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13. The Queen's Company
The King drew Canohando aside after dinner the following evening.
“You must make yourself known to the men of your company, if they are to follow you. And I would have time alone with the Queen, while there is any time left. Leave her to me in the daytime, Canohando.”
“I may guard her door at night, lord?”
“Yes, and I will send for you, if I must leave her for any reason. You are her Shadow still, but I held that place before you came, Orc.” Elessar smiled a little, and Canohando felt suddenly that he had found a friend, as well as liege lord, in the King of Gondor.
The next morning, when he had eaten, the orc went in search of the soldiers’ armory. Joram had given him directions, and he made his way down through two levels of the city, followed by curious eyes. There were few in Minas Tirith who had not heard of the Queen’s Orc, but most people had never seen him. He heard whispers as he passed, but no one accosted him.
“I need a bow,” he said to the soldier on duty. “Arrows, a quiver - is the Queen’s brother here this morning? Prince Elladan?”
“No. He left orders for the men of his company to muster at noon, on the practice field.” The soldier's tone was civil enough, but the glance he cast at Canohando was hostile. He jerked his head toward the supply building without further comment.
The weapons master brought out one bow after another for the orc, and Canohando bent them in his hands, strung them and tried the draw, shaking his head and whistling through his teeth. “They are all too heavy, Man,” he said at last. “Do you have any of Elven make?”
The master seemed surprised at the request, but he opened a different closet, revealing a rack of bows, longer than the others, fashioned of some silver-toned wood with a soft patina.
“They are too long for you,” he said dismissively, but Canohando was examining them as he had the others, running his hands over them and looking very much more satisfied.
“I can amend that,” he said. “I would make my own, but there is not time. This one will do; it has a good feel. Let me see your arrows.”
But the arrows did not please him at all; he wrinkled his brows and gave a sigh of exasperation. “Have you got some shafts that are not cut yet? Yes, these will do. Give me points and feathers, then; I will fletch them myself. You make your arrows too short.”
The man looked at him coldly. “We won the War, Orc.”
“Get me a quiver, Man, the longest one you have: my arrows will be two hands longer than the ones you use. Yes, you won the War, but not because you were better archers. Ninefingers won it for you.”
The master bristled with resentment, his lips shut tight; he shoved a quiver at the Orc and Canohando took it, but did not turn away. He stood motionless until the man looked him in the face, wondering what more the Orc would ask for.
“I am not sorry you won, Man of Gondor, only do not forget how it happened!”
He went out, carrying his new weapons, and sat down against the wall of a building on the edge of the practice field. Ignoring the soldiers who were gathered in little groups around the field, fencing or wrestling with one another, or just lounging about, he began fitting points to his arrows.
When he had a few of them finished, he turned to the bow. He took his knife and cut off both ends, stood to measure it against himself, and cut a little more. He tapered the raw ends and smoothed them with the back of his knife blade, cut new notches and finally re-strung it. Then he gathered up his belongings and went in search of a place to try it out.
There was an earthen mound along one side of the field with a row of targets; he smiled grimly when he saw that besides the standard bulls-eyes, there were also a number of figures fashioned to resemble Orcs, sawdust trailing from many holes in their leather hides. Deliberately he took a stance before one of these, noticing from the corner of his eye that he was being observed by several of the men.
He put an arrow through the painted eye of the leather dummy and went to retrieve it.
“Why’n’t you go shoot a real one, Grey-skin, and make the world a little cleaner?” The speaker was a blonde giant with a heavy bow slung across his back; with him were two other soldiers not much smaller than himself. They grinned at their comrade’s wit, but their eyes on Canohando were full of malice.
“You are an archer in the King's army?” Canohando asked.
The blonde held up his bow. “And I have a man’s bow, not a little stump of a thing like yours. Were you the runt of the litter? I always heard Orcs were half again as big as Men!” He stood head and shoulders taller than Canohando, and he smirked down at him, contemptuous.
Canohando fought the temptation to laugh. Here is one who was not in the Hall the day I came, he thought, nor his comrades either, else they would drag him away before Grey-skin strangles him with his own bow-string! And I am wearing a sword now! How did such numbskulls win the War? But he knew the answer to that.
“I will have a contest with you, Man,” he said aloud. “Choose your target.”
