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14. The Silent Street
A week later, the King and Queen took the noon meal alone in their apartments. The trays were carried in and all was arranged upon the rosewood table, but Arwen did not stir from where she reclined on a couch before the fire, her head on a cushion.
"Come, beloved," Elessar said, taking her hand and helping her to arise, gentle but firm. "You will not eat later, I know, and I would not have you faint with hunger. Dine one last time with your Elfstone, and we will drink to the years of our happiness and be thankful, if we cannot be merry."
Canohando had been loitering in the anteroom. The whole of Minas Tirith knew that this was the day appointed, and all over the city people mourned, quietly in their homes or drunkenly in the crowded taverns. The Orc slipped into the dining room behind the serving boys, longing for a glimpse of his Lady, and Elessar called him over.
"You must see to it that she takes food when I am gone, Canohando. She forgets to eat when she is sad."
The Orc regarded the King with sorrow and wonder. In a few hours he will be dead, he says, although there is no wound on him, nor any weakness. And all he can think of is the Lady's comfort…
"I will care for her, lord." He laid his fist against his heart. "You need not fear for her, King of Gondor. Trust me for this."
The King's eyes probed his, and the Orc stood a little straighter.
"I do trust you," said Elessar. "Go now yourself and get something to eat, Canohando. At sunset we will leave."
Canohando let himself out, shutting the door behind him as quietly as he knew how. He was not accustomed to eat at noon, and he went out into the courtyard of the White Tree to stand by the fountain, listening to the play of the water and watching as the sun made little rainbows in the spray. It had no power to soothe him today, and he turned away with a sigh.
He walked at random, not thinking about where he was going, and found himself turning in at the gate to the practice field. A fit place for a warrior to pass the time, he thought. A unit of Guardsmen was drilling in the center of the field; he sidestepped them and went to the row of targets.
He shot all afternoon, stony-faced and silent, till he had reduced one target to shreds of leather and a heap of sawdust. At last the sun was far in the west, and he unstrung his bow and started back to the palace, following behind the company of Guards who were also marching toward the Citadel.
Minas Tirith was unnaturally still. There were no children playing in the courtyards, no hot bread sellers hawking their wares at street corners. There were people in the streets, but they stood silent, waiting, and more people kept joining the crowd, coming out of the houses or in from little side alleys. Canohando quickened his steps to pass by the Guardsmen, anxious to reach the palace before the King came out.
When he got to the Citadel, he found a scene of ordered chaos. A curtained litter stood to one side, its bearers wearing the uniform of the Guard. Courtiers bustled in and out of the buildings bordering the courtyard, on what errands the Orc could not fathom. Two horses with scarlet harness stood near the palace stairs, held by men from the stables. Florian was arguing with the grooms, insisting that they take the animals outside the Gate, but they showed no inclination to obey him.
"His Majesty sent word to bring his mount and the Queen's, Chamberlain, and here they are. Right here's the note he sent down to the stables."
Florian puffed up like an angry pigeon, not even looking at the paper the man waved in his face. "You know well enough that horses are not permitted inside the Citadel! Without doubt His Majesty meant for you to have the horses ready for him outside the Gate, and I must say you've chosen a poor day to flout law and custom. Now out with you!"
He flapped his hands at them, as if he would shoo them toward the exit, and one of the horses shied and danced away. The man holding her reins calmed her with difficulty, and the other groom bent a furious glare on Florian. "Go back to your doorkeeping, Chamberlain," he said, his voice vibrating with intensity but low, not to excite the horses further. "His Majesty rides to join his longfathers this day, and he'll find his horse ready at the door!"
Canohando stood listening, out of everyone's way. Orcs would have come to blows by now, he thought. Even when they are angry, they are more peaceable than we are, even fools like the little Chamberlain.
A trumpet blast ended the argument and everyone stopped where he was, turning toward the palace doors. Elladan and Elrohir came down the marble stairs, walking side by side, their eyes straight ahead. As they reached the bottom, Prince Eldarion emerged from the palace and started down alone. A little distance behind him his two sisters followed, on their husbands' arms. There was a pause of several heartbeats, and then the King and Queen appeared in the doorway.
Arwen was all in black, her face so white it appeared bloodless; even her lips were pale. She held herself proudly, nonetheless, her hand tucked under the King's arm, but with dignity, not as if she needed his support. And the King wore mail of hammered gold over his tunic, as if he rode to a tournament and not to his last sleep; under the winged crown of the Sea-Kings his face was solemn, but serene.
He looked out over the courtyard at the people gathered there, but his gaze lingered on the White Tree beside its fountain. It was the first of March, and the tree was beginning to bud.
"Now the Kingdom is restored, and one King follows another, generation by generation, as it was of old," he said, and his voice carried clearly to every person present. "As you have served me faithfully, I charge you to serve my son, that Gondor may prosper and be blessed. Now I go to my rest, and the dawn will see a new King reigning in Minas Tirith. Come then to the Hall of Kings at the third hour tomorrow, and swear homage to Eldarion my son. For myself, I bid you good-night."
