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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

18. The Road to Lothlorien

They did not start as early as they had planned on the day of their departure, for Arwen lingered inside with Eldarion and her brothers, determined to leave and yet loath to say the final farewell. Canohando waited in the courtyard and a groom held the Queen's horse outside the entrance to the Citadel; they would travel mounted, of course, and the rest of the Company was assembled by the City gates.

"So, Orc, we have come to wish you safe journey." Canohando turned at Gimli's voice.

"I would be glad if there had been more time for us to know each other," Legolas said. "It will be a strange tale I carry to the Undying Lands, of an Orc who wears the black and silver and guards Arwen Undomiel at the last. There will be some who will not believe me, and I am not sure I understand even now, how such a thing came to be."

Canohando fingered the jewel at his throat. "Ninefingers," he said.

"That is the answer, yet it is passing strange," said Gimli. "Frodo Baggins – when I saw him first in Elrond's House, even when he stood forth to take the Ring, I thought he was too innocent, too soft, for the task he set himself –"

"He was," said Legolas. "He was gentle to a fault, but he knew what was at stake and he would not give in. I thought it had broken him beyond mending; when I saw him last I feared that I would hear next that he was dead, or driven mad." The Elf looked at Canohando curiously. "What did Radagast do for him, do you know? From what you have said, Frodo was hale and strong when you met him."

"When I met him he had fought his battle already, and won. I do not know if the old man freed him or he freed himself, but he was not soft. Gentle and courteous, but he would not back down - even Yarga could not break him; in the end Yarga fled rather than face Ninefingers..." The Orc sighed. "There is no one like him, but I would see his country, if I could."

Legolas smiled. "The Shire? Aragorn set a ban on that land many years ago; Men are not permitted there, but I don't suppose he thought of forbidding it to Orcs. Perhaps you will see Frodo's country one day, Canohando. He would like that, I think."

Canohando did not answer, but after a moment he turned to Gimli. "And what will you do now? The Lady says the Elf will go to Valinor, so will you return to your own land? Does your road lie with ours? I would not be sorry to have your axe on our side if we meet with enemies."

Legolas laughed. "No, Orc, you cannot have him! Gimli goes with me; our friendship is of too long standing to be broken now!" He looked down at the Dwarf with tender humor. "He has clung behind me on horseback, and now he will brave the Sea at my side, trusting his life to my boat-building."

"For the Lady Galadriel's sake, mind you," Gimli said gruffly. "Else you could as well come back with me to the Glittering Caves, and endure your sea-fever a while longer! But I will go with you to Elvenhome, if you are certain the ship will not sink to the bottom at having one of Durin's race aboard."

"It will not sink," Legolas said with certainty. "Permission has been granted, and Galadriel herself will rejoice to see you on the white shores. We are come to the end of many things, my friends, and this Middle Earth will be far different in the Age to come."

Gimli nodded, his face sad, and he reached up to grip the Elf's shoulder for a moment. But Canohando gazed around the courtyard at the fountain and the White Tree, reflecting that he had gained far more than he lost when the world changed. He grieved over his Lady and the good King he had served for so short a time, and there would always be an empty space in his heart for Frodo. But he was free to grieve, free to love…

The Queen came forth at last. She embraced her son and Elrohir, kissing them and stroking Eldarion's hair back from his brow.

"You will be a worthy King of Gondor, my son. Do not sorrow overmuch for me, but live gladly the years that are allotted to you. They are swift, the passing years; do not let them run through your fingers!"

"I will not," he said. He helped her to mount her horse, and then he walked beside her, through the twisting streets of Minas Tirith, all the way to the great Gates with their mithril images of the Tree that was the emblem of his house, and he stood there as the Company of soldiers surrounded her, fore and aft, a guard of honor and protection.

Finally all was ready; Elladan gave a shout and signaled with his hand, and the Company moved out. Arwen Undomiel rode with her head high, not looking back at the city where she had known her most poignant sorrow and her greatest joy, following the same road that had brought her here more than a hundred years before. Her face was calm and only Canohando close at her side saw the tears that ran down her cheeks and fell on her gloved hands, holding her horse's reins.

Canohando would not ride, but loped along beside the Queen, mile after mile, tireless and well able to carry on conversation while he ran. The Men were amazed at his endurance, but he shrugged it off. “It is the one good thing about Orcs: our hardiness.”

Arwen spoke little, yet she did not close Canohando out as utterly as she did the others. To him she could speak her thoughts without holding back; he was as hardy of mind as he was of body, and nothing she said ever put him out of countenance.

"Your children would have had you stay with them, Lady," he said one day, when they had been traveling nearly a week.

