Many Guises and Many Names
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Lesser Ring: 31. The Temple of Neryet
The Temple of Neryet
A few more songs were sung. The Lady Arwen now held her son, had discretely nursed him beneath the cover of a light blanket, while the King An'Elessar had gathered his daughter into his arms, where she had fallen trustingly asleep. Amon'osiri and Ma'osiri both sat the floor on either side of their father, leaning against his legs, doggedly doing their best to stay awake. Nefirnerini and Hasturnerini sat where they could watch the drawing being done by Master Ruvemir and Owain. Lady Nefiramonrani looked at her husband with a hand on the head of each of their sons, and found herself smiling. Perhaps it was time....
"Husband," she said quietly, "I should like it if you would go with me tomorrow to the Lady Neryet's temple."
"If you wish, light of my heart. The Lady of Stars is worthy of all honor."
"Yes. I wished to have your help in placing white blossoms on her altar...."
He looked stunned, and his eyes widened with growing delight. "You are certain?" he asked. She nodded, relieved and even more elated. "How soon?"
An'Elessar looked her over carefully, then commented, "I should suppose in about six and a half months more."
"How do you know this?" demanded the newly expectant father.
The Northern King shrugged. "It appears to be part of the family gift of healing."
"Boy, or girl?" asked Pippin when he understood.
The King gave him a severe look. "First, that will be revealed in its own time. Second, it's still too early to know for certain. Third, my beloved friend but most curious of Tooks, it is none of your business!"
The Hobbit laughed but did not look in the least abashed. "As I told Gandalf as we rode for Minas Tirith, I won't be satisfied with less than the whole history of Middle Earth, the Sundering Seas, the Undying Lands, Elbereth's stars, and Overheaven itself!"
Nefiramonrani looked at the ladies present, including her sister. "I would ask you all to accompany me with your children, if you will. It is generally done to bring others with one at such times to share in the joy and the blessings."
Lady Lorieth looked uncertain. "We from the Northern Lands are not of your faith...."
"It does not matter at all--it is the general rejoicing that is important, not how you honor the Lords and Ladies of Creation. We already know you do this. And all the children can go to be blessed."
Soon after the time for this was fixed, all gave their wishes to one another for a peaceful rest, and they began to disperse for their quarters. The King and Queen indicated they would go out and look on the stars for a time before retiring, and accompanied by Legolas and Gimli, and with Benai on guard, they went out to do so.
After a time the Farozi, having sat for almost a mark and found himself not tired enough to take to his bed, went out into the gardens himself. He heard the song of Queen and Elf as he came out the doors, followed by his own guard. As had been true of the King on the first night, they stood near the Western wall, looking out over the Risen and the desert beyond, a cool breeze blowing their hair behind them. Both Elf and Queen seemed to glimmer in the light of moon and stars as they sang, and An'Sohrabi felt the back of his neck prickle, although not, he realized in fear so much as awe.
The song changed, and the King, who apparently held his son in his arms, joined in, his deeper tones running a marked counterpoint to that of the Elves. Then another, still far deeper voice was added, and An'Sohrabi realized that the Dwarf had also joined the song. Gimli sat further down along the wall, the child Melian on his lap. The song continued, flowed and changed, grew light and then deep and firm.
At last it was done, and the Farozi drew near at last. He looked at them, examining them as the light permitted. "Never have I heard such a song before," he commented.
"It was written by the same minstrel who wrote The Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers," the King smiled. "He has called it The Song of the Children of Iluvatar. He is the first to realize that in Minas Anor we have a unique environment where Elves, Men, and Dwarves have come to work side by side in cooperation and peace; so he wrote a song to be sung by all the voices. There is even a section to be sung by Hobbits that is a part of it, but only Pippin has ever sung it so far, and but a portion of it."
"And so the promise of the Ring has come true for you, but without the need for Its power," commented the Haradri in his accented Westron.
