21. The Fading of Lothlorien
"Canohando! Dear one, how did you come here; what have you done to yourself?" She leaned over him in consternation and he looked up into her eyes.
"I feared for you, Lady, when you did not come down," he said.
"Come into my solar and rest. You will make yourself ill again, if you do not take care."
He struggled to his feet, following her on his crutches, and she made him lie down on a low couch, tucking pillows under his head. He protested, but he could not hold back his sigh of relief, and she smiled.
"Go to sleep, dear one. Close your eyes," she said, but he shook his head.
"Then I cannot see you, Lady. If you will not come down, then I must come up where you are."
She sat down by him and took his hand. "How is your leg? Are you still in pain?"
He shrugged. "It is healing. I will be glad to be rid of the crutches. How are you, Lady? Why do you not come down and walk in the garden, as you used to?"
She turned her head away. "I grieve. I will never stop grieving, and the garden is full of memories."
He fingered the jewel around his neck. "My mind is full of memories also, and they are very evil. Your memories would be good ones, Lady. Why do you flee them?" His eyes were pleading. "Come downstairs again, my Queen. Lorien is your home, you said, and you were happy here. The memory of that happiness cannot be evil."
"No," said Arwen softly, "my memories are good and beautiful, but they hurt."
He raised her hand to his lips. "You are no coward, Lady. When I exercise my leg it hurts, but it brings healing. Come downstairs again."
She gave a wry laugh. "And if I do not, you will come up to see me, even though it leaves you breathless and trembling at the top of the stairs," she said, and he nodded.
"Very well, I will come down, and I will walk with you while you exercise your leg and grow strong. Only for a season, Canohando! For I did not return to Lorien to heal, but to say farewell. Now rest a little, before you go back downstairs."
After that she came down every afternoon, walking slowly with the orc along the flagstone paths, and Elladan went with them. As Canohando grew more sure-footed they left the paths to wander among the trees that bordered on the garden. Summer had arrived and the mallorns were in full leaf, but still they seemed half-naked, the leaves were so few and small on all the branches. Arwen reached up now and then to touch them, sadness in her face.
"You were right, Brother, they are dying. Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen, yeni unotime ve rdmar aldaron!* There is no room for the Elder Children in this Age of Men, not even for the mallorns."
Elladan did not answer, and she halted in front of him, forcing him to stop. "What will you do, Brother, when you return to Gondor? Will you depart over the Sea with Elrohir? For I know he wishes it, but he will not go without you."
He moved impatiently, putting his arm around her shoulders and urging her to walk once more. "I do not know. I am torn both ways, to remain and lend what strength or wit I have to this new Age, that we keep whatever good we have managed to save from the fire - or to follow our father and our kindred. And what would I find to do in the Blessed Realm, Arwen? Yet I know that Elrohir longs to sail, and I am not easy that he remains only for my sake."
"You have been all your life fighting for the Light, but you do not know how to enjoy the victory," Arwen said, and Elladan gave a sour laugh.
"And that is a victory for the Dark Lord after all, isn't it? The warrior has become prisoner of his own sword."
Canohando had been keeping pace with them, so silent that they nearly forgot he was there, but now he spoke.
"The Lady gave up her birth-right to wed the King, and he was such a one to be worth the sacrifice. But if I were called to Valinor, Queen's Brother, not you nor all the Orcs ever spawned, nor the Witch-King himself could keep me from it! I will not call you fool, for you are wise in most things, but not in this."
"You desire to go to the Blessed Realm, Canohando?" Elladan asked in surprise. "For what reason?"
"Because it is the land of Light, and while I live, I battle against the Dark. I was hungry and did not know what I hungered for, but now I do know. It is the Call upon the First-born, and I feel it but I cannot answer it; my race is cursed! But there is no curse on you, Queen's Brother, to keep you in the shadows." The orc's voice was rough with feeling.
Arwen laid her cheek caressingly against Elladan's shoulder. "What more can you do here, Brother, that Eldarion and his children cannot do as well? Strange that you are so like Elrohir in appearance and so different in this! For he hungers to follow the Call, I deem, as much as Canohando does, yet he will not sail without you."
Elladan stood stroking her hair, his face full of indecision, and Canohando went a few steps forward, pointing with the tip of his crutch to a young sapling no higher than his waist, pushing up through the leaf-mold that covered the ground.
"The trees are dying you say, Lady, yet here something new is growing."
They came over to look, Elladan squatting down to examine leaves and bark. "Oak," he said. He glanced a few yards away at another whip of a tree, hardly more that a bunch of leaves a-top a slender wand. "And that is beech, I think."
They began to search among the great silver trunks of the mallorns, and they found many young trees taking root, beech and oak and chestnut, the tallest of them higher than Elladan's head.
"This will be woodland still," Arwen said at last, "yet it will not be the Golden Wood. There are no seedling mallorns here."
"But the others are still trees," said Canohando stubbornly. "I do not know what grew on Gorgoroth Plain before the Dark Lord came to Mordor, but it is good country now, with what the old man planted there. Fair and full of life."
"And this land will be fair. Birds will nest here and deer will walk beneath the trees when they are grown – but it will not be Galadriel's Wood; it will not be Lothlorien," Arwen said. Her voice was heavy with sorrow, and Canohando had no answer for her.
But later, when the Queen had retired to her chamber and Elladan had gone to talk with the Elves who waited on her, the orc went out to the woods again, searching for more little saplings. He had never paid much attention to the different kinds of trees, only to choose the proper sort to make his bows and arrows, but now he touched the leaves delicately, comparing their shapes. He made his way slowly from one to another, running his fingers down the bark, even bending down to smell the leaves, moved by some yearning he could put no name to.
"My mother could hear them talk," said a voice overhead, and he looked up to see Malawen perched on a platform in one of the mallorns, a yard or so above him.
He was startled, and annoyed with himself for letting her take him by surprise; he would not have survived in Mordor if an enemy could have come so close without his knowledge! But she was a lovely sight, half up on her knees like a bird about to take flight, her short dress the color of the leaves and her pale hair flowing over her shoulders like a cloak. Looking at her, he forgot his irritation and smiled.
"And can you hear them also, Elfling? What do they say?"
"They say they do not like Orcs! What do you want in Lorien, Tree-burner?"
He sighed, leaning back against the trunk of the mallorn. "They burned your forest, did they? But I would not do so, little one. Do you know the names of these new trees, the ones that are not mallorns?"
She pointed. "By your side there, that's a beech."
He bent to examine it, touching the leaves and turning them over to look at the backs. "Do you grieve too, Elfling, that the mallorns fade and these trees grow in their place?"
She did not answer, and he glanced up at her. She nodded mournfully, but when she spoke her voice was hard. "What does it matter if I grieve? What good does it do?"
He shrugged. "What good does it do to hate?" he asked.
She glared at him for an instant before she swung herself down from her flet, vanishing behind the tree. Canohando got his crutches under him as quickly as he could and followed her, but she was gone.
Yet late that night he woke out of a sound sleep with the sense that there was someone in the room. He lay quiet, listening, letting his eyes adjust to the shadows. Malawen stood just inside the window, but when she realized that he had seen her, she slipped away.
After that she came again and again, usually when first light was beginning to creep in through the window. She would curl up in a chair in the corner, and after a while her steady gaze would penetrate his dreams until he roused and saw her. She did not speak, but her eyes were full of unhealed torments and Canohando met them without looking away, letting her search his heart, not hiding himself from her.
*Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! (from LOTR Book 2, Galadriel's song of farewell)