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The Queen's Orc  by jodancingtree

In the Twilight

Elladan stood for a moment, frozen, before he ran forward, vaguely aware that a rush of men ran with him. It took a crowd of them, lined up on both sides, to shift the dead troll off Canohando. The orc lay face-down, half crushed into the soft, muddy ground, still keeping a death-grip on the bloody knife.

"Raise him – gently, now!" Elladan rasped. He cleared his throat, trying to get control of his voice; it was inconceivable that he should grieve over an Orc, but an iron fist seemed to be clenched around his heart. And then he realized that some of the soldiers prying Canohando out of the mud had tears on their faces, and he was ashamed. The orc had won the respect of the Queen's Company, Elladan knew that already, but he had not known that Canohando was loved.

They turned him over, and two men brought up a litter hastily fashioned of hewn saplings and someone's cloak. One man squatted next to the orc, scraping mud from the battered face with his hand and folding the limp arms across the chest before they lifted him. There was a low moan, and Canohando's knife hand came up, striking feebly. The soldier jumped back, laughing even as he clutched a shallow, bleeding cut on his arm.

"He's alive! Elendil's beard, no wonder we were hard pressed in war against these creatures: you cannot kill them!" But the man's voice was a paean of joy, and Elladan pushed past and fell on his knees beside Canohando, feeling his pulse and pushing up an eyelid, all the while keeping one hand on the orc's wrist, lest the knife strike again.

"Even swooning he will not surrender! Easy, Queen's Shadow: the battle is done. We are all friends here." Elladan motioned to the men closest to hand, and together they stripped Canohando of his heavy leather corselet, wrapping him in his cloak and easing him onto the litter.

"Back along the road a few miles," Elladan ordered. "We must make camp and see to the wounded before nightfall." And bury the dead, he thought but did not say. Tomorrow would be soon enough for that, and for burning the carcasses of the trolls.

Before darkness fell the campfires were burning and the cooks were making the evening meal. The men who had been wounded were gathered in a couple of tents and medics bustled about, caring for them. Those men who had no other duty lounged about the outer perimeter of the camp, staring uneasily into the forest shadows; the usual contingent of guards had been posted, but in truth the whole camp was on guard tonight, wary and on edge.

Canohando had been carried into his own tent, and Elladan worked over him there, binding broken ribs and calling for splints to set a broken leg. The orc had not moved again, but he groaned deep in his throat when the leg was set, and Elladan had soldiers holding him down as a precaution.

"I would we had Elrohir with us," the Elf-lord muttered. "He took more of healing lore from our father than I did. One of you men, have scouting parties sent out and make sure there are no other enemies in the vicinity. If we are secure here, we must send someone to bring back the Queen and her escort."

It was long before the camp settled to sleep, and even then there were many who were not on night watch, who yet kept vigil with those who were. No more enemies disturbed them, however, and the Queen returned soon after sunrise, tired and wan after a night out in the open, but unhurt. The messenger had given her an account of the battle and Canohando's single-handed slaying the troll, and she hurried into his tent as soon as she dismounted. Elladan was there, sponging the orc with athelas water, and he got up to embrace her.

"You are unharmed?" he asked, subjecting her to careful scrutiny.

"Of course; I was out of danger and the escort took every care of me. How is your patient?" Canohando lay on a low cot with his eyes closed, as still as death. Arwen drew up a camp stool to sit beside him.

Elladan sighed. "I have attended to the wounds I could find, and they were many. But I fear what I cannot see; his breath is shallow, whether because of the broken ribs or some other injury deep within, and I do not know why he continues insensible. Now indeed we miss Elrond, and the King also, with his hands of healing."

"He has not wakened at all?"

"No. I don't understand how he survived, crushed under the troll as he was; lucky that the ground was soft, or he had surely died! But I am not certain we can save him, even so."

Arwen looked up sharply. "Brother, we must! Nay, do not shake your head at me; we must save him. There is more for him to do than slay a troll in my defense; it is not for nothing that he came to Gondor. At the least he must reach Lothlorien; he is called there, I am certain of it!"