"Yes." She sighed. “I could not stay and let them see how much less they are to me than he was,” she said, and Canohando knew she spoke of the King.

“They know that, Lady, surely? For him you gave up your birh-right, the call to Valinor...” He ran for a little while without speaking, then added, “I would give much to have a son of my body.” It was as if the words were torn from him; he had thought it often, but never spoken it aloud.

He glanced at her, half afraid of what she would say: he came of a cursed race; how dared he wish to perpetuate his kind! But she smiled down on him. “You must find a wife, then. I would be happy to know that you had a family; you would make a good father, and a devoted mate.”

He snorted and looked ahead once more. “Who would have me, ugly as I am?”

Arwen stretched out her hand, brushing his shoulder. "You are not ugly, dear one, to anyone whose sight is clear." She murmured something in Quenya.

After a moment Canohando asked, "Will you tell me what you said, Lady? I do not understand the Elven tongue."

"It is time you learned, then. I said, 'The Valar grant that you find your mate, for your own sake and for the world's.' The Fourth Age will need your children."

After that Arwen took pains each day as they traveled, to teach him a few words. It was not Quenya she taught him, however, but the Sindarin of the Wood Elves. “You will not hear Quenya, soon, anywhere in Middle Earth,” she said sadly. “Those who can still speak it will be all of them beyond the Sundering Seas.” Her grief indeed was not abated and there was no light anymore in her lovely eyes; still, there was kindness.

They followed the Road as far as Edoras, stopping there for a week to rest and reprovision themselves for the second half of the journey. Arwen was gracious and gentle, accepting the proffered hospitality of the King of the Mark -- although it was Eomer’s grandson who reigned in Rohan now, and he was a man of middle years, grey-bearded and somewhat over-awed to find himself entertaining Gondor’s Queen. He gave one banquet for her, and Arwen sat dry-eyed at the table, trying to put the King and Queen at ease with pleasant conversation, but pale as death and eating next to nothing, crumbling her bread to bits between her fingers, to lie in a white mound on her golden plate.

Canohando stood behind her chair, watching, and the people of the court watched him as well, covertly from the corners of their eyes. No one would gainsay the right of Arwen Evenstar to keep whatever servitors she chose, yet it was past understanding to the folk of Rohan that she would have an Orc in her entourage. But after dinner was over and she had gone to the apartment prepared for her, Canohando sent one of the young soldiers of the Company to the kitchens.

“I will not leave the Lady’s side in this strange place, and they might welcome me with their carving knives, if I entered the kitchens,” he said wryly. “But she did not eat enough tonight to keep a bird alive, and she will be fainting by the side of the road if this goes on. Beg the cooks for a tray for her; tell them she eats but little, so send food that is light, but strengthening. And ask the Quartermaster for a skin of our own wine.”

And when the food and wine were brought, the Orc went into Arwen’s chamber himself, with her leave or without it, and knelt by her chair, where she leaned back with her eyes closed as if it were too much exertion even to allow her maid to undress her and put her to bed.

“Lady, you must eat. You must,” he said.

She did not open her eyes. “Why must I? Go to your rest, Canohando. There is no danger in Meduseld, where the golden-haired giants of Rohan stand guard in every doorway.”

“They are outside the door, Lady, and the danger lies here within the room. You will not reach Lothlorien if you do not eat; we will be digging your grave by the side of the road, and I will slay myself on top of it, for I swore to bring you home.”

She sat up at that. “They would not bury me by the roadside; they would carry me back in state to lie in Rath Dinen beside my lord. And you shall not slay yourself anyplace at all, Orc, but live and journey on to see the Shire, your brother’s land!”

“Not while I can serve you, Lady. My runt told me of the Golden Wood, and I would be glad to see it. Will you show it to me?”

He was pouring wine as he spoke and holding out the glass to her; she took it, and he held out the tray of little dainties from the kitchen: small pastries with a poppyseed filling, pieces of herbed beef sliced thin and rolled, and a fluted ramekin of custard, delicately browned. Arwen sipped her wine and took one of the pastries, biting into it and looking down at him in gentle exasperation.

“I chose mortality, dear one. You cannot stop death from finding me, and I do not wish you to.”

And once again she saw the Ring-bearer in his eyes: the resignation to whatever pain must come, and stubbornness withal, to keep his promise.

“Under the mallorns, Lady, you said you would abide the Doom of Men. I think the King would be glad to know you came there safe, whatever happens after.”

She sighed. "Have you got a spoon there? I will eat the custard, but you will have to finish that meat yourself."

He smiled, magnanimous in victory. "I will, if you will finish the pastries, Lady."

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