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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

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

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