of loss that brought Malawen to her feet in spite of herself, running.

She reached the mound an instant before Elladan himself, with a small crowd of soldiers; she had not known that so many men kept watch nearby. Then Canohando was coming down the hill with Arwen in his arms, her head hanging back like a lily on a broken stalk.

Elladan moved toward the Orc; to Malawen it seemed that time had slowed and every movement was formal and stately as some solemn dance. The Elf-lord held out his arms and the Orc tightened his hold on his burden; for a moment she thought he would refuse to let go of the Queen's body, but then he bowed his head and let Elladan take her.

They laid Arwen on her bed in the silken pavilion where she had spent her nights, and Elladan sent everyone away and himself prepared her body for burial, while one of the men went back in haste to Caras Galadhon to alert the remainder of the Queen's Company. But Canohando sat outside as darkness fell, his head slumped to his chest, dumb in his grief.

Malawen had followed them to the pavilion, quiet and unnoticed. She heard the men trying to induce Canohando to come to the fire, to take something to eat, but he paid no heed, unresponsive as a block of wood. Finally the soldiers went to their rest and the fire burned out, but the Orc had not stirred from where he sat.

She came to stand beside him. The night shrouded them like a blanket; there was a glimmer of candlelight from within the pavilion where Elladan sat vigil over his sister, but that was all. Malawen could hear the Orc breathing, ragged, uneven breaths as if he wept silently, and something tore loose inside her. The pity she thought she had lost filled her suddenly like a freshet breaking forth, and she knelt before him, feeling for his hands in the dark and bringing them to her lips.

"Oh, Canohando, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry for you! What can I do –" She kissed the rough-skinned hands and clung to them, and then she wept, crying for him and for Arwen Undomiel and for her own sorrows, a torrent of grief that had been pent up inside her for years uncounted. And his hands closed over hers; he rested his forehead on them, and his tears wet them, and then he opened his arms and she crept inside, crying on his shoulder, and he wrapped his arms around her and sobbed, loudly, painfully, so that she would have been frightened if his sorrow had not so perfectly reflected her own.

24. The Last Farewell

They buried Arwen where she had fallen asleep, inside the ring of trees.

Word went out, no one knew how, that she was dead: perhaps the mallorns themselves whispered it from branch to branch. The Elves who remained in Lorien found their way to Cerin Amroth to say farewell, including some few who had not shown themselves until now, but even so there were no more than a score of them all told. And the men of the Company who had been in Caras Galadhan set out at once when the messenger reached them, marching through the night so they were there at dawn, trampling grass and flowers underfoot while the cooks and their helpers scavenged for firewood under the trees.

Elladan emerged from Arwen's pavilion, his face drawn with grief and lack of sleep. "Where is the Commander?" he demanded, and one of the soldiers pointed. Canohando sat off to one side with his head sunk to his chest. On the ground beside him Malawen lay sleeping with his cloak tucked around her like a blanket.

Elladan paused for a moment, incredulous; in his anxiety for Arwen he had not observed how Malawen shadowed the Orc; indeed, the little Elf was so withdrawn and furtive that he had almost forgotten her existence. He stepped around her to lay a hand on Canohando's shoulder, and the Orc started and leaped to his feet.

"Queen's Brother –"

The Orc had not slept either, apparently, unless he had been asleep as he sat there bolt upright, and Elladan was moved to pity at the misery in his eyes. "Your Company is here, Commander," he said gently. Will you take charge of them? I want a guard of honor for the Queen, and some men to dig the grave."

Canohando took a deep breath and nodded without speaking. He bent over Malawen. "Get up, Elfling, before someone steps on you."

She woke and instantly scrambled away from him, her eyes wide with terror. Canohando straightened and stepped back, but she had already recovered. "Is it morning? It's all right; I was startled, that's all, seeing you so close just as I woke up."

He led her over to one of the breakfast fires before he turned to his own duties. "Give her something to eat," he told the cook. "She is too thin."

He called out soldiers for the guard of honor and set a subaltern to drilling them, but he went himself, alone, to dig the grave. Some of the men saw him at the top of the mound and came to help, unasked. He did not turn them away, but he worked like one possessed, squaring the corners and jumping down into the hole to smooth the sides and the bottom.

The day wore on. Canohando moved among the men with set face, ordering the Company, making them shine weapons and armor to mirror brightness, seeing that the tents they set up were far back against the trees, as nearly out of sight as they could manage. At last he called for water and ducked into a tent to wash away his dirt, but the soldier who brought him clean garments stood hesitating at the entrance, reluctant to come in: the Orc sat on a blanket braiding his wet hair, weeping in harsh, strangled sobs.

As the sun fell behind the trees, they took their places outside the Queen's pavilion. The Company formed up before and behind, but the Elves went in and brought her out in a box of mallorn wood, polished and inset with designs of flowers and leaves, crystal and silver, and as they carried her up the hill to the waiting grave they sang laments in the ancient Elven tongue. And Canohando walked side by side with Elladan her brother, but those who watched could not have said whose sorrow was the greater. They were warriors, both of them, grim and parlous in appearance, yet tears ran unchecked down their faces.

They opened the coffin so everyone who wished might look once more on Arwen Evenstar, and Elladan and Canohando stood at her head and her feet as Elves and Men came one by one to pay their homage. But when all was done, Elladan bent to kiss her cheek for the last time, and the Orc knelt beside the coffin and lifted her hand to his lips. Then they drew her mantle over her face and fastened the lid, and lowered the box into the ground.

Afterward, when the grave was filled and all the songs were sung, as the light died they filed down the mound once more, silent but for the sound of shuffling footsteps. But in the meadow the cook fires were burning; food was ready and blankets had been spread on the ground where they could sit. The mourners gathered to the funeral meal.

Elladan sat with the Elves, picking at his meat without appetite, but willing to talk. "Are all the others gone over the Sea?" he asked.

"Over Sea, or into the East to join Thranduil's people in Eryn Lasgalen."*

"But you did not go. Why do you remain, when Lorien fades around you day by day? How can you endure it?"

The Elf he addressed was one of those who had come to serve Arwen, until she sent them all away. "We would not leave the Golden Wood utterly deserted, in case Undomiel returned to us at last. But I will seek the Havens, now she is laid to rest. There is no more to hope for in Lothlorien."

And as Elladan questioned the others, he heard the same answer again and again. "Now we will depart, before the mallorns stand dead around us, before they begin to totter and fall..." A few would journey to Thranduil's kingdom, but most were following the Straight Road to Valinor.

"And you also, son of Elrond," they said. "Come with us to the Blessed Realm." But he made no answer to them.

When he came to Malawen, however, she glared at him defiantly. "I will remain in Lothlorien! It is my home." And though he sought to reason with her, reminding her that she would be altogether alone in an empty land, she shut her mouth tight and would say no more. Finally he gave up and turned to Canohando, still bemused at finding them together.

"You are going on to the Shire? That was the Queen's wish."

The Orc nodded. "To my brother's land, but first to Rivendell, as the Lady commanded," he said, and Elladan looked at him sharply.

"Rivendell? Now why, I wonder –" but the Orc shrugged.

"She bade me go there, Queen's Brother."

But after Elladan had moved on to speak to someone else, Canohando reached out and took Malawen's hand in both of his. "Why do you not go to Valinor with your people? You will be all alone here, and you are free to travel that Road." He was puzzled and concerned, but she turned her head away.

"I am Orc-marked. I am not fit for Valinor."

He frowned. "You are scarred, little one –" he began, but she jerked her hand away from him.

"I am outcast! Do you see any Elf seeking my company? And I am not a child; I am only stunted, deformed–"

He shook his head. "You are small for an Elf, if this is your full growth, but you are not deformed. I am scarred far worse than you."

She lifted one thin shoulder dismissively. "You are an Orc, you mean. But you are no worse looking than others of your kind, and anyway I have never heard that Orcs cared for beauty."

For answer he stood up and skinned his tunic over his head, facing her bare from the waist up. Even in the firelight she could see that his chest was criss-crossed with dozens of pale lines incised on the grey skin, some thin, some thick: marks of the whip.

"My captains gave me something to remember them," he said dryly, "and so did the fire also." He turned around then, and she gasped, clapping her hand to her mouth: his back from waist to shoulders was a mass of puckered scars, not red like her cheek but black, as if the skin had been charred.

"You are right in one thing, Elfling: Orcs had rather look fierce than handsome! But no one bears scars like these without pain."

He pulled his tunic back on and came to sit by her again. "Go with your people to the Bright Country," he urged. "It is your birth-right; why will you throw it away?" But he could not persuade her, and at length she jumped up and slipped away among the trees.

Canohando sighed and got to his feet. People were still sitting around the meadow, soldiers of the Company in little groups and the Elves off by themselves, talking quietly. He avoided them all, climbing the mound alone and sitting down next to the new grave. It was marked with a great boulder, uncarved, of some white stone that glowed faintly in the dark.

"Your brother will have your name set on it in letters of gold," he said as if the Queen could hear him. He unhooked his drum from his belt. "I will make a song for you, Lady." He bent over the drum, his hands almost caressing it, his voice soft on the guttural stops and hisses of his native tongue.

**************************************************************

They did not linger in that place. The next day after the funeral the Elves stood with Elladan taking their leave, still exhorting him to go with them to the Havens.

"I cannot abandon my men all leaderless in the wild," he said at last, touched by their importunity even as he was torn by doubt at what his decision should be. "Besides that my brother awaits me in Minas Tirith. But he himself is eager to take the Straight Road, so it may be that I shall see you again." But when the Elves had left, Elladan sought out Canohando.

"March with us back to Caras Galadhon," he said. "We must get the horses and prepare for the journey home, and it is on your way." But the truth was that he was reluctant to part with the Orc. He wanted his companionship a while longer, and he wondered at the desire even as he yielded to it.

So Canohando went with them, but if the soldiers marched in good order, he did not, walking now beside this man and now by that one, for many of them had become friends of a sort, although he was Commander of all. But after a few days at Caras Galadhon all was in readiness, and the parting could not be postponed longer.

"I should not fear for you, Orc, having seen you in battle, yet I hate to see you set forth without shield-brother into the wilderness," Elladan said. He held out a bronze pin to Canohando, the length of his hand, the metal twisted into an intricate knot at one end. "Stick this through your tunic -- there, at the shoulder. It is the badge of the Rangers, by which they know one another."

Canohando smiled grimly even as he took it. "You will get me killed, Queen's Brother. No one will mistake me for a Ranger, but they will easily believe I slew one of their comrades and took his ornament."

Elladan grimaced. "True. Very well, put it away, and I will give you a safe-conduct you can show, if you can stop them from killing you before you get the chance. The Northern Kingdom is well-guarded and you will need to be cautious. I would I could go with you, but Elrohir awaits my return and I gave him my promise."

There was humor in the Orc's eyes, but liking also. "You are a good man, Queen's Brother. Gladly I would travel with you, if our paths led in the same direction, but do not be anxious about me. A lone warrior may pass unseen where a troop of men draws enemies from every side. Give me your token if you wish, and I have the Lady's map. I will come alive to my brother's land if my fate allows it."

But when he had tucked the safe-conduct into his belt, he took the Elf-lord by both shoulders, his fingers digging painfully into Elladan's flesh, and his gaze was fierce in its intensity.

"Go with your twin to Valinor! Go for my sake, if you will not do it for your own." Elladan nodded slowly, and Canohando let go, striking him an open-handed blow on the upper arm.

"Good! Farewell, Queen's Brother! Say to the Valar, when you see them, that there is one Orc in Middle Earth who honors them."

Elladan stared after him as he strode away, watching him out of sight before he turned to mount his horse. "Move out!" he shouted. "Let us go home, Men of Gondor!"

25. The Strange Alliance

Canohando had grown accustomed to finding Malawen always close at hand. He could not believe at first that she was gone.

He had not seen her on the way back to Caras Galadhon nor in the few days the Company spent there after the Queen's death, but he had not been looking for her. He'd been occupied with Elladan and his men, helping them prepare for the journey back to Gondor and bitterly aware that he was unlikely ever to see them again, these Men who had become his friends. He had assumed the Elf-girl was somewhere in the vicinity, keeping out of sight. He still thought of her as a child, in spite of her insistence that she was full-grown.

But now he had been traveling for days and there was no sign of her. He went circumspectly, reminding himself that he had no host of soldiers at his back any more; he was alone again, as he had been when he left his mountains. But then he had been in a fever to find the Lady of the Jewel; for months he had been on edge, and the hunger for what he could not name had filled him to the exclusion of all else. Now he was empty.

If he had not promised Arwen to find the Shire and Rivendell, he might have remained where he was among the dying mallorns. He might have made his home at Cerin Amroth, throwing up a little hut to shelter him and dwelling evermore in sight of the white stone under which his Lady slept. But he had promised.

After some days he came out onto a broad plain. A jagged shadow against the western sky showed him where the mountains lay, and off to the east there was another belt of trees, not so tall as the mallorns and leafless in the early spring. The Great River must lie there, he thought, remembering that Arwen had told him to follow the river north. He drew back under the mallorns; he would not venture out on the open plain as long as there was woodland to conceal him. He turned toward the river that would be his pathway into the north, staying a stone's throw inside the border of Lorien.

He tried to bring the Queen's image before his mind as he walked, but it was Malawen's pale little face that came instead, her eyes resentful and challenging. She went to Valinor after all, perhaps. I hope she did. He hoped so indeed; he had urged her to go with the other Elves, but he missed her. He had not known how much he would miss her.

One of the Elves had come to him before they all left, carrying a bag of soft leather over his shoulder. "You are the one they call the Queen's Shadow?" he had asked, and at Canohando's assent he had handed over the bag. "Lord Elladan bade me give you a supply of lembas for your journey." He had regarded Canohando curiously. "Strange enough when we furnished a Dwarf with our food, during the War, and now an Orc! But you are no ordinary Orc, by all accounts. Arwen Undomiel drew some strange admirers."

He had been guarded but not hostile, and Canohando had smiled at mention of the Queen. "Who could see the Lady and not love her?" he had asked, and the Elf had clapped him on the shoulder. He'd said something in the Elven tongue as he turned away, but all Canohando was able to catch was the name of Elbereth; it was months since Arwen had tutored him in Elvish, and he had forgotten much of what he had learned.

But he was grateful for the food: a campfire might draw enemies to him. He would have had to eat his meat raw and that was too like the old days for his peace of mind, even if the taste had not been repugnant to him. Thanks to the lembas he need neither hunt nor cook, and as darkness fell he climbed one of the mallorns and slung his rope hammock from the branches.

He was wakened by voices and a glow of light under his tree, and he looked down to see a party of Orcs gathered round a fire, roasting hunks of meat on the ends of their knives. There were three of them, and he gave silent thanks that he had not risked sleeping on the ground. Then there was a howl of glee from a little way off and another Orc came in view, carrying something that writhed and screamed, fighting vainly to escape.

"Eh, look what I found hiding behind a tree, mates! Here's a bit of fun to pass the time – looks like some of our lads already had a go at it, but there's plenty of life in it yet." He flung his captive down by the fire and she sprang up to dart away, but another of the Orcs caught her by the ankle and dragged her back, shrieking.

Elfling! Canohando caught the branch over his head and pulled himself erect, forcing his mind to stay cold, calm. He snatched his bow from where it hung and crept out along a sturdy limb that overhung the fire.

The Orc had pinned Malawen to the ground and she was silent now but still struggling, thrashing and kicking in her efforts to free herself. "Not so fast, whey face, not so fast! Had a little taste of the brand, have you?" He dug his fingers into her hair, jerking her head around into the light. "Yes, yes, just a touch. Well, we'll fix that up for you. We'll see you're finished proper tonight, trust us for that!"

He laughed horribly and then he gagged, catching at his throat, trying to pluck out the arrow that suddenly blossomed from it. Malawen was up before he fell, flinging herself away from the fire into the darkness beyond, and the others made no move to stop her, staring up at the tree in astonishment before they dodged back out of the light.

Canohando lay motionless along the branch, waiting. An arrow flew past him and glanced off the mallorn's trunk. Still he waited; he could hear the Orcs crashing about down below, shouting to one another, and two more arrows sailed past, farther off. Get yourself into a tree, Elfling, he commanded silently. He peered down, trying to see where the Orcs had gone.

There was a noise below and he saw something dark climbing up toward him. He let the Orc pass him by and then he lowered himself to the ground, soft as a cat. There were shouts a little way off and then what sounded like a dying shriek; Canohando set off in that direction with his heart pounding. Carefully, Ghul-rakk, he warned himself, reverting to the name of his childhood in his terror for the Elf-girl. If that was her voice she is dead already, but if not you will do no good by running into a trap!

A voice rang out behind him and he flattened himself against a tree. The Orc who had been in the mallorn blundered past, and a shout up ahead answered him.

"Shaffa's done for! There's a gang of 'em, the filth – let's get out of here!"

"Where's the little whiteskin?"

"For all I know she's flew away like a bird! What's it matter – this is no place to play, and it's too much trouble to cart her along, even supposing we could find her. Come on, curse you!"

"Shut up then, fool – aieee!" It was a squeal of panic. "That was too close, that was! Come on –"

The voices ceased but Canohando could still hear movement, stealthy now, as the remaining Orcs tried to escape in silence. He pressed himself against the tree trunk, hardly breathing as he listened to the faint noises of their retreat, and he remained motionless for a long time after he could not hear them anymore. At last he relaxed and began to feel his way through the darkness.

"Elfling?" His voice was no more than a breath, but there was an answer from the branches above him.

"Here," she whispered, and he was up the tree in a heartbeat.

It was too dark to see anything, but he found her by touch, his hand meeting her fingers as he reached out to grasp a branch. "Elfling!" he choked, feeling as if something had him by the throat. He climbed onto the limb she was sitting on and drew her with him back against the trunk; then he closed his arms around her as if he would never let go, holding her fast and murmuring in her ear, "Elfling… Elfling…"

She trembled, her body stiff and resistant for a moment, but then she slumped against him, clinging to him and pillowing her head on his chest. He could feel her shuddering in his embrace and he rested his cheek against her hair.

"Elfling, what are you doing here? I thought you had gone with your people."

"I told you, I am not fit for Valinor." Her voice was strained and she cleared her throat. "I thought I would stay alone, but I was afraid…"

"You have been following me? You are more stealthy than fog in the river bottom! But why did you stay hidden?"

"I did not think you would let me come."

His arms tightened around her. "No.I would have told you to go to Valinor." But he was glad she had not gone.

"I cannot," she said. "Take me with you, Canohando."

A door opened somewhere inside him; almost he heard Lash's flute again, and Frodo's voice lilting under its clear notes, warm and merry.

"You should be with your people –" he began, but he didn't mean it, not anymore, and she said again,

"I want to go with you. I will follow after, if you will not let me walk alongside." She made it sound like a threat, and he laughed softly, muffling the sound against her hair.

"I will bring you to Rivendell," he said. "Some Elves are still there, I think."

He felt her nod. "All right. I don't care where we go."

He would not let her climb down from their refuge while the night lasted. "We are safer out of sight here, little one. Go to sleep; I will not drop you." He braced himself firmly against the tree trunk and held her secure in his arms.

She slept at last, a warm, limp bundle against his heart, and he sat wakeful through the night, watching the stars through gaps in the branches and breathing in the fragrance of her hair. Contentment seemed to sink into his very bones; he was more at rest than he had ever been, and yet piercingly aware of every scent and sound of the night.

When morning came he climbed down, cautious and watchful, and followed the Orcs' tracks for a long way, making sure they were gone before he let Malawen leave her hiding place. He found the body of one of the Orcs a few yards from the tree with an arrow in its eye, not one of his arrows. He retrieved his hammock and the bag of lembas on his way back; the Orc he had shot still lay by the burnt-out fire.

"Are you an archer, little one?" he asked when he had called her down from the tree. "It was you who shot the second Orc last night?" She turned slightly to show her quiver strapped to her back, and he laughed in delight.

"They went hunting a dragon, those fellows! Good for you, Elfling – "

"You rescued me," she interrupted.

"I rescued you," he said, "but we drove them off together. Come, we will eat the waybread as we walk – softly, now; there may be more enemies about."

Setting a zigzag course among the mallorns, he was a grey shape hardly to be told from the shadows that moved on the forest floor, as the high branches swayed in the wind. And Malawen behind him seemed at one with the woods, her garment of like color to the new little seedlings that carpeted the ground, her pale hair and skin like sunbeams striking down through the trees. It would have taken a watchful foe indeed to see either of them.

Canohando looked back and their eyes met. She smiled, and the loveliness of her marred face nearly stopped his breath. Always before she had looked sullen or angry, her beauty hidden behind clouds, but today in truth she was Elven fair. He faced forward once more, caught between joy and fierceness: she trusted him, this little one, and he would not fail to protect her!

26. Truth Under Darkness

Canohando's gentleness had drawn Malawen to him in spite of her hatred of his kind. She felt as if her dark thoughts rested in his cupped hands, and he was not dismayed by them. Ever since her capture by Orcs she had known herself shamed, defiled. She had been rescued, it was true, and her wounds ministered to, but the other Elves had been loath to meet her eyes. They had pitied her and looked away, and at last she had felt almost unbodied, a ghost walking under the sun. But when Canohando's black eyes rested on her, she was visible and real again.

She hardly recognized him for an Orc anymore; he was her friend, who had wept with her at Undomiel's death and now had rescued her. She shivered. They would have slain me in torment. And I am no more fit for the Halls of Mandos than I am for Tol Eressea.

Canohando looked back and she met his glance, familiar and comforting. She smiled involuntarily and his eyes sparked with answering warmth. She felt suddenly as if this stealthy creeping through the forest were some game of her childhood, and the Orc was her playfellow. Almost she laughed, and pressed her lips tight together to hold in her merriment as she slipped from shadow to shadow behind him.

They reached the band of trees along the River and turned north. It was a narrow swath of woodland; they could see the glint of water off to the right and yet look out at the rolling plain on the other side. It seemed an empty landscape, but still they made their way cautiously under cover, and the third day showed the wisdom of this. A cloud of dust appeared on the horizon, drawing closer to become a hundred wild horses, kept in one herd by stalwart riders with long blonde braids.

"Men of Rohan?" Canohando questioned under his breath. "What are they doing here? Their land is far south of your country, Elfling."

Malawen gnawed on her lip. "They are far from home," she murmured. "They seek new blood for their horse breeding, perhaps, now the Shadow has departed. Stay down, Canohando; they have no love for Elves."

He snorted softly. "Nor for Orcs either, little one. We will not ask them to dinner."

She giggled, stifling the sound against her forearm as she lay flat on the ground. The horsemen passed out of sight.

"Better take shelter now, till we know they are far away," Canohando said. He climbed a tree and slung both their hammocks from the branches; he had woven one for Malawen from a spare coil of rope in his pack. "Come, Elfling, we will eat even though it is not dark yet, and you shall tell me one of your stories. Someday I will play my drum for you, when it does not matter how the sound carries."

The sun went down and they swung lazily in the treetop; it was beginning to leaf out, and they were well hidden. "I will sing you the Lay of the Ring-bearer," she said. "Have you ever heard it?"

"No, but I have heard enough of what it says to know it is far from the truth. Are all your stories of like kind, Elfling, half true and half lies?"

"How would I know?" she countered. "I tell them to you as I heard them, but I was not present at the Sack of Nargothrond!"

He chuckled. "No? But you describe it so well, and you told me you are not a child, for all your littleness."

She feigned sternness. "Be quiet, Orc, and listen, or go to sleep if you do not care to hear it." She reveled in the teasing; thus she had bantered with her father long ago, before the War. Canohando broke off a spray of leaves and tossed it into her hammock.

"Go on, then," he said, and lay quiet listening to her soft voice, trying to sift out the overlay of legend from the tale and find the nuggets of plain fact. I would have despised him as soft, if I had known him from the first, he thought. But long before Malawen's voice faded away, Canohando was pierced to the marrow as he understood at last what Frodo had taken on himself. He had known the end of the story; he had not known the beginning.

"Well? Is any of it true?" Malawen asked. Night had fallen and faint moonlight filtered through the leafy canopy around them. She peered over at the Orc.

Canohando stirred himself, sitting up and waiting until the hammock stopped swaying before he spoke. "Yes, it is true, all of it, or nearly all. True that he had a noble heart, and I will never know why he befriended a greyskin, bloodthirsty and depraved..."

"You are not depraved," Malawen said, fierce in her defense of him, but Canohando had pulled himself up onto the branch next to her, and he stared down, his face black in the shadows.

"I taught him to shoot," he said. "I feared he would starve if ever the old man left him, so I taught him to hunt. He was a good shot in the end, but he hated killing, even for food. While I -- I kill as easily as breathing -- worse than that. I take joy in it; I was born for it." His voice was bitter.

"You kill to protect yourself, or someone else," Malawen said stoutly. "You shot that Orc to save me –"

"Yes. And I hunt to survive, when I do not have waybread. But the quiver of living flesh under my knife, the little push to slide the blade home –" He groaned. "I try to be careful now, not to take life wantonly: only for food or for protection. But slaughter feeds something inside of me; I hunger for it more than food, sometimes. I am no companion for you, Elfling."

He loomed over her, blocking the moonlight. "I am an Orc. I cannot escape it; I will never escape. And when you said you are Orc-marked – you do not understand; you do not know what that means. You have a scar, you are angry at what you suffered; no blame to you for that! But you are clean -- shining and fair and called to Valinor, while I –"

He turned and began climbing down out of the tree, clumsy in his haste and bumping his head on a branch. He swore, or so she supposed; anything in the harsh Orkish tongue sounded like imprecation. She stared after him, whispering, "But you're wrong, Canohando. I do know what it means." Then she flung herself out of her hammock and slid down the tree in his wake, reaching the ground and darting after him.

"Don't leave me! Don't leave me, Canohando!"