The giant guffawed. He strung his bow and shot an arrow into the dummy’s chest. “Split the arrow, if you call yourself an archer,” he roared. “Kill your brother twice over!”
Abruptly Canohando lost any urge to laugh. “I do not slay my brothers,” he said. “Take that for your target, Man, and I will find another.” He might have to kill Orcs on the journey to Lorien, but they were not his brothers. Or were they?
The blonde soldier shot, splitting the arrow neatly and starting a small cascade of sawdust from the leather figure. His friends slapped his back, hooting at Canohando.
“All right, Grey-skin, your turn! What’s your target?”
The Orc looked up into the sky. “There,” he said, pointing.
“What? Where? You’ll hit a cloud, will you?” The soldiers were raucous in their scorn, leaning against each other as if they could hardly stand up upright for mirth. A small crowd had gathered by now, watching, and in the forefront was a boy –
Canohando sighted along his arm and fired in a great arc toward the sky. The onlookers craned their necks to follow the flight of his arrow, blinking against the brightness of the sun. Suddenly a wild bird fell dead at their feet, the arrow through its breast. Miko leaped forward to snatch it up from the ground, holding it over his head.
"Canohando wins! I couldn't even see it up there – can all Orcs shoot like that? Will you teach me how? I don't care what my mother says; I want to shoot like that!"
Canohando smiled at the child's excitement, but the blonde soldier he had been shooting against glowered. "Who let you in the gate, boy? This is a practice field for soldiers, not a play-yard for snot-nosed brats." He reached out as if to grab Miko, and a grey hand closed around his wrist.
"Do soldiers fight children in Gondor? I have seen that among my own kind, but I had thought Men knew better."
He pressed the man's arm back against his chest, the blonde's muscles straining as he tried in vain to resist. Canohando shoved him back against his two comrades, staring at them with black eyes that were all the more disturbing for their flat calm.
"You are not a bad archer, but I would not have you in my company: a coward seeking easy prey. Get out of here and go brawl with those more nearly your own size." The Orc twisted a little to one side, shifting his feet and thrusting forward sharply with his forearm: the man fell back heavily, nearly knocking his friends to the ground. They caught him and caught their balance with difficulty, staggering back a few paces. Canohando stood watching, ready in case they rushed him, but they only mumbled imprecations under their breath and walked away.
"You've made a few enemies there," said a voice at his back. "But I suppose it hardly matters; most of the men here must count themselves your enemies anyway, without even that much excuse."
Canohando looked round to find that Elladan had come up behind him. The Elf-lord looked amused. "You do not trouble to be diplomatic, do you? What if he were one of the company the King had chosen for you?"
"I would have thrown him out of it." The Orc turned to Miko. "Take that bird to your grandfather and tell him to cook it for the Queen – the flesh will be sweet, what little there is of it. And save me the flight feathers for my arrows; the creature should not die for nothing." He clasped the Miko’s shoulder for a moment before the lad ran off to do his bidding.
"Do you tell me that fool was one of our company?" he said to Elladan.
"Hardly! The King knows his men - you will have no cause to complain of the soldiers he has chosen for you."
Canohando unstrung his bow and hooked it to the quiver, to hang at his back. "For us, Queen's Brother, not for me alone. We share this command, as we share the task to bring her safe to Lorien. And I have not led Men before."
The soldiers Elessar had handpicked were beginning to gather in the center of the parade ground. They milled about, talking among themselves, while Elladan and Canohando stood off to one side.
“How many?” the Orc asked.
“Two hundred forty: a Gondor company, and every one of them has fought at least one campaign.”
“Against Men or Orcs?”
Elladan lifted an eyebrow. “Men, for the most part. What Orcs remain are chiefly in the North.”
“You have fought Orcs, though.”
“Many times,” Elladan drawled.
“Then you know that Orcs do not fight the same as Men, Queen’s Brother. We will have to train our soldiers; if we meet enemies on this journey, they are likely to be Orcs.”
