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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.
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