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28. The Elves of Eryn Lasgalen
They came at last to the Road running west from Mirkwood. The place where it crossed the river was marked on Arwen's map as the Old Ford, but in fact there was a new stone bridge, and the Road itself was paved and in good repair. There was no one in sight but after a cursory look around, Canohando drew Malawen back and looked about for a tree to hang their hammocks.
"We will watch for a day or two and see who uses this fine bridge."
"Are you afraid?" she asked in surprise. "Surely Orcs will not have built it, and you have the Queen's letter—"
"We have Elladan's safe-conduct as well, but it is wisdom to be cautious. Who do you think holds sway in these lands, now that the King's son rules in Gondor? The Queen's brothers are gone, who kept Rivendell, but someone must be master here in the North."
Malawen looked puzzled. "The North Kingdom is still under the King's word."
"So it should be, but we are a long way from Minas Tirith. If Eldarion's lieutenants are faithful… but not all men are faithful. So we will wait and watch a little."
"You are as cautious as Celeborn himself," she said. "I think you must be fated to rule a kingdom."
Canohando snorted. "If my fate bring us safe to Rivendell, and me to the Shire after, I will be content. Who is Celeborn?"
She stared at him. "Why, he is Galadriel's consort, who ruled Lothlorien with her. And he was Undomiel's grandsire besides - how can it be you have not heard of him?"
"How should I know the family history of the Queen, little one? I am an Orc; I know warfare and the hunt. And I know the stories the old man told us, and the ones you tell. No more than that."
But her thought had gone back to what he said before. "What do you mean, us to Rivendell and you to the Shire? I want to go with you, Canohando."
"Here is your hammock, Elfling; climb in and rest. I will hang mine close by, and you shall tell me of this Celeborn."
But when he lay down and looked over at her, Malawen did not return his smile. "Canohando, I want to go with you to the Shire," she said.
"Elfling..." He hesitated. "I bring you to Rivendell so that you may find some of your own people, to travel with you to Valinor. It is your birthright. You must not throw it away."
She sat up suddenly, rocking her hammock. "Hear me, Orc, and hear me well! I am not going to Valinor." Her voice shook with passion. "For good or for ill, I will stay in Middle-earth, and if you do not want me with you, I will remain alone." She was like some wild thing at bay, but then her eyes filled and she huddled down with her hands over her face.
"Little one –" He picked his way along the bough to stand next to her, stroking her tangled hair. "No, Elfling, don't cry! I will not let you stay alone; I will bring you with me if you really will not sail with your people. But I think you should go."
She shook her head, her face hidden, and he bent over to put an arm around her shoulders, balancing precariously and holding with one hand to the branch above him. "Don't cry," he said again, "I will not leave you. You shall journey with me for as long as you wish, until you say, 'Be off with you, Greyskin; I am weary of telling you stories!'"
"I will never say that." She peeked up, smiling through her tears.
They watched the road for three days, and in all that time they saw no one. At last Canohando was satisfied; on the fourth morning he rolled up their hammocks and lowered himself to the ground, and all but stepped on an Elf who was sitting at the foot of the tree.
He threw himself to one side, braced for an attack but not drawing weapon, watching the other's eyes. The Elf leaped up and whipped out a pair of slender knives from a double sheath that hung behind his shoulders. Canohando stepped back a pace, holding his empty hands before him.
"I am not an enemy, First-born, only a traveler through this land."
"He speaks truth," Malawen said loudly, dropping to the ground and running to plant herself in front of Canohando. "Put away your knives, kinsman. This is Canohando, the Queen's Shadow."
"What Queen?" The Elf regarded her without friendliness. "Who are you, changeling, that you keep such company as this?"
"Show him the letter," Malawen muttered, but Canohando did not take his eyes from the Elf.
"This is a scout, I think, for a party that will be coming after. Who is your master, First-born?"
"A good conjecture, Orc. My name is Galuir and my Captain is Itaril of Eryn Lasgalen. He it is who shall judge what to do with you. Ahead of me now, to the Road."
Canohando's bow appeared suddenly in his hand. "We are not your prisoners, friend, and no one need decide what to do with us." His arrow was aimed at the scout's heart, and Malawen gasped. "Don't be afraid Elfling; I shall not –"
"No! Look!" she exclaimed.
They were trapped. A party of Elves had stepped out suddenly from the surrounding woods, their bows drawn. "Put down your weapon, Orc, or we will make an end of both of you," said the one they had taken for a scout.
Canohando dropped his bow on the ground. "What manner of Elves are you, that you threaten one of your own?" He nodded at Malawen.
The Elf veiled his eyes. "Our own do not consort with Orcs," he said. He jerked his head at them, and one of the archers put down his bow and came forward.
"Stand aside from him," he said to Malawen, but she turned and threw her arms around Canohando's waist.
