The Lap of Time
1. The Lap of Time
The Sack of the Gods, Rudyard Kipling
"You will find her much changed." Eldarion paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned back to face his great-grandfather, worry contracting his brows. "She tried, at first, to be as she always was, but now…"
Celeborn steeled himself and nodded. He had thought his farewells said several seasons ago, but when he heard Eldarion was king and Arwen still lived, he rode for Minas Tirith. He could not abandon his granddaughter in her grief and despair.
Eldarion opened the door. Warm, summer sun streamed in the window limning two beautiful girls. Two sets of identical grey eyes raised up to meet his, eager welcome overcoming surprise in them, as he paused in the doorway. The music filling the room stopped as one girl put down her lute, and stood. The other rose smoothly and slid the plate of dainties she had been offering to a third person onto a low table next to a chair.
Arwen sat in the well-padded chair, looking much as she always had. No grey streaked her abundant blue-black hair. Her face was still smooth and unlined. But Arwen's beauty had always resided as much in the animation of her face, the sparkle of intelligence in her eyes and the sweetness of her smile as in the delicate molding and regular perfection of her features. Her open and unfocussed eyes, their light extinguished, showed only the dull grey of an unswept hearth. The cherry red dress she wore emphasized her pallor and wrinkled creases showed she had lost weight since it was made. Her shoulders sagged against the cushions and her head listed to the side. Next to her glowing granddaughters, Arwen seemed like a beautiful, broken doll, and Celeborn feared he knew neither tools nor techniques to mend her.
Celeborn paused in the doorway, as Eldarion flapped his hands dismissing his daughters. They gave their father a formal curtsey. Celeborn held out his arms, and received quick hugs as they exited.
"Do not leave her alone. Call us," whispered in one ear.
"We will be right outside on the terrace," murmured into the other.
They were gone, closing the door behind them. Celeborn took a few steps into the room, but his steps dragged slower and slower. He felt Arwen not as a presence, but as an absence. She had been overwhelmingly vital, but now she slumped in the center of a grey pool that seemed to fade to nothing.
Kneeling at Arwen's feet, Eldarion picked up his mother's unresisting hands, tucking them into his own.
"Mother? The council meeting starts soon. Will you not come and give us your advice?" When she made no sign that she had heard him, he asked again, louder. "Mother? The Council?"
A sigh shivered down Arwen's body and she blinked. Her head moved to the side in half a tired shake and she tried to withdraw her hands from under her son's larger ones. "Start without me. I will come… later."
Eldarion dropped a kiss onto her fingers. "As you wish. Your place at the table waits for you, and we miss your wisdom in our councils." He gave her fingers a squeeze. "I have brought someone you will wish to see."
Arwen's head gave a shudder of negation. Eldarion surrendered her hands to Celeborn who took his place at Arwen's feet. She stared at Celeborn for a second, then dropped her eyes as her head drooped sideways.
"Arwen." Celeborn said, reaching out to stroke her cheek. He held himself still, a well of compassion in the face of her grief. He gestured with his head, and Eldarion slipped out of the room.
After a few minutes when neither of them moved, she tightened her lips and pushed her knuckles against her mouth. She breathed out a long, shuddering sigh. "Oh, grandfather! It is not how I thought it would be."
Her voice was soft and defeated. Celeborn ached with her despair as he stroked his thumb over her fingers. He knew no mere words could comfort the anguish he felt in her, for he had never before felt a loss so profound. Anyone else he knew would have fled to the Havens and sailed West or long ago left their body behind and sought Mandos.
"To decide to stay did not seem foolish. We were often apart, but it was never like this." Arwen twisted her hands into her skirts and rubbed at the tears that dripped down on her fingers. "He went east for ten years after we were betrothed. He rode to war many times. Our love was enough. I did not need him with me every moment. Why would now be different? He would be gone. I would be here. I would do my tasks and live my life as I always did when he ventured forth. I would hold his grandchildren's grandchildren and tell them stories of him, and remember his smile, the warmth of his hands. I could keep fresh the justice and mercy he brought to this land. There was so much that I felt I could still see and do. But it is not…" Her voice trailed off.