He kept on as if he had not heard, another ten or twelve steps, and then a low howl broke the silence and he froze. There was another howl just ahead, and Canohando whirled around and ran back, catching Malawen in his arms and boosting her into the nearest tree. "Climb!" he said sharply, and was gone.

She climbed, shivering with fear. When the Orcs invaded Lothlorien she had heard wolves; that was the only time, but she had not forgotten the sound. She kept going higher until the branches in her hands felt too thin and pliant for safety; then she backed down a few feet and sat straddling a sturdy bough, hugging the trunk so hard that the bark scraped painfully against her bare arms. Canohando did not follow and she wondered where he was. The eerie howling seemed to fill the dark void below. She did not dare look down.

There was a caterwaul from the ground, pain and rage, and then a cacophony of yowling and yipping, and Malawen clung to her tree, sobbing in terror. Finally the noises began to move away, until at last everything was silent, and she choked back her tears to listen. Nothing. Not the hoot of an owl, not the faintest moan of any creature. And then Canohando's voice came softly, "Elfling? Climb down now; they are gone."

A moment later he was just below her, holding out his hand, and she unwound herself from the tree trunk and let him help her from branch to branch all the way down. But her knees nearly folded beneath her when she looked around; there were a half a dozen dead wolves scattered about on the ground under the tree, transfixed by arrows.

"Come, Elfling, we will go back to our hammocks. I don't think they will return, but we are safer in the treetop, and there we can rest."

She still gripped his hand and would not let him draw it away. "Don't leave me."

"No." His voice was gentle. "I will not leave. Come, now."

But when they had found their own tree again, she would not sleep alone. Nothing would satisfy her but to crowd into his hammock with him, cuddling under his arm and pillowing her head on his chest.

"I can hear your heart," she said after a while. He grunted and she reached up to rest her hand on his shoulder. "It is a good heart, Canohando. Not depraved."

He did not answer and soon she fell asleep, her breathing soft and regular. Her arm slipped down to her side, but her cheek was still warm against his chest and he stroked her head, his clawed hand feather light on her hair. At length he wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes.

"Elfling," he whispered. "My little Elfling."

27. Friends

Canohando was in turmoil.

The night of the wolves had brought him self-knowledge, and he strove within himself until he felt like a battlefield, desolate and grim. Malawen had become his delight; his tenderness for her was sweet agony. He wanted to fight a troll for her, to catch her up and carry her where no one could ever hurt her again, to keep her for his own, make himself one with her, until Arda fell to pieces and melted into the Sea...

He dragged his attention back to the present. They were coming into a region of marshes now, meandering slow streams and little islets of solid ground; it behooved him to watch where he was going or he would have them both waist-deep in the mud.

She is not for you, Bloody Knife, Death-dealer. She has suffered enough from Orcs! He lashed himself with every contemptuous name he could invent, holding out his arm sometimes and contrasting his rough grey skin with her pearly whiteness. But his yearning did not abate for all his self-flagellation.

When his fingernails grew too long he took out his knife to trim them, and on impulse he filed them down to the ends of his fingers, instead of cutting them into the sharp Orc claws he had worn all his life. Often Malawen reached out for his support to steady her as she stepped from one grassy tussock to another, trying not to slip into the quagmire, and the next time she caught at his hand she felt his smooth fingertips and smiled at him without speaking.

He grew warm with embarrassment, yet he was pleased that she had noticed, and angry at himself for being pleased. If she could see into your mind, Black-heart –

But he did not finish the thought, distracted by wondering what the Elf-girl really thought of him. She journeys with me of her own will, he reminded himself. By her own wish she climbed into my hammock. But he had not allowed that to happen a second time. It had been too sweet, her softness pressed against him through the night. He had lain awake holding her until the morning, torn between rapture and anguish.

He was ashamed of his body's response to her. All his experience of sexuality was bound up with violence and degradation; he had raped and he had been raped, in the old days that he tried to forget, and now the memories stalked his dreams. As deeply as he longed for a son, yet he recoiled from the act which must beget new life; he did not know how to separate union from brutality. And his Elfling –

"Watch out!" he exclaimed, pulling her back. She half fell against him and he flung an arm around her, holding her to his side. A watersnake just beyond their feet opened its mouth wide in silent threat, before it disappeared beneath the surface.

"Thank you." She leaned on him, and he could not muster the strength of will to push her away. "Oh, I hate them! I never saw snakes in Lothlorien while Galadriel ruled, but later they crept in sometimes." She shuddered. "Hold onto me, Canohando, please. I don't want to fall in that water; it's so murky, you can't see what's down there."

He could not tell her no. They went on hand in hand, her fingers curled trustingly around his, and his heart sang even as self-contempt churned in his mind.

He thought she was unaware of his agitation, until the morning he woke to find her staring down at him through the netting of her hammock. She was a little above him in the tree, and her eyes held him as if he had been bound with the light, thin rope the Brown One had carried so many years ago, strong for all its softness.

Her eyes are like the leaves, he thought. Green… no, golden… hazel? I cannot tell. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

"You would not hurt me, Canohando," she said, and the absolute conviction in her tone was contagious. He stretched out his hand to her and she grabbed it, nearly tipping herself out of the hammock.

"Careful!" He let go hurriedly and she righted herself, laughing. "No, Elfling, I would never hurt you. I would cut off both my arms first." He looked up at the pale little face with the amazing eyes, and gladness shivered through him. He felt a great shout building up in his throat, one that would startle the birds out of their nests and set the new leaves dancing on all the branches, and he clenched his teeth to hold it in. They were hiding, after all. There was no telling what might hear him.

But the next time memory scrolled scenes of long-ago carnage before his eyes, he would not look. Both my arms first, he muttered, and was comforted.

Malawen had never been out of Lothlorien and knew no more than he where they were. Canohando brought out the map Arwen had given him, and they bent over it together. The marshy country was marked as Loeg Ningloron, and the river which flowed into it from the west as Sir Ninglor.

"Goldenwater, that means," Malawen said. "I wonder why; there's nothing golden about it. I would have called it Mud-water, if I'd been naming it." *

Canohando chuckled. "Elves have music in their blood, I think, and would rather speak in poetry than plain words. Perhaps the one who named it thought the yellow water looked like gold."

"He must have been blind, then." She turned the map over to read what was written on the other side. "What is this? Arwen Undomiel grants leave for Canohando the Orc to enter the Shire--" Where is the Shire? I thought you were going to Rivendell."

He took the map hastily and rolled it up again, reluctant to have her handle it, though he could not have said why. "Rivendell first, but then to my brother's land." It came to him suddenly that he had never told her more than the bare fact that he had known Ninefingers. He tucked the map away, and as they walked he told of his friendship with Frodo and his desire to see the Halflings' country.

"But I am too late to find him again," he finished. "I miss him, Elfling."

"What a strange tale," she marveled. "An Orc and a Halfling - and now we are friends, Canohando. An Orc and an Elf. How is it that you draw such varied folk to you? The Queen and her brother -- the Men of your company --"

He shrugged. "It was the Brown One, perhaps. He was a man of power; I felt it in his hands when he healed my wound. Are we friends, Elfling?"

"Mellon-lithui, that is what you are. My friend as-grey-as-ashes."

He grimaced. She was teasing, but he had grown to hate his grey skin, outward sign of inner depravity, the Orc nature he could not escape. "And you are Mellon-bain," he said, matching her carefree tone with an effort. "Have I got it right? My beautiful friend."

"You know Sindarin?" The admiration in her voice took away the sting of her name for him, and he smiled.

"The Lady was teaching me, but I don't know how much I remember."

"Really? Let's find out. What is this?" She held out her arm.

"Ranc," he answered, and she nodded.

"Good. And this?" She lifted a strand of her hair.

"Finnel."

She laughed. "No, that's your hair, in braids. Mine is laws, loose and curly."

It pleased them both, Malawen tutoring him in the Elven tongue, and it passed the time as they walked. It was well for them that the country they were traveling through was nearly empty, for they completely forgot to be cautious.

They came out of the marshes of Loeg Ningloron and into upland forest, still following the River, and they strolled hand in hand as casually as if they had not been scouting through trackless wilderness, where neither had ever been before. The woodland glowed with spring sunshine, where later in the season all would be deep green shade. Violets and hepatica bloomed underfoot and birds flitted from branch to branch, busy with nest-building. There was no sound but the wind in the treetops and the laughter of an Elf and an Orc, who were friends.

*note: Sir Ninglor is the Elvish name for the River Gladden, named for the yellow waterlilies that bloomed along its marshy banks and reflected in the water. The lilies would not have been in flower this early in the season, if indeed they still grew there at this period.

28. The Elves of Eryn Lasgalen

They came at last to the Road running west from Mirkwood. The place where it crossed the river was marked on Arwen's map as the Old Ford, but in fact there was a new stone bridge, and the Road itself was paved and in good repair. There was no one in sight but after a cursory look around, Canohando drew Malawen back and looked about for a tree to hang their hammocks.

"We will watch for a day or two and see who uses this fine bridge."

"Are you afraid?" she asked in surprise. "Surely Orcs will not have built it, and you have the Queen's letter—"

"We have Elladan's safe-conduct as well, but it is wisdom to be cautious. Who do you think holds sway in these lands, now that the King's son rules in Gondor? The Queen's brothers are gone, who kept Rivendell, but someone must be master here in the North."

Malawen looked puzzled. "The North Kingdom is still under the King's word."

"So it should be, but we are a long way from Minas Tirith. If Eldarion's lieutenants are faithful… but not all men are faithful. So we will wait and watch a little."

"You are as cautious as Celeborn himself," she said. "I think you must be fated to rule a kingdom."

Canohando snorted. "If my fate bring us safe to Rivendell, and me to the Shire after, I will be content. Who is Celeborn?"

She stared at him. "Why, he is Galadriel's consort, who ruled Lothlorien with her. And he was Undomiel's grandsire besides - how can it be you have not heard of him?"

"How should I know the family history of the Queen, little one? I am an Orc; I know warfare and the hunt. And I know the stories the old man told us, and the ones you tell. No more than that."

But her thought had gone back to what he said before. "What do you mean, us to Rivendell and you to the Shire? I want to go with you, Canohando."

"Here is your hammock, Elfling; climb in and rest. I will hang mine close by, and you shall tell me of this Celeborn."

But when he lay down and looked over at her, Malawen did not return his smile. "Canohando, I want to go with you to the Shire," she said.

"Elfling..." He hesitated. "I bring you to Rivendell so that you may find some of your own people, to travel with you to Valinor. It is your birthright. You must not throw it away."

She sat up suddenly, rocking her hammock. "Hear me, Orc, and hear me well! I am not going to Valinor." Her voice shook with passion. "For good or for ill, I will stay in Middle-earth, and if you do not want me with you, I will remain alone." She was like some wild thing at bay, but then her eyes filled and she huddled down with her hands over her face.

"Little one –" He picked his way along the bough to stand next to her, stroking her tangled hair. "No, Elfling, don't cry! I will not let you stay alone; I will bring you with me if you really will not sail with your people. But I think you should go."

She shook her head, her face hidden, and he bent over to put an arm around her shoulders, balancing precariously and holding with one hand to the branch above him. "Don't cry," he said again, "I will not leave you. You shall journey with me for as long as you wish, until you say, 'Be off with you, Greyskin; I am weary of telling you stories!'"

"I will never say that." She peeked up, smiling through her tears.

They watched the road for three days, and in all that time they saw no one. At last Canohando was satisfied; on the fourth morning he rolled up their hammocks and lowered himself to the ground, and all but stepped on an Elf who was sitting at the foot of the tree.

He threw himself to one side, braced for an attack but not drawing weapon, watching the other's eyes. The Elf leaped up and whipped out a pair of slender knives from a double sheath that hung behind his shoulders. Canohando stepped back a pace, holding his empty hands before him.

"I am not an enemy, First-born, only a traveler through this land."

"He speaks truth," Malawen said loudly, dropping to the ground and running to plant herself in front of Canohando. "Put away your knives, kinsman. This is Canohando, the Queen's Shadow."

"What Queen?" The Elf regarded her without friendliness. "Who are you, changeling, that you keep such company as this?"

"Show him the letter," Malawen muttered, but Canohando did not take his eyes from the Elf.

"This is a scout, I think, for a party that will be coming after. Who is your master, First-born?"

"A good conjecture, Orc. My name is Galuir and my Captain is Itaril of Eryn Lasgalen. He it is who shall judge what to do with you. Ahead of me now, to the Road."

Canohando's bow appeared suddenly in his hand. "We are not your prisoners, friend, and no one need decide what to do with us." His arrow was aimed at the scout's heart, and Malawen gasped. "Don't be afraid Elfling; I shall not –"

"No! Look!" she exclaimed.

They were trapped. A party of Elves had stepped out suddenly from the surrounding woods, their bows drawn. "Put down your weapon, Orc, or we will make an end of both of you," said the one they had taken for a scout.

Canohando dropped his bow on the ground. "What manner of Elves are you, that you threaten one of your own?" He nodded at Malawen.

The Elf veiled his eyes. "Our own do not consort with Orcs," he said. He jerked his head at them, and one of the archers put down his bow and came forward.

"Stand aside from him," he said to Malawen, but she turned and threw her arms around Canohando's waist.

"You shall not harm him! He is the Queen's Orc, Arwen Undomiel! He guarded her, he brought her to Lothlorien; she showed him favor. You must see—"

"I see a Dark Elf who has turned to the Shadow," said the leader grimly. He stared at Canohando under lowered brows. "Put her away from you, or I will have the two of you on one arrow."

Canohando leaned over Malawen, kissing her forehead. "He will do it, Elfling." He reached up surreptitiously and yanked the chain at his neck so it broke, palming the Jewel and pressing it into her hand. "Keep this for me, and stand back," he murmured. He pushed her away and stood straight, waiting.

"Bind them," said the leader. "Celeborn must question them; it is an evil omen, if Elves are aligning themselves with creatures of Darkness here on our very doorstep." And Malawen had just time to slide the Jewel stealthily into her pocket while Canohando's hands were tied, before her own wrists were pulled behind her and bound.

The Elves threaded lengths of rope through their bonds by which to lead them, and to the Orc they assigned two guards, one on each side; plainly they feared his escape. Canohando concealed his amusement at this; he could have broken away easily, but he would not abandon Malawen.

And as he considered the leader's words naming her a Dark Elf, he began to be afraid. What might the Elves do to one of their own who turned to Shadow? And he is not so far wrong, this Galuir. She has not yielded to it, but Darkness overhangs her. If her own people misuse her…

When they reached the Road they found horses waiting, and upwards of forty Elves. Galuir went ahead, motioning their guards to stand, and after a few moments he returned with another Elf, tall and lordly in bearing, with a great white bow strapped to his back.

"I found them by chance; the Orc came down from a tree practically in my lap, and the girl followed after."

The captain barely glanced at Canohando, but he looked Malawen over from head to foot, staring down at her as if she had been a dirty child caught robbing a street vendor. At last he stretched out his hand and took hold of her chin, turning her scarred cheek to the light. She jerked away, flushing with shame and anger, and he frowned.

"What have you to say for yourself, brat? You keep unwholesome company, and it would seem you have reason to know it, by that scar. What is your name?"

She lifted her head, glaring. "I am Malawen, Essiel's daughter, of Lothlorien. And this is—"

He broke in on her. "I asked for your name, changeling, not that of your companion. He is an Orc; that is all I need to know. But I wonder what you are doing here, both of you, on the edge of Eryn Lasgalen, and chiefly I would know why an Elf child is to be found in a tree with one of the Enemy's servants."

"He is not the Enemy's servant!" she protested. "He was Undomiel's bodyguard, until she died –"

"Arwen Undomiel is dead?" the Elf interrupted, and she nodded.

His face had been hard before, but now it was dark with suspicion. "And you and this devil are scouting along our borders – and plainly you have had dealings with Orcs before, for your face is long healed –" He turned to where Galuir stood listening. "You are right; we should bring them to Celeborn. And we had better be getting on, if we are to make any distance this day." He turned away, leaving it to Galuir to make such arrangements as were needed.

Malawen was boosted up none too gently on a horse behind the Elf who had led her out of the woods.

"How can I hold on, with my hands bound behind me?" she demanded. There was fury in her voice, not fear, and her eyes blazed. "Will you have me fall and be trampled? You are as bad as the Orcs who raided Lorien during the War!"

"Spoken like one who knows them well," said her guard with heavy irony. He turned swiftly and bound a scarf over her mouth in spite of her struggles.

"Your Celeborn will not question her if she is dead," said a cold voice. "Tie her hands in front, around your waist."

The rider looked down with surprise into the Orc's face; Canohando had maneuvered himself next to Malawen in spite of his captors' efforts to hold him back. After a moment the Elf said,

"He is right. Someone come and help me with her; I cannot manage alone."

None of the Elves was willing to ride with the Orc behind. Canohando stood quiet as they argued it back and forth, but when they decided finally that he must run alongside with his rope tethered to a horse's harness, he winked at Malawen. Her face, what he could see of it behind the gag, was pale and set, but he thought she smiled at him.

It was an easy march by Orkish standards, although Canohando's bare feet suffered from pounding on the stone pavement. His boots had been in his pack with their hammocks, left behind under the tree. As he ran, his memory went back to the journey from Minas Tirith, when he had kept pace beside the Queen's horse, and he yearned for his Lady. She would have known what to say to these iron-faced Elves, to make them understand; she would have made them treat the Elf-girl kindly.

He wondered if he should have shown Arwen's letter as proof of his trustworthiness. It had happened so fast – and how was it that he had not noticed the Elf at the foot of the tree, to say nothing of the crowd of them in the woods around? Bitterly he condemned himself for not keeping better watch. All I thought of was my Elfling, how bright and glowing she is, how glad I am when she is by me. What will they do with her, when this Celeborn has done with his questioning? They will slay me and I will not be there to protect her…

You fool, Ghul-rakk!

He wrenched his mind away from recriminations. Time now to gather what information he could and make some plan. He had failed to protect his Elfling, but he might still rescue her.

He strained to hear every word the Elves spoke, but it did him no good. There was little conversation, and it was all in the Elven tongue. He caught the name of Celeborn and some reference to Orcs, but that was all.

They stopped at sundown and made camp, closed pavilions of some fabric that reflected back the rose and gold of the sky and dimmed to a silver glimmer as the light faded. Like spiderwebs on the grass, when the dew is on them, Canohando mused. He looked again at the Elves who would rest in such houses. They were fair of face and form, their hair flowing over their shoulders and all their movements graceful as a dance, but their eyes were like glass, cool and impenetrable.

They had tied him hand and foot to a tree, and Malawen sat on the ground not far away, her wrists and ankles bound, but not tethered to anything. No one seemed to be watching them, and little by little she wriggled closer until she was leaning against Canohando's legs. She looked up at him, her eyes pleading above the scarf that still covered her mouth.

"Do not lose heart, Elfling," he said softly. "Do you know where they are taking us?"

She nodded and fought to loosen her gag, rubbing it against his knee. "No, wait," he said. "They will not starve you; they will have to take that off to let you eat. Be silent then, little one, so they forget to put it back on!" He smiled down on her. "We must be thinking of our escape, and better if you can speak to me." But she regarded him bleakly and slumped against him with her head down.

As he had expected, someone came at last with food. It was the Elf who had ridden beside him, carrying bread and a wineskin. He sneered when he saw Malawen. "Have you cast a spell on this child, Greyskin, that she cleave so to you?" he said. "Was it you left that pretty mark on her face?" He nudged her with one slender foot. "Get up, gnome; you can hold the loaf for this brute to gnaw on, and feed yourself as well."

"Her scar is not my doing." If Canohando had been free he would have strangled the fellow on the spot. "I would do nothing to hurt her. Can you say the same of her own people?"

Malawen struggled to stand up, nearly pitching forward onto the ground, and the Elf caught her under the arm and steadied her before he removed the gag. She took the loaf awkwardly in her bound hands and held it for Canohando before she bit off some for herself. Their guard stood watching, and when they had made a good start on the bread he untied the wineskin and himself held it for them to drink, Malawen first.

"Who is this Orc?" he asked abruptly. "Does he have a name?"

"I am Canohando of Mordor, the Queen's Shadow."

The Elf arched his brows. "That is Quenya, surely? Who gave you such a name, Greyskin, and what queen do you shadow?"

Canohando took a pull at the wineskin, wondering how much he should say. "The Brown One named me. A man of power who traveled with the Ringbearer." He noticed the Elf's look of incomprehension and added, "Ninefingers called him Radagast."

"Radagast!" Their guard laughed without mirth. "You had better not say that to Itaril. The Wizard of Rhosgobel is not in favor in Eryn Lasgalen these days. No powerful lord relishes being told that he must choose between exile and dwindling to insignificance, yet that was the choice your Brown One put to King Thranduil a year ago. It is the Age of Men, so he said."

"So said the Lady also, when her son took the throne of Gondor. So you come from Eryn Lasgalen and you journey to Valinor, you and your lord?"

The Elf's face closed and he began tying up the wineskin again. When he was done he set it on the ground and stood with folded arms, wary and suspicious. "What does an Orc know of Valinor?" he asked, and Malawen quailed at his tone. A moment before he had sounded almost friendly, but not now. You should not have named the Blessed Realm, she thought in despair, but Canohando seemed unaware of danger.

"I know the Queen gave up her place there for the King, but her brothers will make the voyage, or so I hope. I carry a safe-conduct Prince Elladan gave me."

"Do you indeed," the Elf said. "Galuir will want a look at that." He left them then, and as soon as he was out of earshot, Canohando muttered,

"Quickly, Elfling; they will come back to search me. It was a gamble that they will honor Elladan's letter, but it may not pay out. Take the Queen's map out of my pouch and hide it with the Jewel."

She did so, fumbling in her haste; it was difficult with her wrists tied.

"Now get away from me, lest they think to search you as well. And Elfling –" He paused, waiting for her to look at him. "Don't think I have abandoned you, if I escape. I will be near-by."

"No, Canohando, don't! They will kill you if they catch you a second time – now they are taking us to Rivendell, to Celeborn. They will bring us safe to him at least."

"And afterward? Will Celeborn free us, do you think?"

She shook her head. "He is the Queen's grandsire; you might think he would favor you for her sake. But his daughter was tortured by Orcs so terribly that she fled over the Sea – and if he believes as these do, that I am traitor..." She shrugged hopelessly.

"Better if we do not come before him, then," said Canohando. "Now get away before that fellow comes back for Elladan's letter."

She leaned against him for a moment, her head against his heart, and then she dropped to the ground and crawled awkwardly away.

*******************

note: Eryn Lasgalen was the name given to Mirkwood after the War of the Ring. As far as I can determine, Thranduil was the lord of this expanded realm, but many Elves of Lothlorien settled here as well. Apparently there were Elves living here for many years after Galadriel and Celeborn had left Lothlorien.

29. Pride

Itaril himself came to search Canohando.

"What acquaintance do you have with Elrond's son, Greyskin?" he demanded. But his lip curled in scorn when Canohando described how he and Elladan had shared command of the Queen's Company, for the protection of Arwen Undomiel.

"Men! Arrogant and easily deceived. The First-born are not so quickly taken in."

"It was the Elf-Queen who befriended me first, before the King did," said Canohando.

"The Queen of Gondor, you had better say, who was half-Elven only, like her father. And Elrond had wisdom to choose the better part and side with the Eldar. His daughter let herself be swept away by passion for a mortal, and so she is undone. Even such wisdom as she had failed her at the last, that she gave credence to an imp of Darkness."

Blind fury surged through Canohando, so that he was grateful for the ropes that held him secure against the tree. If he had been unfettered, of a certainty he would have slain the Elf-captain where he stood. That such a one should dare malign the Lady, fair as she was and wise beyond all telling! The grief he had been holding at bay since Arwen's burial backed into his throat, choking him, and it was a moment before he could speak.

"The Darkness runs behind me, but I flee," he growled at last. "Are you sure that it does not follow behind you as well? But you are too proud to run from it."

Itaril stepped forward and landed a heavy blow across the Orc's face, snapping his head around and raising a purple weal along his cheekbone. "Be silent, devil! Erenu, Galuir, strip him down to his filthy skin: let us see what secrets he carries. We should have done that first of all."

They found the ranger's cloak-pin and the safe-conduct Elladan had given him, and Itaril held them out between the tips of his fingers as if they stank.

"So you are a ranger now, are you? And why not, they were ever a ragtag lot. Very well, Ranger Orc, you may keep your pin." He thrust it through Canohando's tunic and threw it back at him, with his breeches. "Cover yourself, that we need not look on your ugly hide. But the authority of the son of Elrond, no. That I will not return to you, lest you escape and use it to deceive someone of less judgment than Itaril of Eryn Lasgalen." He ripped the safe-conduct in halves and quarters, over and over until nothing was left but fragments of white, and these he cast from him so they fluttered away, settling to the ground like snow.

"Bind him again," he commanded. "And keep that girl away from him. If his tale be true, he beguiled the very Queen of Gondor, who had a name for wisdom once on a time. How much more easily will he lure this ill-favored changeling. The mark of the Enemy is branded already on her cheek."

Canohando said nothing as they tied him once more to the tree.

For two or three days after that he did not see Malawen, although he heard her sometimes, raging and pleading by turns to be allowed to come to him. It was agony to hear her distress and be powerless to help, and he tried to close his ears to her voice, to think of his own difficulties. His feet burned like fire and now his hands pained him as well, swollen from being bound behind him day and night. Thirst was a continual torment. Erenu made sure to feed him, but he lacked patience to hold the wineskin long enough for Canohando to drink his fill. It was not wine anyway but water, that the Orc craved, and he imagined it as he ran beside the horses: a wide stream sparkling in the sunshine, deep and cold and winding away to the horizon. He saw himself wading in up to his waist, ducking his head to take long gulps, hardly coming up for air. I would drink it dry, he thought longingly.

