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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

17. Shadows on the Moon

Canohando passed Joram in the courtyard the next morning and stopped to speak with him.

"Does your grandson know how to make his own arrows, Man?"

Joram shook his head.  "Even I did not make my own, when I was in the Army.  I made some for the lad to practice  with, but I'm no fletcher." The orc grunted; he had examined Miko's arrows when the boy came to the practice field. 

"He is not a bad shot for his age, but with better weapons he could be very good.  He came a few days ago and showed me what he can do.  If you will have him in the kitchen at the time of the evening meal, I will eat here instead of in the soldiers' mess.  It will give me a chance to show him how to make arrows."

"I'll see that he's here, and you can show me too, if you will. The story's got around how you refused the arrows in the armory and made your own instead, and everyone has heard about the bird you shot out of the sky. I'd be glad to see how you do it."

Canohando went off to spend the day working with his men. He had them all to himself, for Elladan was  in close conference with the new King, giving Eldarion as much guidance as he could before they left the City. The Company had come together as a cohesive group now, although Aragorn had chosen them out of a number of different units, and they seemed to have accepted their outlandish Commander as well.

At sundown the Orc returned to the Palace, carrying his own weapons and also a second bow. Miko was sitting on a bench against the  wall, swinging his legs, but he jumped up and ran to meet him.

"Canohando!  Grandfer says you're going to teach me to make arrows!  Did you always make your own, even when you were in the Orc army?"

The Orc ran his hand over Miko's hair, careful not to let his claws scratch the tender scalp. It was a measure of the child's innocence that he could talk so casually of the Orc "army". Better call it the horde, Canohando thought. We had no loyalty, no discipline: we were bound to terror and bloodlust, we delighted in torture…

He pulled his thoughts back to the present. "Always, youngling – bow and arrows should fit the archer, not the other way around, so I make my own when I can.  But these Elf bows are well-made; see, I have brought you one from the armory. It is too long, but we will cut it to size."

Miko took the bow, his eyes round with awe. "A real Elf bow! The master really let you take it for me?"

Canohando snorted. "I did not say who it was for; I told him I needed it, and he did not argue with me.  Stand still now, and I will see how much we must trim it."

Joram brought over meat and ale, and Canohando snatched bite and sup while he worked. He altered Miko's bow more than he had his own, for it had to be much shorter, and then it was too thick and had to be shaved down. He worked patiently, and when Miko's attention wandered he called the lad back sharply. "You will outgrow this in a year or two, youngling, and I will not be here to make another for you. You had better watch what I'm doing so you know how to do it yourself." But Joram hung over him, watching intently, and he paid close attention as well, when Canohando brought out some uncut shafts and began making arrows.

"You feather them a little different from how we do ours," the man observed.

"I get better control this way," said Canohando. "See now, if you set the feather like this, you can put a little spin on it in flight. Come here, Miko, let me see you do one."

Miko's arrow was a sloppy imitation of Canohando's, but the Orc nodded. "You will need to practice, but you have the idea. Keep one of mine aside and do not use it, then you will have it for a model."  He stood up, stretching. 

"Time for sleep. Bring your new bow to the field tomorrow, and you can shoot while the men are at drill." He turned to leave, but he was halted by Miko's small body launched at him, arms wrapped around his waist. 

"Thank you! I will practice, I promise, and I will always make my own arrows, just like you. Someday I will be an archer in the King's army, too!"

Canohando laughed, but he was warmed by the child's affection, and he went up to the Queen's apartments with a lighter heart than he had known since he learned that Elessar was soon to die. He greeted the Guardsmen on duty outside the antechamber and went in, but instead of the darkness he had expected he found the room washed in moonlight. He walked over to look out the window, and the beauty of the night smote his heart. 

The moon was nearly at the full, huge and white, and dark blue clouds clustered around it, wisps of them drifting across its face. He was tired, but he could not bear to turn his back on the glorious vision to lie down in his stuffy closet. He stood for a long time watching the heavens, the changing shadows on the moon and the stars burning holes in the dark sky. Finally he wrapped his blanket around himself and lay on the floor beneath the window, where he could feast his eyes until they closed in spite of his efforts to stay awake.

He thought afterward that the moon might have saved his life.

When he woke some hours later, the moonlight was gone and the room was very dark, and something was moving near the Queen's door. He rose to his knees slowly, drawing his knife out from under the pack he used as a pillow. 

