Chapter 4: The Sweet and the Bitter
At the House of Kings, as before
Aragorn’s eyes widened in shock at what his wife had just told him. “Arwen?”, he said fearfully, not quite believing his ears. “You…..you wish to leave for the Undying Lands?”. Arwen faced him, and though she was crying, spoke.
“Oh, Estel, please do not hate me”, she sighed, turning her eyes to the ground. “I miss my people so. I miss my Father.” Now Aragorn’s bewildered expression turned to disbelief.
“Why must you go? Are your people not good to you? They love you as their Queen, Arwen, as they love me.”, he said, his voice rising in his upset. “You have all you could wish for here, have I not been a good husband to you in these four years we have had together!?”. Arwen put her face in her hands.
“You do not realise how hard this is for me. I would sooner cut out my heart!”, she cried defensively. “But I have my own reasons.” Aragorn seemed further infuriated by this, and his eyes blazed as he looked upon her.
“Pray tell, then”, he said softly, his arms folded across his chest.
“I do not feel like I belong here.”, she said more clearly, wiping the tears from her eyes. “All my kin have left Middle-earth, and now I am the only Elf left, save for Legolas, and Valar knows where he and Gimli the Dwarf are at present. I miss the fair folk with which I grew up with. Oh, the people are good to me, and they love me. But it is not enough for me.” Aragorn’s angry expression faded to sadness and he leant against the wall, surveying his wife with an air of utter disbelief.
“Why, Arwen?”, was all he said. Arwen brushed away another tear that threatened to take her, and continued.
“As you once said to me, our love has been but a dream, Estel. I love you so, but the reality of our love is harsh and cold. I cannot be a mortal, and yet I cannot stay. When your passing comes I will still be upon this Earth, the pain of losing you having chilled my heart and quenched the fair Elven-light in my eyes. My father foretold I would become as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Estel, my beloved, I do not wish to be like that.” She walked towards her love, and took his hands and kissed him. But Aragorn pulled away roughly and did not meet her eyes.
“I have life in me yet, Evenstar!”, he cried angrily. “I will not leave you for many years yet. And now you wish to forsake the choice of Lúthien which you took upon you! Nay, lady, that is not reason enough for you to depart for the Havens!!!”. Arwen forced him to look at her.
“Please, Estel, let me go!”, she said tearfully, utterly anguished. “I did take the choice of Lúthien, and took upon me both the sweet and the bitter. And I have sacrificed so much to share my life with you. But now I see that the sweet overthrows the bitter, and I cannot bear to be with you with that shadow hanging over our love. I know I gave up my passage on the ships to Frodo, but I have heard word a ship is being built in Ithilien, as some of my Mirkwood kindred have not yet left for Valinor. I ask you again to let me go, beloved, but I shall go, and without your blessing if I must!” At this Aragorn came closer and stroked her face, brushing away the sad tears of her grief that glistened there. He kissed her forehead, and, though it seemed to cause him great pain, he spoke.
“Lady Evenstar, fairest on the Earth, I love you, and though you know I wish you to stay, if it is your wish to leave, then you must”, he said slowly, tears pricking his eyes. “You shall go, and bear into the West the memory of our days together, where it will be evergreen.” Arwen looked at him sorrowfully and sighed.
“I thank you, Estel”, she breathed. “I know I could not bear it if I had to leave without your blessing.” Aragorn smiled briefly. But then she took the shining white Evenstar pendant from about her neck and placed it in his hand. She smiled through her tears as he took it silently. “Once I gave this to you, my love, as a token of hope while you journeyed in the wild and laboured in the cause against the Dark Lord. I give to you again this day, to keep forever, so you will remember Evenstar, the woman you loved you, who yet could not stay. Yet do not promise me you will wear it forever, at your will you may discard it and cast aside your memories of our time together. But still our love shall be immortal.” Aragorn suddenly felt tears fall from his eyes and hurriedly brushed them away, before fastening the necklace around his neck.
“I wish for our love to be immortal, my Evenstar, so I shall wear this at your request.”, Aragorn began dully, the words sticking in his throat as he took in all that his wife was saying. “And also as it is your bidding, I will not make the promise to wear it always. Yet while I love you, I shall always wear it. Preparations shall be made for you to…..leave early on the second day”, he said slowly, his voice faltering slightly. “But it is late now, Arwen. Yet I wonder if you would walk with me on the walls of the citadel and look upon the kingdom which you are to leave behind?” Arwen nodded.