He had thought it would be easy to escape, but he found that it was not. By day he was flanked on all sides by Elves who would be prompt to put an arrow in his back if he tried to break away. At night he was trussed against a tree, hardly able to do more than wiggle his fingers, trying to bring the circulation back into his hands.

The discomfort and his worry for Malawen kept him awake, and the dark was like a wolf prowling around him, seeking an opening to bring him down. From his childhood Elves had been his deadly foes, until Ninefingers gave him Arwen's jewel, and its healing influence touched him to wonder and reverence. He had gone in search of his Queen and worshipped her, and he treasured his Elfling as his own life. But his captors were Elves as well, arrogant and unheeding. The dark hours crept by, and he fought against the images that crowded his mind, what he would do to Itaril, to all of them, if he were free.

One morning as they started out there was a scuffle a little to the rear, and Malawen's voice rang above the rest, shrill with panic. "No! Let go of me – I will go to him, you cannot stop me –!" There was a noise like a whip crack and she screamed, and Canohando turned and began pushing his way toward her. Erenu shouted and jerked on the rope to restrain him, but for a moment it seemed the Orc would drag horse and all in his wake until he reached her. Then the horse planted its feet and backed, and Canohando was forced to a halt.

"Who is the Orc here?" he bellowed. "She is one of your own, and will you torment her yourselves like imps of the Black Pit? The Valar avenge her, if you harm that child!"

There was a sudden, dreadful hush. Then Itaril appeared, and the Elves on their horses crowded aside to make way for him.

"You curse us by the Valar, do you? By what right do you name them, devil?"

A moment more and I will go down in a hail of arrows, Canohando thought. But first I will be heard.

"By the right of the First-Born," he said aloud. "My ancestors were Elves as well as yours, under the stars of Cuiviénen. They fell into slavery and darkness, but it was not of their choosing. What you do to that girl you do of your own will, so be warned, Itaril of Eryn Lasgalen: even you may fall!"

Itaril stared at him without answer, and Canohando shifted his feet to stand more firm, squaring his shoulders. The moment stretched out toward infinity, and when it seemed that something, anything, must happen to break the tension, something did.

There was a confusion of shouts and cries, horses milling together, and then one horse broke out of the melee, running as if the very wolves of Morgoth gave pursuit, away into the west. And pressed against its back, clinging to the mane, was Malawen, her pale hair streaming out behind her like the tail of a comet.

Canohando gazed after her in wonder and relief, joy leaping in him like a fountain. She is free; she is safe! He hardly heard Itaril's next words.

"So she got away. Would you say I am out of danger now, demon? I will not fall into darkness by treating you as you deserve. The Valar will take no vengeance on your account."

The Elves around them looked at one another nervously, their horses plunging and sidestepping as if they sensed their riders' disquiet.

"The Holy Ones send that there is no need for vengeance," said Galuir. "Do you wish someone to go after her, Itaril, or shall we take the Orc alone to Celeborn?"

"What use in that?" Itaril asked. "Celeborn will not thank us for the gift of an Orc, and without the girl we cannot prove collusion. Neither do I wish to take time to track her down and recapture her. Slay him and be done; he is of no use to us."

Galuir looked from Canohando to Erenu, still holding his tether. "Has he offered you violence, Erenu? Has he been abusive, after the manner of Orcs, or attempted escape?"

"No. Today he tried to go to the girl's aid when she screamed. Apart from that he has given no trouble, nor even complained, although his wrists have rope-burns and his feet bleed from running on the stones."

"What matters that?" Itaril broke in. "He is an Orc, a creature of the Enemy. How have we ever dealt with Orcs, except to slay them?"

Galuir looked down at his hands, pulling thoughtfully on his fingers. "You are my Captain, Itaril, yet that is for this mission only. At Thranduil's court we rank as equals, and so I will speak my mind in this.

"If we had slain him on sight, it had been justified: he is an Orc, as you say, and an enemy. But we made him captive, and so learned that he is in high favor with the great ones of Gondor, albeit the reason for that is unclear. That child who fled from us looks to him as a protector. And who ever heard of an Orc who calls on the Holy Ones for justice? Something here I do not understand, and until we know more I say we must not slay him. The Valar themselves may have an eye on him."

"You have a rich imagination, kinsman," Itaril said with a sneer. "Yet if it ease your mind and satisfy this company, we will bring him to Rivendell. I doubt Celeborn will be pleased to see him."

He kicked his horse, urging him to the front of the column, and Erenu tugged on Canohando's rope to bring him alongside. The rest of the Elves straggled into their places and they started out, Itaril and Galuir in the fore. Galuir leaned slightly toward his Captain, as if he spoke, but Itaril sat stiff and straight, watching the road ahead.

That night Erenu made the Orc sit down on the ground before he lashed him to the tree. "Ease your feet a little, Greyskin. I like it in you, that you tried to help the girl, and I am not sorry that she got away."

"Why is Itaril so set against her?" Canohando asked. "I had thought her people would show compassion for her, wounded as she is."

Erenu shrugged. "He had a sister once, I heard. When evil first started coming into Greenwood, brother and sister were among a group making merry under the stars, and Orcs fell upon them – they found her later, with many others..." His voice trailed off. "I do not know. Like you, I would expect him to show pity, and all the more so for his sister's sake. But Elves do not love ugliness of mind or body, and she is deformed in both."

Canohando thought of Malawen, her bright face and the ever-changing colors of her eyes. He is trying to be kind, he thought, but he is hard as adamant, and blind with pride.

Erenu looked at the Orc oddly when he did not answer, and then he walked away. But Canohando writhed against the tree, trying to find a position that didn't hurt, holding Arwen and Itaril side by side in his mind. Both had suffered, but Arwen had been made more gentle by it, and Itaril – but perhaps Itaril had always been hard.

And what about you, Queen's Orc? More gentle, or more hard? He shut his eyes, trying to see the Lady's face again, and the King's. He was a strong leader, but he was not pitiless. And my runt was no weakling.

In the deep night, when the camp lay sleeping, something touched his face and woke him. He opened his eyes a slit, trying to see what it was, and then wide open, in glad astonishment, to find Malawen on her knees beside him.

"Hush, I'll get you free," she whispered, and crept around behind the tree. He felt a tugging on the ropes that held him, as she tried to cut them with her knife. She seemed to be having trouble; he was securely bound, it might have been twenty turns of rope around the tree and each one knotted separately, so every individual cord had to be cut in order to free him. Malawen sawed at them doggedly for a long while and then she gave a gasp.

"What is it, Elfling?" He twisted, trying to see behind him to where she was, but he was still held tight.

"Nothing; I cut myself a little. Elbereth, but it's bleeding! Wait, I'll have to tie it up before I can do this…"

There was a sudden shout from where the horses were picketed, and a torch lit the darkness in that direction. Malawen scurried around the tree to Canohando, sucking on her wounded hand. "Name of light! They've found my horse – how will we get away now?"

"Get out of sight, Elfling; they'll be here next. They know you'll come to me." Canohando strained to see her face in the dark. "You should have stayed away; you were safe –"

"I don't feel safe when you're not with me." She put her hands on his shoulders for an instant, planting a kiss on his forehead. "Wait till it quiets down, and I'll come back. I'll get you loose." Then she was gone, and he heard the leaves rustling above him as she took refuge in the tree.

He had just time enough to wonder if they were coming, before they were there, a dozen torches and Itaril and Galuir in front. No one spoke to him, but they examined his ropes and pulled on them, finding many that had been cut through and Malawen's knife where she had dropped it when she gashed her hand.

"So, he makes no attempt to escape?" Itaril's voice was triumphant. "Lucky that the horses whickered greeting to the one she stole, else she would have had him clean away, and both of them up to whatever devilry they were bent on when we captured them."

"You do not know that it was devilry," said Galuir.

"Nor do you know that it was not. The girl is gone again, but we have the Orc – for the moment. We may not have him long, however, if she keep coming back to rescue him. Slay him now and be done with it."

"No!" Malawen shrieked from the branches above them. An arrow tore through the leaves and stuck in the ground at Itaril's feet. "Let him go, or the next one will pierce your heart!"

There was a roar of outrage from the gathered Elves, and several of them caught up their bows and fired into the branches. A wild laugh answered them from above. "You cannot see me, but I see you!" Malawen taunted. A second arrow struck into the earth in front of Itaril.

"Elfling, stop!" Canohando's voice slashed through the uproar, and silence fell like a blanket. He met Itaril's eyes, holding him by sheer force of will.

"The Queen of Gondor ordered me to Rivendell, and there we were journeying when you made us captive. I still would go there at her command, and to that very place you wish to take us. Let the little one walk unbound beside me, for she beats against fetters like a wild bird. I will be hostage for her good behavior, and we will abide whatever fate your Celeborn decrees for us."

Itaril regarded him sourly. "You do not ask to walk free yourself," he observed.

"You would not grant that, if I did ask. I can endure the bonds."

The Elf-captain's eyes bored into him, but Canohando did not look away. At length Itaril said, "So be it. If she come down and surrender her weapons and give her oath not to run away, she may walk unbound. But I hold you to your word, Greyskin. If she escape again, I will have your blood."

Canohando inclined his head, a commander accepting terms of truce.

"Are you listening, Elfling?" he called. "Will you come down and be surety for me?"

Malawen's voice was like shattering ice. "You must swear to let me stay with him, Itaril of Mirkwood. By Elbereth you must swear it."

The anger that seemed never far from Elf captain blazed in his eyes, but Erenu said quietly, "It will be less troublesome guarding them if they are together, and I think she will stay by the Orc."

"Celeborn should question them, Itaril. There is something here that bears looking into," Galuir added.

Itaril made a wry face. "You may be right. We have delayed too long already, dealing with them. I wish to reach the Havens before the end of summer, and I will be glad to hand these two over to Celeborn. Very well," he shouted up at Malawen. "By Elbereth I swear, you shall stay with the greyskin, and may you live to rue your allegiance to him! Now come down and let us get some rest before the night is spent."

But when she climbed down and handed over her bow, she gave him a look of pure hatred. And he on his part kept his word and did not order her bound, yet he set three Elves to guard her and Canohando the rest of the night, and every night thereafter.

But in truth it was doubtful if they even noticed the guards. Malawen huddled close to the Orc, spreading her cloak over both of them as far as it would reach, and as the torches were doused and the camp quieted, they fell asleep leaning one against the other, well content only to be together.

30. The Weight of a Promise

The next day Malawen rode behind Erenu unbound with her hands clasped loosely around his waist, and Canohando ran beside them, still tethered. When they stopped at evening, Erenu led them over to a little stream.

"Soak your feet, Greyskin. I do not know how you run with them in such condition."

Malawen looked down at Canohando's feet and gave a cry of distress, but the Orc stepped into the stream and immediately knelt to put his face in the water, drinking as if he meant to drain it dry. He lifted his head long enough to breathe and drank again, over and over until they marveled at his capacity. When he had finished at last he stretched out full-length on his back with only his face thrust up above the water.

"I have been so parched, I felt some days that I must leave my bleached bones in a heap beside the road." He ducked under to fill his mouth with water and shot a fountain between his teeth into the air. Malawen burst out laughing and even Erenu smiled, an Orc in a playful mood was so incongruous.

"I would not have left you thirsty, had I known," the Elf said. "Forgive me. But now you must come out, before Itaril hears of this. I believe we could trust to your given word, but I am certain the leaders would not, and I must bind you."

Canohando rolled onto his front and pushed up on his knees, rising from the streambed in a cascade of water. "Thank you, friend."

But at that word Erenu's face closed. "I am friend to no Orc," he said shortly. "Only I would not mistreat a prisoner, of whatever kind." All the same, when he bound Canohando to a tree, he untied the cord at his wrists and wrapped the ropes around his body only, leaving his arms free.

"The guards are watching you, and I will fasten your arms before I sleep. For now, exercise them and try to bring down the swelling in your hands."

He brought them bread and a wineskin, and a small container made of bark which he gave to Malawen. "Rub that into his feet, if you want. It should help."

They ate, and she massaged his bruised and blistered feet with the ointment. "There is one of them at least who merits the title of Fair Folk, for all he will not accept the name of friend," said Canohando.

"Only one, though. We still should escape if we can," she answered.

He stared at her in amazement. "Elfling, I gave my promise; you heard me! To go with them to Rivendell, to accept whatever judgment Celeborn decrees."

"A promise given under threat of death! How much is that worth? And Celeborn's judgment may be death as well, for you or for us both."

He nodded gravely. "It may. And a promise is worth exactly what you want it to be. For me it is everything."

"Even your life? And mine also?" Her eyes were so wide and dark, he felt he might fall in and drown. He hesitated.

"It was my promise," he said at last. "I did not ask you first. Yet you agreed to it, when you came down from the tree."

She did not answer and he sighed.

"My runt took up his burden expecting it to kill him, if he could even carry it where he must go. So little he was, smaller than you, Elfling, and yet so great of heart. He thought he threw away his life, and even so he went. But he lived many years after that, and came to Mordor and set me free.

"The Queen and her brothers were all the Elves I knew, and I thought the whole race was like them. Now I know better, and I hope Celeborn is like the Lady, and not like Itaril! But she placed her confidence in me. I would not like to shame her memory, that she was a fool to trust me."

Malawen had been standing with her back to him, resistant, but now she came and sat beside him.

"It is Itaril who is the fool, that he does not trust you. And you believe in me, or you would not have given your word." She took his hands and rubbed them, working out the stiffness in his fingers. "I should have done this before. No, Celeborn is not like Itaril. I will keep your promise."

They had been following a serpentine route among the hills, but as the days passed it grew steeper and more narrow. The cavalcade slowed to a walk, single file, and Canohando was forced to the edge of the road. In some places the drop-off was sharp and many feet deep, and Malawen paled and clung tighter around Erenu's waist, calling out cautions to Canohando, but the Orc laughed.

"These little hills are nothing; wait till we come to the true mountains. There, look ahead, Elfling! See how the light flashes off the snowfields? This is like my home country." He was sure-footed as a goat on the rocky verge, and he tipped his head back to gaze on the heights that began to rise around them, exultation in his face. "I am glad to see mountains again, whatever comes after," he said in a softer tone, and Erenu glanced at him with pity before he looked ahead once more, his lips set in a hard line.

When they came to the pass, it was below the snow-line, but still they could see for miles back the way they had come, and also the road ahead. They camped just beyond the ridge, and when Erenu tied Canohando for the night the Orc pointed to a tree that stood a little apart.

"Put me there, First-born, where I can see the sun leaping up the sky and staining the snow like blood, come morning. Have you ever hunted Sticky Mouth in the mountains?"

"Hunted – what?"

"A bear. Do you not have names of honor for your game? Ill luck to call them by the common words; they take offense and hide! Or do Elves not hunt?"

Erenu smiled, remembering some mornings of white fog at home, crouching with drawn bow by a trail hardly to be seen even with Elven sight, waiting for a stag to pass. "We hunt," he said. "I have not gone after bear, though. That would take a large party."

"You will call it an Orkish lie, if I tell you I have killed a bear with two companions, and one of them a halfling," said Canohando.

The Elf knotted the rope a last time and straightened up. He stood for a moment considering Canohando, the heavy brows, the black eyes deep as a well but just now full of humor. "No," he said. "I will not call it a lie, if you tell me it is so. You might be capable of anything, Greyskin, good or bad."

The smile disappeared from the Orc's face. "That is a true word," he said.

Malawen grew more quiet as they descended from the heights. The road picked its way through a rocky gorge, bordering a stream that widened to a river as it went downhill. The water churned over little cataracts, pinched between steep banks, and half-formed rainbows hung over the rapids. Canohando had broken through Erenu's reserve with his talk of hunting, and he and the Elf traded stories of the chase, the Orc pressing close in so they could hear each other above the rush of water. But Malawen had nothing to say, only sometimes she stretched out a hand to touch Canohando as if for reassurance.

"One more day to Rivendell, unless we meet some setback," Erenu said when he brought them food one evening. As soon as he turned away Malawen collapsed on the ground as if her legs would not hold her up.

"Only one day?" All the color had left her face, and she licked her lips.

Canohando held out his arms. Erenu had lashed him to the tree as usual, but he rarely bothered to bind the Orc's hands anymore, only if Itaril or Galuir happened to be watching. "Come here, little one. It has not been such a terrible journey, has it? But in truth, my feet will glad to see it end. I wish I had had my boots on when they captured us."

"How can you be so calm? Another day, two at the most, and they will bring us before Celeborn. Do Orcs have no fear?" She leaned back against him, pulling his arms around her, and he rested his chin on her head. It was a moment before he answered.

"I wonder," he said at length. "I have been terribly afraid sometimes, but now I fear mostly for your sake, Elfling. Do not let it push you into Darkness, whatever chance in Rivendell. Promise me."

She twisted in his arms, burying her face against him so her voice was muffled.

"I am already in the dark. You do not know me, Canohando."

For the hundreth time he berated himself for being taken by surprise on the border of Mirkwood. Would that I had stayed in hiding and shot the Elf dead where he sat! But no, that was the old way, the way of Orcs. The Elf had been at rest, unaware of any danger. Yet he was an enemy, for all that. Are they so different from my own race, these Elves who fall upon the innocent to bind us and drag us away? But Orcs would have slain us by now. He sighed.

"Have you still got the Jewel?" he asked softly.

She nodded and he kissed the top of her head. "Wear it, when you are safe, when they will not take it from you."

"No! I will give it back to you, and you shall wear it! Celeborn will not condemn you; he cannot, he must not –"

"Hush, Elfling, hush." He held her close, stroking her long hair and letting ringlets of it curl around his fingers. "He is a wise lord, you said, and kinsman to the Lady. We will not despair quite yet. But I would have you wear the Jewel however the tale ends, for it will help you hold back the Dark."

And as he encouraged her, his own hope revived. When he had come to Gondor seeking the Lady, he had been sure of death. Instead he had found a King to reverence and a Queen to love. And now he had found his heart's comfort in this little one who nonetheless was not a child, this Elf-girl of tenderness and rage and deep woundedness, who somehow gave light to the darkest day.

I go to Rivendell as the Lady commanded me, even though I go as prisoner, he thought. She would not have sent us to destruction.

Morning came veiled in fog that did not lift even as the sun came up; rather, the sunlight turned the mist opaque and golden, so they could see only a few yards in any direction. They went cautiously, half feeling their way, with the river murmuring in their ears out of sight. The path was narrow and they were spread out single-file once more. An hour or so after they started, the column came to a sudden halt, but Erenu and his captives, near the middle of the line, could not see what caused the delay.

They had been standing motionless for some time when Galuir came pushing his way back from the front, and behind him came a man with skin as brown as tree bark, clad in a long robe of the same color. The Elves drew away from him, but Canohando gave a shout and threw himself forward, pulled up short by the rope that anchored him to Erenu's horse.

"Brown One! Old man! You are not dead, at least – but you are far from the mountains where I saw you last."

"So it is you, Canohando! I thought it must be, when I heard there was an Orc coming toward Rivendell with a party of Elves. But why are you fettered?" The wizard looked round at Galuir, questioning.

"This is the one you spoke of?" said the Elf. "He is bound because we are loath to trust any Orc, Wizard of Rhosgobel, and only the presence of his Elven companion saved him from death. To find him in such company seemed a thing that Celeborn should inquire into."

Malawen had slid down from the horse and stood with her arms locked around Canohando's waist. Her expression said plainly that she would fight any attempt to separate her from the Orc.

The wizard glanced down at her, looking very much pleased. "So you have found your yokefellow at last. Well, Galuir, now you know what Orc you have taken in your net. He is a person of consequence, for I know of only three of his kind ever to throw off Morgoth's bondage. Will you not cut the cords and let him enter the valley untrammeled?"

The Elf looked troubled. "If I held command here, I would have done it before now. The Orc has proved his trustiness to my mind, but Itaril is Captain of this company."

"And he is not convinced," said Radagast. "Very well; we are too near the goal to waste time trying to persuade him. But I will not see the Ringbearer's sworn brother dragged behind a horse into Rivendell. Unfasten that rope, and I myself will lead him."

Erenu did not wait for Galuir's order; without hesitation he untied the rope and handed the end to Radagast. The wizard looped up the excess length and smiled at Malawen.

"You at any rate have eyes to see clear, daughter of the Golden Wood. Come, walk on his other side, and we will be a guard of honor for this long-suffering Orc."

Encounters in Rivendell

The Elves rode before and behind them, but Radagast led his companions as placidly as if they had been all alone on the path. When the way widened enough for them to go three abreast, the Orc reached out to take Malawen's hand.

"Is Celeborn at Rivendell, old man? They said they would bring us before him."

Radagast smiled. "Oh yes, he is there. He sends out his call to the First-born who remain, inexorable as the call of autumn on the wild birds. He will sail at summer's end, and those who refuse to go now will have lost their chance. The tide is flowing Westward and will not return."

Canohando's grip tightened on Malawen's hand. "You see, Elfling."

"I am not going," she said.

The wizard fell back a step to look her over. "You have your reasons," he suggested, and she nodded.

They began to climb again, up a series of terraces set into the hillside, paved in smooth stone. The path zigged and zagged through dense woodland, so that they could see only a short distance ahead, and then suddenly they came out into a clear space that overlooked a deep cleft in the hills. A vision of white lay below them, seeming to draw in light from all around and mellow it. Roofs and porches, gardens and fountains, glowed with a subtle ambiance that hardly belonged to the waking world at all.

Canohando stared down with his mouth agape, his eyes full of wonder. "That is Rivendell? But of course it is; there could be no other place so blest." He began to walk again, but slowly, as in a dream.

"The Last Homely House, and Elrond's refuge," said Radagast. "Here the Ringbearer was healed of his wound and took up his burden."

"He was here?" Canohando asked, surprised, and his face warmed into a smile. "Then I am glad I came, if only for that, to pick up his trail again."

A winding stairway led down into the valley, and he gathered speed as he sprang down it, Radagast hastening to keep up and unreeling the rope he still held, tethered to the Orc's waist. Malawen hurdled behind Canohando, and the Elves ahead of them drew to one side to get out of the way, staring after the three in bewilderment.

Itaril at the front barked a word of command as they passed, and Radagast laughed at him.

"He is not escaping, he is rushing to meet his fate! Follow at your leisure, Captain; I will bring him to Celeborn."

But when they reached the valley floor, Canohando halted, looking around, and the Wizard caught up with him. "Stand still a moment, Haltacala. You have left your jailers behind now, and Arwen's guardian shall not walk shackled in her old home." He drew a knife from his belt and cut the cords that bound the Orc.

Canohando hardly seemed to notice, he was so intent on the scene around him, but Malawen tugged on the Wizard's sleeve.

"What did you call him? That is the Old Speech, isn't it? What does it mean?"

Radagast smiled. "Leaps-for-the-light, I called him. It is not enough for him that he turned away from Darkness; always he must keep striving higher, reaching for the sky. There are few like him in any world, little one."

A tall Elf emerged from a building and came to meet them. "You are welcome here, Queen's Shadow. The Lord Celeborn awaits you, but he would have you refresh yourself from your journey first. If you will come with me, you may bathe and have clean garments."

Canohando dragged his attention away from the fountains and gardens, the stone portals fashioned so like living tree trunks that he expected to see them sprout leaves, the great house that was so full of light it seemed hardly to press upon the earth.

"What did you say?" He looked down at himself, his clothing ripped and soiled, his feet filthy and crusted with dried blood. "You are right; I had better clean up before I go to judgment." He drew Malawen forward. "Here is one of your own, First-Born, who has had hard treatment from those who brought us here. Will you show her kindness as well?"

Malawen stiffened, but Radagast laid a hand on her shoulder. "I will care for her, Canohando. Go to your bath, and we will see you in Celeborn's presence."

But when Canohando had washed and put on clean tunic and breeches, he was led to a sheltered porch on the east side of the house and left there all alone. He paced back and forth and finally went to lean against the parapet, gazing up at a patch of forest high on the mountain and then down to a stream that ran singing over the rocks below.

He was still bemused at the otherworldliness of the valley and the sudden shift in his fortunes, from the enmity of Itaril to the solemn courtesy of the Elf who had waited on him. But when a step sounded on the flagstones behind him and he turned to face Celeborn, his first thought was that he would rather have been thrown to wolves.

The Elf-lord was like a shaft of light in the shaded porch. His garments gleamed like mithril and his hair flowed silver over his shoulders, bound by a golden fillet at his brow. A sword in a sheath of figured leather hung at his belt, and his eyes were as piercing as swords, lighting on Canohando and holding him suspended between one breath and the next. The Orc could not look away, fervently though he wished to do so, and he went down like a gored beast before those silver eyes, falling to his knees.

He could not speak and Celeborn's gaze probed him, laying him bare and spreading all his thoughts and jumbled feelings out across the stone floor.

"You are angry," said the measured voice.

"I have been wronged," Canohando said. "And my little one has been despised by those who should have helped her." He held tight to the image of Malawen, the contempt they had shown her. The wrongs of an Orc would be of small concern in this place, he thought.

Celeborn frowned.

"You have justice on your side, Orc. You deserved better from my people than you received. What remedy would you have from me? Shall I punish them on your behalf?"

Canohando shook his head. "Only bid them leave us alone, lord, and be gentle with my Elfling."

The Elf-lord held out a hand to help him up. "Arwen chose wisely when she took you into her service. You burn for vengeance – oh, I see it in you, and I do not blame you! But you will not take it when it is offered to you. In truth you have left the Darkness, as Radagast told me before you came, and I would trust to you sooner than I would to certain Elves.

"Come, we will join your friends, and if you are willing I would have you tell me all you can of my Undomiel, and her last days in Lothlorien. I have had word from Elladan that she kept you with her to the very last, and you were as much comfort to her as anyone could be, in her sorrow."

Canohando got to his feet, feeling as if he had fallen out of a tree and had the wind knocked out of him. Without a word he followed the Elf-lord.

