Storm Front - Final Chapter
The first rays of sunlight across the beacon tower of the White City hailed the end of the steel-cold grip winter had held for the past several weeks. Though the air was still bitingly chilly, it would not be long before the ice and sleet that had made travel down the city's cobblestone streets so treacherous began to melt away.
Arwen slowly opened the window through which she had witnessed the rising of the sun. Her hands trembled as she slid her fingers down the wooden sill, though not from the bitter air that issued past her. It was becoming harder and harder for her to stand at this window. This was the same window that had witnessed the last moments when her heart had been truly at ease.
The sounds of activity in the city were becoming clearer now. Within the hour, Minas Tirith will have fully awoken from its night's rest, and life would resume as normal. But Arwen was not ready for things to return to the way they had been. At least during the cold wintry weeks, it had seemed as though the world was mourning with her. But now, with the sun having finally returned to ease winter's sting, Arwen felt her heart clench as it had not done since that fateful night at the inn.
The fire had burnt the inn to the ground. By morning, there had been nothing left of the grand old structure except piles of rubble, ash, and the blackened husks of three ground-floor stone fireplaces. The ruins around the kitchen area had been thoroughly searched, but in the end, a gray-faced Boric had delivered the news.
"Only ash, my Queen," he had said softly. "There is nothing else."
Nothing else. Nothing else remained of her once dearest friend, her most powerful guardian. Death had claimed her at last.
Too many times before, Arwen had faced the prospect of losing Faye forever. But back then, there had still been something--a tiny flicker of hope--that had kept her spirits alive. But this time, there was no alternative. She had witnessed Faye's death with her own eyes. There was nothing that could soften the horrible truth. This time, Faye was truly gone.
But Faye had died a hero, a fact that Aragorn himself had emphasized when he had spoken of the fire to the royal court.
"Arwen and I would not be here today had it not been for Faye," he had proclaimed in the end. "She sacrificed her life to save us. I hereby clear her name of all wrongdoing. May we always remember the Lady Faye for who she was. A friend, a guardian. . ." He had paused at this moment, and had turned to glance at her. "A member of our family."
A few weeks after the speech, a memorial statue had been erected in the Citadel courtyard in honor of Faye. Arwen could see it from the window. It was a beautiful piece, with a likeness of Faye in her full health and glory. Standing just to the right of the Citadel doors, arms open to welcome guests and yet with eyes sharp and piercing, it really did seem as though it was beckoning in friends, and warning off enemies. Twice now Arwen had overheard new arrivals claim that the statue had affected them. One, who had come to unjustly complain about some matter, had protested that the statue had glared at him as he passed. The other, a messenger on his first report delivery from Ithilien, claimed the statue had actually smiled at him, and completely relieved his nervousness. Arwen did not know what to make of these claims, for every time she had examined it, the statue had remained as still and expressionless as a statue was expected to be.
"Arwen, are you not cold?"
The voice from behind came so suddenly that Arwen gave a start. Maida was standing there, a pair of cloaks draped over one arm and a look of concern on her face. At Arwen's nod, she approached and helped her close the window.
"I know you haven't been feeling well this past week, my friend," Maida continued, draping the cloak over Arwen's shoulders before she could say anything. "But I was thinking it would be a nice morning for a short walk. Besides, I promised Atego I would bring him treats today. Will you join me?"
Arwen was not quite in the mood to go for a walk, but the look on Maida's face convinced her otherwise. With Maida's arm around her own, the two of them slowly made their way out into the chilly morning, past the statue, and down into the city. Though most inhabitants were still inside their homes, Arwen saw a few as they walked by. Most were shopkeepers preparing their store fronts for the day, but she also passed a woman scolding her son, while a wet and weeping young girl stood behind her. From what Arwen could hear, the son had thrown a handful of slush at his sister, and although the boy was standing with his eyes cast downward, he seemed unable to hold back an occasional snort of laughter.
"I warned her it was coming, Mother!" the boy protested. "She didn't duck fast enough."
The woman sighed in exasperation, while the girl sneered and huffed through her tears. Arwen paused, drawing Maida's attention to the matter.
"That reminds me of you, Maida, and the troubles you had with Legolas," she commented.
Maida grinned slightly.
"If that child is anything like I was, she will someday gain her revenge," she replied.
They continued on, silence falling between them once more. Though several people who spotted them as they walked down towards the stables acknowledged with bows and nods, nobody attempted to interrupt them.
Atego gave a loud and joyful greeting when they finally arrived. A stablehand was mucking his stall, and the boy was compressed against the wall as the horse pushed his way to his mistress.
"Easy, my friend," Maida said, stroking Atego's nose. "This young gentleman is doing you a favor, and it will not do to rend him flat."
"He is just excited to see you, Milady," the boy replied with a grin.
Arwen left Maida to visit with her horse, wandering further down the line of stalls. At first, she had no purpose to her wandering. She smiled at stablehands she passed, and patted the horses that turned from their feed to look at her. Then, she realized that she was drawing ever closer to the stall in which Bill had been placed.
It was Eldarion that had found the poor pony after the fire, standing by himself and appearing lost and confused. They had brought him back to Minas Tirith, and Aragorn had ordered that Bill be provided with the best food, the largest stall, and daily grooming and attention for as long as he was alive. Until now, Arwen had been unable to bear the thought of approaching the pony, for he had been a painful reminder of Faye. It was Eldarion who had braved the weather of the past weeks to visit him.
"He is really sad," he had said at one point. "I think he really misses Lady Faye."
"I know he does, my son," Arwen had replied. "We all do."
Arwen approached Bill's stall door, resting a hand on the wood as she peered inside. The fact that the door was unlocked, and the fact that the stall was empty, struck her at the same time. The stall was clearly inhabited, for the bedding had not yet been cleaned, but Bill himself was conspicuously absent.