“I will, Estel”, she replied softly and took his hand. For a long while they walked along the walls and looked out over the beautiful Minas Tirith. Soon the cloak of darkness shrouded the sky, but the summer night was warm and they stood with their arms round each other, not wanting to let go. And when they returned to their chamber they did make love, the first time they had in a long while. Their union was gentle and passionate, and was more special to them than it it had ever been, both of them not wishing to break the unique bond they shared between them. And when at last they grew tired, they fell back onto the pillows of their marital bed and slept. Well, Arwen slept, seemingly more soundly than she had in weeks. Aragorn did not, but lay awake, his mind swimming with thoughts. He watched his wife as she lay against him, her long dark hair spread out behind her, a contrast to her flawless alabaster skin. She was beautiful, as always, but at the moment he was too troubled to appreciate her fair Elven beauty.
“Oh, Arwen…….”, he murmured sadly as he watched her sleep. Why was she leaving? After all the time they had shared together. It had taken him seventy years to gain her hand in marriage, and she had been a jewel worth waiting for, something worth fighting or dying for. And he could not put into words the sadness he felt at her leaving. But he had to let her go……….Aragorn suddenly felt restless and not at all weary so he rose and dressed himself, deciding to go for a walk. And he could hardly bear to look at her now knowing he would lose her in such a short time. But as he walked silently out of the room, he paused briefly and looked upon his Evenstar. She looked peaceful in her sleep, and looked as if a great weight had lifted from her shoulders. He could tell she had been sad and homesick these past few weeks, and if it would make her happier to go, he had to let her. But he was greatly troubled, and that was why he had risen from his bed in the night.
For he had held only one woman’s face in his mind while he had made love to Arwen tonight, and it was not her. The White Lady of Rohan it was, and yet Aragorn thought of her with a great pain. He could feel the memory of Helm’s Deep seeping into his brain, penetrating the confused fog of thoughts whirling around in it…The vision of the White Lady echoed in his head as her words came back to him like a lightning flash; swift yet terrible……………
“What do you feel?………..”
“Will you not confide your fears in me?…………”
“……this is too good a dream to be reality………..”
“Do you not love me more?!………..”
“Whatever hope bestows on you in battle, at least I will have been loved by you………”
“The women of Rohan are never afraid, my king……………”
“I had your love once…………….that will always remain special to me.”
Aragorn came back to the present, breaking out of his thoughts, and found his feet had carried him to the city walls, where he had stood with Arwen only hours before. The breeze of the summer night rippled through his hair and refreshed him, clearing his head. “Eowyn”, he muttered to himself. “Eowyn”. He liked the sound of her name when he said it. But he did not like the feelings he had for her. And that night had been but an awful mistake, both of them knew that and neither had ever mentioned it again. Aragorn knew how wrong his thoughts were, but as he moved closer to the walls, he became aware of a figure standing nearby, apparently oblivious to his presence. It was Eowyn, and she wore a deep-blue mantle wrought with silver stars about her, for under she only wore her thin nightgown and the night was cool. Her curls were fastened loosely into coils on either side of her head. As he came closer she turned and looked surprised at his coming, yet bowed. “Good evening, King El- Aragorn”, she smiled, remembering just in time to call him by his true name.
As she did so, her mantle slipped off and fell to the ground. Blushing, she bent to retrieve it, but, “Allow me”, said Aragorn, and, picking it up, handed it back to her. Eowyn quickly swathed herself in it again, as it was hardly appropriate to let a man see you in your night-attire(except your husband). Though he has seen far more……she found herself thinking, but brushed away the thought. For a moment there was an akward silence, the wall torches flickering eerily, then he finally spoke.
“What brings you here, my lady?”, he asked quietly. “Why do you seek solitude?”.
“I….it is nothing, I just wanted to be alone”, said Eowyn, hesitating. Aragorn nodded in assent, looking up to gaze at the starlit sky.
“In that case, I forgive the intrusion”, he said sincerely. “I shall leave you.” But she looked somehow stricken that he might leave.
“Nay!”, she cried, then realizing she sounded a bit too eager, lowered her tone of voice. “I mean, nay…keep me company, please.”
“As you wish”, he said, and they sat down together sat on a nearby stone bench, beautifully carved, looking out at the city. “But do tell me why you are here at this time of night.”
