22. Arwen's Passing
"You will take no game with me staggering after you like a wounded bear," he said, making jest of his clumsiness, and he waved them on. But once they were out of sight, his smile faded and he took his time going back.
An Orc does not recover from such injuries as mine, he thought. Among my own kind, I would have been left to die. He clenched his teeth, setting each foot down with care, trying to move smoothly, without noise. I will hunt again, he swore silently. I will not feed for the rest of my life on another hunter's kill!
He was so intent that he did not notice Malawen watching from a high branch. Against her will she was touched to sympathy, for she knew why he moved with such painstaking attention. She, too, had had to learn how to walk again, and she remembered how hard it had been to get back the use of her broken limb.
The orc could climb stairs now, although with difficulty, and he went back to sleeping outside Arwen's door. He was afraid she would keep to her own chambers again, but instead she spent more and more time outside. As autumn drew in, she wandered ever farther from the untidy gardens, and she wanted no one with her, neither guard nor companion. Canohando shadowed her from a little way off, using a spear as a walking staff, thinking he could still throw it accurately if danger threatened, and his bow hung at his back. Arwen knew he followed her, for she waited sometimes when he fell too far behind, but Elladan she set aside, gently but inexorably.
"Go home, Brother. You brought me safe to Lothlorien and I shall not leave here more, save by one door only. Go back to Elrohir and take ship, and bring to Elrond my love and my farewell."
And though she was out every day walking in the sunshine, she seemed daily to grow more pale and chill, and her eyes were distant as if she looked beyond them at things they could not see.
Elladan refused to leave, but she would not have him by her any longer, only repeating, when he came near, that he should go back to Gondor and join his twin. And the few Elves who remained in Lorien, who had come to serve her, she sent away.
Canohando knelt before her one day with tears in his eyes, fumbling to unfasten the silver clasp behind his neck. When he got it undone, he held out the Jewel to her, trembling on its chain and throwing sparks of light around the room because his hands were shaking.
"Take it, Lady!" he said, half choking on the words. "You gave away your talisman and my runt and I were strengthened by it, but now you need it yourself. Put it on again, and be comforted!"
But Arwen took it from him and fastened it again around his neck. "Since my Estel died there is no comfort for me. You may give the Jewel away, dear one, as Frodo did, if you find someone who needs it, but it has no virtue for me anymore."
A time came when she would not return to the house even at night, but slept outside wherever she happened to be at the end of day. Elladan came again and tried to reason with her, but she would not hear him and finally he arranged that two men – and most often he was one of them – would keep her in sight during the day, and when she stopped for the night they set up a pavilion to shelter her and prepared a meal. This she tolerated, but only Canohando could persuade her to eat, and that very little.
Winter came, or so Elladan named it, although to the orc it seemed that autumn lingered beyond its season; the nights were cool enough to call for extra blankets, but the days were sunny and pleasant. The mallorns were a mirage of fluttering golden leaves against their silver branches, and when Canohando came out suddenly from beneath the trees to see the great mound of Cerin Amroth a little way ahead, flowers of white and yellow shimmered in the grass around it.
Arwen was already starting up the hill, but she climbed slowly, seeming weary indeed and weighed down with sorrow. Canohando came to the bottom and stood uncertainly, not knowing if he should offer his shoulder for her to lean on. He was steady on his feet now, although the leg still pained him at times.
"Come, my Shadow, can you climb to the top with me? From the high branches I will show you my Lothlorien, and that which lies beyond."
He strode forward gladly at her invitation, and lent his strong arm to help her up the slope. But she was more nimble than he on the ladder up into the tree, and it swung and creaked beneath his weight until he would fain have been on firm ground again. He looked down once, and after that he kept his eyes fixed on his Lady, five or six rungs above him.
Once he stepped out on the high flet, however, he forgot his fear. Lothlorien spread beneath him as a field of silver and gold, and far away the River gleamed like silver molten and flowing.