"Did Aragorn not wish you to go with him?" Since the day they had returned from Cerin Amroth hand in hand, Celeborn had blithely assumed Aragorn and Arwen would go beyond the circles of the world together, as he had heard Luthien and Beren had.
"Yes, but I thought I need not go. There is no time outside of Arda. What would it matter if I lingered here a while? I felt no call and life was still sweet." She looked up at last and met Celeborn's eyes with her own that were deep wells of pain. "He is gone. I feel him nowhere. Since the moment of our bond, I knew him, I felt him, and now…" Her hands blindly groped outward, seeking. Celeborn caught them in his own and brought them to his breast. "He is gone and I am alone."
She wrenched her hands away from his and buried her face in them, twisting her body away. "I cannot find the way to him."
"It is not an easy thing, to die as Men do and leave the circles of the world," Celeborn said.
Her hands dropped and he saw her eyes moist and glassy. "Not for him. He was certain and went serenely to his fate even though I sought to hold him here. He paused for me, I think, as he started the journey but I could not find the strength to go with him. I have always been a coward." She spat out the word. "We should have gone together into the unknown but for my fears. I understand why Lúthien begged the Valar for Beren's return, but I am lesser in all things, and that way is closed to me."
Arwen huddled into the corner of the chair. Celeborn took her arm and drew her to her feet, clasping her close in his arms and cradling her head onto his shoulder. "No, Arwen, no," he whispered into her hair. "You need not be Lúthien. How many times have we had this discussion?"
"You always told me there was time enough still, but my life is over and I have accomplished no great deeds," she said.
Celeborn had never heard her sound so defeated. He held her away from his shoulder and tilted up her chin so she was forced to meet his eyes.
"I remember Lúthien and Beren well. Arda was different then, a patchwork of fiefdoms with every petty lordling of Men styling himself a king. Beren led his little rag-tag warband very well, and roamed Beleriand seeking out the plots of the enemy. But he was not a king as Aragorn was, nor Lúthien a queen. They took no thought for more than their own quests. You know Lúthien's great deeds, but she could dance for a season and be surprised that others toiled. I swear to you, in the coming Ages of Men, they will be forgotten and you will be remembered."
Arwen's eyes dropped away from his and her shoulders twitched up in what, with a little more resolution, could have been a shrug. "Who will remember me and for what? I had no part in Sauron's downfall. I sat safe while others accomplished great deeds."
Celeborn gave her a small shake. "Arwen," he admonished her. He towed her, sluggishly resisting, to a window that overlooked the city. Grasping her arms he faced her into the opening. "What do you see?"
"Nothing." She started to turn away.
Celeborn twisted her back again. "Look more closely."
She stared out the window and the silence dragged out. At last, she said, "Very well. I see the townlands, fields, orchards, ships on the river in the distance. What should I see?"
"Peace, Arwen. The whole of Arda at peace."
"What does it matter?" Arwen leaned against the window frame.
Celeborn touched her shoulder and smoothed back a wayward strand of hair. "This Age began ravaged by evil. After Sauron's destruction, Men could have splintered and warred amongst themselves but you and Aragorn brought peace and justice and mercy, not only in Gondor but to all who sought your protection. Those are rare things. Peace runs from the ice sheets in the north to the deserts south of Umbar, from the great ocean to the sea of Rhun. There now live old men who believe that is the normal way of things, and forget the great evils that went before. People till their fields in peace, and watch their children live to grow old in turn. I, who have seen two Ages more than you, say, this is a new thing."
"This is Arda Marred," Arwen said, heaving a shaky sigh. "It will not last. It will fall and crumble away in pieces from petty, small things. My own children's children's children will turn it to ashes and dust and all we accomplished will be gone."
He watched her eyes, but they remained shrouded and remote. They did not meet his.
"Arwen!" He commanded her attention. "For all the Ages of the world to come, there will be a memory of this time; when mercy and bounty flowed unstinting from the hands of the queen and the king brought strength and justice. A time when peace covered all the world under the care of Elessar and Undómiel. It is your accomplishment, and it is no small thing."