They found Radagast and Malawen in a wide, bright room hung with tapestries between all the windows, their vivid colors faded with time but still beautiful. Malawen caught Canohando's eye from across the polished table where she sat, and he felt his world come right again. She had had a bath too, apparently, and her hair fell in a shining flood over her yellow gown. She looked like a sunbeam come to life.

"You have heard from Elladan, lord?" the Orc answered Celeborn's last remark. "Did he tell you if he will sail with his brother?"

"He was readying for the voyage. By now they are gone, and I will meet them in Avallone. Shall I give them your greeting? I owe you a debt for that also, for I am not certain he would have gone without your urging."

Two Elves came in on quiet feet, carrying bowls of fruit and small, round loaves with golden crusts. From a low cupboard they brought out glasses, delicate globes that shimmered airy as bubbles on tall stems, and filled them with wine like thin sunshine. Then they slipped out as softly as they had come, and Celeborn stood to his feet, holding his glass.

"Let us drink to endings and beginnings, my friends. The last of the Eldalie pass away, or fade to legend in forgotten woods. Yet Westernesse is enthroned again a while, and one of the lost children of Cuivienen has come home. It is not all sadness, and I will sail more hopeful than I thought to do."

They drank, Canohando cupping his goblet gingerly in both hands, terrified lest his touch shatter the fragile glass. But Celeborn pressed bread and fruit on him, and drew him out with questions until he forgot himself in telling all the graciousness of his Lady, and her sorrow that yet left room in her heart for kindness, until each person at the table was wiping away tears.

"She bade me come here, lord, and then go to my brother's land. She gave me a map."

He looked at Malawen, and she got up slowly. She blushed, but under their eyes she lifted her gown a little and fumbled behind her knee, bringing out a small bundle of soiled cloth that she had worn bound around her leg. This she unwrapped on the tabletop, revealing the thin cylinder of the rolled-up map, and the Jewel on its broken chain.

"I was afraid Itaril would order me searched, so I hid them as well as I could."

"And did he search you?" Celeborn asked. His voice was quiet, but at his tone Malawen licked her lips nervously.

"No, lord. Only it seemed safer to leave them where they were."

The Elf-lord nodded. "You are a prudent maiden, and I commend you. I will not forget that Itaril merits my attention, and it is well for him that he did not lay hand on you. He has enough to answer for. Let me see that jewel."

She carried it over to him and he took it in his hand, breathing on it and rubbing it with his fingertip. "This is the Jewel my granddaughter gave the Ringbearer," he said.

"Ninefingers wore it all the time I knew him, until he hung it round my neck," said Canohando. "It kept me from falling back under the Shadow."

"You had better put it on again, then." Celeborn clapped his hands and an Elf appeared from beyond the doorway. "Have this chain repaired for me, Cyrele, and bring it back. Tell them I want it at once." He turned again to Canohando. "Arwen gave it to Frodo, but it was I who gave the jewel to her, after her mother departed over the Sea. She was in sore distress, and I knew it would bring her comfort." He smiled slightly. "It came of old from Doriath."

The name conveyed nothing to Canohando, but Radagast raised his brows.

"Indeed? I will not ask more of its history than that, but I think I see why it has such power."

"I could tell you little of its history even if you asked," said Celeborn. "I had it from my father the day I came of age, and I do not know where he got it. I found it soothing to handle when I was troubled and so I gave it to my granddaughter, for she grieved mightily at the loss of her mother. Now, maiden," he said to Malawen, "show me that map."

He smoothed it out on the table before him, tracing the lines on it with one elegant finger and turning it over to read what was written on the back. "She has provided for everything, even that you be permitted to enter the Shire. Why did you not show this to the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen?"

For an instant Canohando's eyes flashed fire, but then he looked down. "I feared to show it. I offered them something less precious, a safe-conduct Elladan gave me. Itaril destroyed it."

Celeborn raised his head, watching the Orc closely. "Destroyed it? He thought it a forgery, or he gave no weight to Elladan's word?"

"He said the Prince was half-Elven only, and the Queen as well. He thought they were deceived by me."

The Elf-lord rose. "I have been putting off unpleasant duty in order to hear the end of Arwen's tale. Now I must meet these Elves of Thranduil's court and make them understand who Elrond is. Wait here until your chain is returned to you, Canohando, and wear your jewel with my blessing."

The Elf who brought back the chain brought also a summons for Malawen to go to Celeborn.

"He will want your word as well as Canohando's, how Itaril used you both," Radagast soothed her. "Don't be afraid, Kitten, you have Celeborn's hearty goodwill. Only help him put his case to these Elves of Thranduil's, for they are too proud to acknowledge an Orc's complaint, but they will find it hard to explain why they treated you so."

She grinned unwillingly. "Kitten?" she asked, and Radagast chuckled.

"With your back up and all your fur on end, spitting and clawing. But there is nothing for you to fear, child, so go sit by Celeborn and purr nicely for him."

When she was gone, the wizard led Canohando outside. "Rivendell is no longer what it was aforetimes, but it is still worth seeing. Come, we will explore a little and renew our friendship."

They spent the afternoon wandering through the gardens and then through the great house itself, and Radagast kept up a stream of pleasant talk, telling him stories of Elrond and his hidden enclave, and a very little about his own journeyings. But when he turned the subject to Canohando's adventures, the answers were brief, and plainly the Orc was troubled in mind.

At last the wizard said, "I am glad you still have Arwen's jewel. Your little one is a clever vixen, hiding it as she did."

Canohando fingered the jewel. It was cool against his skin, easing the fire in his brain, and he was thankful to have it back. Yet he had wanted Malawen to wear it, and still it seemed to him that she needed it more than he did.

As if he read his mind, Radagast said, "Itaril should fear to go to sleep, now you are free. Many Elves would take heavy payment for such treatment, to say nothing of an Orc! He would have been safer to slay you outright. "

Canohando made a low rumble deep in his throat, and the wizard thought uneasily that he sounded like an angry bear.

"You know me too well, old man. I would glory in cutting them down, every one of them, and feeding them to the ravens! And Itaril first of all, who mocked the Lady for a fool; though how should he know, being a fool himself?" He sighed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands before he continued.

"He would not credit anything I said, but why should he believe an Orc? But the contempt they showed my Elfling – one of their own race and marked by suffering – from the first I saw her, I could not but pity her. But these First-born, they had no pity! Deformed in soul and body, that is all they saw, these shining ones who march unwilling to the Blessed Land, grudging to leave the least of their enemies unslain.

"No, I will not stain my hands with them. Let the Valar have them; it may be the Holy Ones can melt their hearts of iron. Now more than ever I miss my runt, with his peaceful eyes."

He fell silent and the wizard laid an arm across his shoulders. "Frodo would be glad at heart to hear you, and you will find your peace again, my friend. Peace and great joy – you brought them with you from the Golden Wood." And Radagast bit back a smile at the shamefaced happiness that suddenly flushed the Orc's countenance.

"I would have her for my mate," Canohando confessed, looking down at his feet.

"And what does she say to that?"

They began walking again. "We have not spoken of it. Until you came, we did not know what Rivendell would hold for us. Even Erenu, who was kinder than the others…" He dismissed the memory of the Elves with a gesture. "I saw by his eyes that he expected my death, and maybe hers also."

"They judged Celeborn by themselves, but the Elves of Mirkwood have long been suspicious and unfriendly to outsiders. Some call them the Moriquendi, the Dark Elves. Although there was one, Thranduil's son Legolas – but he was an exception. Celeborn is wiser. But now that you are safe, you must speak to your little Elf."

"Yes, and he must stop hiding away from me to talk secrets with the Wizard of Rhosgobel," said a voice just beyond the path. Canohando realized with a start that their stroll had brought them to one of the many sheltered benches tucked here and there among the gardens, and Malawen sat there with her legs drawn up, fashioning something from a roll of cording that was the same hue as the leaves around her.

"What are you making, Elfling?" He went closer to look and she held it out for him to inspect: a spiral of intricate braiding that grew from the bottom of a hollow wooden tube. It was as long as his arm and the thickness of his thumb.

"It is a shoulder-strap for your quiver," she said. "They threw away our bows, but Celeborn will give us new ones before we leave. Do you like it? It is soft, but strong."

He tugged a section of it between his two hands. "Yes, it is. But Celeborn need not give us weapons, if he will allow us to remain here for a month or two. I will make bows for us both, and arrows. Will you fashion quivers for us, Elfling?" He sat down by her, touching her cheek with his finger.

"Make us quivers both alike, so everyone who sees them will know us for a mated pair," he said. But Malawen shied away from him as if he had raised a hand to strike her, almost falling in her haste to jump up and back away.

"I cannot," she said, "I cannot."

The light went out of his eyes. "I am an Orc," he said bitterly, but Malawen cried out.

"No! That is not the reason. You call me beautiful – Elbereth knows why, scarred as I am – but you do not know me. When the Orcs came to Lothlorien –"

He rose, standing over her as if he would shield her from the very words, although he did not touch her again. "Elfling, don't – that is over; you help nothing by going back to it –"

Malawen shook her head fiercely, and Radagast laid a hand on Canohando's arm.
"Let her speak," he said. "She will have no peace until she tells you, whatever it is."

"You were wrong, Canohando. It was not my eyes next… my father broke through the ring of Orcs and rescued me before they burned me again, and they butchered him; we found his body later. But it was too late already, when he came. There was a child…" Her voice broke and the wizard moved to place his hands on her shoulders, as if to give her strength.

"There was a child," he prompted, when she did not go on.

"I bore a child," she whispered. "An Orc child, a male."

There was silence as if the very trees held their breath. Finally Radagast said softly, "And what became of him?"

"I drowned him in the river. I – I wrapped it up in a blanket and weighted it with stones, and I waited… " She gulped. "To make sure it did not kick free. I – he drowned." She was crying now, shivering and wringing her hands. "He got one arm out, he struggled so. I held him down until…"

She sank to the ground in a heap, sobbing, her arms covering her face and head as if she feared a blow. Radagast crouched beside her, rubbing her back in slow, patient circles, but Canohando stood stock still with his face empty of all expression. At last his hand crept up to his throat to clutch at Arwen's jewel. After a long moment he shook himself as if he freed his mind from some dreadful vision, and then he was on his knees beside her, gathering her into his arms.

"Elfling, my poor Elfling! You are Orc-marked indeed, more than you guess. So do Orc mothers also, when they want no more brats; did you know that?" He drew her head against his chest, rocking her and talking softly in her ear, and she reached out from the folds of her cloak to cling to him, her face hidden against his body.

Radagast turned aside, not to intrude. He paced slowly away down the path, leaving them to find their peace in one another.

When Malawen calmed a little she tried to pull free, but Canohando would not let go. He shifted so he sat cross-legged on the ground with her in his lap, and he tipped her chin up with his hand so that she met his eyes. "Will you be my mate, Elfling, and have children with me? I cannot promise you they will not be greyskins, but they will be ours, yours and mine together, and we will teach them to be like my runt, generous and true."

"How could you trust me with your children, after –"

"You would not harm them, would you?" he interrupted, and she shook her head.

"I would not care how grey their skin, if only they had your eyes," she said, and she reached up to stroke his brow and down his cheek, her hand light as thistledown on his face.

His arms tightened around her, and she nestled against him. Now I understand you, my Queen; now I know why you gave away your birthright. For this happiness… I am exiled from Valinor, but the Blessed Land has come to me where I am.

He kissed the top of her head, running his lips along the shining silkiness of her hair. "Melethril," he murmured. "Malawen melethril, my Elfling..."

She glanced up at him, half laughing even though her eyes were still bleary with tears. "Where did you learn that word? I never taught it to you."

"The old man told me. He said I might need it." The Orc's voice held a dry humor, and she twined her arms around him, stretching up to kiss his chin. "Melethron -- my love, my love –" Canohando bent and covered her mouth with his own.

That night in deep darkness he came to her, hungry and importunate, and at first she trembled even though she knew him. But his lovemaking was gentle, and he carried her with him until they rocked together like the waves of the sea, and she opened her eyes and stared up at stars that seemed to spin crazily across the heavens, crying out in bliss.

***********************

melethril, melethron - beloved

32. Morning and Night

Canohando slept until long after sun-up, finally startling awake bewildered and half-blinded by the light from the wall of windows. It was a moment before he could orient himself, remember where he was, and when memory returned he looked around for Malawen, but she was gone.

He flung on his garments, cursing himself for a fool to have frightened her and driven her away, and rushed outside to search for her and make amends – only to see her bounding up the stairs toward him. She met him mid-stairway and gave a little jump to throw her arms around his neck.

"Are you awake at last, melethron? Erenu is looking for you to say farewell."

Canohando prisoned her in his arms, pressing her close and inhaling the clean, woodsy scent of her while his heart settled back to its normal rate. She was still here, she had not fled from him, she called him love… He kissed the tip of her ear and ran his lips down the curve of her jaw.

"Canohando!" She was laughing, fighting to free herself. "In broad daylight –! Come, they are leaving and Erenu is anxious to see you before they go."

"Why?" He did not release her, shifting his grip to lift her in his arms and starting down the stairs.

"Are you going to carry me everywhere we go, now? It will make for awkward traveling. Celeborn is sending them off this very morning; he will not allow them even a few days rest in Rivendell. And he took the command away from Itaril – he made Galuir Captain."

The Orc snorted. "I hope Galuir does not wake some morning with a knife between his ribs. Itaril is too proud to take that lightly."

"Itaril won't be with them. He is under guard, and Celeborn himself will bring him to the Havens, when he leaves at summer's end."

And Erenu, when they found him, confirmed that surprising news.

"He had Itaril and Galuir both before him, and taxed them with their hypocrisy, coming to Rivendell and yet holding worthless the safe-conduct that the son of Elrond gave you. He reminded Itaril that Elrond Half-Elven nevertheless held the Blue Ring, the mightiest of the three, and Galadriel who was Elladan's grand-dame wielded the Ring of Adamant, but no one would entrust a ring of power to the Dark Elves of Mirkwood. Oh, he was wroth, Greyskin! You are well revenged."

"And why do you tell me this?" asked Canohando.

"You showed yourself more honorable than any of us, Orc. I was slow to see you for what you are, and I would not leave without asking your pardon." He held out his hand. "I would not let you call me friend, and I am shamed by that memory. I would have your friendship, if you will still give it."

Canohando took the outstretched hand. "You were a kindly gaoler. I wish you safe journey, friend."

Erenu turned to Malawen and rested his cupped palms on her head. "You were wiser than we were, little Fair-hair. If there is any virtue in the blessing of a Nandor who follows the Call at the very last, may it rest on you and your Orc."

They watched as the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen set out, Galuir stern-faced at their head and Erenu in the midst of them lifting his hand in farewell.

"Are you content?" Malawen asked.

"I wonder what will become of Itaril."

"I think Celeborn will bring him under guard to Avallone, to answer to Elladan for that safe-conduct. I hope Lord Elrond makes it hot for him."

Canohando grinned. "You are a bad enemy, Elfling, and I fear we are well matched. Yes, I am content."

They lingered for many weeks in Rivendell, finding a deep peace in the place that was balm to mind and body. More Elves arrived, by twos and threes or in larger groups, and Elrond's House was filled with activity and the hum of voices, as those who had not seen one another for a hundred years or more, came together for the final journey. The Hall of Fire rang with music every night, and Canohando sat back in a corner listening, Malawen curled up beside him with her golden head against his shoulder.

No one offered him any discourtesy, but few of the Elves approached him. There were whispers sometimes, as those who knew explained his presence to some newcomer startled to find an Orc residing in Rivendell. But only two or three, who had loved Arwen in times past, came to talk with him about her, and went away comforted in spite of their tears.

Malawen was not at ease in the great Hall, even tucked away in the shadows with Canohando's arm around her. She drew stares as much as he did – here in the midst of so many Elves, her short stature was all the more remarkable, and her scarred cheek did not escape attention. Not many sought the Orc's company, but no one came to speak with her. She took to slipping away, long before the music ended, out to the starlit garden, and Canohando went with her.

She led him down to the riverbank, where the water chuckled endlessly over its stones, and Canohando thought the river's music was as sweet as the singing they had left within doors. They followed the stream for a mile or so, hopping from rock to rock, and when the distance was too great for Malawen, Canohando picked her up and carried her, splashing heedlessly through the shallow water until he set her down carefully on the next steppingstone.

Other nights they wandered uphill among the trees, and it was dark under the branches, but never too dark for the Orc to pick out a path. They found patches of thick, soft moss in some of the glades, that pleased them as much as the bed with silken sheets that waited for them inside the house. Sometimes they did not emerge from the woods until daylight. Then they would find their way to the kitchen to ask for breakfast, walking hand in hand and glancing at each other from the corners of their eyes, smiling secrets.

The Elven woman in charge of the kitchen took a liking to them from the first morning.

"Sit over there, lovey, I'll find something for you. There, she's got bits of pine needle in her hair; pick them out for her, she can't see behind her head. Bread and fruit for you, little Sunshine, and what do you eat, Greyface? Raw meat, is it?"

Canohando's eyes gleamed with amusement. "Not if you are willing to cook it, Lady! But I would not put you to the trouble; I can eat bread and fruit with my Elfling."

But she brought him a cold roast fowl along with the bread, and he thanked her solemnly before he began, trying to eat tidily, as Malawen did, instead of tearing into it Orc-fashion.

He wondered at the cook's friendliness, but she was not slow to explain herself.

"That's my poppet's necklace you're wearing, Orc. What's your name, then? She never called you Greyface, so honey-tongued as she always was. What did Arwen call you?"

He froze with the meat halfway to his mouth. "The Queen? You knew her? She called me Canohando, my name, or Shadow sometimes. I was her shadow to protect her."

She nodded. "Yes, yes, so the Wizard told me. And he said your name as well, but I'd forgotten it. Quenya, he said it was, and he himself named you. But Arwen – oh, certainly I knew her! I was her nurse, from when she was a tiny child toddling after butterflies in the garden. Oh, I remember it like yesterday, such a pretty morsel she was, though I forget things that happened a year ago. Mayhap my memory will be better when I reach the Blessed Land."

"You were her nurse?" Canohando asked in confusion, and Malawen answered, laughing.

"Her lady mother would not have had the care of her own children, love. She must be at Elrond's side, besides managing the household and looking to the comfort of their guests, here where so many came for refuge and for counsel. The children would see their mother at the mid-day meal, perhaps, no more than that. Their nurse would know them better than their parents did, when they were small. What is your name?" she asked the Elf-woman.

"I am Dartha, and you are a maiden of Lothlorien, they say. I have never been there; I was content here in our valley, when the bad times ended. Arwen went back and forth when she was grown, to visit her mother's people. I don't know how she dared, after her mother–"

The cook brushed away tears, all the while patting Canohando on the shoulder. "You are not like the devils who tortured her, never you fear, I know that. The Wizard told me all about you and the little Ringbearer. Oh, I mind him too: twice he was here, when he went off on his quest and again when he returned. Thin as a bone and worn around the eyes, as if he'd seen things that nobody should see."

She bustled away and came back with a pitcher of cold milk, pouring it into silver tankards for them. "You have the look of him yourself, a little. Oh, I hear everything that's going on, here in the kitchen; the serving lads bring down the talk along with the dirty dishes from the high table. I know those Elves of Mirkwood gave you a bad time, you and Sunshine here. You just come to the kitchen when you want a bite, and I'll feed you up till the lass has roses in her cheeks and you've lost that hollow look you've got. And in exchange you can tell me all about my poppet. She went away to Gondor and I never saw her more, but often and often I've thought of her, the lamb. I'll see Celebrian again across the Sea, and I'll be glad of it, for she was ever a gentle mistress, but I'll not see my little Arwen, no, never again."

She turned away, wiping her eyes with her apron, and Malawen jumped up and went to embrace her. The cook held her for a long moment, leaning over her, for Malawen was like a child beside her.

"There, go along with you, dearie. You've known your share of trouble, even more than I have. Not everyone here will look kindly on your choice of a husband, but he was friend to the Ringbearer and to the Lady Arwen, and that's recommendation enough for anyone. You remember that."

"I will," Malawen promised. She stretched up to plant a kiss on the woman's cheek, and Canohando took the cook's hand.

"Thank you, Lady," he said. "We will come again, and tell each other tales of Ninefingers and the Queen. I am glad to find someone else who loved them."

And they did come back again, for the bright kitchen was more congenial than the long tables in the great hall, with so many eyes looking curiously at them. Canohando told Dartha all he could of Arwen's life in Minas Tirith, and the cook in turn regaled them with stories of the Queen's girlhood until they held their sides with laughter, for Arwen and her brothers had been full of high spirits, and their nurse had had to move quickly to keep up with them.

"But all the same, we will not have a nurse for our younglings," Canohando told Malawen at night, as they walked by the river. "We will teach them ourselves, and keep them close to us."

"Of course," she said. "Only the great ones must let their children be raised by servants, not ordinary parents like you and me."

The Orc grinned without answering, thinking there were few who would call him and his Elfling ordinary parents, but Malawen pulled away and ran along the path before him, making little jumps and pirouettes that turned into a dance. She dipped and swayed, turning this way and that, graceful as moonlight shimmering on the water, and he followed her with long steps, laughing softly. Then he rested his hands on the drum that hung always at his belt, although it was long since he had played it.

He tapped it lightly at first, trying to blend with her flowing movements, and she heard him and suited her dancing to his rhythm. Then he began a steady, insistent beat with one hand and she followed it; he added a counterpoint and she twirled back to circle him, her arms weaving patterns in the air around him. He put his tongue behind his front teeth and added an irregular clicking sound to his music.

And then a voice joined in, deep and murmurous, rising and falling without words. Malawen stopped where she was, her arms still upraised, but Canohando kept on drumming even as his glance ran up and down the path, seeking. A shining figure stepped out from behind a tree, and it was Celeborn, all alone. He did not come any closer, but stood where he was, singing, and after a space like a deep breath, Malawen took up her dance again.

It was a dark night. The stars were hidden and only the moon cast its light over them. But little by little the clouds drew off toward the east and patches of stars began to appear, until at last the sky from horizon to horizon blazed with light, one star rivaling another in brightness, and the moon was a great shining orb in the midst of them.

Malawen stopped at last, out of breath, and stood leaning against Canohando's back with her arms around his waist. The drumming sank to a gentle pattering, like spring rain, and Celeborn's voice swelled to a cry of triumph that echoed against the night. Then he bowed to them in silence before he turned and disappeared among the trees.

Recompense

In the daytime Canohando searched out wood to his liking and began fashioning their bows. Once they were shaped, he warmed them before the kitchen fire and sat rubbing oil into the wood. Malawen beside him was sewing quivers of soft deerskin. She had embroidered half a starburst in the center of each one. "For Arwen Undomiel," she said. "She was the Evening Star, and you are her knight."

"She was my Queen, melethril," he said. "But you are my bright morning."

She blushed and thrust her needle into the deerskin. "Come outside a while; it is too warm sitting by the fire. Where is your wizard keeping himself? We have not seen him in a se'enight."

He shrugged, putting the unfinished bows up on the mantelshelf, but Dartha looked up from the pastries she was making to say, "The wizard spends his days in the guardhouse, with the captain of those Elves who brought you here."

"With Itaril?" Canohando repeated, but Malawen reared up her head, her eyes flashing.

"Why would he waste his time on such a one, so arrogant and bloodthirsty? Celeborn is too kindhearted, keeping him in the guardhouse; a dungeon would suit him better!"

"Hush, Elfling," the Orc said softly. He stroked her silken hair, from the crown of her head to where the rippling curls ended at her waist, over and over, gentling her. "I could have guessed where the old man would be, if I had thought about it." He put an arm around her, leading her out into the sunlight.

"He is mad," Malawen said, subdued but still fierce, and Canohando smiled.

"Oh, yes. He is mad; he always was. If he were fool enough to think that Orcs could be turned from the Dark, why would he doubt that an Elf could be redeemed? The Brown One leaves no barren soil untilled."

And a few days later, Canohando showed no surprise when Radagast sought him out with the request that he come and visit Itaril. "I thought that would be next, old man. Yes, I will come."

"No!" Malawen cried. "From the beginning he sought your death, and now all the more so, when he is shamed and prisoned! Leave him to Celeborn, love, and to the wizard if he is so eager to reclaim him."

But Canohando kissed her forehead and unwound her arms from around his waist. "I did not fear him when I was bound and he had a score of archers at his back, certainly not now that I am free. I must do this, Elfling. Go and sit with Dartha, and I will come to you after." But she would not leave him; she hung on his arm, white-faced, as they made their way to the guardhouse.

They found Itaril in a small, windowless room with a barred door. He sprang to his feet when he saw Malawen and the Orc.

"Do you dare bring your tame monster to me, Wizard of Rhosgobel? And the stunted dwarf who follows at his heels?"

"You are more monster than he is, morion! Lord Celeborn did well to pen you up; you are not fit to roam free!" Malawen's voice shook with passion, but Canohando pulled her into his arms and stood soothing her, murmuring in her ear. He did not spare a glance for Itaril.

Radagast waited until Malawen had calmed before he asked, "Can you see Yarga in him, Canohando?"

The Orc took his time in answering. Malawen had pulled away from him and stood glowering, but Canohando leaned in the doorway, perfectly at ease, searching Itaril's face.

"Where is his friend?" he asked finally.

"What do you mean?" Radagast said. "The others were sent on to the Havens."

The Orc grunted. "We went after Yarga, old man, when he fled from the Black Pit. If we had left him to run by himself…" He scratched his back against the doorframe. "We saved each other, when we would have drowned alone. But this Elf has no one to hold his head up when he founders."

"What would have drowned you, Orc? Your own evil?" Itaril's voice dripped scorn, but Canohando regarded him gravely.

"The Darkness," he said. "Yes, it was our own, or at least it lived in us, as it does in you."

The Elf did not answer, but he looked daggers and Radagast stirred. "He says he will not go to Valinor; he will throw himself from the ship, rather, and sink beneath the waves. It matters nothing to him if he dies."