Gimli gave a brief nod of his head. "Yes, so much of what It promised has come about since It was destroyed. As if what It promised would have happened had he sought to take It!"
"Oh, It would have begun to make it appear that the promises were kept, before It took each and turned it inside out, destroying where It had promised growth, sowing disruption behind the facade of quiet--it would not have been the quiet of peace, but of distrust," the King answered. He looked out on the star of Osiri and smiled. "Dear Pippin--Eärendil and Frodo meeting one another. I hope the Valar find a way of making it come about."
The Elf gave a small laugh. "If anyone could bring it to pass, I suspect that Lord Elrond could do so--mayhaps convince his adar to come to Eressëa with him to meet this unique individual with the Light of Stars in his soul."
"You all seem to think of this Frodo Baggins as a blessed individual who is somehow beyond the mere mortal," the Farozi commented. "He is a Hobbit, and I have seen Hobbits here--how any such as they could be seen as belonging to a land more natural to Prince Legolas and the Lady Arwen here...." He realized he could not find words to more clearly express the thought.
An'Elessar nodded, sharing a look with the Elven Prince. Legolas gave a solemn smile. "Of the mortals I have met over the millennia, which I admit were relatively few until the birth of Aragorn here, few have reflected the Light of Being so clearly as to be easily discerned. Among those few are Aragorn himself, Gimli--and it is a rare thing to find it clearly seen by Elves in the Children of Aüle, and in Frodo. It can be seen in Sam, also, but it is a lesser Light in Sam."
The King shook his head. "Frodo's is the Light of Stars; Sam's is the Light of Anor. I think it more that you, as an Elf Lord, are merely more in tune with the Light of Stars."
"The Light of Being in Samwise Gamgee is very strong," the Queen agreed. "It waxes now, perhaps, as Sam continues to grow in understanding and compassion; but it has ever been there and discernible to those who would see."
The Elf shrugged, then turned back to the Lord of Harad. "We of the Eldar have ever been mostly attuned to the stars; and certainly in many ways Frodo is a most Elvish Hobbit. In any event the one who would be able to carry the Burden to Its destruction would ever be honored by us. I rejoice, Lady," he said, turning to Aragorn's wife, "that you set in motion the petition for the grace to be offered him."
"You spoke of brothers who died," the Farozi continued, looking to the King.
He sighed. "Yes," he said finally, "it appears that my mother conceived two other sons who were lost before the time for their birth. I had always desired brothers, growing up the only mortal child within Imladris--and having yours at hand much of the time while I matured is not the same, my lady wife." He smiled at her, and she looked at him indulgently. "I so wanted brothers, and my mother expressed her own grief more than once she had not been able to give such to me."
"When you make friendships, they appear to be very strong."
An'Elessar shrugged. "So it has proven. As I grew, more and more did Elrohir and Elladan become as my brothers, and we speak of each other so. Certainly we feel the strength of our relationship through Eärendil very intensely at times. The sons of my Uncle Halbaleg, the brother to my mother, and especially the eldest of the three, Halbarad who trained as a Ranger at the same time as did I, have ever been close to me since first we met when I returned to the Dúnedain of Arnor after I came of age; and I mourned his death before the walls of Minas Tirith as we fought together in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Halbaleg was Steward for me among our people while I grew up, and remained so until his death. Halbarad I named so after his father's death; and Halladan took his brother's place after his death in Gondor. And so it is that Lord Hardorn's brother is now officially the Steward of Arnor as Prince Faramir is that of Gondor."
"I could see the strength of his relationship with you this day as he called for you to throw up the ring you wear for him to catch with the arrow." Again the King laughed, and An'Sohrabi found himself joining in the laughter.
The King finally sobered some. "After Hardorn and I went to Rohan, I found Thengel King a kindly Man, and I warmed to him. A determined warrior he was, and fierce in the protection of his land and people. I watched the growing of his son, and saw how intensely he loved the child. But Thengel matured so swiftly compared to my own people, and at last I knew the time had come to go to Gondor to serve there.