He started down the stairs, the Queen at his side, and at the bottom he helped her onto her horse before he mounted his own. The Guardsmen Canohando had passed on the street earlier took their places behind and ahead of the King and Queen, a guard of honor, but the Queen's brothers, with Eldarion and his sisters, walked ahead, and from the side two others joined them: the Dwarf Gimli and the Elf who was his friend. But as they passed by where Canohando was standing, Legolas called to him softly.
"Come, Queen's Shadow, you march with us." And Canohando looked up, startled, and hastened to fall in beside him.
They went through the Gate, out of the Citadel, and turned west. Behind the rear rank of the Guards came a crowd of people who had been in the courtyard, silent and wide-eyed, some of them clinging to one another's hands, like children bereft of their father.
When they came to Fen Hollen, the door to the Tombs, the King's son stepped forward to meet the Doorkeeper.
"Open the way," he said, "for the King comes, seeking rest." And the porter unlocked the door and swung it wide, and they passed in. But when the last of the Guardsmen reached the door, they turned to face the people who followed behind, and they blocked the way.
"The King has said good-night," the Captain said to the crowd, and his voice was choked with tears. "Go home now, and tomorrow the new King shall bid you good morning." He waited with his men until the crowd began to turn and drift away; then the last of the Guards passed through the doorway, and the porter locked it behind them.
The sun was setting as they followed the road down, a blaze of crimson that fired the sky and cast rosy light on the pale domes and columns along the way. There was no sound but the measured footsteps of the Guardsmen against the marble pavement. And then a voice rose from the midst of the cortege, a woman singing a lament in the ancient Elven tongue, and her song was of such sorrow as to break a heart of adamant, yet beautiful withal. The boots of the soldiers beat a solemn rhythm, and Arwen's voice soared above them, and Canohando clenched his fists as he walked, not to sit down on the cold stone of the roadway and howl in an abandonment of grief.
They came at last to the House of the Kings. Arwen was silent now, and the Guard split to the right and to the left, standing in formation. The King slid from his horse and helped his Lady down, before he turned to those who had walked ahead in the procession.
He embraced the Elf first, Legolas, who had stood with him in many dangers, and then Gimli, and what he whispered in their ears was for them alone and they never repeated it. Then he came to the Orc.
"It seems you are the Treasure-keeper," he said. "Frodo entrusted a Jewel to you, and now I leave you to guard my heart's treasure. Do not fail me, Canohando!"
The orc knelt, reaching for the King's hands to kiss them, but Elessar drew him to his feet. "I know you will not fail," he said, embracing the Orc. "You are Frodo's brother, as true-hearted as he was himself. Guard her until she does not need you more, and the blessing of Aragorn rest on you ever after."
He turned and took Arwen's hand once more, and with his family he passed through the narrow door into the tomb of Gondor's kings.
The light of sunset faded, and shadows grew long in the street. Canohando stood with Gimli and Legolas, and for a time no one spoke. At last Gimli said, "Meriadoc and Peregrin are laid within there, are they not? They are far from home."
"Far indeed, but at least they are together," Legolas answered, and seeing the Orc's look of bewilderment he added, "Cousins to the Ring-bearer, who were of the Fellowship with us. Perhaps Frodo told you of them."
Comprehension dawned. "They went to the Ents," the Orc said. He smiled slightly. "Ninefingers said they grew tall."
Gimli gave a little snort of laughter and stifled it quickly, looking around. "In a manner of speaking – for a hobbit! They were noble of heart, though; it is fitting that they lie with the great of Gondor. Frodo should be here as well."
"He is happier sleeping at home in the Shire," Legolas said softly. "Rath Dinen is too quiet for him; he would want birdsong around his tomb, and squirrels…"
They spoke no more after that, and the street was as silent as its name. The Guardsmen still stood in their ranks but no longer at rigid attention. Night fell and stars began peeking out, a few at a time, until the sky was spangled with light. Canohando sat down on the stone steps and stared up at them.
Is all the City holding its breath while the King dies? How long will it take, without wound or illness? It took Yarga an hour, drenched in blood…
He shut his eyes, trying to blot out the memory of Yarga's face, contorted in anguish; the low groans the Orc had tried to suppress. Canohando had pressed bandages to the dreadful wound, staunching the bleeding, but he had not been able to ease Yarga's agony. He wondered now why he had not ended it with one merciful stroke of his knife, but he had not let himself admit that Yarga was dying; he had been determined to save him.
I hope the King is not in pain.The Valar send – but would the Valar permit an Orc to call on them for anything? What had the Lady told him – he was known to the One –
Send that he dies easy, he thought. Show him mercy, as he showed to me.
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