"What would you do if you were free?" Canohando asked.

"I would return home. Eryn Lasgalen still harbors those who will not leave, whether or not King Thranduil takes ship at last." He spoke as if the words were dragged from his throat.

"Valinor has been torn by malice before now," said Radagast. "Celeborn thinks to have the High Ones there pass judgment on him, but my heart misgives me, to bring such untempered wrath into the Blessed Realm."

"If the Lord of Rivendell commands –" Canohando began.

"The last word does not rest with Celeborn. It is up to me to hold Itaril or release him, and I would have your counsel. You sense what I do also, the darkness in him. Can he cast it out, if I let him go back to Lasgalen?"

The Orc regarded Radagast doubtfully. The wizard's dark hair was frosted with white now, his brown robe travel-stained, but he was brisk and kindly as he had always been. There is power in him, but is it enough to overrule the Silver Lord?

The wizard smiled as if Canohando had spoken aloud. "Power is not always clad in armor. Celeborn will say no word against it, if I unlock this door and let Itaril go. But it is you he wronged, and Malawen, and Elladan. I will send him to judgment in the West, if that is your desire."

"Send him." Malawen raised her head to speak in a clear, hard voice. "We do not want him here."

But Canohando was watching the Elf, noting the bitter mouth, the eyes that held no hope, only seething resentment.

"Let him go home," he said. "It were better if he had a friend, but perhaps he will find one in his own land. Give him the chance you gave to us, old man."

Radagast looked at Malawen, but she said no more, only holding Canohando's hand to her lips. The wizard touched the lock on its hasp and it broke in two, falling to the ground. He pulled open the door.

"You have received kindness from those to whom you would not give it," he said sternly. Go home, Itaril of Eryn Lasgalen, and learn what mercy is."

Itaril stalked out of his cell, picking up his cape and swirling it around his shoulders. He glanced with contempt at Canohando and Malawen, but then he met Radagast's gaze and his eyes fell.

"Thank you," he muttered.

"I will walk with you to the border, that no one hinder you." The wizard clapped Canohando on the shoulder as he passed. "I think there is more Donkey* than Orc about you, these days," he said.

Canohando grinned. "That is my hope," he said.

It was some days before they saw Radagast again. The bows were finished, their quivers full, and they were practice shooting down by the river, challenging one another to increasingly difficult shots and laughing till they could scarce hold their bows steady enough to aim.

"I am glad I never had to face you in battle, Elfling. You have a deadly eye."

Malawen gave a crow of glee and fired, her arrow sticking in a tree trunk behind him, a yard above his head. "See you remember that, Orc! You are my mate, but do not try to come the master over me!"

He held up his hands in mock surrender, but when she went to retrieve her arrow he fell upon her from behind, pinning her arms and lifting her up over his head as she shrieked and struggled.

"Now, little bird, tell me who is master?"

She kicked furiously, and he ducked, trying to avoid her flying heels. Then suddenly he let go of her and she dropped, flailing and crying out now in genuine terror, only to be caught securely in his arms.

"There, love, there, I would not let you fall!" He cradled her to his chest, kissing away her fright, but then he grinned. "Who is master?" he demanded.

"I am," she said, looking up at him boldly, and he roared with laughter.

"I think she is, indeed, for I doubt that you can tame her," said a voice, and they turned to find Radagast watching them with a broad smile. "It is good to find such cheer still in Rivendell," he said.

"Did you send the Elf-captain safe on his way, then?" asked Canohando.

"I did, and now I have something to show you both, if you will take time to come with me."

They went with him willingly, and he led them along a narrow path until they came to a rustic outdoor room. A circle of trees, large and old, with smooth, silvery bark, surrounded a little clearing. In the center a murmuring spring fed a fountain carved in the image of a woman, an Elf, who held a bowl in her hands, pouring its water endlessly into a pool at her feet. Her face was neither sad nor glad, but peaceful and very beautiful.

There was a stone bench before the fountain, and Radagast sat down on it. "The Elves call this place 'Elrond's Tears'," he said.

Canohando regarded him with knitted brows. "And Elrond was – who? The Lady's father, was he not? Did he shed so many tears, to name a fountain for them?"

"Sit down, Canohando," said Radagast. "Has Malawen told you Arwen's history?"

"Some of it, and Dartha in the kitchen has told us more."

"So you know that Arwen's mother was captured and tortured by Orcs in the mountains. Her sons came to her rescue, but she did not recover. Elrond had ample cause for tears. And later, also, when his daughter chose a mortal life."

Canohando nodded, feeling that he would rather not have been reminded of the Lady's mother, who had suffered at the hands of Orcs, as he would rather not be in this place named for Elrond's grief. Would he never come to the end of his shame at being an Orc, spawn of a race accursed? He stared unseeing past the ring of trees, and then a movement among them caught his eye and Celeborn walked into the clearing.

"Do not get up, Canohando," the Elf-Lord said, for the Orc had started to scramble to his feet. "I wish to speak to you and I asked Radagast to bring you here. This seemed a fitting place for what I have to say."

He moved over to the fountain and cupped his hands in the water, letting it run through his fingers. "Yes, a fitting place," he repeated. He filled his hands once more, and then he stepped over to the Orc and poured the cold water over his head.

"Elrond's Tears," he said. "This grove was his refuge, when he could not bear the loss of Celebrian; here he came to hide his grief until he could compose himself again, for a strong leader cannot be ever weeping, no matter what his sorrow. Orcs caused much of his pain, but not all of it; his fore-knowledge of Arwen's death grieved him long before it came to pass."

Canohando sat with bowed head, water dripping from his hair, and Malawen beside him stared up at Celeborn fiercely, as if she would silence him with the hardness of her gaze.

"Nay, little sunbeam, I am not heaping reproach on your beloved; do not glare at me! What Elrond in all his wisdom could not know, was how Arwen would be comforted at the last by an Orc. That is why I wanted you to see this place, Canohando.

"You have torn apart a web of sorrow that stretches back to the earliest times. Only one strand is broken, perhaps, of all that monstrous weaving, but it is a portent. Even to your deadly enemy you mete out mercy, for the Wizard told me how you urged him to send Itaril back to Eryn Lasgalen. And so I tell you, Canohando of Mordor, you have found favor with the Powers. To you alone of all the lost ones of Morgoth, it is given to pass into the West."

Canohando's head jerked up, his eyes wide with shock, and Celeborn smiled. "I shall sail at summer's end. Radagast will be of the company, and I suppose most of the Elves now gathered at Rivendell. You may both come with us, if that is your desire."

The Orc said nothing, only joy flushed his face like sunrise, and he turned to share it with Malawen. But she leaped up with a cry and darted away into the woods.

*******************************************

*Donkey was Radagast's nickname for Frodo, the Ringbearer. He told Frodo he was like a patient little donkey, overloaded almost to the breaking point, and he took him away to be healed in the wilderness .

Uncertainty


"What will you do, if she will not go?"

The question lingered in Canohando's ears, and he shook his head as if he could whisk it away like a bothersome insect. One of his braids whipped across his face.

They are getting too long, he thought. An enemy could grab my hair and hold me. He drew his knife, even as he walked, and hacked off the offending braid. He felt for the others and treated them in like manner, then tucked the severed plaits into his belt. Burn them later. Even in Rivendell, I will not leave them for anyone to find, and work some evil against me.

Even in Rivendell. Where in Rivendell? Celeborn had hardly finished speaking when Malawen sprang up and fled. Her little strangled squeak, like the death-cry of some small animal, stuck in the Orc's memory along with the wizard's question. If I do not find her, that cry will bring me down, like a barbed arrowhead that works inward...

Then glory burst in his mind again: I am called to Valinor! He laughed softly. What will the Queen's Brother say? And the Valar: with my own eyes I shall see them... That was not a thought for laughter; that was fearsome. A clean fear, a purifying fire: though they melt me like iron, it were a blessed forging.

And if she will not go? He shivered. The sun had gone down and it was chilly under the trees. He had not followed her at once; he had thought she would be near-by, huddled in tears, and he had taken time to find out from Celeborn exactly when he meant to sail, and how to find the Havens.

"I must go to the Shire," he had said. "I promised the Lady, and anyway I will not leave these shores without seeing my brother's land. Then –" He had not finished the sentence, but he thought his face spoke for him. He had felt as if he could leap over the treetops and run along the snowy mountain peaks, more instant than the sun, a living flame of joy.

But now he was cold. After he had searched a while and not found her, he had gone back to Elrond's refuge to pick up her trail, but she was dainty-footed as a moth and left small sign of her passing.

I have lost my skill, such as it was, he thought. I would I had Lash here to help me; he could track an ant across a stony ridge. He kept on as the light failed, bent over nearly double, seeking some trace of her. Elfling, do not hide from me, he begged silently. Even the Shining Land would be desert without you.

"If you put your face any nearer the ground, you will scrape your forehead," said a voice behind him. He spun around and she was there, perched on a branch above his head.

"Elfling –!" Before he could pull himself into the tree she had flung herself out of it, into his arms. Her leap took him by surprise and he staggered, barely keeping his balance, but not letting her slip out of his grasp.

"Melethril…" He sat down carefully, trembling as if he had taken a fever, and settled her in his lap. "Elfling, do not run from me, whatever troubles you. When I could not find you –" He ran his hands over her arms and shoulders, kissing her forehead and eyes before he reached her mouth.

"What have you done to your hair?" she said when she could speak. Then without a pause she added bitterly, "Why did you come after me? You will leave and go to Valinor, with all these great ones."

His heart was a lump of stone, and twice as big as it should be. "Will you not come with me, Elfling? Together we will tread the white shores of the Bright Country, together dwell where all is peace and light. I do not care for any 'great ones,' melethril, but I would know that happiness, with you."

"I could not bear it." She reached up to thrust her hands into his hair, teasing out the tangles and drawing out the strands so they coiled tightly around her fingers. "It's curly. I didn't know that. You see how they look at me, melethron, all of them here. It was not only the dark Elves from Eryn Lasgalen. Galadriel herself, when she knew what I had done –"

"Celeborn calls you sunshine, and sings while you dance," the Orc interrupted.

"I would not dance in Valinor, I would hide under a rock! It were better if those marauders had killed me, than leave me pregnant and deformed – I am half-Orc myself now! You said yourself that I did what Orc mothers do."

He bent his head to her exploring fingers, still playing with his hair, kissing her white shoulder where her garment was pulled askew, tightening his arms around her. She gasped for breath and hastily he loosened his hold.

"Elfling, that is madness. You did one evil deed, only the one, because you suffered more than you could bear. And that babe you drowned…" He fought for control of his voice; even when she had told the story, he had felt the child's death in his own body, the water rushing black and cold into air-starved lungs.

"You did not mean it for mercy, but yet it may have been. If he had grown up among Elves, hated for what he was, despised for his grey skin…" We will be among the Elves in Valinor, he thought suddenly. Will we have children there?

"It was not mercy; I was hiding my shame. It was murder, and he was my baby—"

He snuggled her more closely against him. "Very well, it was murder. But I have done the same, times beyond counting, starting with my brother! You bear one little scar, Elfling, but half my body is scarred by whip and fire, and in our hearts it is the same: we both know the Shadow, but you have felt the touch of it, no more than that, and I carried it within me. Only when my runt stood by me was I able to cast it out, and even now I dare not let my guard down, lest it fasten on me again. If they will open Valinor for me, how much more for you, who were born to it! For me it is a gift beyond price, but to you it rightfully belongs."

She sighed, leaning back in his arms. "You are consolation to them, seeing an Orc come home. I am a reproach. It was by my own action that I fell, not anything the Dark Lord did. I would not have been captured, except that I would not obey. We were safe in Caras Galadhon, and I slipped out to find a trinket I dropped as we fled from home…"

"What was it?"

She shrugged impatiently. "A bit of jewelry. It doesn't matter. I never found it, but they found me, the Orcs did, and my father died rescuing me, and he was not alone. We lost four strong warriors, bringing back a thankless imp who carried a monster in her belly."

She stopped suddenly and hugged him tight around the waist. "I'm sorry, love! But that is how I saw it, and there were those who told me I was right. For my wicked vanity, I cost four lives. After that I had no reason to be vain, scarred and stunted as I was. And they were glad to be rid of my child, but still aghast at what I did."

Canohando did not say anything.

"And now I add to everything else, that you are given passage to the West, and I will make you go alone," she said, and he groaned.

"How can I sail without you, Elfling? Celeborn named you well: you are my light."

"No!" she cried. "Whoever heard of an Orc granted entrance to Valinor – you cannot give that up, when you so desire it!"

But he was wrestling with a question he would not speak aloud: what would become of her, if he left her behind? The Shadow will not take her if she is with me; I will drive it off! No, that was arrogance; he did not have such power. But she loved him, and love was her protection. If she were alone…

Forlorn and angry, as she was when he first saw her. In Valinor itself I would grieve to think of her. I would beg to return, to comfort her.

He shifted her off his knees and got to his feet, pulling her up with him. "We will be together, though we wander homeless for a thousand years. But tonight we will go back to Elrond's House, and sleep in a bed while we have one. Come, melethril."

They left Rivendell two or three days later. Dartha shed a few tears, hugging Malawen and whispering in her ear, "Do not force him to decide between you and the West, dearie. You'll tear him apart."

Malawen drew back sharply from the cook's embrace and would not meet her eyes.

For the Orc, Dartha had few words of farewell, but she looked at him a long time and finally gave a decided little nod. "Celeborn is right; you are worthy of Valinor." She kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Travel safe, you and your little one, and meet us at the Grey Havens," she said.

He did not answer, only lifted his hand in farewell.

They did not see anyone else as they departed, for it was very early. A heavy mist shrouded the valley, but as they climbed up the surrounding ridge the sun broke through, turning the drops of moisture on grass and trees to sparkling diamonds.

Malawen laughed, raising her arms in salute to the sun. "Welcome to the world!" she cried. "Elrond's House is well enough, but it echoes with the songs and tales of a thousand years. I would sooner have the open road and the sun on our shoulders - we will make our own music!"

The Orc had been walking with his chin sunk to his chest, and she came close to peek teasingly into his face, hoping to lighten his mood. Dartha's warning troubled her. He does not have to choose, she thought rebelliously. He is free to go without me! But she knew he would not go, and her conscience was not mollified.

Canohando smiled down at her.

"Sing for me, Elfling," he said. He pulled his drum around in front of him and let it pick up the rhythm of their footsteps. He clicked his tongue in counterpoint, and bent down quickly to pick up a slender stick from the ground, striking the side of the drum with it, punctuating the tapping of his fingers.

Malawen's voice rang out in the quiet morning.

Give me the road and give me the air, the west wind blowing through my hair,

And the wild drum setting a rolling beat to give a lilt to my dancing feet.

Free to come and free to go, running quickly, walking slow,

And where e'er we go there's none to say, You ought to have chosen a different way.

The wilderness is wide and free to hold my melethron and me!

She slapped her hands against her thighs as she walked, striding along to the beat of the song, and Canohando started the verse again, Give me the road, give me the air --

They made their way down from the heights, away from Rivendell, toward the River where long ago Frodo had turned at bay, with his last strength defying the Riders who pursued him. But no dark menace awaited them at the Ford. The sun was huge and golden in the western sky when they reached the water and splashed through to the other side, holding hands to keep each other upright on the slippery river bottom.

As evening fell, Canohando began eyeing the trees they passed, looking for a place to hang their hammocks.

"We are not in Rivendell anymore," he said when Malawen protested that she would rather sleep on the ground. "The wilderness is not free only for you and me, melethril, but for those who wish us no good. Remember Itaril."

"Excellent advice, and that is why I shall journey with you, at least to the borders of the Shire."

They spun around, and Canohando's hand flew to his bow in the instant before he recognized who it was coming up behind them.

"Radagast!" Malawen was not certain if she were pleased or not. The wizard had been a friend to them, but she was happiest alone with Canohando.

He seemed to sense her ambivalence. "I would not foist my company upon you lovebirds," he said, "except that I also remember Itaril. I saw him started toward Eryn Lasgalen, but I could not spare time to escort him all the way, and he may have turned aside after he left me. I hope he may become an Elf again, but at present he is a weasel."

Canohando's expression was inscrutable. "You found me in fetters and led behind a horse, and now you think I cannot defend myself, or my mate."

"No," said Radagast. "I know you can defend yourself, unless you are surprised by a troop of archers. But I do not trust this scion of Mirkwood, and I would be sorry if you were forced to kill Itaril, after you had shown him mercy: it is bitter to have a gift thrown back in your teeth! However, he is alone now, and I doubt he will risk single combat with you. More likely, if he heard that you were going to the Shire, he might speed ahead of you to the Men who watch that land, to persuade them that Arwen's note you carry is a forgery. In that case, I would like to be on hand to vouch for you."

The Orc unclenched his fists, and Malawen took his hand.

"Dare we sleep on the ground, since you are with us?" she asked, and Radagast looked amused.

"Ask your mate that, Sunshine. I am not here to settle your quarrels."

But Canohando thought back to Mordor, where first he knew the wizard. When he himself had been brutal and quick to kill -- but he had not lifted hand against the Brown One. I would not have dared, he realized, and grinned ruefully. "We will sleep on the solid earth, melethril, since it matters so much to you," he said.

They traveled pleasantly for many days, Malawen singing as they walked, or dancing ahead. She had lost the sulkiness she had worn ever since Lothlorien, and she was bright and quick as a butterfly flitting before them. Canohando drummed for her, but sometimes when he deemed that she ventured too far from them, he would run after her, scooping her up and carrying her slung over his shoulders, kicking and laughing.

"Stay with us, Elfling. This is not Rivendell."

But he spoke little, and Radagast watched him covertly, trying to recall if he had always been so silent. There was a flatness in the Orc's eyes that troubled the wizard, remembering his blazing joy when Celeborn offered him passage to the West.

One night Canohando said, "I am going hunting tomorrow. Stay close to the old man, Elfling, and I will join you at evening."

"Why?" she exclaimed. "Radagast has food for us in his bag, and we have our lembas besides. What need for you to hunt?"

Canohando stared out at the darkness beyond the ring of firelight. "Hunting is what Orcs do, melethril. And we will not always have the old man's bag, or lembas either. I must not lose my skill."

The next day Radagast talked earnestly with Malawen as they walked, and those who knew him would have been amazed at his sternness. But she would not yield to his arguments, although by the end she was in tears. She sat on the ground crying with her face in her hands, but he was inexorable.

"There will be more tears later, when it is too late. You will have none of Valinor, but what land will make you welcome? You are condemning your mate, and your children also, when you have them, to lives of vagabondage."

She peered up at him through reddened eyes. "Canohando likes the wild lands. And perhaps we will have no children."

Radagast snorted. "Oh, you will have them! Have you never heard how Orcs multiply? But how will you mother them? Can you for one hour let go of what you desire, to think of someone else? Of all the Orcs ever born, Canohando alone is offered refuge in Valinor. And he will refuse it, to remain with you! I think you will have cause for shame, indeed, if you permit that."

"Should I leave him, then? Is that what you want?"

The wizard stooped and grabbed her by both wrists. "Do you love him, Malawen? You call him beloved, but what does that mean to you?"

She felt skewered by the wizard's eyes, dark and old as a night without stars. "I would die in Valinor," she whispered.

"Die then, and be reborn. But only your pride will die there."

"I cannot leave him. I do love him."

"Did I ask you to leave him? Sail with him!"

She jumped up and fled, running headlong down the road, but at the first break in the trees she swerved away into the woods, heedless of the brambles and low branches that caught at her like raking claws. She blundered through thickets and came out so suddenly on the edge of a little stream that she tripped and fell in. It was shallow and she took no hurt, but as she struggled to her feet, bedraggled and wet, a voice from the further bank nearly stopped her heart.

"Is something chasing you, mistress? Here, take my hand." The owner of the voice splashed into the stream to steady her, and she gaped in astonishment even as she let him help her out of the water.

He came barely to her shoulder, but he was a sturdy-looking fellow, and the arm he brought to her support was well-muscled and tanned beneath a rolled-up sleeve. He watched with a smile as she tried to make herself tidy, wringing out her dress and working her fingers through her hair, combing out bits of leaf and brier that had tangled in it.

"So we need not run away?" he asked. "No Trolls or Orcs or such-like, coming after you?"

He was such an engaging little person that she could not help grinning. "No Trolls," she assured him, "but there is an Orc -- no," she added hastily, as fear leaped into his eyes, "Don't be afraid; he is my mate; he will not harm you! He is hunting, I hope not far from here."

He looked her over, frankly curious. "You have an Orc for your husband? But you are an Elf, are you not? At least, I have never seen any Elves, nor Orcs either, thank goodness! But you look like the Elves in stories."

"Do I? I wouldn't have thought so. But of what race are you? And what are you doing here, all alone in the wilds?"

He drew himself up proudly. "I am a Hobbit of the Shire, mistress, and I am not alone. My companions are making camp back there," he nodded over his shoulder, "and I came to fetch water for our tea." So saying, he picked up a tin bucket from the ground and went to dip it in the stream.

"They will be wondering where I got myself to," he said. "Won't you come and meet them, and have a bite to eat? They'll never believe I met an Elf, if they don't see you for themselves."

As if the Hobbit's casual good humor were contagious, Malawen found herself chuckling. "I suppose Canohando will find me; he will be curious, anyway, who is making a fire in the woods. Yes, I will come."

But the Hobbit turned so sharply that the water in his pail sloshed out over his feet.

"Canohando?" he repeated. His eyes were round with wonder. "Canohando the Orc?"

36. Out of Legend

There were four hobbits bustling about a little clearing, chopping firewood and setting up a long, low tent. One, the eldest, by the salt and pepper of his curly hair, squatted by a small fire, stirring something in a metal bowl.

"Back so soon?" he said. "We'd about decided you'd gone back to Bree for a pitcher of ale, you took so long. Give it here; I can't make biscuit without a bit of water." He looked up then, and froze with his mouth half open.

Malawen's companion bowed slightly. "Mistress, may I present my uncle, Fordibras Took. He is the captain of our expedition, and also the best camp cook in the Four Farthings. But," he added, turning scarlet, "I forgot to ask your name."

"I am Malawen of Lothlorien," she said, holding back a smile in pity for his embarrassment. "And I forgot to ask your name, as well, after you helped me out of the stream."

Fordibras stood up, brushing flour off his hands and bowing in his turn. "At your service, and your family's, ma'am. The youngster is Farador Brandybuck, my sister's younger son. I'm pleased to hear he rendered you some assistance."

Before she could answer, a startling change came over the older hobbit's face: fear, then grim determination as he felt for the sword at his belt.

"Get behind me, ma'am! Hobbits, back to back, lady in the middle!" The others jumped to obey, but Malawen spun round to look behind her and began waving frantically.

"Stay back, stay back!" she called. "Don't be afraid," she added urgently, "he will not hurt you; he is my mate, come looking for me."

"It's Canohando!" Farador interjected. "Can you believe it, Uncle Ordi? Canohando the Orc, large as life, half a day's journey from Bree!"

The older hobbit held his weapon steady, regarding Malawen under lowered brows. "Is that truth, Lady? Oh, I see you're an Elf, plain enough -- I traveled some in my younger days; I've been to Rivendell. But Elves are a proud people, if you'll pardon me saying so, and I can't see any of them plighting troth to an Orc! And it stretches my imagination to think what Canohando would be doing here, when Frodo Baggins said outright that he left him far off in the Eastern mountains. What brings you to these parts? Lothlorien is a long journey from Bree."

Malawen felt her temper rising, but as she looked around at the hobbits, patently terrified, yet ready to defend themselves and her as well, her anger evaporated.

"You have been to Rivendell?" she said. "We have just come from there, and we are going to the Shire, for my mate wants to visit the Ringbearer's country. They were friends, you know."

The hobbit regarded her doubtfully, chewing on his lip, but then a quiet voice spoke from the edge of the woods. Canohando had ducked back among the trees to circle around, approaching the clearing from the other side.

"I can give proof of who I am."

Fordibras started, but mastered himself and turned to face the Orc. "I would be glad to see it," he said. "Just stand right where you are, sir, and hold it up. No sudden moves, mind! There are five of us, and we know how to use our swords."

Canohando's eyes glinted with humor; his hunting knife was longer than those swords, but the hobbits' valor was all the more praiseworthy for that. He held up Arwen's jewel.

"Here is my proof. And here, also." He stretched out his hand, palm up. "I am blood brother to Frodo Ninefingers, and you are his people." How like my runt they are! he thought. That youngling, especially.

Fordibras stepped forward and took the Orc's wrist, examining his scarred palm before he reached up to touch the jewel reverently with one finger. Then he thrust his weapon back in its scabbard and clasped Canohando's hand.

"The Queen's Jewel and that scar speak for you, Canohando of Mordor, but the best proof is your courtesy. I do not know why you are so far from home, but you are welcome - if I may presume to welcome you to a land that is not my own. And this lady is your wife, in truth? Well, I never go outside the Shire but I learn something new, but that certainly is the strangest thing that ever I heard of!"

Canohando drew Malawen close to him. "To me also it seems strange, and to her people, that she would have me. It is my great good fortune. But how do you know of me?"

Farador spoke up eagerly. "Your story is in Frodo Baggins' Memoirs, that he wrote when he got back from Mordor. I read it when I stayed with my cousin Harding at Bag End. My brother thought old Frodo just made up the part about the Orcs, but Harding said no, Frodo Baggins hated a lie, and whatever he wrote, you could count on it being true."

The Orc smiled. The youngster really was like the hobbit he remembered: the same blue eyes under flaring dark brows, the sensitive mouth, but his face was fresh and untouched by suffering. This is what he was like, before his fate fell upon him, he thought, and he knew a pang of regret that Frodo had not been permitted to live out his life in peace. But then I would never have met him, and I would still be under Shadow. It was better as it was.

