18. The Danger Unprepared For
They made camp each evening well before sundown, for it took some time to pitch tents and prepare food for so many, and they were in no hurry.
"I would have the Queen travel in such comfort as we can manage, and if we do not reach Lorien till Mid-summer's Day, it matters little," said Elladan, and Canohando agreed.
The longer upon the road the better, he thought, for how long will she linger when she is once beneath the mallorns? He would not have her suffer and he could see in her eyes that she did, but yet his throat closed up at the certainty of the Queen's passing.
They forded the Entwash without difficulty; it was broad and shallow enough for the horses to wade without swimming in all but the very middle. Canohando clenched his teeth and walked into the water at Arwen's side, but when the water reached his neck he fell back a little and caught hold of her horse's tail, letting the animal pull him through the deeper water. No one said anything to him when they came out on the other side, but Arwen noticed his set face and drew her own conclusions. The next river they crossed, she would insist that he ride behind her.
The land grew wilder as they went north, and they came into a region of rolling hills. They would spend half a day climbing a long, steep slope, and reach the top only to find another hill rising on the other side of a narrow valley, and another beyond that as far as they could see. There were few trees, just the new grass of springtime pushing up through the dead straw of last year's growth, but there were flowers nestled in the sheltered hollows: violets, both white and purple, and fairy lilies of delicate pink with golden stamens.
Off to the west a dark smudge sat on the horizon. "Fangorn Forest," Arwen told Canohando when he pointed it out to her. "Two of the hobbits who traveled with Frodo went in there during the Ring War," she added, and Canohando grunted.
"I know; Ninefingers told me. I do not understand how they came out alive, but he said they did. My father used to threaten us with the Ents, if we were not quick enough to obey."
Arwen glanced at him in surprise. It had never occurred to her that Canohando must have had a father, a family.
"Did you have brothers and sisters?" she asked.
He laughed without mirth. "Dozens," he said. "Orcs multiply like locusts. We were not like you and your brothers, Lady."
"No," she said softly. "I suppose not."
"No. The older ones beat the younger, and the weak ones ganged together to take revenge on the strong. When we got too raucous, my father beat us all, and my mother as well. Two or three did not live to go to war."
His voice was strained, and when Arwen stretched out her hand he caught hold of it, clinging to her fingers even as he ran beside her.
"What did you say, dear one?" He had muttered something that she did not catch.
"I killed one of my – brothers. He bound me to a tree for a jest and left me without food or water for two days. I got free at last and then I lay in wait – I shot him through the heart."
He tried to let go of Arwen's hand, staring straight ahead with a face like iron, but she would not let go.
"You were not Canohando in those days, dear one. You have left that life behind."
He said no more, but he clung to her hand for another mile or two until they stopped to water the horses. When they camped for the night, after she had eaten, he came to sit by her in the firelight.
"Can you trust me, Lady, even now? Knowing what I did?"
She peered through the dim light, trying to read his face. "You are my Shadow," she said. "You are Frodo's brother, you are Commander of the Queen's Company, you are honored and beloved by Arwen Evenstar, as you were also by Elessar the King. And you did not seek vengeance on the Guardsmen who tried to murder you." She laid her palm to his cheek and he sighed, leaning against her hand, closing his eyes.
"I am your Shadow, Lady," he agreed.
Arwen decided against visiting Fangorn, when Elladan suggested it. "I doubt the Ents would be glad to see all this company of men and horses, though they might dissemble for courtesy's sake. And Canohando would not be welcome there."
The orc snorted, and Elladan looked at him curiously. "What do you know of the tree-herders, Orc? Fangorn is a long way from Mordor!"
"My father's sire was from Moria. There was strife there among the different races of Orcs, and a band of them fled toward Mordor; they met Ents out on the plain north of Fangorn. My grandsire was one of the few who escaped, and he told tales ever afterward of the terrible Ents."
"We will not turn aside to Fangorn," said Arwen.
They crossed the Limlight, with Canohando mounted behind Elladan, at the Queen's command. The north side of the river was not as hilly as the country they had just passed through, but it was clothed in thick forest.
"Now we must be watchful," Elladan said, "for a troop of orcs could hide easily among these trees, to take us by surprise."
The road through the woods was narrow and the Company was spread out in a long line, two or three abreast. They sent scouts to ride ahead and off to each side of the main party, but in spite of these precautions they did not really expect to meet enemies. They were near Lothlorien now, and for many years there had been peace. On the second afternoon when they heard shouts up ahead, some of them thought for a moment that the scouts had met up with Elves from the Golden Wood, coming perhaps to welcome the Queen and bring her home. Then they heard the screams of gored horses and knew better.