There was a faint whisper and another movement by the door of his closet – there were two of them, then, if not more – were they looking to see if he was asleep, before they broke into the Queen's chambers? He got to his feet and made his way softly around the edge of the room, straining his eyes to see how many intruders there were. If there is danger, it will strike by darkness, Legolas had said; the Elf was a shrewd captain. 

One man was crouched directly in front of the Queen's door, and Canohando took him first, an arm thrown around his neck and a quick upthrust of his knife under the ribs. The man gasped, his cry cut off by the pressure of the Orc's arm against his windpipe. But even that little sound was enough to alert the other intruder, and he ran for the outer door, not troubling to be quiet. Canohando thrust aside the body he held and dove after him, but the man reached  the door and flung it open, throwing himself out of the room before the Orc could reach him.

"Stop that man!" Canohando roared, charging out to confront the Guards. They backed away, staring  at him with their mouths open -  belatedly, they took up the cry and hared after the escaping intruder, bringing him down just before he reached the stairs. But Canohando had not missed their expressions of amazement and fear: they did not expect me to be alive, he realized. Whatever devilry is afoot, those two are part of it.

He slipped back into the anteroom and locked it from the inside, quickly, before the Guardsmen could return. Then he ran to the open window and leaned out; throwing back his head, he let out a howl that shook the night. It rose and fell, eerie and wavering, until it sounded as if a pack of wolves had invaded the Citadel and prowled in the Courtyard of the White Tree. Lights flared in the darkness as torches and lanterns were lit; voices shouted and feet pounded through the passageways, and the door to the Queen's chambers was thrown open, Arwen standing in the doorway in her dressing-gown, a terrified maid cowering behind her.

"In the name of Elbereth, Canohando, what madness is this?"

There were men shouting and beating on the outer doors. "Let them in!" Arwen said sharply.

"Wait, Lady!" He moved to stand in front of her, shielding her with his body. "Be certain first that they are loyal to you: I slew a man at your door a moment ago, and another got away. Do not unlock the doors until we hear the King's voice, or your brothers…"

She was carrying a lantern; in its light her eyes were shadowed, and she shook her head numbly. "You slew - at my door? Where?" She held the lantern up high, shedding its light around the room. The man Canohando had killed lay facedown, his blood a dark stain on the carpet around him. "Who is it?" she whispered.

Canohando rolled him over. "You!" he exclaimed. It was the blonde soldier who had mocked his archery, the first day he had gone to the practice field. The man who had threatened Miko, the bully Canohando  would have thrown out of his Company, if the King had assigned him to it.

"You know him?" Arwen asked.

"I have met him; I do not know his name," Canohando said, but at that moment there was a rattling of the doors and the King's voice.

"Mother! Can you hear me? You men – break me down these doors!"

"No!" Arwen cried, hurrying forward. "Wait, Eldarion, I will unlock them." But the Orc was ahead of her, shouldering her gently aside.

"Stand over there, Lady, till we know it is safe. I will open the doors, but if there is an archer among the traitors – stay to one side, out of range."

He flung the doors wide, moving back quickly to put himself in front of the  Queen, but Eldarion thrust him out of the way and caught his mother in his arms. "Mother! You are unharmed? What is it, has the Orc run mad? Hold him!" he said over his shoulder, and half a dozen Guardsmen surrounded Canohando, yanking his hands behind his back and binding them quickly.The Orc endured it without resistance, searching the mens' faces as they hustled him away from the Queen. Which of these men had been in the plot, he wondered, and what evil had they intended? 

"Let him go!" Arwen's voice was low and fierce, and she beckoned Canohando to her. "There was an intruder here tonight, and thanks to the Powers that my Shadow kept the door! Eldarion, send for your uncles –"

But there was no need to send; Elladan and Elrohir were there, and Elladan had already slashed the cords that bound Canohando's wrists. "Come into your Bower, Arwen; you will take a chill. Your Majesty," he said quietly to the King, "in your place I should send for the Queen's Company to guard the doors. If an intruder entered this room, your Guard is compromised, for how could anyone get past the men on duty without their complicity?"

Eldarion nodded grimly. He stepped out into the great open chamber outside the anteroom doors, his eyes passing over at least twenty Guardsmen until he found a young page who had wormed his way to the front, agog to see what was going on.

