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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

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.


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