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Arwen Evenstar and Prince Elladan rode off, the soldiers with them guarding the Orc as if he had been Gil-galad himself, fallen in battle. Malawen retreated into her tiny house and shut the door. She could not lock it; the Men had broken the bolt and she would have to make a new one.
She was glad they had gone, although Galadriel's house was still too near. She would rather they went west to Rivendell. She would rather they had never come to the Golden Wood. She unstrung her bow and hung it up, feeling her way around the hut without striking a light. Darkness was her refuge; in it she felt sheltered, cradled, safe from harm. In the dark no one could stare at her ruined face or see how stunted and ill-grown she was. In darkness and solitude there was comfort.
She seldom went out by day, although she wandered far afield after sunset, seeking food and watching the creatures of the night. She saw the owls fall soundlessly on their prey, and she had her own prey - rabbits that she took with snares, and ground-nesting birds. But she killed only what she needed to stay alive, so little that she was always somewhat hungry. She did not like killing; she would rather dance under the stars, singing to herself as she leaped and darted among the silver tree trunks, dancing as she had danced long ago in the years of her innocence, when her face was unmarred and her spirit undarkened.
She was not a child, though the Queen had named her so. She had been half-grown in the days of War, when Orcs flooded down from the mountain passes and surrounded the Golden Wood, when Galadriel and Celeborn had held the evil back, Elf arrows singing defiance against the filthy horde. Lorien had not fallen, but there had been casualties, and Malawen was one of them. Orcs had broken through here and there, burning and slaughtering. She had been an object of the Orcs' cruel play, and she had seen her mother die on an Orkish spear.
She had been rescued, she had lived, and in time her wounds had healed, the burns on her face had subsided to angry scars. But she had stopped growing, and when she reached maturity she was tiny, hardly taller than a Dwarf. She had seen a Dwarf once. One of that race had visited Lorien in company with two warriors of Men and some sad-faced children. She had been fascinated by the Dwarf, and laughed to see that he was no taller than herself, child though she was. But soon after that the War had come, and the Orcs, and she had never gotten any taller.
Now once again there was an Orc in Lorien, and her whole heart rose up in rebellion. What right has Arwen Undomiel! She left here long ago, she went away to Rivendell and Gondor, to wed the King. She was not here when the enemy came, she did not suffer – but she makes an Orc commander of her soldiers, and brings him to Lothlorien!
When night fell Malawen went outside. Without thought or purpose, she flitted through the darkness in the direction the Company had taken, drawn like a moth to the Queen of Gondor and, had she but known it, to the grey-skinned Orc who had lain so quietly on his litter, surrounded by those who loved and protected him.
"She is as quick with a knife as he is himself," said Arwen. "A pity she has such hatred for his kind, for I think they have much in common – of course, he is more gentle!"
Elladan chuckled. "And more courteous." Then he added more soberly, "Lothlorien has fallen on evil days indeed, if she is an example of its children."
They were in the dressing room off Galadriel's old bedchamber, which they had turned into a sickroom for their patient. Arwen had been dripping rich meat broth between the Orc's lips, waiting patiently for him to swallow each mouthful.
"Does he look any better to you?" she asked. "He seems..."
Elladan leaned over Canohando, inspecting him carefully. "His color is better, and I think he is breathing easier. It must have been hard on him, even unconscious, being jogged along on that litter." He touched the back of his hand to the Orc's forehead. "No fever. He may yet recover, and if he does it will be thanks to your faithful nursing. You look worn out Arwen; will you not go to bed and leave him to my care?"
She stifled a yawn. "You need not ask me twice," she said, getting up stiffly and going to wrap her arms around his shoulders. "Thank you, Elladan. Always you have been the kindest of brothers to me, and now most of all."
He lifted her hand to his lips. "You are the dearest of sisters, Undomiel. Good night."
She went away to sleep in Galadriel's old bed, carried back in dreams to her girlhood in this house, halcyon days before ever she fell in love with mortal Man and saw the choice of Luthien before her. And Elladan sponged his patient down with athelas water and dribbled a little wine into his mouth, before he sat down wearily to drink a glass of wine himself and fall asleep in his chair while he kept vigil.
Malawen crept into the house hours later. The place was familiar to her, although she had never been inside it while Galadriel dwelt here. But since the land emptied, the solitary girl had spent many nights wandering from room to room, imagining what it must have been like when the house was filled with light and tall Elves glided up and down the long staircase, carrying out the commands of their Lord and Lady. Now she went into Arwen's bedchamber without hesitation, standing for a long time in the moonlight watching the Queen as she slept. Then she turned to the little side room, but she paused when she saw Elladan sitting by the Orc's bed.
The Elf-lord was asleep, but she could still feel his grip on her arms earlier that day, and she was afraid of him. From the doorway she watched him warily, and then she looked at the Orc and stepped back in sudden alarm. His eyes were open, and at her movement they focused and she realized that he saw her. He made no sound but gazed intently into her eyes as if he wondered who she was. She stood frozen, confused, looking back at him until at last he sighed and closed his eyes. Then she slipped away, back to her own little hut, and sat down to make a new bolt for her door.