"Look to the North," Arwen said, and she turned him around. "That is where you must go, when you leave here, to Rivendell west of the mountains, and then on to Frodo's country. That I think is your safest way, for there are few left in that valley to hinder you, and anyone you find there will honor the word of Arwen Undomiel."
She reached into a brocade pouch at her belt and brought out a bit of parchment, rolled and tied. "I had them make a map for you, dear one. And I wrote on the back, look you, to say you are my knight and by my leave you may enter the Shire, for it is a guarded land. Show this to anyone who challenges your right."
He took it and opened it, handling it like a rare treasure. "Will you show me how to read it, Lady? I have never seen anything like this."
And she was startled for a moment out of her cloud of sorrow, laughing a little in her disbelief. "You cannot read, Canohando? No, forgive me, why did I assume that you could? If I had known – but it is too late now to teach you letters. Look at the map then. See, here are the mountains, and the Great River on the east. Follow the river until you come to the Ford, and turn west along the Road there…"
Patiently she taught him to read the little map and showed him where the Shire was marked on it, far away to the West. At last she rolled it again and pressed it into his hand. "Put it away now, and when I have departed, you leave also. You must find the Shire, dear one, and you must pass through Rivendell. Something awaits you there… it is not Elrond alone who is gifted with foreknowledge…"
After that day Arwen did no more wandering. She spent her days in the high flet – she did not invite the orc to climb up with her a second time – or she walked restlessly through the field dotted with elanor and niphredil, her arms hanging loose at her sides and her eyes on the far horizon.
Canohando guarded her from the edge of the meadow, sitting against a tree trunk making arrows, although his quiver was full already. His hands bound point to shaft automatically and he glanced at his work only in snatches; his eyes followed the Queen in her ceaseless back and forth across the field, and his face was wet with tears.
After a while Arwen turned and began climbing the mound again, but when she reached the top she did not go to the ladder; she lay down inside the double ring of trees as if she meant to take a nap.
"Good," Canohando murmured, talking to himself. "She slept hardly at all last night."
"You watch her even when she sleeps," said an accusing voice beside him, and he looked up without surprise to see Malawen.
"I am her Shadow, Elfling," he said. "I am sworn to watch over her."
She looked at him with her head tipped to one side and her tone was mocking. "You have been weeping. Who ever heard that Orcs had tears?"
Even as she said it a thrill of apprehension ran through her, yet she could not resist baiting him. Fool! He is a deadly foe – can you outrun him if he rises up to come after you? But Canohando made no move toward her.
“I have tears,” he said, his voice rough. “Have Elves compassion, or is that given only to the Half-Elven?”
"Most Elves have. I lost mine in the War." She met his eyes, but they seemed to see right through her bravado and she looked hastily away.
“You should not have let it go," he told her. "Something is awry when an Orc knows pity and an Elf does not."
She thought suddenly that he was not so ugly, this orc. The light under the tree was muted and shifting, making his skin look swarthy instead of grey, and even the heavy brow line seemed strong and somehow noble... He's like a savage prince, she mused, but then she took herself sternly in hand. Savage, but no prince - he is an Orc! She held her hand to her scarred cheek.
"Orcs have no pity!" she snapped, but Canohando nodded.
"Most have not. I found mine when the War was over."
Her lip curled, but then curiosity overcame her scorn. "How? And what are you doing here, with Arwen Undomiel?" She wondered suddenly why she had never asked before; it was strange enough, surely, that this Orc followed Undomiel, and that the Queen allowed it!
For answer Canohando held up the Jewel on its chain. "I wear her token," he said, and Malawen leaned forward to finger it, staring in wonder at the lovely thing that was luminous even in the shadows.
"But that is no answer," she argued. "Where did an Orc learn pity? You must be the only one since Morgoth sent forth his Worm against the sons of Finarfin, at the Siege of Angband!"
Canohando raised his brows. "You must tell me that tale some day, Elfling. You would be a storyteller to rival the Brown One, I think. But I am not the only one of my kind to know pity - there was Lash, who saved my life. I learned from him at first, and later from Ninefingers."
She shook her head, confused.
