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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

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.

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