In the days that followed, Arwen seldom left Canohando's side, and Elladan marveled at her tenderness. She felt her debt to the Orc, of course; he had vowed his life to her protection, and very nearly he had lost it in her defense. All the same, Elladan found it strange to see his sister sitting hour after hour by Canohando's bed, singing lullabies to him as if he had been a child and telling him little stories of her life with Elessar, laughing through tears sometimes, recalling the days of her happiness for the hearing of a grey-skinned Orc who lay silent and unresponsive before her.
But Canohando was not so deeply unconscious now. When Arwen went away to sleep, or at her brother's insistence to walk for an hour in the sunshine, the Orc was restless and difficult to manage, muttering in his own harsh tongue and turning his head away when Elladan tried to drip liquids into his mouth.
Yarga lay in a pool of his own blood, his eyes probing Canohando's face. I took the blow for you. Would you have taken it for me? He was beyond speech now, but the question was so plain in his eyes that Canohando answered aloud. “I would have, brother. I swear it, I would have!”
The Orc thrashed on the bed, knocking a cup of herb-laced wine out of Elladan's hand. The Elf-lord sighed in exasperation, picking it up and going to refill it. No doubt it was a good sign that Canohando could move with such energy, but in truth Elladan was tiring of the physician's role. A pity that ill-favored girl was too hostile to be of any use; she had named herself a healer.
Yarga tugged feebly at his drum; it was still attached to his belt, miraculously untouched by the axe-stroke that had cut him down. Canohando unhooked it as carefully as he could, to cause no greater pain, and Yarga mouthed, “Play...”
“I will make a song for you,” Canohando said, before he remembered that he had never made one. But Yarga’s lips pulled back in a grim parody of a smile, so Canohando beat out a simple rhythm. Then another spasm of agony contorted Yarga’s face, and Canohando dropped the drum and slid his arm under the other Orc’s shoulders. Yarga turned his face against Canohando’s chest, and Canohando put both arms around his friend -- never had an Orc met death in such a way, cradled in the arms of a comrade who wept at his passing. Yarga convulsed and went rigid for a moment; then he was limp in Canohando’s arms...
Canohando rolled over suddenly, falling on the floor with a crash. Elladan jumped back, the cup he had just refilled sloshing out its contents over his hand. He set it down, going to lift the Orc back on the bed, and Canohando looked up at him.
"Yes, I am here. Welcome back, Canohando." Elladan knew he was grinning like a sailor on shore leave, but it didn't seem important. "Welcome to Lothlorien."
The Orc's eyes widened and he glanced around the room, the dome of the ceiling blue like the sky, upheld at each corner by posts carved to resemble the trunks of mallorns. The windows were high in the walls, and sunlight slanted down in long rays to lie across the floor and the bed.
"The Lady?" he asked.
"She is walking in the garden; I sent her out for some fresh air. She has been sitting with you, Orc, every moment I would allow her."
"I remember..." Canohando began, but no, that had not been the Queen. He remembered a white little face with haunted eyes, staring at him from the dark. He shook his head, bewildered; he could not recall ever seeing that face in waking life.
"I must send word that you are better." Elladan opened the door and the soldier outside sprang to attention; there was always one of the Company out there waiting for news of their Commander. The man's face broke into a great smile when Elladan told him, and the Elf-lord let him step in the room for a moment, to see Canohando for himself and hear his murmured greeting. Then the man hastened away to spread the glad tidings.
A few days later the Orc was so much recovered that they carried him outside to sit in the sunshine, his splinted leg propped up before him and Arwen settled nearby.
"A month, at least, before you can put weight on that," Elladan told him, and Canohando grimaced.
"Get him some crutches -- it is better if he begins to move about," a husky voice said from the shadows under one of the mallorns. They looked over, startled, and Elladan moved quickly to shield Canohando with his body, but the Orc leaned forward to see around him.
It was the same face, the little pointed chin and enormous dark eyes, and it belonged to a slip of a child with waist-length hair nearly as pale as her face. "Come here," Canohando said, and when she hesitated, "Don't be afraid; I will not bite."
Her eyes went to Elladan. "May I? I will not hurt him," she said, and Canohando lowered his brows for a moment before he laughed.
"No, youngling, I do not think you will hurt me! Stand back, Queen's Brother; she is afraid of you."
"She has cause to be," Elladan said. "Watch her knife hand; you would never have wakened if she had been a little quicker." But he went to the girl and slid her weapon out of its sheath, before he nodded for her to approach Canohando.
"So you thought I was food for your blade?" Canohando regarded her curiously. No need to ask why; he was an Orc and that was reason enough. "I had thought Elves waited until the enemy woke up."
"That is customary," Arwen said dryly. "Malawen's education must have been somewhat neglected."