Turning, Arwen walked away from Celeborn. Half way across the room, she slumped - head, shoulders, hips- until she was crumpled on the floor, hands clutching her upraised knees. The momentary flash of animation passed and she sat with muscles lax and unmoving. Celeborn hurried to kneel by her side. He took her in his arms and rocked her back and forth. Of all his children, Arwen had been the one who embraced change and waxed impatient with the stasis imposed in Lórien and Rivendell. She should not fear it now.
"Do not underestimate the strength of your descendents for Men are said to be the harbingers of great things. Have you no faith in the promise of Arda Healed?" Celeborn asked at last.
"I try to. He did." There was a long silence. Her expression softened, and her lips pulled back almost into a smile. "One day we were in my garden. Eldarion was in the in-between stage, all elbows and knees and clumsy on feet suddenly too big. He confronted his father saying that it was not fair that Men should die and that he would no longer honor Eru, who found Men of so little worth that they lived and were discarded so quickly. Aragorn looked at him in that way he has, and after a minute, Eldarion sat down, but he shook his head and with great resolution in the face of his father's obvious displeasure said, 'I am sorry, father, but it still seems Men are held to be of less worth in the scheme of Arda.'
"Aragorn pointed to a rose I had tucked in my hair, and asked what was the use of it. Eldarion said it was beautiful and honored to grace me, which was a pretty compliment for one so young. Aragorn led him to see all the other things a rose is; for medicine, for seasoning, for perfume, to feed bees and other insects, that its roots hold the soil, and shelter all manner of tiny beasts and bugs. Eventually Eldarion admitted that it was many things beyond its obvious beauty.
"Aragorn put his hand on Eldarion's shoulder and said that everything in Arda has more than one purpose. If he looked around him he would see there is nothing that has one use only. When the music sounded, it already contained within it everything that Arda is, in a complexity too great for any mind save Eru's to comprehend. He turned Eldarion to face him. Taking the rose from my hair, he pressed it into Eldarion's hand and, smiling at him, said, 'Eru never wasted so much as a flower or a tree. How can you think he would squander souls? Men will have a part to play, before the new beginning, and after.'"
Arwen fell silent, withdrawn into her memories. She leaned heavily against Celeborn's shoulder.
"And did Eldarion accept that?"
Blinking as if to bring the present back into focus, she shrugged and said, "The talk moved on. He turned it into a lesson on statecraft and they spent the next hour discussing some tariff or other and how its affect would ripple through the guilds."
"Aragorn had much wisdom." Celeborn shifted as Arwen reared back and turned narrowed eyes on him in a fierce glare.
"He is - is! I will not believe - I do not want to believe - he is gone, squandered, and everything he is, lost. I wish now we had gone hand in hand beyond the Circles of the World, but I drew back." She drew in a long sobbing breath.
"He waits for you. Why do you linger? Go to him, Arwen."
Tears spilled down her cheeks, but a faint hope sparked in her expression. "I cannot find the way. I do not know where he is. I have begged the Valar to show me, but they do not speak to me. Perhaps they too are bound within Arda and cannot tell me. Grandfather, can you show me how to die as Men do?"
Escort her to the Havens and put her on ship; he could do that. Comfort a broken body as its feä sought Mandos; over the Ages, he had had far too much practice. Die as Men do? He could kill, but he would not, and did not think that was what she asked of him.
She babbled on. "I love him. But I love my children and their children. And my father and mother and brothers and you, grandfather. Soon a child of my daughter's daughter's daughter will be born. Eldarion still seeks my advice and swears Gondor needs me. I am torn all ways. He told me at the end, to repent my choice if life was still sweeter, and seek the Havens, but I cannot. I do not regret my marriage, but I never had the serenity he had in the face of Man's fate. Do you not understand? I want to go to him but I do not know how to die as he did!"