There was no question of leaving the hobbits without sharing a meal. Farador was small help to his uncle in preparing it; he hovered about Canohando and Malawen, trying not to stare, and the Orc won his heart by answering innumerable questions about Minas Tirith and Mordor, from the fall of the Dark Lord to the last days of King Elessar. But at that point, Fordibras broke in.

"Supper's about ready, and it won't be any better for waiting. Come and eat, sir, and your ladyship, and afterward, if you will, tell us about the King, and what became of Queen Arwen. They visited the Shire in my mother's time, and it were a sorrow to hear of the King's passing. Young Eldarion is known in the North, and he'll make a good King, I don't doubt, but it won't be the same."

"Is everything quiet here, since Eldarion rode south last year?" Canohando asked. It had nagged at the back of his mind sometimes, wondering if the garrison in the North would remain faithful, with its commander far away in Gondor, but the hobbit looked surprised.

"Certainly it's quiet; the Rangers are still here, and Celeborn in Rivendell, though I heard the Queen's brothers went south when Eldarion did. I try to keep up on things," he added apologetically. "I got interested, when I was in Rivendell. But the North will hold to the King, whoever he is; it's good to know the roads are safe for those that wish to travel on them, and the King's men keep the borders of the Shire."

Canohando nodded; he had heard about the invasion of ruffians during the War. It had been hard to imagine, an army of little people like his runt, fighting with pitchforks and hunting bows against Men twice their size. But when he had realized that Frodo could name off every hobbit killed in the battle, the Orc had been struck speechless. That had defined the Shire for him, more than anything else Frodo told him: every dead soldier had his name, and was remembered with honor.

"Celeborn is leaving, though," said Malawen. "They are all going to the Havens."

"No! Are they indeed? And so you are going as well, Lady?" Fordibras cast a curious glance at Canohando, but Malawen spoke decidedly.

"No. I am staying here."

"Are you bound for Rivendell once again?" Canohando asked the hobbit. "You may meet them on the road, unless you hurry. They sail at summer's end."

Fordibras took out his pipe and began filling it. When he had got it lit and was smoking comfortably, he said, "We are going to Rivendell, yes. You asked me if all was quiet in these parts. Well, it is, and it isn't, in a manner of speaking. Not all's well, at any rate, and I want Celeborn's counsel. We've had sickness in the Shire the past two summers, some kind of fever, but one we haven't seen before. It strikes the children, mostly, and it kills. Or sometimes it doesn't kill, but it leaves its mark, a withered limb, or a weakness that lingers even when you'd say the child was well again. The Elves have a reputation for healing..." His voice trailed off.

Malawen drew Canohando's arm around her shoulders and leaned against him. "Elves do not get fevers," she said. "My father was a healer. He was teaching me, but it was all caring for wounds and injuries, not sickness."

"Perhaps not, Elfling, but this is Celeborn," said the Orc. "He would know more even than your father, would he not?"

"Do you know aught of healing, Canohando of Mordor?" asked Fordibras, but the Orc laughed shortly.

"Thrust the stump in fire, if you lose hand or foot," he said. "A hot poultice for putrefaction. Orcs have no healers; we tend our own wounds, or die."

"Yet your two friends cared for your burns," said a soft voice beside him, and he looked down in surprise at Farador.

"You are right, youngling. I must not forget that, for it was a great marvel." Canohando regarded him with approval, and the young hobbit flushed.

"I thought Rivendell had a name for healing," he said. "I thought Bilbo Baggins sent there for books on herbs and things."

"And so he did," Fordibras agreed. "Perhaps it was Elrond rather than Celeborn, but without question there was such knowledge in Rivendell. At any rate, we will make a push to reach there and find out, for our own healers have no remedies to meet this need. I don't suppose Elrond carried his library with him, when he departed into the West; the wisdom we need may still be there."

They talked on, as darkness fell. Finally one of the hobbits gave a yawn that seemed likely to split his face, and Fordibras stretched and stood up.

"There's ample room for you in our tent, and we'd be honored to have you under our roof, such as it is," he said.

Malawen shook her head.

"We would rather have the stars over our heads than a strip of cloth."

"It is good to be with my brother's people," Canohando added. "We will find our own bed, but we will come to breakfast, if you are willing."

The hobbit chuckled. "I cannot imagine telling an Elf she is not welcome to a meal, nor the Ringbearer's Orc, either. We will be delighted to have you join us. Early, mind you, for we must be pushing on as soon as we have light to travel by."

He disappeared into the tent, and Canohando and Malawen went off to find a sleeping place. But when they were settled at last, Canohando asked,

"Why are you not with the old man, Elfling? And where is he?"

They were lying in their hammocks, high up, for the Orc would not sleep on the ground when Radagast was not with them.

Malawen did not answer, hugging herself and staring up through the crossed branches of the tree. It was very dark. Canohando waited, but when she still said nothing he sat up, stretching out a hand to pull her hammock close to his.

"He has been trying to persuade you to sail. Did you run away from him?"

She shivered, turning her face away, and he let go. A moment later he had left his own hammock and was climbing into hers, making it rock wildly as he maneuvered himself to lie beside her, pulling her into his arms.

"I am so ashamed." Her voice was husky. "To hold you back, when you deserve the Blessed Land more than many Elves... I am so happy in the wilderness, alone with only you. But you will hate me someday, if you do not sail. You should go, melethron."

He wrapped himself around her, feeling how her taut muscles softened and her shivering eased as the heat of his body warmed her. "I would sail gladly, if you came with me," he said. "I will not go without you, and I will never hate you! You will give me sons, and we will be happy. Could we have children in Valinor?"

A little gurgle of laughter welled up in her. "Is that the price of your happiness, a son? How many will it take to content you, and what if I give you a daughter instead?"

He buried his face against her, kissing the hollow at the base of her neck. "A dozen sons, and as many daughters as you like. Orcs have large families."

"A dozen --!" She pushed away to stare into his face. But it was too dark to see, and she let herself fall against him once more. "Oh, you are teasing me! Will you be happy, truly, so long as we have children?"

He chuckled deep in his throat. "Ah, no, melethril, I am not teasing!" He ran his fingers over her face, her lips and cheeks, feeling along her jawline and down her shoulders...

"I will love you, always I will love you, and we will have many, many children, and we will love them..." His voice trailed away as his lips took up where his fingers had left off. Malawen closed her eyes, sliding her hands up under his tunic, her fingertips light as thistledown, tenderly exploring the pits and ridges of his scarred back.

37. A Gate Across the Road

When they returned to the hobbits' camp at dawn, they found Radagast enthroned on a log beside the cooking fire, placidly smoking his pipe and watching Fordibras make breakfast. The tent was collapsed on the grass, and the other hobbits were busily packing up, making ready to leave.

Malawen went over to Farador, helping him yank tent stakes out of the ground and tie them in bundles. But Canohando joined Radagast on his log, taking his seat beside the wizard without looking at him. Fordibras glanced up and began to make some comment, trivial in nature, but then he caught the expression on the Orc's face and bent to his cooking again.

Canohando pulled a small whetstone out of the pouch at his belt. Drawing his knife, he began sharpening it, the soft hiss of stone on metal regular as a heartbeat. It was several minutes before he spoke.

"Leave my mate alone." He looked up, holding the wizard's eyes. "You are my friend, old man, and one of the Powers. But do not step between us."

Radagast coughed, waving smoke away from his face and knocking his pipe out on the log. "You are right, Canohando; forgive me." He smiled on the Orc, his eyes affectionate.

"I would have you with us, when we sail. Both of you. But I will not try again to persuade her; you must settle the matter for yourselves."

The Orc nodded. He held up his knife, inspecting it from both sides before he slid it back in its sheath and put the whetstone away.

"You are a healer, Brown One. What of this fever in the Halflings' land?"

Fordibras looked up sharply. "You are a healer, aren't you? I had forgotten that. Can you help us, sir?"

"I will try," said the wizard. "I do not remember that I've ever encountered a fever such as you describe, that leaves withered limbs in its wake. I think you had best continue on to Rivendell and search Elrond's library; I hope you will find some knowledge there to guide us. But I was already on my way to the Shire; have you had a case of the illness yet this year?"

"Two." The hobbit's voice was bleak. "Both died."

Radagast sighed. "I will do what I can. Make all the haste you may, my friend, and ask if Celeborn will give you any books on healing you find. They will not be needed in the West, but I doubt he will leave them to molder away in a deserted house. Now, at the last departure, all the treasures of Rivendell will be carried off. I will await you in the Shire, but do not tarry."

They sat down to eat, Malawen still keeping her distance from the wizard, and Canohando went to sit by her.

"He will not trouble you again, melethril. Good day to you, youngling. What is it you want?" he added, looking up at Farador, who had come beside them, carrying his breakfast with him.

"Are you really going to the Shire? What will you do there?" The hobbit sat down, uninvited.

Canohando chewed and swallowed, thinking, before he answered. "I am not certain what I will do. I would like to see the places Ninefingers talked about, his home dug into the hill, and the house with the hundred windows, that reflected the sunset..."

"That's my home, that's Brandy Hall!" Farador exclaimed, upsetting his tea on the grass in his excitement. "Did he tell about that, way off in Mordor? Oh, you must see Brandy Hall, no question, and I want to be the one to show it to you!"

He jumped up and hurried to where his uncle was talking quietly with Radagast and the other hobbits. Canohando watched in amusement; he could not quite hear what was said, but he could see Farador's quivering impatience until Fordibras turned to ask what he wanted, and the older hobbit's change of expression as Farador explained. He looked over sharply at the Orc, and Canohando shrugged, smiling.

"He is welcome to journey with us, if you can spare him," he called. "I would not be sorry to have one of your own people to speak for me, when I reach the Shire."

And Radagast added his own invitation. "It would be better, indeed, if one of you came back with us, not only to speak for Canohando, but for me, as well! Gandalf was known in the Shire, but I am a stranger. Yet I must win their trust, and quickly, if I am to do any good there."

So it came about that when the hobbits mounted their ponies to leave, Farador stood by Malawen with his hand raised in farewell, and tucked into his pack was letter for the Thain, hastily scrawled by his uncle.

"You will protect him," Fordibras said in a low voice to Radagast, turning back at the last moment as if, after all, he feared to leave the lad with strangers.

"I will watch over him as carefully as I did over Frodo," the wizard assured him. "He will come to no harm with us, Fordibras Took! But do you hurry and reach Rivendell before Celeborn departs, and bring back what knowledge you may to help us, for my time in Middle Earth grows short."

The hobbit gave a decided nod. "I will do that. Farador, see you bring him to the Thain straight off; the worst of the fever was out there last summer, and that's were it was beginning again when we left. That comes first, mind, before you start showing Canohando round the Shire!"

They left, and Radagast picked up his sack and slung it over his shoulder.

"Orc, Elf, Wizard, and Hobbit," he mused, and then he chuckled. "I doubt there's been such a motley group of travelers upon the road since the Fellowship set out from Rivendell. Come along, then, and Farador, you might humor my curiosity by telling me how you come to have such an interest in Orcs and Elves at your age! I would have expected that you had left such tales behind in the nursery."

The hobbit grinned. "Not when I have three of the Travellers as my forebears!" he said. "Even old Frodo -- he didn't have any descendants, properly speaking, but Merriadoc and Peregrin were his cousins, so I'm related to him, as well. We've got the Horn of the Mark and Merriadoc's old armor at Brandy Hall, and there's a copy of the Red Book and Frodo's Memoirs in the library at Bag End. For that matter, they've still got the bear's tooth you gave him, with your pictures on it," he added, speaking to Canohando. "The Gardners keep it in a glass case in the parlor, and the swords Frodo and Samwise carried are hanging over the mantel."

"They kept the tooth? For what reason, youngling? It belonged to Ninefingers; why did they not send it with him to the funeral pyre?"

There was distress in the Orc's voice, and Farador touched his arm as if he would give comfort. "It is an heirloom," he said. "Like Queen Arwen's Jewel. And besides, you know, it is proof that he spoke the truth about the Orc he met in Mordor. They would not bury it with him, and we do not burn our dead."

Canohando grunted, and he was very quiet the rest of the day.

They reached Bree early in the forenoon, but did not stop. The third morning they came to the Shire, but were halted before they reached the border, by an iron gate. The road was flanked at this point by two stone towers, not more than three or four stories high, but strongly built and military in appearance. The gate stretched between them, higher than a tall man could have reached with outstretched arm, and topped with spikes like spear points, keen and shining. As the travelers approached, a dozen soldiers came out and took positions behind it.

Plainly there was no going on until they had explained themselves. The soldiers did not seem threatening, in spite of their swords and chain mail, but they looked straight ahead with impassive faces. Only the movements of their eyes betrayed their curiosity; they stared from Elf to Orc to Wizard, but always their gaze returned to the Orc. Canohando let go of Malawen's hand and stood straighter, staring back at the Men with solemn dignity.

A moment later another Man appeared and strode forward to greet them. He wore a winged helmet, unlike the others, who were bare-headed, and he addressed himself to Farador as to an old friend.

"Well, young Mister Brandybuck, back so soon? You have picked up new traveling companions, I see."

Farador grinned. "I'll wager you can't guess who this is, Darak! He was great friends with a member of my family, a few generations back."

"Don't wager too high, master hobbit. I know who the Orc is well enough, for we had word from Gondor to expect him. King Eldarion bids me greet you in his name, Canohando of Mordor, and he gives his leave for you to enter the Shire, if you will show forth the token Queen Arwen gave you."

Canohando stepped up to the gate, holding out the Jewel on its chain, and the man took it between his fingers, turning it so it cast sparks of light against the Orc's dark tunic.

"It is a wondrous thing, in very truth," he said reverently. "In the King's name I welcome you, Queen Arwen's Shadow. But who are these who travel with you: an Elf-child and -- a Wizard?" He looked dubiously at Radagast. "We have no orders concerning them."

Farador seemed to swell with indignation, stretching up to his full height so his eyes were on a level with the trooper's belt buckle. "You would not bar an Elf from the Shire! This is Malawen of Lothlorien -- not a child -- she is Canohando's wife, and my guest. And most assuredly Radagast is a Wizard, a friend of Gandalf the Grey in times gone by. He has come to help us against that fever my uncle told you of, for which we were seeking some cure in Rivendell. You will not deny them entry, or must I ride posthaste to get clearance for them from the Master of the Hall?"

Radagast intervened. "How if we send a messenger in your place?" He pursed his lips and whistled a few clear, liquid notes. A breathless moment later, a crow dropped out of the sky onto his outstretched arm. It examined him boldly, tipping its head from side to side as if to give each eye its proper turn, and finished by opening its beak and giving a harsh caw!

The wizard smiled and ran a finger down the bird's belly. "Yes, yes, my Rogue. I have an errand for you; be patient a little. Write a note to your father, Farador. Not too long, mind; we don't wish to overburden our envoy." He rummaged in his sack and brought out a piece of paper hardly bigger than his open palm, and so thin that it was nearly translucent. "Have you pen and ink, captain?"

Writing materials were provided, and Radagast rolled up the finished note into a narrow cylinder and tied it to the bird's leg. After a moment's thought, he took out another bit of paper and treated it the same way. "For balance, and for the answer," he explained. He leaned over the crow until his forehead nearly touched its shining head, murmuring some words they could not quite catch. Then he raised his hand and the bird soared aloft, vanishing quickly above the trees that bordered the road.

"Well, now we wait," said Farador cheerfully. "Is there anything to eat, Darak? It's a good two hours since early breakfast, and I suppose it'll be another two before we get to the Hall. As you're making us wait, it's only fair that you feed us."

"Two whole hours without food? It's a wonder you're not fainting by the side of the road, my lad!" Darak regarded the hobbit with amused exasperation. "Yes, there's bread and meat, though I'm not certain what else is available." His invitation encompassed the other three. "Not being hobbits, I don't imagine you are as famished as my young friend. But come in anyway, and have a mug of ale while you wait. My men and I are charged to guard this road, and we must be cautious, but I would not have it said that we failed in courtesy."

He disappeared into the right-hand tower, and a moment later a door opened in it on their side of the gate. Darak motioned them inside.

"You keep a good watch on the road, but might not enemies slip in some other way?" Canohando asked.

"We watch more than the road. We send out patrols, scouting along the perimeter. Though I grant you it's not foolproof, if the stray trespasser wanted to get in. But the hobbits themselves keep watch: they have their Bounders, as they always did, and Master and Thain can each field a pretty little army in short order, if it's needed. It hasn't been necessary, though, for fifty years or more. The Shire is known to be under the King's hand; that is deterrent enough for most malefactors."

Canohando made no answer.

"They had a band of brigands up by Needlehole, when I was in my tweens," Farador put in. "But hobbits tracked them to their hideout, and sent word to the Rangers; they were driven off before they did more than steal a few sheep. The Shire is a sleepy little place, really. Someday I'm going to travel and have adventures, like Uncle Ordi and old Bilbo."

"You missed your chance this time," said Darak. "I'm surprised you let them send you back; you were excited enough that they were taking you along."

Farador chortled. "Oh, there's more adventure here right now, with Canohando walking right out of old Frodo's book into the light of day! I'm going to show him the Shire, from Brandywine Bridge to Sarn Ford, and everything in between."

"Are you, indeed!" Darak smiled at the youngster, but then he bent a penetrating look on the Orc. "You take an uncommon interest in the Shire's defenses," he said, and his words were both question and challenge.

Canohando reached into the pouch at his belt and drew out the scroll Arwen had given him. He handed it to Darak. "The Shire is my brother's country, and I would see it well-protected. It was Ninefingers who gave me the Jewel, and not the Queen. But I was her Shadow, and she gave me this to show you, when I should come to the border."

Darak walked over to the window, unrolling the bit of parchment and examining the little map, then turning it over to read the letter. A soldier came in quietly and spread a crisp white cloth on a table in the center of the room, setting out platters of cold beef and sliced wheat bread. He went out and came back a moment later with a pitcher of ale on a tray, surrounded by clay flagons.

Farador led Malawen and the wizard over to the table, playing the host and making certain they had what they wanted, before he served himself. But Canohando went to stand by Darak, waiting for Arwen's letter to be returned to him.

The captain finished reading and looked up, his brows drawn together. "You have read this," he said. "You know what it contains."

Canohando shrugged. "I cannot read, but she told me what she wrote: her permit for me to visit the Shire."

The Man eyed him thoughtfully, tapping the scroll against his chin. "I would like to send a copy of this letter to the King," he said at last. "Have you any objection to that?"

"No, not if I may keep the one my Lady wrote. I cannot read the words, but still it is precious to me."

Darak nodded. "That will do very well. I'll have a copy made at once, and return the original to you. Have a mug of ale while you wait, Sir Orc. It's a warm morning."

He went out, and Canohando took a mug and walked over to perch on the stone windowsill, looking out past the gate to the woods beyond the road. Malawen leaned against his knee, and he rested his cheek against her bright hair.

"I don't think I ever truly believed I would see it with my own eyes," he said softly. "It was only a beautiful story that my runt told - and now there it is."

38. The House of a Hundred Windows

They were kept waiting for barely an hour, before Darak came to tell them that permission had been granted for them to proceed to Brandy Hall.

"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 heartsease and creeping thyme, 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, 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. After a while Canohando laid his hand lightly on Farador's shoulder.

"The old man is a skillful healer. 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. "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, man. 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.

My runt...

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."

Farador had been bidden to bring Radagast straightaway to the Thain, but the Master would not have it so.

"Let the Wizard first do what he can for my nieces, and instruct Marabuc and the Elf-lady how to treat this illness," he said -- for Malawen had been called in to assist Radagast, the second morning after their arrival. "When the twins are out of danger, you shall take him to Great Smials. And then, see you, as you travel here and there with the Orc, his mate will be prepared to give aid, if you come upon more cases of the fever. So they will be of service in the Shire, and more welcome than they might be otherwise. Most hobbits have heard but little of Frodo Baggins, and nothing at all of Canohando."

Farador grimaced. "And whatever they have heard about Frodo wouldn't please most of them: a harebrained enough fellow, they'd think, traipsing off to the ends of the earth the way he did. You're right, Father, as usual."

So while they waited, Farador showed Canohando over Buckland and the Marish. Hobbits in outlying places were startled and somewhat alarmed to meet an Orc coming along the road, but Farador was well-known as the Master's son, and popular in his own right, and Canohando's air of grave courtesy allayed the fears of all but the most timorous.

Some evenings Farador dragged the Orc, all unwilling, to the public houses in Rushy and Stock, and the patrons were amazed at Canohando's abstemious habits. He nursed his one flagon of ale, keeping a sharp watch on everything around him. After a few visits to the taverns, however, he realized that hobbits were not inclined to the violence he associated with drinking. Even in their cups, they only became more jovial, breaking into long and rather repetitive songs, and laughing uproariously when someone got a thick tongue tangled in the words. At last the Orc began to relax, leaning back in his corner and observing the proceedings with quiet amusement.

One night Farador enticed him into a game of darts, the two of them against a couple of middle-aged farmers. Canohando expected to hold back and let them win; ill manners, he thought, for an outlander to make a show of his skill. But the hobbits surprised him: their aim was as good as his own, and when the farmers took the match, it was fairly won. The Orc ended the evening with a new respect for the Shirefolk.

It was all of three weeks before Radagast and Malawen returned to the Hall one forenoon, with the news that the twins were recovering without any lasting effects that they could see.

"It is an ugly malady," the Wizard told them over elevenses. "I am not clear in my mind if our efforts prevented the withering of the limbs that has been reported, or if the youngsters would have escaped that regardless, but it was a sharp struggle to bring them through alive."

"Is Marabuc competent to treat any new cases that may break out?" asked Sariadoc.

"As competent as I am," said Radagast. "We were both racking our brains for every remedy we knew. I hope your uncle brings back some greater knowledge from Rivendell, Farador."

Sariadoc pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Let us hope so, indeed. Will you take a few days to rest from your labors, now? I know the Thain will be eager to have your help, but I would not like to presume upon your goodwill."

Radagast smiled. "Let me rest this day only, and Malawen also. Then we will be ready to go on."

The wizard retired to the Hall's library after the meal, sitting in a deep chair with his pipe, surrounded by books that he pulled off the shelves seemingly at random. Sariadoc kept him company, writing at his big desk, not disturbing his guest with idle talk. But Malawen led Canohando outside, down to the riverbank.

"I have been cooped up too long within doors," she said. "It's good to have the sun on my face again."

Canohando sat with his arm draped over her shoulders, feeling as if he'd recovered the other half of himself. "So now you know how to treat fever, as well as wounds. How did you like apprenticing with the old man?"

"He is a firm master, but it's no burden to serve him. I like him better now, melethron."

Canohando bent to kiss her.

"Good," he said.

****

The alarm came that same night, an hour before dawn. Canohando was standing by the window, looking out at the river; he had been roused by moonlight in his eyes, and he'd gotten up to watch the moon's reflection shimmer and dance on the black water. Then he glimpsed a flaming brand being swung back and forth on the opposite bank, plainly a signal, and a few minutes later the ferry started across. The moon disappeared behind clouds, and the only light was a torch lashed to a tall upright on the ferry and the other torch, no longer moving, waiting on the farther shore.

He stretched, and went out into the passage, closing the door softly, not to wake Malawen. There were lanterns hooked to the wall at intervals, and he found his way back to the great room where they took their meals. There was a hobbit by the door, his chair tipped back against the wall and his eyes half shut. He was awake, however, for he stood up at once as the Orc approached.

"Something you need, sir?" he asked. His tone was courteous, but Canohando noted the sharpness of his glance and nodded approval. The lad was on the job, however casual his appearance.

"Is Farador about? I just saw the ferry go off across the river, and someone signaling over there."

The young hobbit eyed him thoughtfully. "And why does that bring you out looking for Farador, then? He's in his bed, I should think, at this hour."

Canohando lounged against the doorframe, scratching his back on the polished wood. "Say I have a nose for trouble. I am a stranger here; perhaps you are accustomed to get visitors in the dead of night, but it struck me wrong, somehow."

"Well, you're right about that," said the hobbit. "No, we don't get many visitors this late, but as you say, you are a stranger. I'd feel better if you went along back to your room, sir. I'll get the word to those who should know, that someone's crossing the river, and I'm obliged to you for telling me."

The Orc inclined his head. "Tell your captain that my bow is at his service." He went back down the passage, letting himself quietly into the room. Malawen was awake and sitting up in bed.

"Where were you? I woke up and you were gone."

He was still explaining when someone pounded on the door. Before he could rise to answer, Farador burst in.

"There's been an attack! Out in the Marish – a gang of ruffians –" He was out of breath, as if he'd been running. Canohando took up his quiver and settled it on his back, and Malawen reached for her clothes and began dressing under the covers.

"I'll be right out," Canohando told the hobbit. "Wait for me." He shut the door behind Farador.

"I'll be ready in a moment," said Malawen, but Canohando went and put his arms around her.

"I want you to stay here, where you are safe."

"I can shoot! I will not have you go alone into danger, and my eye is as keen as yours!"

Her voice was indignant, and he leaned his forehead against hers, running his hands down her back. "You are a good shot," he admitted. "But we will both be safer if you stay here, Elfling. I cannot keep my eyes on the battle and on you, both at once, and if you are there, I will be watching you. Stay here where I do not have to fear for you."

"But then I will be afraid for you."

He made a face. "A few Men, melethril. They are a threat to these little people. The Halflings are brave, but they are not warriors. But a gang of louts and troublemakers – what will they do when they see an Orc coming down upon them? Scatter like leaves in the wind."

"All the better if they see an Orc and an Elf, and both of us archers," she argued, but he chuckled.

"You are not fearsome to look upon, love - I would have my hands full to keep them from stealing my mate! Elfling, hear me in this. Let me go alone, this once. There will be other times when we must fight side by side, and I will be thankful to have you guarding my back."

She kissed him and let him go, and he hurried after Farador. They came out into the chill of dawn to find the Master of the Hall himself, with nearly two score hobbits, armed and helmeted, mounted on ponies. And Radagast also was there, on a grey horse procured from who knew where.