"You shall not harm him! He is the Queen's Orc, Arwen Undomiel! He guarded her, he brought her to Lothlorien; she showed him favor. You must see—"
"I see a Dark Elf who has turned to the Shadow," said the leader grimly. He stared at Canohando under lowered brows. "Put her away from you, or I will have the two of you on one arrow."
Canohando leaned over Malawen, kissing her forehead. "He will do it, Elfling." He reached up surreptitiously and yanked the chain at his neck so it broke, palming the Jewel and pressing it into her hand. "Keep this for me, and stand back," he murmured. He pushed her away and stood straight, waiting.
"Bind them," said the leader. "Celeborn must question them; it is an evil omen, if Elves are aligning themselves with creatures of Darkness here on our very doorstep." And Malawen had just time to slide the Jewel stealthily into her pocket while Canohando's hands were tied, before her own wrists were pulled behind her and bound.
The Elves threaded lengths of rope through their bonds by which to lead them, and to the Orc they assigned two guards, one on each side; plainly they feared his escape. Canohando concealed his amusement at this; he could have broken away easily, but he would not abandon Malawen.
And as he considered the leader's words naming her a Dark Elf, he began to be afraid. What might the Elves do to one of their own who turned to Shadow? And he is not so far wrong, this Galuir. She has not yielded to it, but Darkness overhangs her. If her own people misuse her…
When they reached the Road they found horses waiting, and upwards of forty Elves. Galuir went ahead, motioning their guards to stand, and after a few moments he returned with another Elf, tall and lordly in bearing, with a great white bow strapped to his back.
"I found them by chance; the Orc came down from a tree practically in my lap, and the girl followed after."
The captain barely glanced at Canohando, but he looked Malawen over from head to foot, staring down at her as if she had been a dirty child caught robbing a street vendor. At last he stretched out his hand and took hold of her chin, turning her scarred cheek to the light. She jerked away, flushing with shame and anger, and he frowned.
"What have you to say for yourself, brat? You keep unwholesome company, and it would seem you have reason to know it, by that scar. What is your name?"
She lifted her head, glaring. "I am Malawen, Essiel's daughter, of Lothlorien. And this is—"
He broke in on her. "I asked for your name, changeling, not that of your companion. He is an Orc; that is all I need to know. But I wonder what you are doing here, both of you, on the edge of Eryn Lasgalen, and chiefly I would know why an Elf child is to be found in a tree with one of the Enemy's servants."
"He is not the Enemy's servant!" she protested. "He was Undomiel's bodyguard, until she died –"
"Arwen Undomiel is dead?" the Elf interrupted, and she nodded.
His face had been hard before, but now it was dark with suspicion. "And you and this devil are scouting along our borders – and plainly you have had dealings with Orcs before, for your face is long healed –" He turned to where Galuir stood listening. "You are right; we should bring them to Celeborn. And we had better be getting on, if we are to make any distance this day." He turned away, leaving it to Galuir to make such arrangements as were needed.
Malawen was boosted up none too gently on a horse behind the Elf who had led her out of the woods.
"How can I hold on, with my hands bound behind me?" she demanded. There was fury in her voice, not fear, and her eyes blazed. "Will you have me fall and be trampled? You are as bad as the Orcs who raided Lorien during the War!"
"Spoken like one who knows them well," said her guard with heavy irony. He turned swiftly and bound a scarf over her mouth in spite of her struggles.
"Your Celeborn will not question her if she is dead," said a cold voice. "Tie her hands in front, around your waist."
The rider looked down with surprise into the Orc's face; Canohando had maneuvered himself next to Malawen in spite of his captors' efforts to hold him back. After a moment the Elf said,
"He is right. Someone come and help me with her; I cannot manage alone."
None of the Elves was willing to ride with the Orc behind. Canohando stood quiet as they argued it back and forth, but when they decided finally that he must run alongside with his rope tethered to a horse's harness, he winked at Malawen. Her face, what he could see of it behind the gag, was pale and set, but he thought she smiled at him.
It was an easy march by Orkish standards, although Canohando's bare feet suffered from pounding on the stone pavement. His boots had been in his pack with their hammocks, left behind under the tree. As he ran, his memory went back to the journey from Minas Tirith, when he had kept pace beside the Queen's horse, and he yearned for his Lady. She would have known what to say to these iron-faced Elves, to make them understand; she would have made them treat the Elf-girl kindly.
He wondered if he should have shown Arwen's letter as proof of his trustworthiness. It had happened so fast – and how was it that he had not noticed the Elf at the foot of the tree, to say nothing of the crowd of them in the woods around? Bitterly he condemned himself for not keeping better watch. All I thought of was my Elfling, how bright and glowing she is, how glad I am when she is by me. What will they do with her, when this Celeborn has done with his questioning? They will slay me and I will not be there to protect her…
You fool, Ghul-rakk!
He wrenched his mind away from recriminations. Time now to gather what information he could and make some plan. He had failed to protect his Elfling, but he might still rescue her.
