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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.
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