8. The Dark Hours
The Queen was walking in the garden under the stars. It had been a small bone of contention between Arwen and Elessar during the first year of their marriage, her penchant for rising in the middle night and going out to walk in the starlight.
"It is not fitting," he had protested, and when she answered that with an amused lift of one lovely eyebrow, "It is not safe, beloved!"
"I am in a walled garden in the center of the King's Citadel," she had answered, "and I am still an Elf, my love, for all I have made Luthien's choice. Come with me then, if you do not wish me to be alone; and we will dance under the stars, as they did in Lothlorien when Galadriel wielded the Ring of Adamant there!" And in the early years he often did so, or walked with her hand in hand, watching the changing patterns that came and went on the moon's face. But later on there was war with Harad that took him away for months at a time, and other affairs of the Kingdom kept him working into the night, and up early again in the morning, and he needed what sleep he could get. He had fallen out of the habit of walking under the stars.
Now for years the Kingdom had been at peace, but Elessar was older. He woke sometimes to find Arwen gone and he knew where she was, but his limbs were weary and he was more likely to fall back asleep, than to follow her out of doors. He was troubled about it, but even as he worried, his heavy eyes would close again. They took their walks by daylight now.
But tonight he forced himself to rise, his stiff joints protesting a little, and dressed quickly in the dark. I have missed too much Elven starlight, he thought, and I shall have more sleep than I want, soon enough. He went out quietly to wait for her on the bench under the rose arbor where they used to sit sometimes to watch the moon rise.
Arwen came along the path alone, half walking, half dancing, her arms moving gracefully to some music that only she could hear. Her body swayed like a young tree moved by the wind and her gown swirled about her ankles, barefoot on the shorn grass. Elessar watched, entranced; how had he allowed himself to sleep through this for so many years? No more, no more: what time he had left would find him awake under the stars with his Undomiel, not insensible under a blanket! And then he saw that Arwen was not, in fact, alone.
Down the path behind her a shadow followed, hardly more than a thicker darkness. It moved stealthily, not dancing but lithe and smooth, keeping a constant distance from the unsuspecting Queen. Elessar rose in alarm and anger and hid himself, letting Arwen pass by him, waiting. When the shadow reached him, he stepped forward with a sharp challenge, his dagger in his hand – he had not thought it necessary to gird on his sword to walk with his wife in the moonlight!
The shadow spun around at sound of his voice, a sword ringing from the scabbard and as quickly sheathed again. "Lord! King of Gondor!" Canohando knelt at his feet, and Elessar stared down at him in astonishment.
"What are you doing here, Orc?" he demanded. He was more than half inclined still to be angry, but the orc met his eyes without reservation.
"I am doing as you commanded me, lord. I am her shadow, to protect her."
A light hand fell on the King's shoulder; Arwen had heard their voices and returned. "My love! Did you come out to keep me company? And – Canohando?" There was surprise in her tone. "Do you also keep vigil with the Lady of Stars in the night hours? I had not thought that of orcs!"
Canohando looked confused, and the King chuckled. "Nay, dearest, he does not seek Elbereth's company, but your own. Or rather, he seeks to guard the Lady of the Jewel, for I told him he must be your shadow, not dreaming he would take my words quite so much to heart!" He turned to the orc, amused now rather than angry. "I will see to the Queen now, Canohando, and you may go to your rest. Did they find you a place in the barracks of the Citadel?"
"They did, lord, but I could not sleep there; I cannot watch over the Lady from so far away. I spread a pallet on the floor of the anteroom, outside her door. Otherwise I would not have known she had gone out."
Arwen stared from Canohando to the King, her eyes opening wide. "A pallet – in the anteroom?" She laughed softly, sitting down suddenly on the bench. "Oh, my love, what will Florian say when he finds it in the morning?"
Elessar began to grin, imagining the reaction of the fussy, self-important little Chamberlain when he entered the velvet-carpeted room of state and found an orc rolled up in his blanket on the floor – or possibly leaping to his feet to challenge a perceived threat to the Queen – He sat down by Arwen, covering his eyes with his hand, his shoulders shaking with mirth. "It is tempting to leave it there, to see what he would say! But no, that would be unkind. You will have to sleep in the barracks, Orc, and watch over Her Majesty in the daytime. There are Guardsmen outside the anteroom doors, you know."
"You made me swear to be her shadow, lord. I cannot keep my promise if I am not close at hand."
"You have to sleep sometime," Arwen expostulated gently, but he shook his head.
"I would sleep, Lady, but I would wake at once if there was need. An orc does not slumber deeply, like a man; I saw that with the Southrons who came to Mordor during the War. But I must be near by."
The King was about to end the discussion with a peremptory order for Canohando to take his pallet and go back to the barracks, but then he reconsidered. I shall not be here, he thought, soon, too soon. Changes are coming, and there have been palace coups before now, when Kings ruled. Guardsmen may be bribed or coerced from their duty, perhaps, but not the orc –"
"I will find you a place where you can sleep nearby," he said. "Go back now, Canohando, and let me be alone with my wife! See you are out of the anteroom before the Chamberlain comes in the morning, and tomorrow I shall make other arrangements for you."
The orc bowed to them with his fist over his heart, and melted away in the darkness.
"My King, truly, there is no need for that!" Arwen exclaimed. "Canohando has lived all his life in the midst of danger and treachery, but what should I fear here, in our own garden, in the heart of Minas Tirith?"
Elessar sighed and drew her into his arms. "Even here there may be danger, love, when the Kingdom changes hands," he said, and Arwen gasped and pulled away, trying to see him clearly in the moonlight.
"What do you mean?" she whispered, knowing indeed what he would say, but not willing to know it.
"Lady Evenstar, fairest and most beloved, my world is fading." He cupped his hands around her face and bent to kiss her lightly on the lips. "Lo, beloved, we have gathered, and we have spent, and now the time of payment draws near."
"No, oh no! It is too soon, my love! Surely the Numenoreans have a span of life beyond what you have yet known. It cannot be time yet, to say good-night and go to your rest." She leaned against him, burying her face on his shoulder, and his garment was wet with her tears. He could think of no words of comfort to say to her, and held her close in his arms with his cheek against her hair.
At last she raised her head. "You have been given the grace to go at your own will, my King; so my father told me long ago. Would you then leave me before your time, and your people also, who live by your word?"
"Not before my time," he said, his voice hoarse. "I have grace to return the gift to the Giver, and not have it taken from me – but not the power to keep it willfully for as long as I may choose. And if I will not go of my own will, I must soon go perforce."
He cradled her in his arms, tender in his sorrow, his kisses raining down on her face. "My Undomiel, indeed I would not leave you willingly! But Eldarion our son is full-ripe for Kingship, and our time is nearly over. Soon the uttermost choice will be before you, beloved, to repent and go at last to the Havens, or to abide the Doom of Men."
But she made no answer to him then, although she did weeks later, when he laid him down in the House of Kings to go to sleep. That night, in the first rawness of her grief, she only wept on his shoulder, comfortless.
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.