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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

12.  Those Who Are Called

Canohando looked for Miko every day when he went to the kitchens, but he did not see the child.  Finally he asked about him, and Miko's grandfather looked uncomfortable.

"His mother will not let him come, my fool daughter-in-law!  She is afraid of you.  I'm sorry."

I should have expected that, the orc thought, but truth he had not.  He took his meat and sat down to eat without answering.  The roast mutton had smelled savory when he first came in, but now it was tasteless and dry in his mouth.  He tore at it anyway, cracking the bones with his teeth when he was done and sucking out the marrow.  Food was life; an orc did not refuse food, not even when his chest hurt as if he had been beaten with the butt end of a spear.

The man was still talking. "Miko was disappointed; he tried to talk her round, but she would not listen.  His father died in the last war, when the lad was a babe in arms – his mother thinks he is still a babe."   There was anger in Joram's voice, and Canohando regarded him curiously.  Why was the man angry?

For a moment their eyes met;  then Joram looked away. As if he had read the orc's mind, he said,  "The lad likes you, and it would be a good thing for him, if you  taught him to shoot.  His mother mollycoddles him, and he is too much with women."

Canohando grunted and reached for his tankard of ale.  "Teach him yourself," he said. He took a long draught and added, "He is a brave cub. I would have liked teaching him."

He handed the empty mug to Joram and left the kitchens.  When he got back upstairs, he found the Queen and Elessar both in her Bower, and her brothers and Eldarion with them.  The orc slouched against the wall by the door, picking his teeth with his fingernail and wondering if he would run into Miko out in the courtyard sometime, but the King beckoned him over. 

"This concerns you, Queen’s Shadow; you had better hear it." 

He went to stand by  Arwen; she was sitting very straight in her chair, pale as starlight, her chin high.  "I shall be making a journey, Canohando.  In a month, perhaps; that is up to the King."  She cast a burning glance at Elessar, entreaty and grief and frustration all in one, and Canohando reflected that there seemed to be no peace in the Palace this day, in his own heart or anywhere else.

"Lady Evenstar," the King said, as if he called her back from the edge of something.  He turned to the orc.  "Canohando, I am mortal.  To all men there comes an end at last, and my own end draws near. The Queen will not remain in Gondor after my passing, by her own desire..."

"I will go to the Golden Wood," Arwen interrupted.  "Under the mallorns I will abide the Doom of Men, in the land where I was young.  Gondor I have loved for your sake, my Estel, but Lothlorien is my home."

Eldarion looked pained, moving to put an arm around her, and she leaned against his shoulder.  "Mother, will you not stay and be our Evenstar, even to the last?  I cannot leave Minas Tirith within a month of my crowning, yet my heart is sore to think of you alone so far away, under the fading trees!  You have heard my uncles: Lorien is no more the land you knew; even the mallorns are dying."

She reached up to clasp his hand.  "The final glory of an Age is dying, my son.  The last of the Numenoreans, your father… the mallorns are fading, and the remnant of my people who remain are passing into the West, following the Call now at the very end.  It is your Age now, the Age of Man's Dominion.  You will be the first King of the new era, and certainly you cannot abandon the Citadel of your Kingdom! And what would it avail if you went with me?  I have made Luthien's choice, and I will not repent of it.  I go to the Golden Wood only to take my leave."

 “It is a long road.”  The King’s voice was somber. “Long, and not without some danger: Fangorn Forest lies by the way, and Elrohir tells me there are a few bands of  Orcs still in the mountains, north of the Limlight. They may raid down into the plains from time to time.”

Canohando stood listening, only half comprehending; he had never heard of Luthien, but the King would die soon, he understood that much, and the Queen wished to go to Lothlorien.  He spoke up.  “King of Gondor,  give me only a guide who knows the way, and twenty Guardsmen who will stand with me at need - I will bring the Lady safe to Lorien, or may Vengeance take me!”    

He did not step back from the look Elessar leveled on him.  “She will come safe to the Golden Wood, lord: I swear it!” 

The orc stood a head shorter than anyone else in the room, but nobody smiled.  Eldarion and the Queen’s brothers had not seen him in action, but they had heard the tale; looking at him now, they could well believe he would be formidable in combat.  His face was hard and menace seemed to radiate from him, savage force and speed held on a short leash.

