She stood upon Cerin Amroth, lost in memory. All about her the trees were starting to shed their autumn garments, but she had no eyes for the present only the past. She had stood upon this mound many times, in happier days and in company: now she was alone with only the soft whisper of falling leaves providing any sound. Here at the empty heart of Lothlorien no bird nor beast now ventured.
Long ago there had been an evening of mid-summer; when the heat of the day still lingered, and cool night breezes carried the sweet scent of many flowers. On this very spot, Aragorn had proposed and she had accepted. That evening he had looked more like a Prince of the Noldor than a Man, but she had known then that this day of emptiness would come. She remembered the words of a human poet who had said: `it is the bitterness of loss that makes love all the sweeter.’
How she had loved Aragorn; his caring nature, his strength – both of mind and body, his gentleness, and his passion: and now, all that was gone. The elves knew of death, indeed, she had seen death before Aragorn was born, but the death of an elf was different. One knew that the elvish spirit was not lost, it would go to the Halls of Mandos, and when the time was right that spirit would be reborn. The elf would live again. It was said that Galadriel’s four brothers all lived again in Valinor.
Where the spirits of humans went when they died, she knew not. It was said that they were not bound to this world, that part of Illuvater’s gift was that they would leave it; a gift that even the Valar would envy as the long slow ages passed. Arwen wiped the tears from her eyes, she had cried so much, but tears wouldn’t bring him back. She lay down upon the cold turf, aware of the dampness of the grass, and the smell of sodden leaf, but oblivious to the discomfort. There was no comfort in this world now that he was gone.
It was late dusk and the sky was now darkening increasingly. The golden flame of the sun had long since sank behind the towering spires of the Misty Mountains, but the silver lamp of the moon had not yet risen. Although it was late autumn, and frost rimmed the edges of small pools, many of the trees kept their leaves. It was dark in Lorien. A chill north wind blew, it was not fierce, barely disturbing the fallen leaves, but it carried the threat of winter and it made a cold night colder.
Through the silent woods, the two hunters crept, they made no sound but they were relentless for they knew she was here. They had picked up her trail two days ago, and they knew that Arwen, the Queen of Elves and Men, was within this forest. Many days they had travelled, looking for her, soon the hunt would be over.
Arwen awoke with a start, she was freezing, her hands, feet, and face were all as cold as ice. She hadn’t expected to wake up, she hadn’t wanted to, but it was too cold for sleep. Despite her feeling of desolate emptiness, her body had refused to die here. She shivered, at first in brief spasms, but then her entire body shook, her teeth chattered, and she felt the cold pierce her like a spear. She rolled into a small ball, trying to conserve what heat was left.
The two hunters approached Cerin Amroth, following the trail she had left. The moon had now risen, and by his light they were able to pick up the small clues and signs that showed the path she had taken. The grey trunks of the mallorns also took the moonlight and cast it back. It wasn’t much but it dispelled the deepest shades of night from the wood. They stopped, they had seen Arwen, a small shuddering shape on the dark grey hill. They ran towards her.
“Arwen, Arwen,” each cried. Were they too late?
Faintly she heard the cries, but she didn’t know what it could mean. She was almost beyond caring, the cold and the damp had taken all warmth from her body, although paradoxically she felt warm. The throbbing in her hands and feet had stopped, and she felt herself slipping into sleep. Blessed sleep, perhaps the final sleep, and when she awoke …
“Arwen! Speak to me,” one of the hunters cried.
“Are we too late?” the other asked.
One of the hunters picked her up and cradled her next to his body, she was as cold as stone. He wrapped his cloak around them both.
“Does she still live?” his partner asked, his voice full of concern.
The first hunter held his hand near to Arwen’s nose. “She still breathes. Just. She has lost consciousness. She is very cold.”
“Let us carry her to Caras Galadhon, it is not far. We should find shelter there.”
She felt warmer, and more at peace. For a moment she lay, listening to a gentle cracking and snapping noise, it could only be a small fire. Instinct told her she was inside a building. She listened more intently, and heard the sounds of someone moving around cautiously, as if whoever it was didn’t want to wake her. She sighed loudly, and opened her eyes.
“Hello,” a familiar voice said. There, looking down at her was her brother, Elladan. She smiled at him, she heard the other person come over hurriedly, and she saw Elrohir looking at her with the same love and concern as his brother.
“Hello sister,” Elrohir said, “I’m glad to see you awake.”
She opened her mouth, as if to speak, but Elladan placed a finger over her lips and gently shook his head. “Not yet, rest awhile.”
Arwen lay back. She was wrapped in warm blankets, and her head lay on a pillow (that her brothers had made from an old cloak, soft, fragrant, plants and leaves). She looked up at the ceiling, and watched shadows dancing as the fire flickered. The ceiling looked old and worn, as if it had been neglected for many years. Wherever she was had been empty a long time, and despite the fire it smelt of dampness and slow decay.