"Ssh, Arwen, calm yourself. We are a few days from Lorien, no more than that, and it may be there is still healing there, even in these days of fading. We will try if we can bring the orc there alive. Have you eaten yet today? Sit with him while I get something for you, and talk to him a little. He may respond to your voice; I would be easier about him if he came out of this swoon."

He kissed the top of her head and went out, and Arwen bent her attention on the orc.

"Canohando! Wake up, dear one, it is morning. You have slain your enemy and kept your promise; open your eyes, now, and let me thank you. Canohando, wake up!"

She took his hand in both of hers, chafing his wrist and calling him, and his eyelids flickered, opened a slit and shut again. He moved restlessly, his hand closing on hers, and muttered something incomprehensible.

"That's right, dearest, wake. What did you say? I could not hear you."

"I got you out." The orc's voice was slurred, but loud enough to be heard. "I won't let him kill you."

"No, you didn't," she said, smiling. "You killed him instead." But Canohando frowned, pulling his hand away and struggling to sit up before he fell back again on the pillow.

"No! I will not kill him! He is my right hand, and Lash is my left…" The orc thrashed about weakly, trying to rise. "I got you out, runt," he said again, and was still.

Elladan came in followed by a soldier with a folding camp table bearing a covered bowl and a pewter tankard; this he set by Arwen, and bowed, backing out of the tent.

"Some of last night's stew, and a mug of ale. Rough fare, but strengthening," Elladan said. "Has the patient wakened?"

"He spoke, but I don't believe he knew who I was. His mind wanders."

"That he spoke at all is a good sign. Eat, Arwen, and then you must rest; you look exhausted."

"No!" She shook her head decidedly. "We must press on to Lorien; we cannot care for him properly here in the wild, and it will be slow going carrying him in a litter."

Elladan could not dissuade her; she would take no time to recoup her own strength, but they must go on at once, to reach Lothlorien as soon as might be.

"Why would you stop here?" she demanded at last. "Where there was one lair of enemies there may be more – were there no other reason to hasten away from this place, that would be enough. I pray you, Brother, have them break camp and make ready, for I could not rest here if you housed me in a stone fortress. Let us go!"

He could not withstand her. His second-in-command had called out burial parties as soon as it was light; by mid-morning the dead had been buried with what dignity they could manage in haste, in the wild, and the Company was on the march once more.

They went slowly, carrying their fallen Commander while Arwen walked her horse beside the litter. She spoke to him from time to time, and she thought he heard her; he moved a hand sometimes, or turned his head as if he listened. But when they stopped for a rest in early afternoon, the orc had not awakened. They sponged him with athelas water and dribbled a little of it into his mouth, stroking his throat to make him swallow, but he did not open his eyes.

They had passed by the dead trolls without stopping.

"It would take most of the day to bury them," said Elladan, "and we might set the forest aflame if we tried to burn the carcasses. There is no one living nearby, and no one besides ourselves is likely to travel this road. Let the scavengers have them; by the time anyone comes this way again, there will be nothing left."

Arwen nodded without answering.

After four days they came to the edge of the Golden Wood. The great mallorns stood out from the lesser trees through which they had been traveling, tall and stately with silver bark, smooth and fair. But although the trees were beginning to leaf out, the leaves seemed too few and far apart for such giants of the forest, and they hung limp. When once the travelers had passed under the eaves of the forest, the air around them seemed hushed; the ordinary woods outside had been alive with the song and fluttering of birds, these spring mornings, but under the mallorns sound was muted, and even the birds seemed to sing in whispers.

It was evening before they saw any hint that someone still lived here. There was a little house tucked in against one of the tree trunks, not a sylvan mansion such as the Elves of Lorien had been wont to build in Galadriel's day, but a tiny hut roofed with slabs of silver-grey bark. It had no windows, only a solid wooden door, shut tight.

At a nod from Elladan, one of the soldiers went and knocked on the door. They waited, but there was no answer, though he knocked a second time and a third, harder and more peremptory.

"There is no one here," said Arwen at last, "but I would have our patient under shelter all the same. Have them open it, Brother."