"We don't have a mount for you," Farador said to the Orc, sounding worried.

"I'll keep up," Canohando assured him. Then Sariadoc lifted a silver horn to his lips, and the Horn Cry of Buckland rang out. Canohando threw up his head, feeling the blood boil through his veins as if he had been touched with a fiery finger.

AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE! shrilled the horn, and suddenly its echoes were mingled with the savage bellow of the host of Mordor, bursting from Canohando in spite of all his effort to hold it back.

The animals startled and broke into a run, their riders clinging like burrs to their shaggy backs, and the Master winded his horn again, and yet a third time, before he let it fall to his side and rode in grim silence. Canohando bit down on his lower lip until he tasted blood, forcing his roar back into his throat while he loped along at Farador's side.

They saw the scene of the attack from half a mile off. It had been a prosperous homestead with two barns and assorted outbuildings, besides a wooden house; now all were in flames. As they got close, other hobbits came out of hiding in the fields and ditches along the road, joining the group from Brandy Hall. They carried makeshift weapons, hayforks and butcher knives, a few hunting bows.

"There was a dozen of 'em, at least, Master," one of the countrymen said to Sariadoc. "We had some horses in the paddock, full-size; we put them to pasture for the Rangers, when they're not in use. They're valuable beasts, so we pen them up at night. The ruffians, they come with torches and fired the barns and drove the horses off -- stole 'em -- and we were busy at first fighting the fires and didn't notice. And then they set the house ablaze--"

His voice rose almost to a cry, and he bit it off and fell silent, striding along with his eyes straight ahead. One of his companions finished for him, his voice tight.

"His wife and child were inside - we couldn't get them out."

Farador gave a low moan and instantly stifled it. Canohando's rough fingers closed around the hobbit's hand.

"Steady, youngling."

When they came into the farmyard, the fires were dying down in all but one low building; that was still an inferno.

"The wood shed," said the hobbit who had spoken first. "Ten cords of seasoned firewood; that'un'll burn a while." The flickering firelight shone on a dark figure lying on the ground. One of the hobbits bent and turned it over, revealing a young face marred by a bloody wound on the forehead. The eyes were open and fixed.

"Brego Boffin. Just turned twenty-four last month - old enough to fight and too young to know when to run. He won't never grow no wiser, poor lad."

"Stay together," said Sariadoc. "We don't know for sure they're gone."

They kept in a defensive knot as they searched among the farm buildings, and Radagast stayed with them, his eyes darting here and there, as if he shepherded the hobbits. But Canohando fell back, slipping away through the mingled smoke and mist that hung over the scene. The roaring woodshed fire was a background of noise and light, the hobbits' voices an intermittent murmur. His nostrils caught the stench of burned flesh and he stepped around a dead dog, a gaping wound in its side, lying between the largest barn and the house. A few steps farther another hobbit lay face up, his arms flung out to each side as if he had tried to stop himself from falling. There was an arrow protruding from his chest. The Orc leaned over him for a moment, but he was dead.

The house was a wreckage of glowing embers, little flames still dancing here and there. Canohando circled it, eyeing the ground. Once or twice he bent down to look closely at something; the second time he grunted softly and veered off to the right, away from the ruined farmstead.

He tracked the marauders to a patch of woodland in the river bottom, miles away from any dwelling. When he reached the place the sun was high overhead, but under the trees it was dim and moist, and insects buzzed about his face.

There was a soft whicker somewhere nearby, and he froze. He had forgotten the stolen horses, and the danger that they would give the alarm. As he stood indecisive, suddenly he thought of Radagast. The old man seemed so certain of finding friendship in every creature he came upon; he met bird and beast alike with cheerful camaraderie, and they responded. Even a wounded Orc in the desolation of Mordor...

Slowly Canohando extended his hand. "Come on, then," he mouthed. The words were louder inside his head than they were on his lips; indeed, he scarcely breathed, yet after a moment there was a rustling in the underbrush and a horse thrust out its head and pushed its velvet nose against his hand.

"Good fellow," the Orc murmured. He stroked the animal's face, running his hand down along the silky cheek, and it leaned into his touch. "Where are your brothers, Horse?"

The creature took a step backward, shaking its head, and Canohando realized that it was tethered to a tree. He drew the knife from his belt and cut the rope. The horse came right up to him then, leaning against him so that he had to brace himself not to be pushed off his feet, and he stroked the long, tangled mane and the smooth curve of its neck. At last he tipped his head back so he could look directly into one large, gentle eye.

Where are the others? he thought, willing it to understand him.

The beast swung its head to one side, and stepped off in that direction. Canohando followed, and in a moment he saw another horse. His new friend led him to the spot, positioning itself side by side with the other animal, but making no sound, as if understood the need for stealth. Wondering, Canohando freed the second horse and again met the eye of his guide.

There were four horses in all, and one by one he set them loose. Then he led them out from under the trees and pointed back the way he had come.

"Your master is back there," he muttered by the lead horse's ear. "Go home." The animal put its head down, pushing against his chest so that he was forced to step back. "No," he said. "I will come later. Take your brothers home."

And the horse obeyed him. It walked away across the field, slowly at first, and the others followed. But after a few dozen steps they broke into a trot, and Canohando watched until all he could see was a cloud of dust in the distance.

He was amazed and delighted at his success in imitating the old man. What would you say to that, runt? But the thought of Frodo brought his mind back to the hobbits at the ruined homestead: the farmer grieving for wife and child, the dead youngster who had not known when to run.

The horses were gone; they would not give away his presence. Now he could deal with the murderers.

He felt his way into their camp, quiet and deadly as an adder. A canvas shelter was strung between two trees; he entered without making the sleepers so much as turn in their dreams, and made certain that none of them would ever move again. From man to man he went like vengeance incarnate, and when he was finished, his knife dripped blood. Without thinking he raised it to his mouth to lick it clean, and in that moment he came to himself.

Orc!

He fell to his knees, driving the fouled blade into the ground, hunched over as if he had taken a blow to the gut, retching and shuddering.

He had hardly seen the men he slew; in his mind's eye was a hobbit's face, blue-eyed like young Farador, but older, both toughened and made gentle by suffering. It was Ninefingers whose land had been defiled by these marauders, his countrymen who had been murdered and made homeless. For his runt's sake the Orc had meted out justice -- and in that very act he had fallen again into the old way.

He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and clutched at Arwen's jewel. I can never give it to you, melethril; I will always need it, always...

A brutal kick rolled him over on his back, and he gasped for breath, looking up the length of a steel blade to a slender figure whose mail shirt glimmered in the dim light of the tent.

"You again, Orc! You have been amusing yourself in your own fashion, I see. But this time there is no one to stop me putting an end to you."

It was Itaril.

Canohando stared at the Elf in bewilderment. "You said you would go home," he said. He felt his bruised side, thinking he must have a broken rib, maybe more than one.

Itaril smiled. "Oh, I will, Orc, I will. After Celeborn has sailed, with his band of lily-livers, and left the Grey Havens empty behind him. Then I will take all that land for my own, with my army of Men -- I have others, you know; you did not slay them all! I have been a long time making my plans in secret. There are still Elves in Mirkwood who will not go off tamely to bury themselves in the West.

"I will build Lindon of the Elves once more, and the North will have a new Master. Let Arwen's whelp keep Gondor; in Lindon Itaril shall reign! This will not be an Age only of Men. And I will keep this rich little country for my breadbasket: with it I shall reward my soldiers, and they will rid it of these stunted peasants."

His eyes glittered with madness. He slid the tip of his blade up Canohando's body to his neck, playing with the chain of Arwen's jewel. "I will take your pretty bauble after. I know an Elven lady who will grace it better than you do, Greyskin. It shall be my bride-gift to her, when she comes to me from Eryn Lasgalen."

Canohando stared fixedly at something behind Itaril's right shoulder, his eyes widening. For only an instant the Elf glanced back, but it was enough. The Orc dove at his ankles and jerked him to the ground, wrestling the sword away from him and casting it aside. He threw his full weight on his opponent to hold him down, one hand on the Elf's brow grinding his head into the dirt. Before Itaril could recover, the Orc had slit his throat.

He wiped his knife on the Elf's garment and got up painfully, feeling at his broken rib. "You will not steal my brother's land, nor murder his people," he told the corpse.

He picked up a cloak, bloodied all down one side, from one of the beds. Tearing off a few strips from the clean part, he bound them snugly around his body, under his tunic. After that he breathed easier, and he pushed aside the tent flap and looked around. The Elf had boasted of a large army, but where was it?

As he stood watching and listening, there was a splash from the river, half-hidden by a tangle of willows twenty paces off. He stepped back under cover as a man, his hair wet from bathing, came in sight. Just before he reached the tent opening, Canohando stepped out and flung an arm around his neck, clamping his other hand over the man's mouth.

"Not a sound," he hissed in his ear, "or you will be as dead as your commander."

He dragged him inside the tent and looked around for something to bind him. One of the men he had slain earlier was wearing a belt of soft leather; Canohando stripped it off him and bound the living man's arms tight behind him.

He was young, with a cocky set to his mouth, but he paled as he gazed around at the scene of carnage. The Elf's dead eyes seemed still to glare, and his lips were drawn back in a ghastly grimace. At last the man looked at Canohando, slack-jawed with horror, and the Orc set his knife to the fellow's throat, the blade light against his skin.

"At least I did not burn them alive! I left that for this shining prince to do, who would make himself a king. Where are the rest of his forces?"

The young man swallowed convulsively, and the Orc growled, beast-like.

"Do not try my patience, youngling! I have remembered today what race I spring from. I would rather have information and let you live, but if you will not speak --"

"They are coming from Dunland! We were to meet them at the Ford of Baranduin."

"How many?" the Orc demanded.

"I don't know - enough to stand off any men of the North Kingdom we might run into. Lord Itaril feared we would be late in meeting them; he was delayed on the road from Eryn Lasgalen. That's why we needed horses."

Canohando laughed without mirth. "He was held up in Rivendell, in a locked cell. And then starting back along the road to Mirkwood, while the Brown One watched. Where did he pick you up, hireling?"

The man looked sullen. "He stopped at our farm. North of the Weather Hills. He said he would restore the old Elven Kingdom in the West, and he had land and fortune for Men of courage who would follow him."

"Land and fortune," the Orc repeated. "Whose land? Whose fortune?"

There was no answer.

"Who set the farmhouse afire?" Canohando asked.

The man licked his lips nervously. "Not me! I was rounding up the horses and finding tack for them."

"Are you an archer?"

Again he did not answer, and Canohando flicked a glance around the tent. One pallet was empty of any occupant; there was a sheathed sword on the floor beside it, but no sign of a bow.

"Where did Itaril sleep?" the Orc demanded.

The man shook his head. "I don't think they do sleep, the Elves. He would sit against a tree sometimes, resting, but I never saw him lie down and close his eyes."

Canohando looked round once more. Five dead men and one living, and an Elf who had refused to go into the West of his own will, but had gone all the same. "You only had four horses," he said.

"That was all that farm had. Lord Itaril was going on when it got dark, and the men without horses would find them somewhere and catch up."

"And kill more halflings," the Orc said savagely. "Very well, youngling, you told me what I want to know, and I will spare your life. But I will bring you back to face the halflings' justice, whatever it is, and I warn you, I am an archer. Run from me, and you will not run far."

He pushed the man ahead of him out from under the trees, back toward the burned farmstead. The sun was far to the west now, casting a mellow light over the sandy road and the fields of tender green on either side. Canohando carried his bow strung, ready for any attempt at escape.

After a while a cloud of dust appeared on the horizon. Ten minutes later it had become an ox-cart driven by a single hobbit, his long whip standing upright in a bracket at the front of his wagon. He grew bug-eyed with fright when he saw the Orc, shouting at his beasts to turn them and staring over his shoulder as if he could not credit what he was seeing. Before the hobbit could get away, however, Canohando's prisoner launched himself at the cart.

"Goodman, flee for your life! See, an army of Orcs is overrunning the Shire -- raise the alarm! Run!"

The hobbit tumbled out of the cart on the side away from the Orc, falling in his haste, and picked himself up to run wildly out across the cornfield without looking back.

The man glanced slyly at Canohando. "Soon you will have a contingent of the little fools after you with pitchforks. Who will they think is the enemy, you or me?"

Canohando regarded him for a moment with hooded eyes, fingering an arrow in his quiver. "I will take my chances with the halflings," he said at last. The oxen had halted when their driver made off, and the Orc jerked the whip out of its holder and shook it out. "But you will take no more chances with me, manling! Now you run!"

He cracked the whip once over the man's head, then brought it down on his shoulders.

The fellow turned and stumbled away from him, awkward with his hands bound behind him, and the Orc followed.

"I said run!" he shouted, and he laid the whip across the man's back and shoulders without mercy, driving him down the road as stripes of red appeared and widened on the fellow's homespun shirt.

40. The Road Diverges

The light was failing by the time they reached the farmstead, and the place was deserted. The bodies that had lain scattered on the ground had been removed, and the fires had burned out. Even the woodshed was reduced to coals, sending up thin tendrils of smoke that wavered in the twilight.

The man's labored breathing was harsh in the quiet, and he stumbled. Canohando swung his whip so it coiled around the prisoner's waist and pulled taut, yanking the man up short, preventing him from falling. The ruffian stood still, groaning and hugging himself around the middle.

"Do you have any more tricks up your sleeve, manling, or shall I give you a drink of water?"

"No more tricks." His voice was barely audible.

The Orc unfastened the water bottle from his belt and pulled the stopper. "Here." He upended it in the fellow's mouth. The man drank greedily, but Canohando did not let him have much. He took a drink himself before he put the bottle away. Then he took the ruffian by the arm, dragging him along as he cast about looking for some sign of which way the hobbits had gone.

"I cannot track in this light," he said at last, disgustedly. "It seems I will have to bear your company a while longer. All right, run!"

The prisoner turned a white, pleading face toward him. "No, please! I can't go any farther. Let me sit down, just a few minutes..."

Canohando dragged him across the farmyard to where the house had been. "A child and its mother burned in that," he said. His voice was low, but so ferocious that the man tried to cringe away. "You came to take what you wanted, you and your pretty commander, and it was nothing to you, who suffered for it. Be thankful you are still alive to run!"

He shoved the man in front of him and laid on the whip once more. The ruffian shuffled forward, and the Orc drove him back out to the road.

Canohando could have run all night, even with his broken rib; he had endured worse as a foot soldier in the Witch King's horde. But the man went slower and slower, however vigorously the Orc plied the whip, and finally Canohando furled it up and resigned himself to walking, only giving his prisoner a mild prod in the back when he seemed inclined to stop moving altogether. At last, just as they were coming up to a crossroad, the man slumped and collapsed, prostrate on the ground.

Canohando took out his water bottle once more and dashed its contents on the still face, but there was no response. "You would have made a poor warrior," he muttered, bending to hoist the unconscious body across his shoulders. Brandywine Bridge loomed out of the darkness ahead, and he ran toward it.

The Orc had been thinking hard ever since his encounter with Itaril. He had no way of knowing which way Sariadoc and his hobbits had gone, but he was not much afraid for them: they had Radagast, and the Brown One would protect them, if there were more ruffians loose in the Shire.

The greater danger is Itaril's army of Men, he thought, and wondered uneasily if another army of Elves was already on its way from Mirkwood. He would unite his forces as soon as he could, before the King's Men knew what he was about. The important thing was to warn Eldarion that rebellion was brewing in the North, and he thought the quickest way was to get word to the garrison he had passed coming into the Shire.

His footsteps sounded hollow on the wooden planking of the Bridge. His prisoner squirmed and moaned, and he took a firmer grip. Never fear, manling, I will hand you over to your own kind very soon. Whether you will like the welcome they give you is your own affair.

At last he came to a halt before the iron gate and took a deep breath.

"Darak!" he roared. "Captain of the Guard, come out!"

Doors at the base of both towers flew open, and soldiers poured forth, surrounding him with bared swords. He met the eyes of the man nearest him and nodded greeting.

"Wide awake, I see. Where is your captain?"

"Here I am." The man in the winged helmet strode forward, and the guards made way for him. "Well, Canohando of Mordor, what have you brought us this night? Who have you got there?"

"A traitor and an informant, both in one. Lock him up, and I will tell you his tale in brief. You can question him further when he wakes."

Darak took a moment to look into the ruffian's face, but the man was still in a swoon. "Take him in custody," he ordered curtly, and two soldiers came to lower him from the Orc's shoulders. "What's the matter with him?"

Canohando frowned. "He is a fool, chiefly. Greedy, also, I should think, and faithless."

The captain gave a bark of laughter. "I don't doubt it for a minute, but why were you carrying him? Does he need a physician?"

"A glob of ointment for his back, perhaps. He should be all right when he has rested, but guard him well. He is full of guile."

Darak glanced at a soldier who stood beside him, second in command, seemingly. "See to it, Relinac. A double guard, and send for the medic. I'll be in my office. Come with me," he added to Canohando.

The office was one level up, with windows that overlooked both sides of the gate. It was lit by lanterns hung from the four walls and a tall candelabrum on a wide table; papers were strewn about as if Darak had been interrupted at his work, even so late in the evening. A wooden goblet, half full, stood at hand, and an earthenware jug beside it. Darak took another goblet from a wall cabinet and filled it before he topped off his own.

"Wine from Lebennin," he said. I toast our second meeting, Sir Orc. I would have sent for you, if you had not come back. I have had an answer from Gondor."

The Orc eased himself into one of the leather-covered chairs by the table. Now that he was no longer running, his injured side hurt. "And?" he said. He took a cautious sip from the goblet.

"The King sent orders, but he did not return the letter. Let me see that scroll again, of your courtesy."

Canohando handed it over, and Darak unrolled it with care. "I think you had better hear the Queen's own words, as she wrote them," he said, and began to read.

"The Orc who bears this is Canohando of Mordor, known as the Queen's Shadow, sworn brother to Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer. You may recognize him by the scar in the palm of his left hand, and my Evenstar Jewel which he wears about his neck. His courage, his faithfulness, and his skill in warfare are known to me. Therefore I give him free entrance to the Shire, to come and go at his own will. And further I name him Guardian of the Shire, under the King alone, to whom he has vowed fealty. Let those entrusted with the protection of the Halflings' Country look to Canohando as their Commander, and let my Son the King, Eldarion of Gondor, confirm this word of his Lady Mother, given in Lothlorien as the golden leaves are falling.

(signed) Arwen Undomiel, Queen"

Canohando set his goblet down on the table as gingerly as if he feared the wood might shatter.

"I would like to see the scar Her Grace spoke of," said Darak, and the Orc held out his hand.

"It is from the bloodletting when I became brother to Ninefingers." Canohando's voice was gruff and he cleared his throat. "What did Eldarion say to the Lady's letter?"

Darak held the Orc's hand up to the light, examining the scar that cut across his palm. At length he reached into a pouch at his belt.

"The King sent you this," he said. He brought out a ring of dull gold, heavy and ancient-looking, the band incised with runes too rubbed with age to be easily deciphered. It was set with an opaque black gem that winked in the candlelight as if a star gleamed deep within.

"It is an official's ring from the old kingdom of Arnor; there are but few of them still in existence. It is the seal of your commission." He dropped it in Canohando's open palm and stood at attention, his hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. "I am the ranking officer of this garrison. At the King's order, I place myself and my men under your authority, Commander."

*****

Canohando was closeted for better than an hour with Darak, dictating a letter to be sent hotfoot to the King, detailing what he had learned of Itaril's plotting.

"At first light, send your riders -- not a single man; better a squad of four, and let each one carry a copy of that message. It is a long way to Minas Tirith, and we must be certain the message reaches Eldarion. And send warning to the other Northern garrisons as well."

"You killed the leader, you said --" Darak sounded doubtful; plainly he had not expected the Orc to be so prompt in taking up his new command.

"I did, but he was not alone; he boasted of others, in Mirkwood and closer at hand, who would join him. It may be the treachery will die with him, but we would be fools to count on it. And if the King's forces are seen to be at the ready, all the more chance that it will come to nothing.

"Send the messengers, and we will take further counsel tomorrow. There are Men coming to the Ford of Baranduin; do you know the place?"

Darak thought a moment. "South of here, I expect. The only good ford is at Sarn, a day's ride down the Greenway."

"Let us see if we can cut them off before they reach it. You have horses? Good. As large a force as you can muster, Captain, and I will join you before dawn. I am going back to the halflings' great house for the rest of the night."

He clapped Darak on the shoulder and strode down the stairs and out of the fort. The soldier at the outer door let him pass, but did not offer any salute; apparently the Orc's new rank was not yet common knowledge.

He broke into a trot before he reached the Bridge, anxious to get back to Malawen.

We will not be wanderers over the face of Middle Earth, melethril. The Lady has given us a homeland, and a task to do. Only I do not understand why she did not tell me, back in Lothlorien...

He had no more than reached the wide place in the road where the outbuildings of the Hall began, when there was a shrill cry from beside the River, and something hurtled toward him out of the darkness. He dodged to one side, whipping out his knife and then in the same motion dropping it in the Road. Malawen threw herself into his arms, forcing him to bend his knees to keep his balance, breathing in shallow puffs to counter the stabbing pain in his side.

"My love, my love, I thought you lost -- the Wizard returned an hour ago by himself, to say they had found Itaril dead in a sea of blood, but no sign of you!" She was weeping on his neck, holding on as if she would strangle him. "I thought you had started back wounded, and bled to death along the way!"

He carried her to where a wooden bench stood against a wall, and sat down with a gasp. She pulled away.

"You are wounded! Where is it, melethron; let me see! Is it bad?"

He drew her close. "Hush, Elfling, hush. No, it's nothing; I have cared for it already, and later you shall have a look and see if you can bandage it better. Only let me rest here a moment. I have something to tell you."

She stretched up to kiss him. "And I have something to tell you, as well. The Wizard is right -- I realized, when I thought I had lost you." Her hands moved lightly over his face, from his ridged brow down his cheeks, her fingertips meeting to caress his lips. "I will sail with you, melethron. We will go to Valinor, and never, never be lost to one another."

He sat as if turned to stone, of two minds whether he would erupt in bitter laughter, or throw back his head and howl.

"I will go with you, love!" she insisted. "We will be together, always together, and I do not care anymore what anyone else thinks, so long as I have you. Melethron, say you are pleased!"

"Yes, I am pleased." He shifted her off his knees and stood up wearily. "You say the old man is back? Come lead me to him, Elfling, for here is a tangle I cannot unravel without help."

Radagast was alone in the library. He looked up quickly as they came in, Malawen with her arm protectively around the Orc's waist, although he was walking firmly enough.

"We are going with you to Valinor," she said at once, and Radagast broke into a broad smile.

"A blessing on you, lass! It was my greatest wish, that you would come around!" He turned joyously to Canohando, but the Orc sank down on the floor with his back against the paneled wall, staring at the flames that tipped the candles on the table. Radagast became grave, waiting.

"You knew what the Queen intended for me," Canohando said.

"Ah. Darak has had word from Gondor." Radagast brought out his pipe and began filling it. "Yes, I knew," he admitted. "Celeborn told me."

"Why did you not tell me? And why, in the name of Mordor, did he offer me passage to Valinor?"

"Celeborn does nothing in the name of Mordor." The wizard lit his pipe, puffing vigorously to make it draw, before he continued. "Arwen was intent upon giving you a place and a purpose, after she was gone. But Celeborn -- and I am of one mind with him in this -- believes that your rightful home is in the West, with the others of the First-born who heed the Call, now at the end. So it comes about that you have two roads from which to choose."

The Orc pushed himself to his feet and began pacing around the room. "I was not bred to make choices, old man. See now, if I stay, I have refused the Call, in despite of the Powers. If I go, I refuse the task my Lady put before me, and I am sworn to obey her. I would have done better to remain in my mountains!"

"You are forgetting me, love," said Malawen.

He took two steps and knelt before her where she sat, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her lap.

"You are free to do as you will, Haltacala,"* said Radagast gently. "You do no evil, if you stay behind to guard the Shire, and neither are you forsworn if you sail with us. Arwen could not know that you would be given passage, and she would not have held you back, if she had known. I would have you come with us to Valinor, but either road is honorable."

"We would be safe in the West, melethron," whispered Malawen. "We would have no fear, neither we nor our children..."

Canohando lifted his head. "Would we be permitted children there, Elfling? But who then will guard my brother's land? The halflings are mortal; they cannot go to Valinor."

"The King defends the Shire," said Radagast.

"Yet halflings were slain only a night ago, and the danger is not past." Canohando sat back on his heels. "Where are the Elves who would have joined Itaril? The leader is dead, but in truth he was a poor master. Someone stronger may rise to take his place."

"Eldarion will not stand by while a rival power is established in the North," said Radagast.

"While he lives, he will not. While the Kingdom endures, the halflings may be safe -- though enemies slipped in this time! But you know, old man, and so do I, what becomes of kingdoms. A thousand years, if they are fortunate -- then Gondor will decline, and who will defend the Shire? Will the Valar hold it against us, if we do not sail? Gladly would I dwell in their presence, but..."

"There is more in your mind than that," Radagast said softly.

Canohando cradled Malawen's hand in his, tracing with his forefinger the delicate lines that marked her palm. "Did you know that Lash was half-human?" he asked the wizard.

"Not until you told us, no."

"Even his sons - their mother was full human, and Lash half, but they were all Orc. So will my younglings be. If we have children in Valinor -- if the Holy Ones permit -- they will be greyskins like me. What welcome will they find among the Elves?

"Since I saw Lash mated, I have wanted sons, but not such Orcs as I was, or my companions of old. If my younglings guard the Shire with me, turning their fierceness to protect the halflings, they may learn to be like Ninefingers: great-hearted and faithful. What would they become in Valinor, old man? There is no work for us there, no need of courage, but of hatred and derision there would be abundance. There are more Elves like Itaril, I deem, than there are like Celeborn. But will the Holy Ones forgive us, if we spurn their call?"