The girl ignored the Queen, but her eyes bored into Canohando. Slowly she lifted the hair away from her face and turned her ruined cheek for him to see. He grew very still, his hand moving involuntarily to the jewel at his throat, his fingers closing tight around it.
He had only to see the scar to know what had happened to her: the stick of wood pulled from the fire, glowing red at one end, and pressed against the face of a captive held spread-eagled in the midst of a mob of howling Orcs. And that was only the beginning...
"You were rescued," he said. "It would have been your other cheek next, and your eyes..." It would have been more than that, and his voice failed.
Arwen drew in breath sharply, and Canohando nodded. "I have seen this game," he said. "No, Elfling," he added for Malawen's benefit, "it was never my hand that held the branch! But I have seen it done, and I am sorry they used you so, my brother Orcs…"
He turned his head away and shut his eyes. They were my brothers, whatever has come to me since then, he thought. I never held the brand, but I have watched that game, and laughed to hear the screams… He felt sick, wishing he had not wakened to see this child's ravaged face, wishing he need never have wakened to know himself an Orc, and brother to such savagery.
But as the days passed, again and again he saw Malawen lurking nearby. One of the medics in the Company had found crutches for him, and he swung himself along the neglected garden paths and through the downstairs rooms inside, building up muscles that had wasted while he lay a-bed. And not infrequently he would catch a glimpse of her from the corner of his eye, watching him from behind a tree, or just outside a window.
Her presence unnerved him, filled him with guilt. In her face he saw every act of torture he had ever witnessed and taken pleasure in, all the long years before the fall of Mordor. He had left that behind him, and never allowed his memory to range back further than his meeting with Yarga and Lash, when they found him nearly dead and saved his life, after the War. But the sight of Malawen brought the other memories to the front of his mind, and he could not banish them again.
We are monsters, I and all my kind, he thought in despair, and while his body grew daily stronger, his spirit faltered. But when he thought he could not bear it longer, the memory of Ninefingers came back to him, Frodo hanging a white jewel around his neck, and he steadied.
Arwen came down seldom from her upper chamber, and Canohando could not manage the stairs with his broken leg. Elladan slept in the little dressing room, taking the Orc's place to guard the Queen's door, and Canohando would have spread his pallet at the foot of the great stairs if the Elf-lord had not intervened.
"You have a Company of men at your call, Commander. Dispose them however you will to guard Her Majesty, but you must sleep in a bed and take your rest, or all her care for you is undone."
"I am her Shadow..."
"When she comes downstairs you shall shadow her, or when your leg is healed. She is worn out from nursing you, Canohando; do not let it be for nothing!"
So Canohando gathered his men and assigned guard duty, day and night, and sent out hunting parties as well, for the supplies the Company carried with them were running low and there were but little stores of food in the abandoned dwellings of Lorien.
A few Elves had come to the house, when the rumor spread that Arwen Undomiel had returned. There were not many still living in the land, but two or three of them came with their wives, and they put Galadriel's house in what order they could for Arwen, waiting on her and caring for her as best they might.
And Canohando's men looked after him. The medics who had not known what to do for him when he lay unconscious, were yet skilled enough to change his bandages and show him how to flex and exercise his leg, to bring its strength back. The sergeants came to him for orders, the mess cooks saved the meatiest bones for him, and of their own accord the men took it in turns to guard his door at night.
"What is this?" he demanded in astonishment one night when, unable to sleep, he left his room to walk outside in the moonlight.
There were three men on duty, and they sprang to their feet in chagrin.
"Sorry, Commander! It's a very sloppy guard, that's what it is, but seeing no one ordered it and it's unofficial-like... But we keep awake, never you fear, however slovenly we look."
He regarded them ironically. "What are you guarding me from?" he asked, but they would not meet his eyes and seemed reluctant to answer.
Finally the man who had spoken first said, "There – was an attack on you, while you were unconscious, Commander."
"The little Elf with the scarred face?" he asked, and the man nodded.
"She was like a wild thing when Lady Arwen asked her to help care for you. She does not know you, Commander – you are not like other Orcs."
Canohando sighed, looking across the foyer at the moonlit garden framed a by row of graceful arches. He knew how weedy and overgrown it was, not like the perfectly tended green spaces of Minas Tirith, but in the soft light it was luminous, enchanting.
"We will follow you, if you want to go out, Commander," said the soldier, but Canohando shook his head, laying his hand for a moment on the man's shoulder.
"Thank you. Do not frighten the child, if you see her. I am awake now."
He went back inside his room, leaning his crutches against the wall and sitting down on the wide windowsill to look out. They forgot about the window, he thought, and realized he should go back and remind them; it was sloppy guard work indeed, to set three men at the door and neglect to secure the window!
He leaned back against the cold stones, craning his neck to see the moon through the trees. He didn't want a soldier standing outside his window, and he was not afraid of the Elf-child. I am no longer what I was, he thought. This little one carries more darkness inside than I do, anymore. I know what battle you fight, Elfling...
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