5. In the Dungeons of Gondor
"He can cool his quick temper in a stone cell till next month. Then I will give my judgment."
The King and Queen were at dinner, only the two of them alone in their private dining room. Arwen toyed with her food, too distracted to eat. "If you are resolved already to have his life, it would be more merciful to send him to execution this very night. Why hold him prisoner for a month?"
Elessar took a sip of his wine. "Do I owe him mercy? That was a good man he killed, faithful, brave… The orc sat all morning watching us give audience; he knew better than to rush at us the way he did. What did he expect, if not a naked sword coming down on him?"
A smile quirked the corner of Arwen's mouth. "Should he have applied to Florian for permission to approach the Throne? Do you think the gentlemen of the court would have brought him forward?"
The King kept his face impassive, but a humorous look came into his eyes. "I should like to have seen how Florian would have handled it," he admitted, but then he was grave again. "The orc has done murder, Arwen, in the open hall! I will not send him to his death this night, for I would consider carefully what I do, but he owes us a life." He regarded her with tenderness. "And you would spare him, I see it in you. For what reason?"
"He is Frodo's orc," she said simply.
Elessar rose and walked restlessly around the room. "So it would seem – he wears your jewel, at least. But he is an orc for all that, dearest, and dangerous, as we saw this day."
"And would you not be dangerous, my love, if you were attacked? Are you not as dangerous as he is? For you hold his life in your hands, and you will have it, in a month's time if not tonight."
He refilled their wine glasses without answering. "Will your brothers be here for the New Year, do you think?" he turned the subject.
Three days passed before Arwen returned to the subject of the orc, and then she did not speak to Elessar but to the Head of the Guard. "Does our new guest in the dungeons give any trouble, Arak?"
The man shook his head. "None at all, Lady. Does the King wait to judge him next Audience Day? I doubt the orc will live that long."
"What? How is this? Why should he not live?"
The guardsman shrugged. "He does not eat. Water he will take, but nothing more, and he lies on his pallet with his face to the wall, and pays no heed to anyone."
Arwen looked stricken. "Send word below that I will be there within the hour! Whatever preparation the Warden wishes to make for my visit, let him do so, for I am coming down."
She swept back into her own apartments and called for her maid. "I want a basket, Lareth, and food from the kitchens – something light but nourishing, and a roasted bird, I think, and some almonds, without shells. Get it for me, please, and wrap up a bottle of sweet wine and two glasses so I can carry them."
The maiden stared, but hurried to obey, and Arwen opened a cupboard in her room and rummaged through the bedding stored there, pulling out this and that, and tossing it behind her on the floor, impatiently. At last she settled on a blanket of spun silk, thick and soft and as yellow as sunshine. Lareth returned with the basket in one hand and a bundle containing the wine and glasses in the other, and Arwen threw a rainbow-hued shawl around herself.
"Come, you can carry it for me as far as the Warden's office. One of his men will take it after that." She held the blanket in her own arms and hastened from the room with her maid running to keep up.
They did not want to let her in. "Your Majesty, it is not fit for you here – if you wish to question a prisoner, he will be brought to you under guard. The dungeon is dark and noisome; it is no place for a lady, still less for you!"
"If it is noisome, perhaps it is time for a cleaning day, Warden. And I will see this prisoner where you have housed him, please. Pray bring me to the orc."
They obeyed her, protesting all the while. They had moved Canohando quickly, when word came down that Arwen was on her way, from the filthy cell where he had been, to one that was not so bad. There was even a tiny window high in the wall, too small for him to have squeezed through, even if it had not been barred. No one had told the orc the reason for the move, and he assumed that his execution was imminent.
He lay with his face to the wall, as the guard had told her. She spoke his name softly, and he rolled over to stare at her, his eyes glazed as if he were in a trance. He neither answered nor got up, only lay where he was, looking into her face as if he saw some vision.
"Canohando," she said again, her heart wrenched with pity. "Come to me, dear one; they will not open this door and let me come to you.
"Get me a chair," she said aside to the Warden. "A chair, and then leave me with him."
She settled herself with the basket and bundle at her feet, the blanket on her lap. "Canohando," she said, her voice firm. "Come here where I can reach you. I wish you to tell me of Frodo."
He got up then, limping over to her and sinking to the floor next to the bars of his cell. He was dirty and there was dried blood on his face and in his hair. Plainly he had been beaten, and he hunched forward as if his ribs hurt, leaning against the bars of the cell. His hands were still bound behind him and he could not lean back. He looked up at her and his eyes cleared a little.
"My runt," he said hoarsely. "He is my brother, Lady. There is no one like Ninefingers, no one."
"No one," she agreed, smiling through tears. "Dear one, turn and let me free your hands. Then you shall tell me of him, and we will drink a toast in his honor."
He searched her face, more awake now. "Do you not fear to loose my bonds, Lady? Even with these bars between us, I could reach through…"
"Should I fear you, Canohando?"
He shook his head so hard that his matted hair whipped across his face. "No, Lady! I would shed my heart's blood to protect you. I will not reach through the bars." He turned around and she drew a little pearl-handled knife from a pouch at her belt, cutting through the dirty cords that bound his wrists. He chafed at them, rubbing feeling back into hands that had been numb and cold, wincing at the pain as circulation returned.