Elladan nodded, sober-faced, and led the way to the front. “Men of the Queen’s Company!” he shouted, and the soldiers formed themselves quickly into straight lines; he waited until they were still before he continued. “You were chosen by the King for a special mission, at the behest of Queen Arwen, my sister. I am your Captain.” There was a scattering of cheers, and he held up a hand for silence. “I have a superior officer in this Company, by order of the King,” he said, and there was a sudden hush. “I present to you our Commander, Canohando the Orc!”
And silence descended as if every man on the field had been turned to stone. Only their eyes moved, from Elladan to the Orc, and their faces were slack with disbelief.
Canohando left Elladan’s side and walked along the ranks slowly, looking each man in the face. Now and then he stopped and held a man’s gaze for minutes at a time before he moved on; a few times he reached out and touched an arm or a shoulder. Watching him, Elladan realized that these were the men who looked most outraged or appalled; after Canohando passed by, they seemed bemused, as if their assumptions had been challenged and they no longer knew what to think.
The Orc finished at last, having met the eyes of every man in the company. It was so quiet that they could hear the noise from the street outside the soldiers’ compound, children shouting in some game, a hot bread seller hawking his wares.
Canohando stood beside Elladan once more, contemplating the men of his command.
“My name is Canohando,” he said finally. His voice was hoarse, not full and rich like Elladan’s, but it carried. “I was not born to this name, nor was I born to serve the King of Gondor. The name was given to me by the Brown Wizard, when he came to Mordor after the War. I do not know the Elven tongue, but he told me that my name means “Wise Commander”. I will try to be that to this Company.
“I have another name, given to me by your King. I am the Queen’s Shadow, and I have taken oath to protect her with my life. Every one of you will take that same oath, or you will not be part of this Company. I give you over now to your Captain, for you will need special training for this mission, but each of you must come to me, by yourself, and swear your oath in my hearing before nightfall tomorrow. I will be over there, making my arrows.” He pointed toward the place against the wall where he had been sitting earlier, said a quiet word to Elladan, and turned away. Under their eyes he walked across the field and settled himself against the wall again, taking up an arrow and beginning to work on it.
“I never saw anything like it,” Elladan told his brother later. “I’ve seen Orc captains before; their followers are terrified of them, and the captains are as quick to turn and kill their own as they are an enemy, for the slightest disobedience! I expected that he would try to cow them, but all he did was look them in the eye and demand their oath to defend the Queen.”
“Did they give their oaths?”
Elladan took a sip of his wine. “They did, indeed. They slipped out of their ranks, one after another, and went over to him. He didn’t even get up, just sat there on the ground making arrows like a common fletcher, but he watched their faces while they swore to him. I think nearly the whole company had given oath before we left the practice ground today, even though he gave them until tomorrow. It was the strangest behavior I've ever seen in any leader of men.”
“What do you think, will they follow him? Although since you are Captain, I suppose that won’t matter; certainly they will follow you!”
“Of course,” said Elladan. He stared into his wine, then emptied his glass in one swallow. “I think after today, they might follow him even if I weren’t there, most of them. There’s something about the way he looks at you...”
The ensuing weeks were given over to training the soldiers to fight Orcs. Canohando spent hours with the archers, taking his own turn shooting with the rest of them.
"Aim high," he told them. "The eyes or the throat. You won't pierce Orkish armor easily; you're wasting your arrows there, and you must kill or disable with a single shot, for you won't get a second one." But he taught them also how to parry a sword thrust with their bows, and the trick of wrenching a weapon out of an enemy's hand to use against him.
Elladan meanwhile worked with the rest of the men, making half of them take the part of Orcs and pretend to ambush the others, using tactics he had seen Orc captains use in battle. They trained morning and afternoon, day after day, and soldiers who were not part of the Queen's Company came to watch, standing around the sides of the practice field.
"What's it all for?" they asked the men of the Company, but no one knew. They ran and shot and hacked at one another with dull practice blades till sweat ran down their backs under their armor, even in the chill of late winter, but nobody could say what battle they were training for, except that they would be fighting Orcs, and they were led by an Orc.
Then one night Elessar was closeted for a long time with Eldarion and the Queen's brothers, and when they came out of that meeting he called Canohando to him.
"In three days there will be a solemn Council for the leaders of the Kingdom, to announce the coming transfer of power to my son. The Queen does not wish to be present, but I want you there, Canohando."
Canohando knit his brows. "Will she be alone, lord?"