The wizard cleared his throat.

"I think you misread the Elves, Canohando; there are not so many like Itaril. But yes, the Valar will forgive. And even if they did not, there is One more holy still, at Whose word Manwe himself falls silent. Will He take it amiss, if you put aside your own great desire in order to defend the innocent, and raise up children to break Morgoth's curse? Eru is above all knowing, so high and holy is His throne, yet I do not read Him so. Rather I think His blessing will be upon you, and upon your children. Fitly did I call you 'Wise', on that day when you surprised us in Gorgoroth! I spoke more truly than I knew."

*Haltacala: "Leaps for the Light". A nickname Radagast gave to Canohando in Rivendell.

41. Frodo's Country

Malawen would not be left behind this time, when her mate went to war. So it was that she rode pillion behind one of the soldiers, on that mad dash down the Greenway to intercept Itaril's army, and when they joined battle, her bow sang as bravely as the rest. They surprised a force of several hundred Men in the open country south of Sarn Ford, and the engagement was quick and brutal.

"No prisoners," Canohando had ordered. "They are traitors, else they would not be here under arms, in this quiet place. We will set fear this day in the hearts of those who think of invading this guarded land!"

But he himself spared one life, a stripling who stood over a fallen comrade, defending him, until an arrow pierced his sword arm. The Orc finished the wounded rebel with one stroke of his knife, but he called off his men before they killed the young fellow.

"You deserve a better cause for your sword," he growled. "Take a horse, and carry word from me to the leaders of this rebellion: Itaril is dead, and Eldarion rules, in the North as in Gondor!" He had the young man's injury bandaged, broke his sword in two, and sent him off.

They had lost a few of their own men, though not as many as might have been, without the Orc's wily generalship. Canohando would have given them a warrior's funeral pyre, but he yielded to the protestations of Darak and the others, to follow their own burial customs. They carried their fallen back to the fortress across the Road, and laid them to rest in a woodsy place nearby, in the shade of the tall trees. But when all had been done, to satisfy the grief of the living and the honor of the dead, Radagast came to speak with Canohando.

"The time is now measured in weeks rather than months, before I must depart to meet Celeborn at the Havens," he said. "And I must go first to Great Smials, for the fever is there and in some of the outlying villages, yet I would have your comradeship a little longer. Also I should teach Malawen all I can, so that she may carry on in my place. Will you come with me? My winged friends will carry messages back and forth at need, from you to your garrison."

Canohando was willing. "The whole of the North is on alert, and if I know Eldarion, he will have sent a company toward Mirkwood, to block the rebellion there at the source. If you will send a messenger each evening to the fortress, so that Darak may report to me, I will go gladly. It sorrows me to lose your friendship again so soon, old man."

Radagast laid a hand on the Orc's shoulder. "We will lose our fellowship, but not our friendship, Haltacala."

So they set out together once again, with Farador as their guide as he had been before, for he insisted upon accompanying them.

"I promised Uncle Ordi I would bring you to the Thain," he explained. "And besides, I still want to show Canohando Bag End."

Just inside the borders of Tookland, they found a child sick in an isolated smial. Radagast sat up with him all night, swaddling him in wet sheets to bring the fever down, and in the morning he called Malawen and went carefully over the necessary treatment with her.

"This little one is not taken so badly as the twins were. I think you can bring him through, my dear, and I must reach Great Smials and share what knowledge I have of this disease with the healers there. Stay until he is out of danger, and then follow me."

So Malawen ministered to the fevered lad inside the house, and Canohando tried to allay the fears of the simple parents, both at their child's illness and at their outlandish visitors. But it was not until the third evening, when he played his drum, that the hobbits of the place began to lose their terror of him.

He was sitting outside at sunset, remembering how he had sat with his runt sometimes in Mordor as the clouds turned scarlet and crimson, watching Frodo's rapt expression more than he did the sky. It was his runt who had taught him to love beauty - to see it, even - and here he was, incredibly, in Frodo's own country. He was stricken suddenly with deep gratitude, as with a sword. It was beyond words, yet he could not be silent, and he pulled his drum between his knees. Softly at first, then with greater sureness and authority, his hands beat out the fullness of his heart.

The sun gave a last golden flash and vanished, and the western sky cooled to lavender and darkened. Canohando came back to himself and closed his mouth; he had been chanting without realizing it, making a song of thanksgiving in rhythm with the drum. He softened the touch of his fingers on the leather until the sound faded away, even as the light had faded. Then a voice spoke quietly from behind him.

"What were you singing, if you don't mind me asking? It was wild as foxes yipping at the moon, and yet tender, too, like an old hen clucking to her chickabiddies - enough to bring the tears to your eyes, almost."

It was the old grandfather, of all the family the only one who did not whisk himself out of sight any time the Orc looked in his direction. Canohando had to think for a moment, to remember the words he had been stringing together as he drummed.

"I was making a promise," he said slowly. "I had a friend, a shield-brother, and this was his homeland, but he is dead now. I owe him a debt I cannot repay, unless by taking the Shire for my homeland as well, to guard it for his sake."

The hobbit came out of the smial and sat down within arm's reach of Canohando. "It's a puzzle to me how someone from the Shire could be any such thing to an Orc, not that I know much about Orcs, if it comes to that. But it seems uncommon strange, and I wouldn't say no to hearing the story, if so be you're inclined to tell it."

Canohando chuckled, looking from the corner of his eye.

"Very well, halfling, I will tell you. He told me tales enough, about lands and people almost beyond my understanding, and I wonder what you will make of this one.

"So, then: there was a halfling, and I called him Ninefingers, but his true name was Frodo Baggins..."

*******

The summer ran by on fevered feet. There were many children stricken, and Radagast and Malawen both were caught up in the struggle to save their lives, traveling to and fro across the Shire as they received calls for aid. Canohando went where Malawen did: he would not be parted from her, and neither would she have allowed it. But they did not come near Bag End.

At last the days began to grow shorter, and the fever abated. The travelers made their way wearily back to Buckland. A fortnight later, a group of hobbits came riding into the dooryard of Brandy Hall, tanned and dusty from the Road, and exuberant with homecoming: Fordibras and his companions, back from Rivendell. They burst into the Hall like strong beer that foams over the top of the mug, filling the place with noise and tidings of the outer world.

Fordibras emptied his saddlebags on the Master's big desk: four books bound in fawn-colored leather, the leaves within covered in Elven script, illustrated with fine drawings of the human body and also of medicinal herbs, meticulously labeled as to names and which parts should be used.

"I'm counting on you to be able to read these, cousin," he said with a grin. "I wander about the world like old Bilbo, perhaps, but I'm not the scholar he was. You will have to spend the winter translating."

Sariadoc took one of the volumes between his hands, turning the pages reverently.

"Celeborn gave these to you?"

"Aye, and sent his blessing with them. Elrond studied the healing of Men as well as Elves, and he collected his knowledge in these books. The doses will have to be adjusted for hobbits, of course. Was the Wizard any help, this summer?"

"Mmm." Sariadoc was murmuring to himself as he read, only half attending. "What did you say, cousin? Oh, the Wizard, yes: he was a great help, indeed, and he shared his expertise with Marabuc here at the Hall, and with the healers in Tuckborough. And he taught the Elf maiden, also. I may ask her to assist me with this translation. I will get on faster with her help, and so we will be prepared before the fever season comes again. We lost none of the children whom the Wizard had in care, and only two suffered any aftereffects." He looked up with the ghost of a smile. "You missed all the excitement, Ordi."

Fordibras poured himself a glass of the Hall's finest, and did the same for Sariadoc.

"Excitement, in the Shire? You cannot mean the fever: that is grim enough, but hardly exciting. But is the Elf is staying the winter? What of her mate? I doubt that hobbits will be glad of such visitors, for the long term."

The Master sipped his brandy. "Well, they will be in the fort by the Bridge, not right inside the Shire, and I expect that hobbits will have to get used to it. The King has named Canohando to command the border guard, and I must say the Orc did an efficient job of dispatching the ruffians who came down on us this summer.

"Ah, yes, I blew the Horn of the Mark in sober earnest, for the first time in my life, and rode off to battle as bold as Merriadoc himself! And may I never hear again such a sound as the Orc made when we started out: it was enough to congeal the blood, and I thought the ponies would run from here to the Tower Hills!"

Fordibras was staring at him with the glass halfway to his mouth.

"An Orc, to guard the Shire? And you had ruffians here! When I think of the times I have felt myself half asleep in broad daylight, wishing for something, anything, to break the monotony - and while I'm away from home, adventure comes to my very doorstep! It hardly seems fair, cousin. I suppose it had something to do with the conspiracy of Elves from Eryn Lasgalen, that we heard of in Rivendell? Messengers came from the King, seeking counsel of Celeborn, but I never thought you would have seen anything of it here!"

Sariadoc smiled thinly. "I knew you would be sorry to have missed it, Ordi. For myself, I prefer boredom. The Shire escaped very lightly, thanks in large part to the Orc, but we lost four hobbits, and that is four too many."

Fordibras set down his glass. "Forgive me, Sari; I was not thinking. We should have peace now, though. The King's Men were on the march when I left Rivendell, and if Canohando is commanding the Shire garrison, I doubt we will see any more intruders."

"Let us hope not, indeed," said Sariadoc.

"Is the Wizard still here?"

"No," said the Master. "He left a week since for the Havens, to put all in readiness for the Elves' departure."

Radagast had spent a few days at the fort before he left, writing down for Malawen's use everything he had learned over the summer about treating the hobbits' strange fever. In the evenings he sat with Canohando before the fire in the Commander's private sitting room. They reminisced a little about their years in Mordor: Lash and his sons, Yarga, and Frodo, always Frodo.

"You still have not visited Bag End," said the Wizard.

"We will go when winter comes," said Canohando. "Snow will clog the roads and put a chill on the rebellion, if there is anything left of it by then, and I will feel safer about being away from the fort. Bag End is too far from the border."

Radagast smiled and blew a smoke ring at the ceiling.

"Well, you have plenty of time. Now I've had a chance to reflect on the matter, I believe you are right to remain in the Shire. You could not wish for a better place to raise your family."

"The halflings would relish that, do you think: a nest of young Orcs growing up on their doorstep? I am not so sure. I think we may build another fortress out to the West in a year or so, between the Shire and the Havens. It was that region that tempted Itaril, and it will be standing empty."

The Orc tipped his chair back against the wall - he was finally becoming accustomed to sitting in chairs - and picked his teeth with a splinter of wood. "We will make our settlements in the wild country outside my brother's land, a ring of protection, like a wall around the Shire. A thousand years from now, when Gondor maybe is no more, we will still be here, and the land will be secure."

"And may the Holy Ones add their blessing," said Radagast. He rose, knocking the ashes out of his pipe into the fireplace. "I must leave at daybreak, Canohando. Already I have lingered too long, wanting to prolong our time together."

The Orc got to his feet and took the Wizard in a clumsy hug.

"You go to your rightful place, Brown One, and I remain where love and duty call me. But it grieves me that we will never meet again, in all the long turnings of the world."

"Who told you that?" said Radagast. "Never is a long time, my friend."

The Wizard left at dawn, and they heard later that three grey ships put out from the Havens before the storms of autumn came, but the Orc did not go to Hobbiton that winter. By the time word came from Minas Tirith that Itaril's rebellion was utterly put down, Malawen was reluctant to venture out, and Canohando cosseted her and sent to Buckland for one of Farador's aunts to come and bear her company. Toward the end of March their hopes were realized, and the Elf lay with her newborn son in her arms, while Canohando bent over them, hardly daring to touch and unable to look away.

"He is so little," he marveled, but Malawen chortled.

"He is big where it counts," she answered, and her eyes danced with mischief. "You did say that you want many grandchildren, melethron?"

Canohando looked at her blankly for an instant; then he gathered her and the babe together into his embrace, shaking with laughter. "Oh, my Elfling, what tree did you fall out of? When I used to listen to my runt tell tales of the Elves, I thought they were all starlight and mithril, and blades of sharp steel flashing in the sun. You would have made him blush to the roots of his hair, melethril! I do not think he ever met an Elf like you."

She giggled, her voice muffled against him. "I have been too much in the company of soldiers, and a certain Orc Commander. Look at his face, love, he has your eyes! What shall we name him?"

Canohando laid her gently back among the pillows, and took the child from her arms, holding him securely while he peeled back the layers of blankets. The babe was small, but huskily built, with large hands and feet, and he lashed out with arms and legs, squalling at the touch of cool air on his skin. The Orc examined him minutely, paying no heed to his protests, but when the little one began to shiver, his father wrapped him up again, tucking the blankets in snugly, but leaving one hand exposed. He laid his finger against the tiny palm, and at once the child closed his fist around it.

"He has a strong grip. What is the Elvish for 'Protector,' melethril?"

"Osta. Or perhaps Vara."

"Osta. That will be his name. Our firstborn, our eldest son: and one day he will patrol the borders of the Shire with me, second in command over his brothers."


It was the end of May before they set out at last for the West Farthing. Farador was with them, hugely pleased to be escorting Canohando to Bag End at last. He rode a shaggy pony, and Malawen was mounted on her own mare, from the stable at the fort, with Osta in a doeskin bag strapped to her back. The baby slept most of the time, cuddled against her and soothed by the horse's steady gait, but when he grew hungry he would make little snorts and grumbles, wakening himself slowly, until he came to full consciousness bellowing his discontent. Then they would stop and rest under a tree, while Malawen fed her nursling.

Canohando still refused to go horseback, and he walked beside them, reaching up sometimes to link hands with Malawen for a mile or two, or gently rubbing the baby's back when he seemed restless.

There was no hurry, and they traveled at a walk. The weather was fine, the spring sunshine pleasantly warm on their arms and faces, and what breeze there was, scented with apple blossom and clover. The wheatfields were showing the first new growth of the season, and the rolling, grassy hills were studded haphazardly with round windows winking in the sun, and round doors of blue, or green, or red.

Canohando had passed through this countryside the previous summer, but then the twin shadows of sickness and civil war had hung over it, and his mind had been stiff with watchfulness. Now all around him was a peace that seeped into his very pores; he could feel the tension easing out of his back and shoulder muscles, like a bow unstrung at battle's end.

Is the battle over, then? he wondered, but he knew there would be other struggles, other enemies, in the years to come. Only now there was this time of respite, and he had a sense of being on pilgrimage, passing backward in time even as he walked forward along the Road.

Not for many years had he felt so close to Ninefingers. The country was green, as Frodo had told him long ago, and the sky was such a clear, lively blue that the Orc had the odd sensation of traveling under an inverted sea, as if the heavens might turn inside out without warning and pour fresh water over him. Puffs of cloud sailed overhead like boats on the Sea of Nurnen, that he had heard of but never seen, far in the south of Mordor. More and more he felt himself in a waking dream.

Halflings passed them on the Road, staring curiously but without fear -- rumors of the Elf-lady with her gift of healing, and the Orc who had single-handedly driven off the ruffians, had spread far and wide during the winter months. Canohando found himself searching for his runt's image in every face he saw, but these were jolly, practical-looking folk, with round, rosy cheeks and laugh-wrinkles around their eyes. Hobbits, he reminded himself, the word strange on his tongue. Only Farador had Frodo’s delicacy of face, and even he had not the deep eyes that seemed to draw your very soul to the surface and hold it up to the light.

“For this land, for this peacefulness, we fought the War,” Malawen said softly, and he looked up in time for her to drop a kiss on his brow. She began to sing in the Elven tongue that he still understood only imperfectly, something about a wanderer garbed in grey. He could not catch more of it than that, and he let the melody wash over him without bothering about the words.

She was on his left, but he began to imagine that someone else was walking on his other side. Almost he thought he heard rapid little footfalls that were two to every one of his, as if he were flanked by a small escort who hurried to keep up. He looked, but there was no one; he faced resolutely forward and tried to catch a glimpse from the corner of his eye, but there was nothing to see. Only the sense of someone there, the feeling that there were five members to this party, and not four.

He stopped trying to see and gave himself up to feeling. Malawen had her hand on his shoulder, warming him right through his shirt. And on his other side tripped the light, quick footsteps... he slowed down, and they did too, walking sedately beside him. He stretched out his fingers, and though he felt nothing, he knew they had been taken; he was hand-in-hand with the unseen person at his side...

I have found my mate, he thought, and there was a smile beside him. I have a son, as Lash did, and there will be more, and daughters, too, I hope. The smile became a grin, and then a chuckle that he felt without hearing.

Farador named each little village as they came to it, and they stopped at evening to pass the night at an inn. But all the while Canohando had an eerie feeling that someone else was pointing things out to him: a gnarled old tree of tremendous size by the side of the Road, and there was remembered fear beside him; a farmstead with wooden buildings instead of a door in the hill, and laughter gurgled next to him as at an old joke that still gave pleasure. The Orc was glad that Malawen was content to talk with Farador, or sing lullabies for Osta as she rode. She did not demand conversation of him, and he was free to attend to the unseen companion who walked beside him.

In the afternoon of the third day, they came to a rustic bridge over a stream, and beyond it another little village, presided over by a hump of a hill that pushed up large against the horizon, surrounded by a lavish flower garden. Stone steps set into the hill led up to a round green door.

“And here is Bag End,” said Farador, but Canohando knew that already by the rush of glad homecoming at his side. He felt a flash of great joy from the invisible presence, and for an instant his runt’s face was clear before his eyes. Then the moment passed and they were only four travelers once more.

They were welcomed gravely by the young Master of Bag End, plainly nervous but doing his best to mask it with impeccable manners. He opened the door himself and bowed them in, and they found the small entrance hall thronged with at least a dozen hobbits, all in their best clothes and on their best behavior, but twittering softly with suppressed excitement.

"Welcome, good sir and lady. Hullo, Farador. We have been looking forward to meeting you since last summer, but I know you were preoccupied with more pressing matters. I believe I speak for all of Hobbiton in offering our sincere thanks for your labors on behalf of the Shire." He bowed again, his chestnut curls nearly brushing Canohando's knees, and the Orc covered his mouth to hide a grin.

"Thank you, young hobbit. I have wished for many years to see my brother's home, and I am glad to be here at last. Are you Harding, the cousin Farador spoke of?"

"Yes, Harding of the Hill, and may I present my wife to you, Mignonette --" He drew forward a pretty lass with hair the color of honey, who curtseyed and blushed, but smiled warmly when she caught Malawen's eye. A tiny hobbit girl clung to her skirts, peeping around her mother to stare up at the Orc towering over the company.

"O-o-oh!" she breathed, and burst into noisy sobs.

"And my daughter, Rosy," Harding added, picking her up and allowing her to burrow against his embroidered weskit. "Forgive her, please; we tried to prepare her, but she is over-young to really comprehend. Will you come into the parlor and refresh yourselves, while we get her settled?"

But Canohando had lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the floor, motioning Malawen to hand him the baby. He ignored the weeping lass, but sat cuddling Osta, humming softly and running one finger down the baby's nose and along the little ridge above his eyebrows.

"Wake, youngling, wake! See, here are courteous hosts you must give your greeting to, and a small one like yourself. Open your eyes, my son."

Sitting, he was on a level with the adult hobbits, and he smiled conspiratorially at the young Master. Harding took the hint and began whispering in the ear of his little lass, and finally she dared a peek out from behind her curtain of hair. Her eyes fastened on Osta, and she squirmed to get down.

"Baby!" she exclaimed. She squatted next to Osta and touched his cheek. Then she held her hand against his face, apparently struck by the difference in their skin tones: the little Orc was a shade lighter than his father, but still unmistakably grey. "Baby sick?" she asked worriedly.

"No, he is not sick. He is like me," said Canohando.

She peeped up at him, still wary, but he sat placidly under her gaze, making no movement, though his eyes twinkled as he looked at her. Finally she stood on tiptoe, and to the amazement of everyone present, planted a kiss on his lips.

"You good!" she averred, and flopped down on the stone floor to direct her attention to the baby. Osta by now was awake, his bright eyes staring up at her, and she fell to cooing over him and patting his face.

Mignonette took Malawen by the hand, smiling. "Well, that little storm is over! I think they will be friends, don't you? Come in and have a cup of tea, dear; you must be tired from your journey. Let the fathers care for their young ones a while."

It was the beginning of a pleasant visit that lasted nearly a fortnight, and Canohando found himself feeling as much at home at Bag End as he had ever felt anywhere. The Gardners were kindly and warm-hearted hosts, from Harding's father Holfast, a spry eighty-one years of age and still tending his garden every fine day, to little RosyPosy, who seemed to have adoped the Orc as an extra uncle, and alternated begging rides on his shoulders and playing with baby Osta.

They showed him Frodo's book of Memoirs, of course, and the sword Sting hanging over the mantel. Since Canohando could not read, old Holfast read the book to him, evening by evening before the fire. The Orc listened attentively, laughing sometimes, and recounting his own memories of the incidents described by Frodo.

And they showed him the carved bear's tooth that he had given his runt, kept under a crystal dome as Sariadoc had told him. He turned it round and round between his fingers as if he caressed it, and Holfast said,

"I mind when he showed me what he wore round his neck; we'd seen the leather thong, you know, that it hung from, but he always kept the tooth tucked inside his shirt. I remember thinking it was an odd sort of thing for a gentlehobbit to be wearing. Kind of wild and outlandish, and old Frodo was always that fastidious in his appearance, everything just so! But he never took it off, not till the day he died, and when he showed it to me, he handled it just the way you are now, like it was a precious jewel."

Canohando stared at him.

"You remember him? I thought those who knew him had all died long ago."

Holfast chuckled comfortably. "Oh, there are a few of us left yet! Not many, you understand; we're getting on, of course, and then Frodo didn't go out among folks all that much, after he came back. He stayed pretty close to home taking care of my grandfather - that was his friend, Samwise; I suppose he must've told you about him. And he only lived a matter of months after Mayor Sam died. But he used to tell us stories, us children, and let us handle his sword and practice shooting his bow, out in the garden. I remember him, right enough."

"His bow? Do you still have it?"

"Of course we do; it's one of the treasures of Bag End. Nor we don't let the children play with it anymore, neither: it's hung up on the wall in what used to be his bedroom, next to his portrait. Come along, I'll show you."

But when Canohando stood before the portrait, it was nearly too much for him. It showed a much younger Frodo than he had known; Bilbo had had it made the summer before Frodo's coming-of-age, and the blue eyes were full of intelligence and a hint of mischief, not the hard-won peace Canohando remembered. Still, it was a good likeness, and the Orc clenched his fists till his nails dug into his palms, willing himself not to break down.

"I am going for a walk," he said, as they left the bedroom. He turned on his heel and went out, and Holfast stared after him in consternation, wondering if he had said something to offend.

Canohando had been shown Frodo's grave in the little burial ground outside the village of Hobbiton, but he had not cared for it. To his mind, the honored dead should be sent into the next world in a blaze of fire, along with their most cherished possessions. It chilled his heart to think of anyone he loved laid forever beneath the cold earth. Now, however, he turned toward the graveyard instinctively, yearning for his runt and craving solitude in which to mourn.

It was good to know that Frodo was not forgotten. It comforted him to meet another creature who had known his runt, and held him in esteem, and Bag End seemed to bring him so near - yet not near enough. He reached the burial ground, quiet and empty in the evening cool, and stretched himself out on the ground by Frodo's grave.

"I remember you," he whispered.

The smell of earth and growing things was sharp in his nostrils, and the tears he had been holding back overwhelmed him. He abandoned himself to grief: for his runt, lost to him so many years, but also for the ship that had sailed without him to the Blessed Land, which now he would never see. For Malawen's sake he had stayed behind, and for their children, and because he was called to guard the Shire, but all the while the hunger to go had ached in him, however much he pushed it down, resisted and denied it.

When he had wept himself dry, he lay quiet with his head on his arms. It was dark now, and a bullfrog croaked somewhere nearby, to be answered by another farther off. An owl called, and he wondered if there were frogs or owls in Valinor. Memories of Frodo slipped into his mind one after another, funny and touching by turns, and he grew more peaceful. After a while he slept.

He woke to a dawn of pearl and amber, and sat up to watch the sun rise. As the light strengthened, it glistened on bits of mica in the grey headstones, and a spider's web in the grass sparkled with dew. Frodo’s mound was a dense carpet of heart-shaped leaves and small, purple flowers. The Orc pulled himself to his feet, a bit stiff from lying on the ground, thinking this was not such a bad place after all, for a mortal to take his final sleep.

Your bones lie here, my runt, but not your gentle spirit. And that is not lost, for you walked with me along the Road to your very door… He laid a hand caressingly on the headstone. You have not wholly departed from this land you love, and neither will I depart. So I pay my debt to you, brother – but no, there is no question of payment between you and me. Because I love you, then, and for your sake I love the land that gave you birth.

He started back toward Bag End, and suddenly happiness fell upon him. He swung his arms as he walked, feeling as if new strength and confidence had somehow been planted in him during the night. He thought again of Frodo, but with a smile this time; he seemed to have left regret behind him in the graveyard, as if it had soaked into the ground with his tears. This was the refuge given to him: not right inside the Shire, perhaps, but close at hand, watching over it.

He looked ahead and saw someone coming toward him; the only other person abroad, this early morn. Then she began to run, and he knew it was Malawen, and he ran, too, to catch her up and swing her around in a whirl of laughter.

"Where is the baby, melethril? Out practicing his bowmanship in the garden?"

She leaned against him, out of breath and clinging to his arm. "Not quite yet! He is growing, but not that fast. Where have you been, love? See, I worry when you are not with me; that is why I would have gone with you into the West, not to fear for you anymore."

He scooped her up as if she had been a child and cradled her against his heart.

"No, melethril, do not be afraid! We are home now; this is where we belong, you, and me, and our children. The Lady knew better than Celeborn, after all. The Shire will be our Blessed Land."

the end





Home     Search     Chapter List