“Thank you, dear one,” Arwen said softly.  “We will find Guardsmen who will stand with you, if need arises.”

The King scanned the faces of Eldarion and the twins.  “Well?  Will you trust the Queen to his protection?”

Elladan stirred restlessly, picking up small objects from a side table and putting them back without purpose.  “I would trust him,” he said.  “I would trust him, and yet I cannot find it in me to let my sister journey bereft and alone to Lorien, with no more company than an Orc and a company of guards!  If you are bound to go, Arwen, I will go with you, and I will stay until you do not need me more.”

“Elrohir, will you remain here with my son?” asked the King.  “I would have someone I can trust beside him, in this first year of his reign.”

Elrohir sighed.  “I will stay with him.  You will come back to Minas Tirith, brother, when you are finished in Lorien?”  A look passed between the twins: doubt on one side and reassurance on the other.

“I will come back," said Elladan. "To whatever fate we go, it will be together, unless indeed some peril of the journey prevent it.”

"But I will not send Guardsmen, used to easy service here in the Citadel," said the King.  "A full company of soldiers, seasoned in battle, and the captain must be a man who will serve under Canohando's command.  The orc has pledged his life to bring Undomiel safe home, and he must have the ordering of his men."

Canohando knit his brows.  "I think you will search a long time, King of Gondor, before you find a captain who will take my orders."

Elladan  laid a hand on the orc's shoulder.  "I will be  Captain, and I will follow your leadership on this venture, if you will allow me to advise you as seems needful.  We are of one heart in this, at least, to safeguard the Queen."  He turned to the King.  "Will you come with me and choose out a company for this mission, Estel?  For always you knew your men, by name and reputation, and I would have you handpick those we bring."

"I will come.  Are you content, Canohando, to have Elladan at your side?  I would not foist a captain on you who is not to your liking; there is too much at stake."

The orc nodded.  "I will be glad to have the Queen's brother beside me, lord. Your soldiers will harken to him as they would not to me, and between us we will bring the Lady home."

Elladan and the King went out then to choose soldiers for the journey.  Eldarion kissed his mother and left with Elrohir to meet with the King's Chancellor, for Eldarion must make himself familiar now with affairs in Gondor, after his years in the North Kingdom.  Left alone, Arwen drooped against the back of her chair, her eyes closed, her lashes making dark half-moons against her cheeks.

"Lady, drink this." Canohando knelt on one knee beside her chair, holding out a glass of wine.  "If I could shield you from this sorrow – but I cannot – "

Arwen took the glass and sipped.  "I am glad you came here, Canohando.  My husband trusts in you, and it comforts him."

"Do you trust me, Lady?"

She touched his cheek.  "You know the answer to that, dear one. We are come to the dregs of the wine, Estel and I, but even now I deem the Powers have put a drop of  mercy in the chalice.  It was Frodo's faithfulness purchased our happiness, and now it seems you have been sent to us at the very last…"

He sat down on the floor at her feet.  "Lady, who is Luthien? You said you chose her fate, but I have never heard the name."

But when she had told him the story, he was silent for a long time.  "You are an Elf," he said finally.  "And you make yourself – not an Elf, for the King's sake.  As Luthien did also – both of you, you gave away your heritage."

"Yes, that is what we have done, for love's sake."

"My ancestors were Elves," he said.  "They lost their heritage, but not for love's sake; it was taken from them.  What is the Call you spoke of, Lady, that your people now follow at the last?"

"The Call to Valinor, to the Blessed Realm.  Many of the Firstborn who are still in Middle Earth will take ship now, who were unwilling before.  Legolas will go, I suppose, whom you met with the Dwarf Gimli."

"You said I am of the Firstborn, but I am not called to Valinor."  Canohando's voice was bleak. He was beginning to  understand, as he had not done before, the tragedy of his ruined people.

"No, dear one."  Arwen touched the Jewel that hung around his neck, settled it so it lay centered against his chest.  "Not to Valinor, but you were called to me, and I think also to Frodo's land, hereafter.  You are known, and your change of heart is known - you will not be put to shame by the One who gave music to the Ainur."

Like a child, the Orc sat at her feet, and as if he had been a child she caressed his head, not drawing back her hand from the stiff, oiled braids, and after a while she sang softly under her breath, a lullaby she had sung to her children long years before. 


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