Her brothers had left her bed-side, she had heard one of them go out, closing a door behind him. She rolled her head to her left, and watched the flames of the fire, as they danced their mysterious unknown dance. It was a merry blaze and cheerful, it reminded her of Rivendell, and the Hall of Fire where tales and songs were told. She saw Elrohir poke at something in the fire with a stick, again and again he did it. He must be cooking something but what it was she could not guess. She closed her eyes and remembered.
Aragorn had aged slowly, at two hundred he looked much the same as he had when he’d ascended the throne. Of course, he’d more silver than black in his hair, but that was all. It had been a year ago that the first obvious sign had occurred, and at the time she’d barely thought much of it.
Autumn in Minas Tirith was a joyous time, all the harvest was in, and people made ready for the period of rest that winter would bring. Winters in the Tower of the Guard were usually mild, and snow was a rarity and therefore welcome. She had woken from a deep sleep to find that Aragorn had gone. She had looked around the room, but he wasn’t there. Quite frequently he would awaken before her but he would either lie in bed watching her, or he’d have been in the room reading or writing. She knew he’d been gone sometime, although how she knew she could not tell.
She had found him stood by the battlements, staring out towards the distant walls of Mordor.
“What is it, beloved?”
He turned, and it had been there in his gaze, he looked listless, there was no sparkle in his eyes. He smiled wanly, as if wearied. Arwen went to him, and wrapped her arms around him. Slowly he relaxed into the hug.
“I missed you,” she said.
He kissed her hair. “Let’s go have breakfast,” he said.
“Not before you tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing. Well, nothing I can put a name to. There was a shadow on my heart, a sense that everything was just a grey illusion,” he sighed.
“We vanquished the Shadow,” she said.
“This was no memory of Sauron, it was a premonition.”
He suddenly laughed gaily, and the sparkle returned to his eyes. “It is too fair a morning to be miserable.”
That had been the first sign, and at the time it hadn’t seemed important, but a few months later in the depths of winter there had been another sign; and this time he knew what it presaged. Aragorn had told her it was a warning that death approached.
He had told her that he didn’t want to cling to life until it became loveless, joyless, and meaningless. He had already outlived his friends, and many of his friend’s children. He had been blessed with good health, and a long life. The Númenoreans had become obsessed by death, an obsession that lost them the isle of Numenor. Aragorn believed that life was to be lived, and death to be accepted. Furthermore, he said, it would be selfish in the extreme for him to grasp for a few more years when he’d been blessed with so many.
So he had said, but it was bitter. Arwen found it difficult to accept his abdication of life, and his abandonment of her.
It was Elrohir, he brushed her cheek with his hand. Something smelled wonderful, suddenly she recognised that she was ravenously hungry.
“It’s not much,” Elrohir said. “Just clay-baked rabbit and baked potato, with mint tea to drink.”
“It sounds like a feast,” Arwen said.
Elrohir helped his sister into a sitting position, and then handed her a wooden plate and a spoon. He studied her whilst she was eating. He was surprised to see grey hairs in amongst her still abundant black tresses, and to see fine lines around her eyes. She looked up at her, her clear grey eyes meeting his, even these, to Elrohir, were different. Once they had been filled with the light of the Eldar but no longer.
“What is it you see?” Arwen asked gently.
“You’ve aged,” Elrohir said. “I look at you, and I see a mortal.”
“Why should that surprise you?”
Elrohir smiled, and then said, “because as Men reckon such things, I’m over a hundred years older than you, and yet none would think it; and I did not expect to see it.”
“You have not renounced our elvish heritage.”
For a second, it looked as though Elrohir was going to make a comment about Arwen’s last statement; but he thought better of it, and he merely smiled again. Arwen cleared her plate, and Elrohir handed her a wooden cup of sweet mint tea.
Whilst she was sipping her tea, Elladan entered the room, he carried a large armful of wood. He put these down and eagerly started on the food that Elrohir had set aside for him.
Elrohir took Arwen’s plate and cup, and carried them over to the table where his brother sat; here, he too began to eat his meal, as swiftly as his brother.
“You both look as hungry as I was,” Arwen said.
“We are,” Elladan said, pausing to speak, and then to take a sip of his tea. “We’ve not had a proper meal for almost a week.”
“We’ve travelled far, and quickly, to find you,” Elrohir said.
After her brothers had finished their meals, and Elladan had built up the fire, they arranged their bedding near to Arwen’s bed. Although there were many questions each wanted to ask the other, for that evening they all stayed their curiosity. Instead they reminisced; they talked about how Rivendell used to be when Elrond and Celebrian lived there, and they talked about the visits to Lothlorien, and Lindon.
In reality, they talked about each other, and the ways in which they were similar, and different, from one another. Arwen’s brothers talked about her birth, and her childhood, and how happy their father had been. Arwen talked about her own children, and her hopes for their futures. Eventually, although they could have talked all night, they decided it was time for rest.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Arwen said.
In the morning, Arwen awoke, for the first time in many days she felt refreshed; and then guilt struck her. How could she feel glad to be alive now that he was gone? She sat up, in bed, and looked around the room; neither of her brothers could be seen. She was wondering where they could be, and why they had left her, when Elrohir appeared.