“I could enquire the same of you, my lord”, she answered quickly, a smirk on her face. Aragorn laughed briefly.
“I could not sleep……..I had need of a quiet place to think.”, he said slowly, the smile fading from his face.
“What were you thinking about?”, asked Eowyn softly, despite the strange feeling stirring inside her at being so close to him. Aragorn’s eyes widened. No!, he thought, panicking as he strove to find something to say. I cannot tell her what I was thinking! Though it haunts my thoughts day and night……
“Nay, it was nothing impor-“, he began nervously, before he was cut off by Eowyn.
“You were thinking what happened between us at Helm’s Deep, were you not, my lord?”, she said purposefully, her voice suddenly harsh and cold and she eyed him keenly. Aragorn gulped.
“There is no fooling you, lady, is there?”, he sighed, his gaze straying to the ground. Eowyn still eyed him fixedly and said nothing, so after a moment he was forced to look upon her again. “I began to think of it after our conversation in the garden earlier this day. I think of it often, I must confess, though I know not why.” Eowyn took his hand.
“And I think of it too”, she said, her voice softer now. “But it pains me to. And also to think of the lies you told me.” Aragorn looked on her questionably, then realisation dawned.
“I said I loved you. Yet I did not mean it.”, he said sadly, letting go her hand and walking to the beautiful walls of the White City, his kingdom. Eowyn came and joined him a minute later. She stared at the streets below and deftly released her golden hair from its bonds so it glimmered in the faint torchlight. Aragorn gazed upon her in wonder, for it seemed her beauty had grown over time. But he tore his eyes from her and forced himself to think of other things.
“You did not”, she replied sadly. “But I do not blame you for your decision. I was not right for you, as you were not right for me.” Aragorn looked at her sorrowfully, his steel-grey eyes unblinking.
“Nay, lady, you were not”, he conceded, and took her hands as she stood there. Beautiful and captivating as she was, child of the Eorlingas*, so fair, so cold, so wonderful, and yet he could not love her. Arwen would depart over the seas, but she would still be with him in thought and memory, forever. Aragorn felt cold all of a sudden, as if an icy fist was clamping down on his heart. He closed his eyes for a moment, as if to think all this had been a dream, but when he opened them, still Eowyn stood there holding his hands, looking at him as if expecting him to say more.”But in this case, the love me and the Lady Arwen share is not all it seems.”, he added.
At this his voice cracked, and Eowyn looked at him pityingly as she saw he was struggling to fight back the tears of pain that threatened to consume him. But he cleared his throat and continued on steadily. “Oh, Eowyn, perhaps you are not the right person to talk to about this, but she…….she wishes to leave.” Eowyn looked fearful and her eyes were round and incredulous.
“Leave?”, she murmured, shocked, but still holding his hands. Aragorn nodded, his face lined with worry and pain.
“To Valinor. The Undying Lands. Nigh on two days.”, he said simply, finding it easier to control his tears if he spoke in short sentences. But then he found confidence to say more, such was the nature of Eowyn’s beseeching gaze. “I love her so, and she loves me, but she cannot stay. She misses her people.” Eowyn squeezed his hands comfortingly to show she understood and then let them drop to his sides.
“I am sorry.”, she whispered. But for Aragorn it seemed the spell he had been under while gazing into her eyes had broken. He turned and made to leave, but something stopped him. He looked back to Eowyn, and she came closer, the brightness of the pale moon illuminating her striking features. And as she drew nearer he felt better for some reason.
“Lady, the hour is late and the night is growing old. You must hasten to your bedchamber”, he said kindly, yet firmly. “Your husband will be waiting.” Eowyn smiled briefly.
“Yes, Faramir is waiting”, she said vaguely, as though waking from a dream. But then her voice changed. “And Arwen will be waiting, my lord”, she answered smartly, then hurried away. Aragorn stood a moment, feeling a new strength in him to go back to his bedchamber and sleep beside his wife once more, then swiftly walked back to the royal chambers. He undressed once more and slipped into bed, exhausted. And, as he drifted off to sleep, his strong arms curled about his Evenstar, he found comfort and respite from his fears and pain. For that night, the first time in a long while he did not once dream of Eowyn.
* Eorlingas= What the Rohirrim call themselves(e.g. Theoden’s battle cry “Forth Eorlingas