The wound on his arm had not been cared for – it was caked with blood and dirt, and it looked puffy and inflamed. Arwen made a little sound of pity. "I will call for water and bandages; that must be tended to."
Canohando met her eyes. "To what purpose, Lady? My life is forfeit; I only wait for the King to decide on a death suitable for me. If I can slip away before he thinks of something, I may spare myself much suffering."
Arwen bit her lip. "Is that what you think – that my husband is dreaming up torments for you?"
The orc picked at the dried blood on his arm. "Is that not what all rulers do, when they are greatly angered? If he was minded to make it quick, he would have slain me in the hall that same morning."
"No, Canohando. Oh, no!" Arwen was finding it hard to talk around the lump in her throat. "He is waiting to be sure, to not condemn you and then be sorry, when it is too late. He would be sure of doing justice."
"I killed the King's man, in the King's own hall. What death will he put me to, Lady? Do you know?"
She was unnerved by his bluntness, his grim courage. "I – I think he might condemn you to the same manner of death you meted out."
The orc sighed as if in relief. "That would be justice and mercy both at once. Quicker than starving."
"That is why you would not eat," she said, and he nodded.
"Thirst is quicker, but I could not face it," he said, and Arwen shuddered.
"He may not condemn you at all, Canohando. You killed, but you were defending yourself. You were not even carrying a weapon; that is proof enough that you came without intent to do harm! But even if the King demands your life, it will not be as grievous a death as starvation."
She opened her basket, and the good aroma of roasted fowl vied with the stale odor of the prison. She broke the chicken in pieces, passing them to him through the bars. "Eat, dear one! I will not see you starve in my house, not even in its dungeon."
He smiled and took the meat from her, tearing the flesh from the bones ravenously. He had eaten nearly the whole chicken before he spoke again. "Why do you call me that? 'Dear one'?"
She laughed softly. "It is what I used to call Frodo, and you put me in mind of him somehow."
"He is my brother," the orc said again, and she nodded. "Hold out your hands, Canohando." He did so, and she turned them over and ran her finger down the scar that marked his palm. "Frodo showed me the tooth you carved for him, and the scar on his own hand. But I knew it was you."
She brought out the wine, and they toasted Frodo. She fed the orc the rest of the food in her basket, and listened while he told her of his home in the mountains, and the winter Frodo and the Brown Wizard had spent there. "He loved the sweat bath," Canohando laughed, remembering. "I thought we would have to carry him out of it – he didn't like the cold!" The stone walls of the prison receded while they talked, and Arwen felt herself free in the mountains, following Frodo and the orcs along trails that had hardly been trodden since the beginning of the world.
"He came here, Lady, when he left Mordor?" the orc asked at last. "Does he yet live?"
And Arwen came back to the present as if she had slammed into a wall. She could not lie, and Canohando read her expression and turned away, covering his face with his hands. "I knew" – she had to strain to hear him – "I knew it must be so, it has been too long, but I could not stop myself from hoping –"
"Dear one –" She reached through the bars and pulled him to her, stroking his hair, matted with dried blood, patting his back. He gave a choking sob, and then he wept, his tears wetting her gown, and in truth her own eyes were not dry, although Frodo's death was nearly sixty years in the past, and she had done her crying at the time.
But when they had done weeping and Canohando backed away, wiping his wet face with his hands, there was another witness to their grief. Elessar had come quietly into the corridor outside the prison cells, and he drew Arwen up from her chair into his arms, kissing away her tears.
"How now, dear heart, what is it you do here? If this is how you comfort my prisoners, they must tremble to see you coming," he rallied her gently.
She clung to him, her cheek against his shoulder. "My King, my love, look at him, see how they have used him! They had not even unbound his hands, they left his wound uncleansed, and they have beaten him till he can hardly walk! If you must have his life for your justice, let it be a clean death at least, not this horror of filth and abuse –"
Elessar glanced at the orc. "Your hands are not bound," he said.
"Your Lady freed me." Canohando searched about on the floor until he found the cut cords, and passed them out to the King. He said nothing else, and Elessar took the cords, his face troubled.
“You have been beaten?” he asked, and the orc nodded. “Let me see your wound.” But when Canohando held out his arm with its filthy, inflamed gash, the King’s mouth set in a hard line. “You owe me a life, Orc, but I would not have had you mistreated. I ask your pardon.
"Come, Arwen, you have given comfort enough here for one day. We will send a healer to care for him, and after luncheon you shall give what orders you like for the proper care of this prisoner. For myself, I must take thought who to put in charge of my dungeons, for the Warden will not be staying.”
She made as if to gather up her basket and wineglasses, but the King took them from her hands. Then she pushed the yellow blanket she had brought through the bars to Canohando, and he went to his knees before her. "Thank you, Lady! Truly you are everything that Ninefingers told me you were. I am not sorry I came here, whatever comes of it, for I have seen the Elf-queen and known her kindness."
Elessar stared at the orc in amazement and led his Queen away.
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.