She looked at him with hope kindled and blazing in her eyes, but he had no method to offer, and her eyes slowly faded into cold-hearth sorrow again. He tightened his arms around her and lifted her. Sitting in her chair, he cradled her in his arms. Sounds of children playing in the gardens came in the window with the sun. Farther away, the commotions of the city and the court made a busy background hum.
Celeborn saw she was well beloved. Granddaughters, sons, and servants all hovered within call. A full plate held tiny, delicate morsels of her favorite foods to tempt her appetite. Her opinions were still sought. There was much to hold her here.
"Where were you happiest?" Celeborn asked her.
She stirred in his arms. "Here. These rooms. Sometimes, if I empty my mind very carefully and try to remember him, I can almost feel him, as if he is just outside the door, or lingering in the bed. But it slips away, and I am mistaken. It is Eldarion, or a page with wood for the fire, or..." She made a vague, hopeless gesture.
"Do you go down to the Silent Street to be with him?"
"He is not there. What lingers is an image of splendour, but I hold a finer in my heart."
The childish voices outside erupted into a quarrel; shouts of "Mine!" and "He started it!" quickly hushed by a firm, "Quiet now! You'll disturb the Queen."
Arwen would not find peace here. There must be a hunting lodge, or some smaller residence on the royal lands she could retire to, where the affairs of the court were not so insistent.
"Is there no other place you were happy with Aragorn? Where you could seek him in peace?"
Arwen started to shake her head, but paused and cocked it instead, brows wrinkling in thought. "Lórien," she sighed the word on a breath. A small smile crept onto her face. "Lórien! Of course. Oh, Grandfather, thank you!"
He tried to hide his dismay. "Is there nowhere in Gondor? I do not think you should go to Lórien."
Arwen sat up and touched his arm. "Why? It will be perfect. I am only sorry I have missed Midsummer. I have missed Midsummer?" Confusion clouded her face, but at his nod, she pressed on. "Our love was new there and every day was a discovery of something yet more wonderful."
He hated to have to dash the glimmer of hope he saw in her at last. "It is not as it was. There is nothing left in Lórien but the ghosts of dying trees." He swallowed the pain of loss and admitted, "I do not go there."
She leaned in to hug him, her check smooth against his. "I will not ask it of you." Her gaze strayed to the window and she studied the sky. She nodded. "It feels right to say I will go alone. The trees and I can die together. Perhaps they will show me the way." She squeezed him tighter, released him and knelt at his side.
"You are right. I have tried but cannot find peace here. Foolish old women come to me and assure me I will take joy in life again. That the loss of him is something I will heal from, as if his death were no more distressing than a broken bone. I sense for them it has been true, but I am not like them. There is no healing for me within the Circles of the World, for more than half of me has been ripped away. I am empty."
She laid her head in his lap. Looking down at her pale and fragile face, Celeborn doubted she retained the strength to fight if Eldarion insisted on sending her off with great pomp, as befit a Queen of Gondor. There would be much coming and going as couriers scurried back and forth. The baggage train would stretch along the road, and a full household would come with her to see to her needs. The men would not live in the remains of the flets, but build houses amidst the trees. Lórien would become a settlement, a village, another city of Men. Arwen would be as trapped there as here.
Or, he could overawe Eldarion and spirit her away, vowing to escort her himself, and get word back to Gondor of her end. He placed a gentle hand on her hair. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine it the silver-gilt of Galadriel's or the sunny brightness of Celebrian's. He stifled a gasp as pain contracted his heart and tears pricked behind his closed lids. This dark and difficult granddaughter asked much of him, and her loss would be so final.
"I will take you to the border of Lórien, alone. There you can be at peace and find your estel. Eldarion will not gainsay me."
Arwen nodded acceptance. Celeborn continued to stroke her hair, and tried to hide his own growing sadness at the thought of another parting.
"If he is right," she raised her head and met his eyes. Her despair seemed to be not so crushing. "If no soul is squandered - not his, not mine, not yours – then this is only a parting for a time, and your fate too is entwined with ours."
He did not know if he believed that, for the fates of Elves and Men were long sundered, but if she found peace in it, he hoped it was true.
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.