"Back, Lady! Turn back – out of her way, you men, and fall in behind!" Canohando had Arwen halfway to the rear of the column before Elladan had finished dispersing his men among the trees.
"We'll make our stand here," Elladan said as he spread them out, "that's better than marching on them in a narrow file, for them to cut us down at their pleasure. Whoever it is will come to us, and we'll be ready!"
They waited tensely. There was no further sound from the scouts who had been up ahead, and the men who had been riding outlier came in, alerted by the screams of the dying horses, but they had seen nothing. The forest was hushed as if a storm were about to break over their heads, and then there was a crash of underbrush just north of the road, and a monstrous figure stood among the trees.
Elladan, the tallest among them, might have touched the creature's belt buckle, if he stretched as high as he could reach. Not that he would have ventured any such madness, for the monster was as broad as three men and carried a club the thickness of a man's thigh. A mountain troll...
While they stood staring, their hearts nearly stopped, another troll appeared beside the first, and another. Elladan moistened his lips. He had fought a troll once, but it was long ago, in the war against the King of Angmar, and he had been part of a great host of Men. Even as he considered how to marshal his little Company against this threat, a fourth troll strolled down the path toward him. It held a bloody bone to its mouth; impossible to say whether it was from man or beast. There was an audible intake of breath from the men around Elladan and they began to back away, then to turn and run blindly, bumping into trees and into each other, tripping, but getting up at once to flee…
"Stand!" Elladan shouted. He grabbed the soldier nearest him and dragged him around to face the enemy. "Do not give in to fear; we have won against them before!" The man he had collared seemed to get control of himself; he squared his shoulders, drawing his sword, and Elladan turned to gather more of his scattered forces.
Some of the men had clustered in little groups, facing out with their swords ready; others yet hesitated between courage and flight, and Elladan ran among them, trying to hold them steady, all the time glancing over his shoulder at the trolls. They had gathered around the fellow on the path, jostling him and trying to snatch the bone away from him.
There was a shout from behind, and Canohando was hurtling toward the trolls, ducking in and out among the trees, followed by his archers.
"Let them have it!" the orc roared. "In the eyes – aim for the eyes!" Fifty bowstrings sang, and a hail of arrows filled the air. Two of the trolls fell shrieking, but the others surged forward. The archers gave way to the left and the right, firing again and again, but now that they were not directly facing their enemies it was not easy to target their eyes. The arrows glanced off the trolls' thick hide or buried themselves in tree trunks, and the trolls left the path and charged.
"Axes!" Elladan called, his voice a trumpet over the clamor of battle, and a score of axemen ran forward. The Prince himself grabbed an axe from one of the soldiers and joined in the attack, and Canohando brought his archers around in a wide circle so they were facing the trolls again, ready to fire when the axemen should fall back.
Another troll fell to the axes, but the fourth slipped past them and lunged down the path toward where the Queen was surrounded by her horsemen. Canohando threw himself forward, crying, "Away, Lady! Get her away, you men!" and the horses turned as one and galloped off with Arwen in their midst. The troll lumbered around to face the archers once more, but he was wary now; he swung his great spiked club before him with one hand, but with the other arm he shielded his eyes. The axemen could not get near him, and the arrows bounced harmlessly off his muscled arm.
He came on for six or eight paces, and they could not stop him. Then he angled away, still swinging his club in a wide arc to hold off the axes, and started after the Queen. In spite of his bulk, he was fast, and they had to run to keep up with him.
Canohando barged ahead, outdistancing Elladan and all the rest. When he got close, he feinted to one side and the troll swung his club a mighty blow to crush him, but the orc leaped the other way and flung himself against the huge body, dropping his bow and catching hold of the troll's garments, pulling himself up hand over hand as if he had been climbing a rope. He was on the creature's back and it could not get its arms back far enough to catch him; then he was clinging to the monster's shoulders and reaching around its neck with one arm. His hand came up and he drove his knife into the troll's throat. Dark blood spurted and the creature clawed for a moment at the knife and then, even as it fell, it plucked Canohando from behind its neck and hurled him to the ground. The orc lay for a moment without moving, stunned, and the troll pitched forward and fell with a crash directly on top of him in the middle of the path.
The men of the Company had stood rooted to the ground, watching Canohando's single combat with the troll; now they gazed in horror at their fallen enemy. They knew their Commander lay beneath the corpse, but they could see no sign of him. There was no sound; even the hoofbeats had faded in the distance, of the horsemen bearing Arwen away to safety.
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