"Arwen?" came Maida's voice. She and the stablehand were standing a few stalls away. "Is something wrong with Bill?"
"He is gone," Arwen replied.
Both Maida and the stablehand seemed bewildered, and quickly approached. The boy's jaw dropped when he saw the empty stall.
"He is supposed to be here," the boy protested. "I. . .I'll go see if someone took him somewhere."
The boy hurried off. Arwen opened the door and stepped inside the stall, glancing around curiously. But when she looked in the feed bucket to see how much had been eaten, Arwen was forced to grip the wall to brace herself. She was suddenly starting to feel nauseous. Maida, who had entered after her, seemed not to notice.
"I'm sure it is just a misunderstanding," Maida was saying. "He was probably put in another stall. I don't see how. . .Arwen!"
The nausea had increased tenfold in moments, and with a groan Arwen collapsed to her knees, the contents of her stomach scattering onto the stall bedding before her. She felt Maida's hands grip her shoulders bracingly.
"Arwen, what is it?" Maida asked worriedly.
Arwen gripped Maida's hands, feeling tears well in her eyes as the faint suspicion she had carried for over a week became all too clear.
"I am not ill, my friend," she replied, turning and gazing at Maida. "I. . .I am pregnant."
Maida's expression turned from worry to amazement in seconds. Hesitantly, she placed a hand on Arwen's belly, her eyes becoming unfocused for a moment before letting out a cry of delight.
"Oh, Arwen!" she beamed. "This is wonderful! Aragorn will be so excited."
Arwen smiled softly, feeling her spirits slowly, and finally, begin to lift. Maida helped her to her feet, still smiling widely, then gasped. Startled, Arwen stared at her.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Look," Maida replied, gesturing to something behind her.
Arwen turned, eyes wide when she saw what Maida had noticed. There on the ground, unnoticed until now, was a pristine brown-and-black eagle feather. Arwen picked it up and examined it. Its golden tip seemed to glisten in the pale morning sunlight. Maida slowly ran a fingertip down the smooth edge of the feather.
"I think we know now where Bill has gone," she said softly. "He is with the eagle."
"And I am sure he will be happy, wherever the eagle is guiding him," Arwen replied. "It is better this way."
When they returned to the Citadel, Arwen approached Faye's memorial and set the eagle feather on the pedestal at the stone figure's feet. Though a firm breeze was still blowing, the feather did not move, as though it too had become stone. And it was there that the feather would remain, as beautiful and serene as the creature that had left it.
Time passed slowly and calmly. And, on one cool, crisp morning in the mid-fall, the plaintive wails of a newborn echoed through the Citadel corridors. The third royal child of the King and Queen had been born.
And as the midwife gently set the baby girl into Arwen's arms, Arwen knew exactly what the child's name was to be. And looking at Aragorn told her that he was thinking the same thing.
"Our wonderful daughter," he said softly, brushing his fingers against the baby's forehead.
Arwen smiled, a tear of joy slowly falling as the baby looked up at them, revealing her warm golden eyes for the first time.
"Our little Faye."
* * * * * *
So ends our tale. The recorded histories of Middle-earth already tell what happens to the King and Queen of Gondor, and the remaining members of the Fellowship. As expected of great stories, the tale of Lady Faye soon fell to the realm of legend, and those who remember would forever speak fondly and proudly of her memory.
Fifty years later, with the children of the royal family in the prime of youth and the Reunited Kingdoms in the midst of a glorious age, an old friend made her unexpected and final journey. Faye, now a beautiful young woman, was the first to notice the new arrival on that morning, as she, her siblings, and Arwen and Maida were riding across the Pelennor.
"What an odd horse!" she said in delight, motioning to the approaching rider. "Look at those funny ears, Naneth."
"That is not a horse, Faye," Maida replied. "That is a mule." She suddenly froze, now gazing intently. "It cannot be. . ."
But it was. Though her hair was now a stone grey, and her face heavily wrinkled with great age, both Arwen and Maida had no trouble recognizing Ancalima. Arwen was the first to reach her.
"My dear old friend," she said, smiling widely. "What brings you to the White City?"
"I wanted to make one last journey," Ancalima replied. "And this is one of the only places in this world that I have not yet been."
But by this time, Ancalima's life was nearly done. A month after her arrival, the old wandering woman passed away peacefully in her sleep. Her death was mourned by her friends, and her mule was given into the loving care of young Faye and Tinúviel, both of whom had fallen in love with the peculiar, long-eared beast, and spent the rest of its years as a pampered pet.
Ancalima herself had no awareness of her own death at first. To her, it seemed only a moment between closing her eyes to sleep and awaking to the sound of a soft, warm voice.
"Come, my friend. You have wandered far enough."
She was standing in a great hall, and all around her she could see smiling faces. The vigor of youth had returned to her body, which was robed in a gown of shimmering white. Ancalima gazed at the people gathered around her, unable to recognize any of them.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"You are home now, my friend," answered the voice. "Come with me. There are many here who want to meet you."
And, as Ancalima turned and finally spotted--and recognized--the source of the voice, she smiled, understanding at last what had happened. All at once, she felt a peace unlike anything she had ever experienced before flow through her. Happily, she reached out and gripped Faye's hand, gazing into a beautiful face that could only have been her at the prime of her health.
"Welcome to Mandos, Ancalima," Faye said. "I have been waiting for you."
"And I am glad to be here," Ancalima replied. "I have missed you, my dearest friend."
With Faye at her side, Ancalima entered the Halls of Mandos. As Faye had said, she had finally wandered far enough.
Ancalima was home at last.