"You, lad! Hie you to the Officer on duty at the barracks, tell him I am calling up the Queen's Company, here at the Palace, as quickly as they can get here!" Then the King looked around at the silent Guardsmen. "Who stood at these doors tonight?" he asked. Two men stepped forward, still gripping the elbows of the man they had caught by the stairs.

"We caught this one when he ran out, Majesty," one of them said. 

"Did you indeed?" said the King. "Bind his hands and feet; we will be questioning him soon. Which of you men were not on duty tonight?"

Half a dozen of the Guardsmen lifted their hands. "You men and those who were at the door come in, and bring the prisoner. The rest of you are dismissed." But when they were assembled in the anteroom he said, "You two who were on the door are under arrest as well; hand over your weapons."

Their dumbfounded expressions would have been comical, if Eldarion's face had not been so bleak. Only a few days King and already he faced treason in the Guard, a threat to his own mother! There had not been such a thing in all the years of Elessar's reign – but Aragorn had come to Minas Tirith a victor on the field of battle, tested and proved. This was Eldarion's first test, and his reign might be short if he did not pass.

"Bring him in."  The King motioned to the man who had been taken at the stairs, and a couple of Guards held his arms as he shuffled into the Queen's Bower, his footsteps hampered by the length of rope that tethered his ankles.

But the questioning was short.

"What were you doing at the Queen's door, soldier?" Eldarion asked sternly. "King Elessar is no sooner gone to his rest, than treachery raises its head against the Lady Arwen?"

The man burst out as if in horror. "No! It was not treason, we meant no harm to the Queen! Never to the Queen! The Orc – only the Orc –" 

Arwen lifted her head, her gaze boring into his face. "What about the Orc? What business had you with him?"

"No business, Your Majesty; we came to take him out of here. Your Grace, he has bewitched you and the King! He is a monster, lording it over true Men of Gondor, calling himself our Commander –"  His voice faltered as he looked from Eldarion to Elrohir, to Elladan and the Queen herself. 

"You came to take him – where?" Arwen's voice was soft. "Or do you not mean that you came to slay him, although he was named my Shadow and protector by King Elessar himself?"

The man stood mute, and Eldarion drew his brows together. "You will answer the Queen, sirrah. Did you mean to slay the Orc?"

"Yes," he muttered. He met the King's eyes. "He is an Orc, Your Majesty!  Why does no one see that he is an enemy, an animal, filthy –"  The man's voice was rising as he spat out his hatred. "He sits in the mess hall tearing at his meat like a wild beast, sucking on the bones – our weapons are not good enough for him - he did  murder before the King and the whole Court, and instead of execution he is given a Company of his own and sleeps at the Queen's door –"  The man was nearly screaming now, spit flying from his lips. "He walks with the great ones of Minas Tirith, but for all that he is an Orc, and any true son of Gondor will strike him down!"

Eldarion looked sick. "And that is what you are, then? A true son of Gondor, who creeps upon your enemy in the dead of night while he sleeps, to take his life before he can defend himself. The Valar send that I have not many of these true sons of Gondor in my soldiery!"

"You have not, lord," said Canohando from where he stood next to the Queen's chair. "I have captained one company of your soldiers, but I have met many others. They are brave men, for the most part. Many of them do not like having an Orc in their midst, but they honor the King's word, that sets me among them and gives me command."

The young King sighed. "I hope you are right. Very well, we know what manner of man this is, and I have no desire to see more of him. Take him back outside – have the men of your Company come yet?"

Elladan opened the door to the anteroom. "Yes, they are here. Will you have the Guardsmen who were on duty next?" Eldarion nodded, sitting down across from the Queen, and Elladan motioned the prisoner and his guards from the room, following them out.

"I am glad you are a light sleeper, Orc," said the King, and Canohando snorted.

"Not light enough," he said. "They should not have been able to get in the room without my knowledge. I live too well, here in the city."

The door opened once more and a squad of soldiers came in with the two Guardsmen, Elladan behind them. The King ran his eyes over the Guards with the air of one who examines a horse for soundness, from their winged helmets to their polished boots. At last his gaze settled on their faces.

"How did those murderers get in tonight, gentlemen?"

The men made no answer. They stared at the floor by the King's feet, and the silence stretched on and on.

"Will you not say they must have climbed in through the window?" Eldarion asked. "Or you fell asleep perhaps, both of you, at your post? Or you had urgent business down the other end of the passage and left the door unguarded –"

Arwen broke in. "Do not tempt them to lie, my son. They let them in; that is the truth of it. Here are some more 'true sons of Gondor' who care more for their inherited hatred than they do for the King's word."