"Ecthelion was the first among mortals I could have loved as a father, more so than my uncle, who was ever a bit stern. And Denethor was one whom I wished had been born brother to me--at the first, at least. Wise, discerning, a fine mind capable of deep logic, a love of lore and philosophy and languages and poetry, with as deep a love for his land and people as showed Thengel. He was almost as devious a strategist as an Elf, and was as excellent an archer as is his son. He was a competent swordsman, but nowhere as good as myself or his son Boromir. It was that which, first, brought about friction between the two of us, for I ever bested him in practice, and he was competitive to a fault and could not bear being bested in anything.
"Then arrived the family of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth, and all fell further apart. Finduilas of Dol Amroth was very reminiscent in many ways of my beloved Arwen here, and I was much drawn to her, although I could not love her as I do she who is now my wife. She found herself much drawn to both Denethor and myself, but in different ways. I learned that many mistook our friendship for love, and that some believed that Prince Adrahil would seek to marry her to me. The idea was laughable--no one knew for certain who I was or from whence I came. Indeed, many accused me of being the illegitimate son of Ecthelion, ignoring the Northern bow and sword I carried when I arrived in Gondor and my varying pronunciation of Sindarin. The only ones who realized who I might be were Ecthelion and Denethor--and even more did Denethor come to distrust me and my motives as a result.
"I developed a friendship both with Prince Adrahil and with his son Imrahil, who was newly come to manhood at the time. But there was never a thought on the part of any of us that I would ever be admitted to the family as the husband of one of the daughters of the house. Denethor developed love for Finduilas and saw my friendship with her as competition for her regard. I could not reassure him that this was untrue.
"At last word came that increased assaults on our lands in Eriador by orcs from the Misty Mountains and incursions from Angmar had cost us my Uncle Halbaleg and many others, and Hardorn and I must return North to see to the reordering of our defenses and the establishment of a new line of command. It was after that I went first to Rhun and then came here and met you.
"There have been few other close relationships I have developed until the time came for me to lead Frodo to Rivendell and the quest began. That I would come to love Frodo as a brother has taken all by surprise, including me. But such was his nature that all who came to know him well came to love him and bind themselves to him. Legolas and Gimli, Merry and Pippin have come to be close to me, but the quality of our friendship is different--it is friendship--intense friendship; but never have we seen the closer emotional bond I felt from the first with Frodo and which I've come to know also with Samwise." He laughed again. "And who would imagine that such a kinship should grow between myself and the gardener of Bag End, with trustworthy, simple, rustic Samwise Gamgee? Yet it has. And we have learned he is anything but simple.
"Boromir I came to admire and love, but as we saw the working of the Ring on his heart and mind I held myself somewhat back from him. It was easier for me to come to love his brother Faramir. Poor Théoden--too young when I was in Rohan when he was a child for us to develop a relationship; and elderly when I returned during the quest. Young as he was, Éomer has yet ever been more a fellow to me than was his uncle.
"And now there is Ruvemir. As you can see, he is a gifted artist, and has a warm and compassionate heart. It is his gift that he can come to see the faces of those he himself has not known and can give life to them through his pictures and even more so through his sculptures, large and small. The sculptures he did of Prince Adrahil and of me as Captain Thorongil for the city of Casistir were eerily accurate. He'd seen portraits and even a sculpture done from life of Adrahil, and had seen Imrahil personally and his sons and daughter and cousins such as Amrahil; but never had Ruvemir met me or any of my kindred. Yet all who have been in Casistir and have seen the memorial to the assault on the harbor of Umbar who have seen me as well have recognized me in the figure of Thorongil and Thorongil in me.
"I'd thought once I might become close to the minstrel who wrote the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, but it has not happened--not as yet, in spite of the shared love for song we have. I cannot say why this has failed to come to be. He is as compassionate as is Ruvemir and certainly as gifted; but it is as if he holds himself back from me, afraid to allow himself to come too close."