"Have you never heard how the War ended, little one?" His tone was gentle. "It was not the clash of armies; it was a halfling who dragged himself to the edge of Doom and was carried away maimed and broken. But he brought down the hosts of Mordor, and when he was healed he came back again to my land… He turned me to the Light and gave me the Lady's jewel, and so I came to find her and be her Shadow."
"The Ring-bearer... Frodo of the Nine Fingers…" she stammered in awe.
"You have heard of him, then."
She nodded. Of course. Who in all the West had not heard the Lay of the Ring-bearer, full of terror and wonder? She had heard it, but she had never thought it was true.
"You knew him, really?" she demanded.
"I knew him. Oh, he was real enough, Elfling!" He smiled at her, but then he sighed. "There are few left who did know him; it is all legend now. The Lady loved him and mourned for him…" He sat smoothing the shaft of the arrow he was working on, looking up at the mound. Sharp-eyed as he was, all he could see of the Queen was a scrap of blue, the hem of her veil lifted above the grass by a breath of wind.
Malawen asked no more questions, but she did not go away. She sat down by him, not bothering any more to stay out of his reach, and pulled some long strands of grass which she began to plait, adding new pieces as she went until she had a braid longer than her outstretched arm. The orc set feathers to his arrow and slid it into his quiver, and a bird somewhere in the brush began its evening song. There was a scent of wood smoke on the air; someone had kindled the supper fire.
"Time to go." Canohando got up and set off across the meadow to wake the Queen. He started up the slope, but Malawen remained where she was, watching him.
He was walking without a limp, she noted. The likeness to some savage chieftain occurred to her again: from behind he looked like a Man, with broad shoulders and powerful legs, one a little thinner than the other, the last trace of his injury. His hair hung in four thick braids over his shoulders.
He had reached the Queen now; Malawen saw him bend over, reaching out one hand hesitantly to rouse her. And then abruptly he fell to his knees; he bowed nearly to the ground, and then he raised his head and a terrible cry rang through the evening hush, an agony of loss that brought Malawen to her feet in spite of herself, running.
She reached the mound an instant before Elladan himself, with a small crowd of soldiers; she had not known that so many men kept watch nearby. Then Canohando was coming down the hill with Arwen in his arms, her head hanging back like a lily on a broken stalk.
Elladan moved toward the orc; to Malawen it seemed that time had slowed and every movement was formal and stately as some solemn dance. The Elf-lord held out his arms and the Orc tightened his hold on his burden; for a moment she thought he would refuse to let go of the Queen's body, but then he bowed his head and let Elladan take her.
They laid Arwen on her bed in the silken pavilion where she had spent her nights, and Elladan sent everyone away and himself prepared her body for burial, while one of the men went back in haste to Caras Galadhon to alert the remainder of the Queen's Company. But Canohando sat outside as darkness fell, his head slumped to his chest, dumb in his grief.
Malawen had followed them to the pavilion, quiet and unnoticed. She heard the men trying to induce Canohando to come to the fire, to take something to eat, but he paid no heed, unresponsive as a block of wood. Finally the soldiers went to their rest and the fire burned out, but the orc had not stirred from where he sat.
She came to stand beside him. The night shrouded them like a blanket; there was a glimmer of candlelight from within the pavilion where Elladan sat vigil over his sister, but that was all. Malawen could hear the orc breathing, ragged, uneven breaths as if he wept silently, and something tore loose inside her. The pity she thought she had lost filled her suddenly like a freshet breaking forth, and she knelt before him, feeling for his hands in the dark and bringing them to her lips.
"Oh, Canohando, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry for you! What can I do –" She kissed the rough-skinned hands and clung to them, and then she wept, crying for him and for Arwen Undomiel and for her own sorrows, a torrent of grief that had been pent up inside her for years uncounted. And his hands closed over hers; he rested his forehead on them, and his tears wet them, and then he opened his arms and she crept inside, crying on his shoulder, and he wrapped his arms around her and sobbed, loudly, painfully, so that she would have been frightened if his sorrow had not so perfectly reflected her own.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.