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11. The Doom of the Firstborn
Until today, Canohando would have said that all his desire was fulfilled. Morning till night he followed on the Queen’s footsteps, and she smiled on him and talked with him a little. He basked in her presence like a plant in sunshine, asking only that her light fall upon him. But young Miko’s trusting confidence had torn open the old wound, his childlessness, and today he watched his Lady with aching heart, craving some balm for his pain.
That was perhaps why he saw her suffering, where before he had been unaware. Elladan and Elrohir sat talking to her in low voices that did not carry to his end of the room, and their faces were solemn, but Arwen’s eyes were like bruises in her face, and Canohando was shocked out of his own sorrow by fear for her.
After a while the twins embraced their sister and withdrew, and for the moment she was alone. Canohando went to her, his heavy boots quiet on the velvet carpet, and knelt before her.
“Lady, what has happened? Who has brought grief to you - tell me, and they will never again come near you, I swear it!”
Arwen gave a soft laugh that was almost a sob. “You would have to separate me from myself, Canohando, for I brought my grief down upon my own head. I bought a great treasure once, at a heavy price, but only now do I feel the weight of what I must pay. Take care, dear one, of the bargains you make when you are young - but there, you are not young, are you?”
She looked at him as if only now did she truly see him. His hair was dead black with no trace of silver, his face coarse-featured but unlined. He was broad in the shoulders and thick-muscled, but for all that he was lithe as a cat.
"How old are you?" she asked suddenly, and he shrugged.
"Orcs keep no count of years, Lady. I was old enough to go to war, when the Witch King came to Mordor."
She put a hand to his cheek. "You are of the First-born, then, and it is our doom to watch those we love pass too swiftly out of this world. You gave your heart to Frodo, and he is gone – and soon my beloved also –" She shivered, curling in upon herself with her arms around her body, as if to hold in the sorrow that threatened to rip her apart.
"Lady –" The orc knelt at her feet in anguish, racking his mind for something he could do. Here was no enemy for his sword, and he dared not embrace her to offer comfort. At last he bowed to the floor, kissing both her feet in turn before he rose. "Stay here, Lady, please stay! I will get the King –"
"No!" she exclaimed, but Canohando was already gone.
He found Elessar in the Throne Room with a couple of visitors. He understood the proper protocol now, and spoke first to Florian, at the door, chafing at the delay. The Chamberlain would have put him off, saying the guests with the King were too important to be interrupted, but the orc bent a look on him so fierce that the little man stepped back in alarm.
"The Queen needs him! If you will not bring me forward, I will go without your leave."
Florian settled his chain of office more becomingly across his chest, looking down his nose. "Very well then, come along – and it is on your own head, Orc, if the King be angered at your want of manners!"
Canohando took the man by one elbow and hurried him the length of the Hall at a pace quite unsuited to the Chamberlain's dignity. Elessar saw them coming and broke off his conversation with the visitors. An Elf and a Dwarf, Canohando noticed in passing, thinking it was odd they should be together and then forgetting all about them.
"She needs you, King of Gondor," he said. "She is in distress."
"In her Bower?" Elessar asked. "I will go to her. Stay here, Canohando, and tell these guests about your brother." He turned on his heel and was gone with a swirl of his short cloak, and Canohando stared after him, wanting to follow but knowing he had better not.
"His brother, is it?" said a gruff voice at his shoulder. "Is one Orc running tame in Minas Tirith not enough, but he must have a brother as well?"
There was a quiet laugh from his companion, and Canohando dragged his eyes away from the empty doorway where the King had disappeared, to look at the visitors he had been charged with.
"Aragorn was always broad-minded in his choice of friends, Gimli. Come then, Orc, let us find someplace to sit down, and perhaps you will call for a jug of wine for a pair of weary travelers, before you tell us about your family."
The Elf was tall, slender and elegant with a young face, but he had the eyes of one who has seen many years and many battles, and Canohando fought back the urge to kneel to him as he did to Arwen. The Dwarf was shorter than the orc but twice his girth, and he carried a battle axe at his belt. He glowered at Canohando.
"Wine for the Elf, and beer for me. Where are we going, Orc?"
Canohando led them out into the courtyard of the White Tree, stopping at the door to tell Florian to have refreshment brought to them. The Chamberlain brushed him away officiously. "Yes, yes, I know what must be done; I do not need a grey Orc out of Mordor to teach me my duties! Go and entertain them, since the King commanded it, and leave me in peace."
Canohando grimaced, wishing he were free to return to the Queen. The King will care for her, you fool, better than a grey Orc out of Mordor! he berated himself. He brought the Elf and the Dwarf to chairs that stood always in the shade of the Tree, but he himself sat down on the grass with his hands flat against the ground. The touch of the living earth steadied him and brought him comfort, and then he remembered the Jewel around his neck. Living daily in the Lady's presence as he did, he seldom fingered it anymore, but now he rubbed it against his lips as he looked up at these oddly paired visitors.
The Dwarf reached out and caught his wrist in a hand of steel, his face inches away. "Where did you get that?" he demanded, angry and suspicious. "The last time I saw that gem, it hung at Frodo Baggins' throat; how did it come to yours?"
The Elf had half-risen. "Slowly, Gimli, let him answer! There is some mystery here I would be glad to see unraveled."
Canohando had stiffened when the Dwarf grabbed his wrist, his other hand coming up without his volition nearly to Gimli's shoulder before he recollected himself and pulled it back. He could bring down this bloated ox easily; it only needed a sure touch near the back of the Dwarf’s neck – no, he thought, I am the Queen's Shadow, and this creature is no threat to her –
"Frodo Ninefingers gave the jewel to me," he said evenly. "My brother, my Light-bearer."
Gimli grunted and dropped the gem, sitting back. "You had better explain yourself, Orc."
But they sat enthralled, both of them, while Canohando told the story. Servants came with wine and ale, small hot breads and smoked salmon sliced thin and balls of sweet butter, and the Elf and the Dwarf ate absent-mindedly, captivated by the scenes the orc painted for them with his words.
Listening to him, they forgot of what race he sprang. He grew eloquent when he spoke of his runt, and they could almost see Frodo with the starglass in his hand, facing down the soldiers of Gondor who would have slain the orcs – Frodo on the tower, pledging himself to stand with Canohando against the Dark – Frodo with the bow Lash carved for him, hunting in the mountains.
"We became brothers," Canohando finished at last, holding his hand palm up for them to see. The Elf reached out and clasped the rough-skinned hand in his smooth one.
"I am Legolas Greenleaf, one of the Ring-bearer's companions on the Quest. I had believed I knew the hobbit, but you have shown me that there was even more to him than I knew. I am glad to have met you, Frodo's Brother."
"And I also," Gimli rumbled. He cleared his throat. "I would have sworn I would never strike hands with any Orc except in battle, but if you are Frodo's brother – and I see that you are – then Gimli is your friend." He caught Canohando's wrist again, but it was a salute this time, and the orc returned it. "And he gave that jewel to you," the Dwarf marveled. "He would not allow me to so much as touch it – he must have loved you indeed!"
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