"I see," An'Sohrabi said. He thought for a time. "Amonrabi and Ma'osiri alone among our brethren did I come to be very close to, although many of the other sons of my father's concubines as well as their sons have proven themselves intensely loyal to me. Bherevrid did we all honor and love, and Rustovrid I've watched grow from childhood into a competent, watchful Man, full of integrity and wariness both. But few friends have I had beyond that, save when I took Mertirion into my home to teach my children."
Aragorn straightened. "You took Mertirion of Risenmouthe into your home?"
"You knew him?"
Aragorn laughed. "His father Meriti taught me what I knew of Harad and Far Harad and trading sufficient to come here as a trader. When I arrived Mertirion took me in hand and saw me introduced to Bhatfiri and Khafiramun."
The Farozi smiled. "Obviously you and I both came to honor the family." He turned to look out at the desert beyond the River under the light of stars and moon. "I often wished you had remained here in Harad, for I did come to honor you. When Ma'osiri was killed, and later as Amon'nerini and I watched our daughter die, so often I found myself wishing that Horubi'ninarin were here, either to assist or to ease our grief if nothing could be done. And when I suddenly found myself Farozi, a development I certainly never foresaw--I found myself wishing your counsel, for I sensed you would understand my fears and needs better than any others I'd ever known."
"You have done so very well by your land and people."
"Thank you. It was your example that ever inspired me. And now I find you yet in middle years while I am aged, and I see you inspiring my son as you once did my brother and myself."
The two rulers looked to one another, and into one another's eyes in the dim light of the night, and for the first time An'Sohrabi recognized that the eyes spoke of the true age of the Man he faced, and the memories they shared. And as the Lord King Aragorn An'Elessar finally bowed his good night and turned with wife and children and still silent guard to return to the quarters given to their use, he watched after and saw suddenly the hint of Light surrounding the King, as clear as the stars he delighted in so.
As the Man disappeared back into the palace, Legolas spoke, also looking after him. "As with Frodo, Aragorn also binds to him those who are honorable, my Lord Farozi. And the two both share the Light of Stars."
"Will he one day be granted entrance to the Undying Lands?"
The Elf shook his head. "No. He will live and die here in Middle Earth, and gladly go beyond the bounds of Arda when the time comes, and I shall lose him until the End of Days. And it is unlikely I shall see Frodo again, either, for I will not seek to sail from Middle Earth until Aragorn himself is gone, although the Sea Longing is upon me and will remain with me until at last that day comes. As a Hobbit Frodo is unlikely to live that long, even in Tol Eressëa."
The Dwarf, rather ostentatiously, rose and stretched. "Well, Elf, I am off to my rest. Will you come, or stand admiring stars all the night again?"
"I will see you in the morning then, Gimli," said the Elf. He gave a bow and disappeared into the night, singing softly as he went. Dwarf and ruler watched after him, then turned back to the house, parting as they approached the doors.
At breakfast the following morning the Farozi indicated he had his own tribute he wished taken to the Temple of Neryet. He was to meet that morning with those sent to follow up on the other messages sent out from Thetos the night of the attempted revolt and so could not go himself; and as Ankhrabi was the expectant father he would not dream of seeking to delegate the meetings to him.
"We would gladly take it for you," offered Aragorn, indicating his wife and himself.
"I would appreciate that," the Farozi said, smiling. "There is another thing--tomorrow early we will start for the Valley of the Sun. Are all of your people going to accompany you there, An'Elessar?"
There were a number of glances exchanged by the Northerners. "We have discussed the proposed visit a little, Lord An'Sohrabi," Prince Faramir said quietly, "but there has been little chance to understand what all would be involved. The Valley is one of your places of refuge and spiritual retreat, is it not so?"