He strained to hear every word the Elves spoke, but it did him no good. There was little conversation, and it was all in the Elven tongue. He caught the name of Celeborn and some reference to Orcs, but that was all.
They stopped at sundown and made camp, closed pavilions of some fabric that reflected back the rose and gold of the sky and dimmed to a silver glimmer as the light faded. Like spiderwebs on the grass, when the dew is on them, Canohando mused. He looked again at the Elves who would rest in such houses. They were fair of face and form, their hair flowing over their shoulders and all their movements graceful as a dance, but their eyes were like glass, cool and impenetrable.
They had tied him hand and foot to a tree, and Malawen sat on the ground not far away, her wrists and ankles bound, but not tethered to anything. No one seemed to be watching them, and little by little she wriggled closer until she was leaning against Canohando's legs. She looked up at him, her eyes pleading above the scarf that still covered her mouth.
"Do not lose heart, Elfling," he said softly. "Do you know where they are taking us?"
She nodded and fought to loosen her gag, rubbing it against his knee. "No, wait," he said. "They will not starve you; they will have to take that off to let you eat. Be silent then, little one, so they forget to put it back on!" He smiled down on her. "We must be thinking of our escape, and better if you can speak to me." But she regarded him bleakly and slumped against him with her head down.
As he had expected, someone came at last with food. It was the Elf who had ridden beside him, carrying bread and a wineskin. He sneered when he saw Malawen. "Have you cast a spell on this child, Greyskin, that she cleave so to you?" he said. "Was it you left that pretty mark on her face?" He nudged her with one slender foot. "Get up, gnome; you can hold the loaf for this brute to gnaw on, and feed yourself as well."
"Her scar is not my doing." If Canohando had been free he would have strangled the fellow on the spot. "I would do nothing to hurt her. Can you say the same of her own people?"
Malawen struggled to stand up, nearly pitching forward onto the ground, and the Elf caught her under the arm and steadied her before he removed the gag. She took the loaf awkwardly in her bound hands and held it for Canohando before she bit off some for herself. Their guard stood watching, and when they had made a good start on the bread he untied the wineskin and himself held it for them to drink, Malawen first.
"Who is this Orc?" he asked abruptly. "Does he have a name?"
"I am Canohando of Mordor, the Queen's Shadow."
The Elf arched his brows. "That is Quenya, surely? Who gave you such a name, Greyskin, and what queen do you shadow?"
Canohando took a pull at the wineskin, wondering how much he should say. "The Brown One named me. A man of power who traveled with the Ringbearer." He noticed the Elf's look of incomprehension and added, "Ninefingers called him Radagast."
"Radagast!" Their guard laughed without mirth. "You had better not say that to Itaril. The Wizard of Rhosgobel is not in favor in Eryn Lasgalen these days. No powerful lord relishes being told that he must choose between exile and dwindling to insignificance, yet that was the choice your Brown One put to King Thranduil a year ago. It is the Age of Men, so he said."
"So said the Lady also, when her son took the throne of Gondor. So you come from Eryn Lasgalen and you journey to Valinor, you and your lord?"
The Elf's face closed and he began tying up the wineskin again. When he was done he set it on the ground and stood with folded arms, wary and suspicious. "What does an Orc know of Valinor?" he asked, and Malawen quailed at his tone. A moment before he had sounded almost friendly, but not now. You should not have named the Blessed Realm, she thought in despair, but Canohando seemed unaware of danger.
"I know the Queen gave up her place there for the King, but her brothers will make the voyage, or so I hope. I carry a safe-conduct Prince Elladan gave me."
"Do you indeed," the Elf said. "Galuir will want a look at that." He left them then, and as soon as he was out of earshot, Canohando muttered,
"Quickly, Elfling; they will come back to search me. It was a gamble that they will honor Elladan's letter, but it may not pay out. Take the Queen's map out of my pouch and hide it with the Jewel."
She did so, fumbling in her haste; it was difficult with her wrists tied.
"Now get away from me, lest they think to search you as well. And Elfling –" He paused, waiting for her to look at him. "Don't think I have abandoned you, if I escape. I will be near-by."
"No, Canohando, don't! They will kill you if they catch you a second time – now they are taking us to Rivendell, to Celeborn. They will bring us safe to him at least."
"And afterward? Will Celeborn free us, do you think?"
She shook her head. "He is the Queen's grandsire; you might think he would favor you for her sake. But his daughter was tortured by Orcs so terribly that she fled over the Sea – and if he believes as these do, that I am traitor..." She shrugged hopelessly.
"Better if we do not come before him, then," said Canohando. "Now get away before that fellow comes back for Elladan's letter."
She leaned against him for a moment, her head against his heart, and then she dropped to the ground and crawled awkwardly away.
note: Eryn Lasgalen was the name given to Mirkwood after the War of the Ring. As far as I can determine, Thranduil was the lord of this expanded realm, but many Elves of Lothlorien settled here as well. Apparently there were Elves living here for many years after Galadriel and Celeborn had left Lothlorien.
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