The door resisted their attempts, but the men were persistent and it yielded at last. But even as it swung wide, an arrow flew out of the dark interior, grazing the arm of the man who stood nearest the opening, and he jumped back with an oath.

The Queen rode forward, slipping past Elladan's hand stretched out to warn her back, bringing her horse to a halt close by the house, but off to one side, out of range.

"Cease this madness!" she commanded, her voice clear and hard as silver mithril. "Arwen Undomiel am I, and this hut is Elf-built or never the Two Trees grew in Valinor! Lay down your bow and come out!"

But the foe who emerged from the hut filled them all with amazement. She was Elven, by her pointed ears and delicacy of feature, but never was Elf so shrunken and raffish-looking. Thin, almost starveling she appeared, and her hair was pale nearly to whiteness, hanging half over her cheeks and trailing lank and uncombed to her waist. But as she looked up at Arwen, her hair fell back, and her face seemed at first a vision of loveliness, until she turned her head a little and they saw her left cheek. It was a mass of scars, from the corner of her mouth to just under her eye, the flesh puckered and red as if she had fallen in the fire.

"What does Arwen Undomiel seek in Lorien?" she asked, and her voice surprised them again; it was deep and vibrant, all out of keeping with her waif-like appearance. "There is no one here any longer, to wait upon a Queen."

Her tone held neither courtesy nor welcome, and her eyes were hard as she glanced around at the mounted men who filled her dooryard. "I cannot offer you hospitality, Queen of Gondor. My home is tiny, as you see, and my larder is bare."

Arwen heard her with astonishment plain on her face; then she slid from her horse and sank down on a rough wooden bench that stood by the door. Sitting, she could meet this ragamuffin child eye to eye.

"Why do you not open the door, at least, when someone knocks? And why greet us with arrows?"

The girl lifted her chin defiantly. "I do not want visitors, and it is the action of an enemy to break open a locked door. There is no army of Elves guarding Lorien anymore, Arwen Undomiel. We protect ourselves, the few of us who remain."

"So there are others? Where are they? I have a wounded soldier here; I seek shelter for him, and a healer."

The waif dropped her eyes, seeming to consider. "I am Malawen," she said at last. "I am a healer, the only one left. You must have medics with you, so many men all armed for war; why do you seek other help? What ails your wounded man?"

Arwen reached out as if she would take the girl's hand, but Malawen stepped quickly out of reach. "Show him to me," she demanded.

But when they led her to where Canohando lay insensible on his litter, she gazed down at him in disbelief. "An Orc," she whispered. Then her voice rose, startling in its shrillness. "You have brought an Orc into Lothlorien, and you ask me to tend to him! Oh, I will heal him for you, Queen of Gondor – see, here is the best medicine for Orcs!"

Elladan had quick reflexes, or it had been the end of Canohando. The Prince caught Malawen even as she struck, disarming her of the knife that had appeared suddenly in her hand and restraining her as she fought to free herself.

"Stand still, you fool!" he shouted over her screams, hugging her arms tight against her body. "If you kill that orc, the Queen herself will not be able to save you from the rage of his men. He is Commander of this Company, and he fell defending Her Majesty."

Malawen went rigid, staring silently from Elladan to Canohando.

"I will not ask you to heal him, child, only to leave him alone." Arwen sounded weary. "I little thought to find such malice in Lorien, when I fled homeward in my grief. Elladan, we cannot stay here. Let us seek out Galadriel's house and hope it is in fit state to shelter us."

"It is fit to live in, Lady," Malawen said in a small voice. "They keep it clean and in repair, though no one lives there now."

"Good. Then we will trouble you no more." Arwen mounted her horse again, but with an effort; all at once she seemed older, and very tired. "Come, you men, bring your Commander. Let us go."

The Company began to move, surrounding her and Canohando, but Elladan waited until the orc was several yards away before he released Malawen. She stood staring after the Company as the Elf-lord mounted and spurred to catch up with Arwen.

"Lady," she called, "don't go. You may stay in my house, Arwen Undomiel – I will not harm your orc!" But the rear guard of the Company rode past as if they did not see her, and she could not tell if the Queen had heard her offer.

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