7. The King's Judgment
They left the tower at last, after Falk had proclaimed himself satisfied with the security of the prisoner, after Elessar had tried without much success to untie the knots he had made in Arwen's scarf. Finally he gave up and cut the orc's hands free with his knife, reflecting that Arwen would be sure to chaff him about it when they were alone. But before they could turn away, Canohando knelt before them.
"You are noble and good, Elf-queen, King of Gondor. You imprison me in the most beautiful room I have ever seen, and you have my homage, if you will accept the homage of an orc. One thing more I would beg of your kindness."
"What is it that you wish?" Arwen asked.
"The pack I left in the Great Hall – there was a drum in it. It was given to me by a friend as he lay dying, and it grieves me that it may be lost or destroyed. Will you have someone look for it, Lady? And when I am dead, you may have it, if you will, to remember me by."
Arwen reached blindly for Elessar's hand, tears stinging her eyes. "I will have someone look for it, Canohando. And I will take your homage gladly." She held out her hand to him, and he kissed it. Then he looked at the King, and without being sure if he wanted to or not, Elessar nonetheless held out his hand for the orc to kiss.
They left then and went down to dinner, and it was a very silent meal.
“It is almost like having Frodo here again,” the King said at last. “How can that be? They cut their hands and let their blood run together -- so do lads everywhere, I suppose, in the throes of their first real friendship -- and somehow they became brothers in sober truth! He has Frodo’s eyes.”
“They were not lads,” said Arwen. “And they were alike in something else, my love: both had been bound to Darkness, Canohando from birth, Frodo because he carried the Ring, and they both fought their way free. That is why he has Frodo’s eyes; he fought the same battle Frodo did, for his soul’s freedom.”
Elessar nodded slowly. “Frodo began from innocence and the orc from depravity, but they reached the same place. And then they pledged their brotherhood, and it is more real than you sometimes see in sons of the same mother.” He sighed. “I cannot put Frodo’s brother to death for defending himself, not though he killed one of my own men in my very teeth! What am I to do with him?”
“Give him to me.”
He smiled at her teasingly. “Should I be jealous, my sweet? What will you do with him?”
Arwen’s laughter was lilting, like music. “Were you jealous of Frodo? I will make him my friend, as Frodo was, and Canohando will be more, for he will guard us with his life. Should another madman invade our hall as he did, that one will not get two steps past the door, before the orc stops him!”
“He owes us a life.”
“And is death the only way for him to pay the debt? There is such a thing as weregild, my King!”
Elessar chuckled. “I suppose I need not ask where an orc will get the gold to pay it.”
“You will give it to him, dearest, in payment for his service. The Guards of the Citadel do not serve for love alone; they receive their pay. Let Canohando’s pay go to the family of the man he slew; that is justice. What the orc hungers for, he cannot buy with money.”
The King walked away to stare out the window. Workmen were visible in the distance, building a roofed platform just outside the gates of the Citadel. There would be a parade on the twenty-fifth of March, a little over two months away, and he and Arwen, with the chief men of Minas Tirith, would sit there to review it. From the great gates of the City, through all the winding streets, the parade would come to them, musicians and dancers and acrobats, the worthies of the city in their robes of dignity, little children carrying wreaths of flowers... One hundred twenty years of freedom, of the Kingdom restored, to be celebrated on the anniversary of the day the Ring went into the Fire.
He felt a sudden chill, a premonition. I will not be on that platform, he thought. My scroll is rolling up more quickly than that…
“What does Canohando hunger for, Arwen?” he asked.
She came to stand beside him, leaning on his shoulder and running her fingers through his hair. “What we all long for, my love. To know there is some meaning to it all.”
The next morning was bright and clear, with a crisp wind sweeping down from the north. Elessar called for a horse and rode out with a few of his counselors to inspect the condition of the farmland and villages surrounding the city. It was not a morning for premonitions: the wind ruffled his hair and it was good to have a horse between his legs again. When they reached a broad harvest field that had not yet been ploughed, he called a challenge to his men and took off at a gallop across it.
He won the race, of course, and not because he was the King; he had schooled his followers long ago to throw their hearts into everything they did for him, even racing against him over a fallow field. But he did have the best horse; he always had the best horse. He thrust the eerie feeling of the day before to the back of his mind, but it was still there. He knew now that time was short, and he must make the most of it.
Dinner that night was a formal meal with a delegation from Annuminas, visiting Minas Tirith to give report on the year’s harvest in the North Kingdom. The King had met with them many times over the past month, and on the morrow they would begin the return journey to their own land.
“We may pass Prince Eldarion on the road, Sire,” one of them said cheerfully. “He expected to be leaving the North a week ago, and he does not favor slow travel!”