"No. Gimli and Legolas will bear her company. They are notable warriors and old friends; still, if you wish you may send five or six men of your own Company to strengthen the guard at her door. I do not think it will be necessary."
"All the same, lord, I will bring them. Our men are sworn to defend her, even as I am myself."
Elessar smiled. "I had heard that already from Elladan. Radagast named you well, I think."
The day of the Council dawned rainy and cold. Canohando flung the black cloak of his uniform over his shoulders before he went to the kitchens for breakfast. He had not been there since he began training his Company, taking his meals rather in the soldiers' mess, sitting at table with his men instead of comfortably on the floor. In the kitchens Joram greeted him warmly.
"I've heard nothing from Miko these past weeks but the excitement of the practice field, you and Prince Elladan training your soldiers. What mission are you entrusted with, that you prepare them to fight Orcs?"
Canohando took his meal and sat down in his usual corner. "Wait a little longer, Man. I think the King may announce it today at the Council."
Joram drew a mug of ale for the orc and one for himself, sitting down on a bench. "Miko has been watching the archery; he would like for you to see him shoot, when there is time."
"Tell him to bring his bow to the practice field; I will make time for him. His mother does not object to him being there?"
"She does not like it, but he has uncles and cousins in the army. He used to go from time to time, visiting them – not every day, as he does now! I am glad to see him spending his days there, to tell the truth."
Canohando ate, considering Joram's words. "You had better take him in hand, Man," he said finally. "When we leave on our mission, he will be wandering again." He had noticed the child hanging around the field, but had been too busy to spare him more than a word or a smile in passing. But I will see him shoot, he promised himself.
The Council was held in the Throne Room, for there were a great number present, but there was no music this day, nor any bevy of Court ladies adding brightness to the scene. The windows looked out on a melancholy landscape, cold rain plopping on the windowsills, and inside the room was grey and damp. Canohando had been instructed to stand at the front, with the courtiers, and he leaned against a pillar, his cloak pulled close around him, waiting with the rest of them for the King.
Elessar came at last, flanked by Eldarion and the Queen's brothers. He moved quickly toward the front, not stopping to greet anyone, although he nodded to this one and that as he came. He mounted the dais and turned to face them.
"Men of Gondor," he said, but then he stopped for a moment, gazing around the Hall as if he committed it to memory before leaving on a journey.
Finally he began again. "Men of Gondor, for one hundred twenty years I have reigned in Minas Tirith, and only a handful of you can remember the day of my Coronation, for there are few left anymore of the descendants of Numenor. Most of you were not yet born when Kingship returned to Gondor. Nevertheless, there have been many Kings, as you may see by their images set in honor up and down this Hall.
"No man may live forever on the earth, even the race of Numenor, and the time fast approaches when Gondor shall have a new King."
A rustling disquiet swept down the Hall, as if all present sucked in their breath by one accord. Elessar waited, letting the room die back to silence before he continued.
"According to our custom, the crown passes to my son Eldarion, and he is here before you." He stretched forth his hand, and Eldarion stood forth, alone at the foot of the dais. "This is the Prince who shall be your King, a week hence." The room stirred again, and he waited. "He is true-born heir to the throne of Gondor, of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Numenor, prepared from childhood to hold this Office, tested in battle, and experienced in administering the North Kingdom in my name.
"Men of Gondor, shall Eldarion my son inherit the crown? Will you swear fealty to him here in my presence, that the Kingdom may continue in peace and harmony, secure within and without, after I have gone to my rest?"
There was silence in the Hall, so deep that nothing could be heard but the sound of raindrops hitting the windowsills. Eldarion stood like a marble statue at the foot of the dais, and Elessar at the top, looking from one face to the next of the leading men of Gondor. At last the King's voice rang out, a clap of thunder startling them all awake, "Answer me! How say you?"
"Aye!" shouted one man, and others took it up, till the Hall rang with their shouts, and they stamped their feet and cried aloud their approval, their voices echoing from the stone walls. And one after another they bent the knee, till there was not a man left standing in the Hall, except the King and Eldarion only. Canohando knelt among them, his heart uplifted by he knew not what, and along with the Men of Gondor he swore faithfulness and lifelong allegiance to Eldarion, who would be King.
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