Eldarion nodded. "Thank you, Mother. That is the truth, you men? You let the others in; did you know what they intended?"

"To kill the Orc," one man said in a hoarse voice.

Canohando fingered the Jewel at his throat. "That is what they told you. What if it had not been true?  How if killing me had been only a step on the way to their true intention: to bring harm to the Queen?" The man who had spoken looked aghast. "You had not thought of that," said Canohando. "But if you choose not to follow your orders, you must think of everything."

Elrohir stirred impatiently. "There was no choice for them to make. What do we do with sentries who stand aside and let intruders pass unchallenged? These men are traitors, and the other I think is mad."

"Take them out to the anteroom and guard them well," Eldarion told the soldiers. And when they were gone, he looked around at those who remained with him.

"What shall we do with them, indeed? Canohando, I do most sincerely value your service to my mother, yet if she chose now to remain in Minas Tirith, I would be in a quandary what to say to you. You are more faithful than many Men in Gondor, but there are those who refuse to see it."

"That is not a difficulty," said Arwen. "I shall leave at the end of the week, as I told you. But you have four men at least who are proved rebels to the King's command: one of them is dead already, but to the others you must deal justice, lest your authority be set at nought."

"The penalty for murder is death, and the first man came to do murder, by his own admission," said Elladan. 

"And the penalty for sentries who are unfaithful to their duty is death."

No one said anything, but Canohando shifted his feet and blew his breath out between his teeth. After a long silence, Arwen said, "Is that the sentence?"

"Can it be anything else?" the King asked.

"Your father found another sentence for me," said Canohando.

"That was a far different case," said Eldarion. "You did not come with intent to kill; you defended yourself, but then you threw down your weapon. These men plotted foul murder, in the dark, of a sleeping – I almost said, man. They imagine they are excused because you are not a Man, but it was still murder they planned, and only your quick wits saved you."

"Lord, they are mortal; in a few years they will die whether you condemn them or not, and they did not slay me, whatever they intended. But life is better than death, and the old man would have spared them, as he did Yarga."

"What old man?" Eldarion asked.

"He speaks of Radagast the Brown, I think," said Elladan.  "The Bird-Tamer of Rhosgobel: if we are to consult his example for justice, malefactors will be free to do their worst without fear of reprisal from this day forth."

Canohando frowned. "Is it reprisal you desire, Queen's Brother? We knew reprisal under the Witch King.  Sentries who failed of their duty as these men did – in truth they would have died, and begged for the release of death! But I learned better things from the old man, and from Ninefingers."

Arwen reached out her hand and drew him close. "You did, dear one. Radagast was not a fool, though some have named him so," she said to the rest. "And it was Frodo's mercy that saved him in the end.  Take care how you pursue justice, that you do not slay wisdom along with your malefactors."

The King rubbed his forehead as if it ached. "Very well, Mother, but what am I to do with sentries who so abuse their trust? Are the Guardsmen to rule Gondor from henceforth, in defiance of the King's word?  My father appointed the Orc to your service, remember."

She bowed her head. "That is true. What would he have done in this case, I wonder?"

"You cannot trust them any longer," said Elrohir. "After this, I would not want them in Minas Tirith at all; they are proven traitors to their sworn word, for they vowed obedience to the King. And besides that they are cowards, to strike in the dark at a sleeping man. It must be death or banishment, I think."

Eldarion stood up. "Gimli tells me there are still Orcs in the depths of Moria; the Dwarves have had some trouble with them. I will send these men under guard to Khazad-dum, in lifelong banishment. Since they cannot be reconciled to have an Orc as brother-in-arms, let them go where all Orcs are enemies. They can find their courage and their redemption there, if they are minded to do so."  He bent to kiss his mother's cheek. "Go back to bed, Motherie. Your own Company keeps the door, and there is nothing more to fear."

She smiled and took his hand in hers, holding it to her cheek. "I am not afraid, dearest. My Estel gave me a protector indeed, and he proved his worth tonight. But Canohando, have you a few men in your Company that you can trust? Not to guard me – to stand with you, if you are attacked again."

The Orc thought for a moment.  "I would trust nearly all of them to watch my back, Lady," he said at last. "The old King chose them well; they are brave men, and faithful."


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