“Come on, time to get up. It’s a fine morning, breakfast is ready.”
The early morning sunlight was bright, and warming. The dew on the trees of Caras Galadhon sparkled, and the silver trunks and boughs of the mallorns shone dimly as if lit from within. There was a faint breeze that blew infrequently, causing the leaves to rustle. It also brought the scents of the forest, the dank undergrowth and slowly mouldering vegetation as a reminder of autumn.
Arwen was sat on a chair, that Elladan had found, eating porridge and dried fruit. By her side, Elrohir sat on a tree stump also eating, whilst Elladan was preparing tea over the camp fire.
“Why did you come looking for me?” Arwen said.
“Aragorn asked us to,” Elladan answered. “When you last visited Rivendell, he spoke to me about what might happen after he died.”
“Was he thinking of his death even then?” Arwen asked. It had been fifteen years ago that they had last visited Arnor, and Rivendell.
“No, he was not thinking of death, but he knew he would not live forever. Aragorn was worried about what would come of you. He asked us to find you and …” Elrohir faltered, and stopped.
“And what?” Arwen said sharply.
“To take you to Valinor, if you so desired.”
“Indeed, this is one reason why we have remained in Middle Earth,” Elladan said. “Although your children are mortal, you, Arwen, have the choice.”
“I made that choice long ago,” Arwen said, firmly.
“But without knowledge of how painful it would be at the end,” Elladan said. He spoke gently for her had no wish to anger Arwen.
“Tell me, if I choose not to go, will you take me against my will? Am I still subject to my father’s decrees?”
As she spoke, Arwen’s voice rose in pitch. She was angry at these males ordering her life; for many, many, years it had been Elrond, and her brothers. She loved Elrohir and Elladan, but they were often her keepers, and protectors. With Aragorn she had been free to choose what she wanted to do; and he had consulted with her about all matters whether of state or family life.
“We haven’t come to constrain you, or force you,” Elrohir said. “Aragorn didn’t want you to be on your own. He suspected that your fate would be to outlive him, and it would be then that your final choice would be made.”
“Did he not believe me, do none of you believe me, when I said I choose a mortal life?” Arwen demanded.
“It was easy to say you choose mortality when Aragorn lived, for you could not see the end, none of us could. But now, now that Aragorn is gone?” Elrohir said.
“Sister,” Elladan said, “please don’t think we doubt your choice, or think of you as a child, who cannot comprehend the importance of your decision. I doubt very much whether we could change your mind.”
“So why do you ask?” Arwen snapped.
“Because we love you too,” Elladan replied. “I do not wish to leave you, knowing I will never see you again.”
“It is a hard choice,” Arwen said. “I must choose between my husband, and my family. And yet is not the case that our uncle chose mortality? Didn’t Luthien choose mortality?”
“If Elros had chosen to be of Elf-kind, then Aragorn would not have been born,” Elrohir said. “Perhaps Numenor may never have fallen, and Sauron would have ruled Middle-earth.”
“But Elros chose Mankind,” Arwen said. “Why?”
“Because he felt more human that elf,” Elrohir answered. “Father said that although he often thought of Elros, he knew Elros would have been dissatisfied with the slowness of Elvish life, and thought; the desire to understand rather than to master.”
“Not all men seek to dominate and control,” Arwen said.
“But unlike Elves, no human ever truly accepts their situation,” Elladan said. “Just like you never accepted life in Rivendell.”
Arwen laughed, a joyous laugh of relief and acknowledgement. Relief because she thought Elladan understood her, and acceptance at the astuteness of his comments.
For a moment the conversation stalled, and Elladan took this opportunity to hand out cups of tea. All three sat reflecting on the words they had spoken. The breeze came more frequently now, and the trees rustled endlessly causing shadows and light to dance across the ground. The sunlight seemed to ripple on the trees, as the ever-moving leaves caught and reflected the light at differing angles.
“What next?” Elrohir said, addressing the question to Arwen.
“I cannot face the thought of living endlessly without Aragorn. To spend all the long ages of this world wandering through my memories seems pointless. I’ve lived two lifetimes; the long slow life of an elf, and then the brief rapid life of a human when I met and loved Aragorn.
“I can’t go back, I must go on. Humans are not bound within the Circles of the World, and it is beyond them I must go to seek Aragorn. To be human is to die, it’s the one inevitability of mortality. The Numenoreans fell into evil because they would not accept death, yet it is part of the gift of Eru. For a human to reject death, is to reject the One.”
“Then we will stay here with you, until the end,” Elladan said.
“And then we will seek the Grey Havens,” Elrohir said.
So it was that Arwen did not die alone in misery and sorrow, like Aragorn her passage from this world was in peace and acceptance. It happened on a night of high winds, and cold rain. She dreamt that there lay before her two paths: a clear, gentle way of light and familiarity, and another more unsure way of uncertainty. Using blind hope as her guide, she chose, and went forward into the unknown, in the company of Estel.