There was a general laugh at the King’s table; Eldarion was known for his fast steeds and his impatience with delay. If he had left when he intended, they might confidently expect him within the next sennight, and Elessar breathed a silent thanks to the Powers. All the same, he sought out the head of the Annuminas delegation when the meal was over.
“If you pass my son on the road, I would have you tell him to make all the speed he can; I need him here. Also --“ He hesitated, then decided to go on. “I wish you pass by Rivendell and carry a message from me to the Lord Elladan. See me before you leave on the morrow, and I shall have it ready for you.”
He would not tell Arwen, not yet, but he would try to have her brothers on hand to comfort her. The letter he sent the next morning was brief:
Elladan and Elrohir, my Elf-brothers, greeting! Even to the race of Numenor death comes at last, and it will not pass me by. There are matters I would settle with you both, and your sister will need you. Dearest friends and brothers, I need you! Come to me soon, as you love your
He saw the men of Annuminas mounted and picking their way through the mid-morning throng in the streets of the Second Level. When he returned to the Palace he shut himself up in his study, filling his pipe while he tried to think what else must be done. Eldarion was as ready as any young prince can be, to take up the scepter. He had long carried his father’s authority in the North, but he was sufficiently well-known here in Gondor. The sons of Elrond would advise him, and Arwen’s presence would aid in the transition from the old King to the young one.
Arwen, oh Lady Undomiel! He bowed his head. This would be grievous for her; he wondered how he would dare to tell her, and yet he must! Perhaps she would go back to Rivendell with her brothers, after Eldarion was crowned. That might be the best thing for her...
He wished there were some gift he could make to her, now at the last. A parting token, one last proof of his devotion, his heart’s love for his Elven Lady. Something to remember me by, he thought, echoing Canohando’s words of two nights before, and then he smiled. No, someone to remember me by, and someone to shield you from all harm, if he can do so. At least I believe he will try! He strode out of the study and up to the nursery tower, taking the stairs two at a time in his haste.
The guards were alert before the locked door, he was glad to see, although he would soon make their duty unnecessary. One of them produced a key and opened the door for him. Inside were another four guardsmen; Falk was taking no chances! The orc sat on the floor leaning against his bed, beating out a rhythm on a small carved drum, chanting softly in his own outlandish tongue. He set the drum aside and struggled to his feet -- his ankles were still chained, and he was awkward. He stood before Elessar without speaking.
The King nodded to the guardsmen. “You may wait outside the door, gentlemen. I would have private conversation with the prisoner.”
“Majesty, it is not safe--“ one of them said; his tone was respectful, but he looked ready to contest the matter to the day’s end, no matter if it was his sovereign he addressed. Elessar raised his brows.
“Not safe? He is not armed, is he? And I have my sword; besides, he is in chains.”
“All the same, Your Majesty. You saw him the other day in the hall -- he was not armed then, either! I beg you, let two of us at least remain for your safety. We will stand here by the door, with our fingers in our ears if it pleases you, so we will hear nothing.”
The King smiled; it was insubordination, perhaps, but he could not be angry at this young man who showed such care for his monarch’s safety! “So be it; out of your own mouth, my lad. Stand by the door with your fingers in your ears and keep watch. Only two of you; that will be sufficient.” He turned to the orc.
“I have decided what I will do with you, if you are willing.”
Canohando looked perplexed. “If I am willing --! What will you do with me, King of Gondor?”
Elessar sat down on the bed. “You came to find the Elf-queen, and you found her. You told me you wish to follow after and protect her; do you hold to those words?”
The orc put his right fist against his heart. “As I live, I hold to them, lord! I would die ten times over, to keep her safe!”
“Very well. I will take you at your word -- and only because you are Frodo’s brother, will I trust in you! I will give your life into the hands of the Lady whose jewel you wear, and you will repay me by being her shadow, her protector, as long as either of you lives. Will you do this?”
Canohando’s face shone as if a fire had been lit within. “Truly, King of Gondor! I will never leave her, while I live!”
“While you both live,” Elessar corrected him, his voice somber. “If the Lady takes leave of this world, and not by your failure in guarding her, then you are free from this oath. She chose mortality, with me; she will not live endlessly, as the Eldar do.”
The King did not wait for the next Audience Day; there was not time. He proclaimed a full audience to take place in two days, to pass judgment on the orc who had invaded the Throne Room of Gondor. As he expected, the Hall was packed and a great crowd stood without the doors on the day announced.
Canohando was led into the Hall chained hand and foot, guarded by twenty men in the livery of the Citadel. When they reached the dais, someone pushed down hard on his shoulders, and he fell to his knees.
The King’s voice echoed above him. “This orc entered our Hall a week since, without our leave... slew one of my men. For this act, his life is forfeit...”
Canohando kept his eyes cast down. You take my life with one breath, and with the next you will give me all that I desire, he thought. The Kings of Men are a strange breed.
“...there was no weapon found upon the orc... he took a man’s life, but plainly he did not come with the intent to kill...”
There was a shout from the back of the room, “Death to the orc!” Canohando stiffened, waiting for others to take up the cry, but no one did. The room was hushed, and only the King’s voice rolled on, making the defense the orc would not have thought of making for himself.
“A man may defend himself if he is under attack. Yet the Guardsman was doing his duty, protecting his sovereigns from an intruder...”
The man standing next to Canohando shifted his feet, and the orc wondered what he was thinking. It was your comrade I slew. If you had been a little quicker, it might have been you! How will you like the King’s justice this day?
“Very soon we will celebrate the New Year, the hundred-and-twentieth since Kingship returned to Gondor. The Ring-bearer has passed into legend, and there are few of us who remember him as he really was. The orc you see here is one of the few. For I tell you, the Ring-bearer went back to Mordor, after the War. He went again to that dark land to bring healing there, and he found three orcs who had survived the Fall of Sauron...”
Is Ninefingers truly only a legend to these people? Oh my runt, I would you were here with me now! Why did I not seek you sooner? The orc straightened his shoulders, fighting to keep his face expressionless.
“...wears the Jewel that your Queen gave to the Ring-bearer. For that reason he came here to find the Lady whose jewel he wears... if he had asked to approach the Throne, would he have been permitted? The people of Gondor have ample reason to hate orcs.”
There was a roar from the crowd, catcalls and feet stamping, and the King waited for the room to quiet. Will they allow you to spare my life, King of Gondor? No one dared a word when the Witch King spoke, but your people are free with their tongues...
“...threw down the sword and let himself be taken, without resistance... expected to die in torment, for that is the way of the only Masters he has ever known. It is not the way of this Kingdom! The orc has killed a good man, a brave man, and for that he must make payment with his life -- but not with his death.”
The room was dead silent.
“This is a brave warrior, and he is devoted to the Lady whose jewel he wears. Therefore I give him to his Lady, to be her protector and true knight, and from today he is one of the Guards of the Citadel.”
But at these words pandemonium broke out, cries of “Death! Death!,” and the men who guarded Canohando drew close around him and turned to face the crowd with their hands ready on their swords. The King waited impassively, and Canohando watched him in awe.
You will have your way in spite of them all, lord! They are not afraid to shout, but your will is stronger than theirs, and you will bend them to it.
When silence returned, Elessar spoke again, and his voice was low but it penetrated to every part of the room. “For what will you have his life? Because he is an orc? Which one of you, attacked with the sword and already wounded, would not try to defend himself? What is justice for a man is justice for an orc as well!”
Then the King was descending the stairs of the dais, standing before Canohando. “Get up,” he said. “Turn around.” When the orc was facing the crowd, Elessar went forward to a little knot of people who stood off to one side, a young woman and an elderly couple, and three young children. He led them to stand before the orc.
“This is the family of the man you slew,” he said, his voice ringing from the walls. “This woman you left widowed, these children fatherless, these parents bereft of their son...”
She reminds me of Lokka!* And the cubs -- no, they are not like Yargark and Frodo-orc, but I remember when Lash’s sons were small like that --
“... you shall be reckoned the pay of a Guard of this Citadel, but your pay shall be given, every coin of it, to this family you have wronged... your life, which was forfeit, we give to you again, on condition that you spend it in the service of the Elf-queen you came to here to find.”
The orc knelt once more and kissed the King’s hands, and two Guardsmen came forward to strike the chains from his wrists and ankles. One would not look at him, but the other met his eyes, and Canohando saw that this man, at least, was content with the King’s justice. He followed them to a side chamber, and they clad him in the black and silver uniform of the Citadel, but his head was too large for the helmet provided, and he was forced to go bareheaded. Then they led him back to stand again before the dais, but they fell back and he was alone, facing the King and the Queen on their thrones, and the Queen’s jewel glittered against his chest.
Arwen rose in her place, and she was slender and shining as a shaft of light, her dark hair streaming over her shoulders. “From the beginning, Orcs have been the enemies of Elves and of Men,” she cried, and her voice was like truesilver, clear and musical. “Now in these latter days, one orc walks among us who is not an enemy. He has done a wrong, but he shall make amends for that by service and by weregild. This reparation he takes upon himself willingly and with a true heart. Let not the people of Gondor show themselves less noble-minded than Canohando the orc!”
There was a moment of breathless quiet; then a voice cried, “Long live the Queen!” The Hall broke into a jubilation of shouts and huzzahs, and the King and Queen stood before their thrones, holding out their hands to their people.
* Lokka, a woman of Nurn, was wife to Lash the orc and mother of his sons, Yargark and Frodo-orc. From Following the Other Wizard: journey into healing
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