"Yes, that is so. It is usually a place of pilgrimage, although requirements are few. We take little in terms of servants or retinue when we go, and there is no need to bring fine clothing, as those who come, slave and freeman alike, wear the same pilgrim garments.
"There are times of the day when all are quiet and speak as little as necessary to do what must be done and no more. There is no reason to attend the worship, study, or discussions offered by those who dwell there; but if you are interested you may freely attend what you will as long as you are courteous to the others who are there. Although I will warn you that some of the discussions have been known to become--lively--especially since the fall of the Death Eater. I will tell you this--much of what you have had to tell of the nature of that one and the one you have called Saruman would be of great interest to many there, as would much of what has been said here of the need to be vigilant that evil not take us again. All of your party would be welcome, adults and children, Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, and Men.
"Husbands and wives are still free to rejoice in one another; children are free to be the children they are and are not forced to be unduly solemn or artificially well behaved. Those who must practice with their weapons may do so during the appointed hours and in the proper places. Music, singing, and dancing for joy or grief are encouraged; artistry of all kinds is welcome when it depicts reason for honor and love; writing and recitation of what has been written is encouraged.
"They have the most extensive archives in the land, for the Death Eater was not able to enter the Valley to destroy them as he caused to happen elsewhere. Many come solely to read the ancient histories of our land and the old tales."
"How would we come there?" asked An'Éomer.
"It would be necessary to ride. However, I do not keep an extensive stable here, here in the center of Thetos. It would be better if we left from the Western Palace--which would necessitate staying there this night and the night of our return. I would suppose you would wish to take with you your weapons chest that those accustomed to do weapons practice may do so?" At the general indication of agreement, he continued, "You would need undergarments for up to three nights in the Valley, and such toiletries as you feel necessary. You may carry with you the regalia for your positions for their safekeeping, but may not wear crowns or carry swords or rods of office outside our quarters while in the Valley unless you attend one of the solemn celebrations, which will not occur, to my knowledge, during our proposed visit. You will need appropriate undergarments for the young ones, and those things which will amuse them. You may bring any books or works of your hands you please."
"May we carry our pillows?" asked Master Isumbard.
The Farozi smiled, and his son laughed aloud. "Yes, Master Isumbard, you may bring such."
An'Éomer asked, "So we will need clothing for two days. What type of clothing would be best for the ride through the desert?"
"Loose trousers and shirt and an outer robe that is loose that covers the entire body, including the head."
The King advised, "For those who have their Lorien cloaks, I would suggest using those as an outer garment." He turned to their hosts. "May we borrow the robes of bodyguards for Lord Benai and those taller ones who travel as our guard of honor? It would be more meaningful to your own folk."
"That would be simple enough," agreed Ankhrabi. "Those on duty alone may carry their swords, but only while they follow their lords abroad. To do otherwise would not be seemly."
"So I would have advised them." The two shared a smile.
"The rest of your things seal into your personal chests for while we are gone. Amonrabi will assign a guard to see that your quarters are not violated during our absence." The Farozi straightened. "It will be good to enter the Valley of the Sun again. I find it ever restful."
"One other thing," An'Elessar added to his folk, "when we arrive all are required to bathe, women in one place and men in another. You may wear your small clothes in the bath if you wish for the sake of modesty, although such is not necessary."
"It is a communal bathing room?" asked Isumbard.
"Babari," asked Nefirnerini, "if we stay in the Western Palace tonight, may we go swimming then?"
"Of course, Lotus Blossom," answered her father. "Now, go with your Mamari and gather your things you will need, for when we return we will go aboard the barge immediately."
The party of those going to the Temple of Neryet was a merry one. The King, trailed by Lord Hardorn, carried his son in his arms, while the Queen carried a great sheaf of flowers, and Benai carried with him a great wreath of white blossoms as well as the King's healer's bag. Melian walked with the older girls, listening as Nefirnerini and Hasturnerini chattered about what kinds of homes they hoped to have when they grew up, and how many children each hoped to have one day. The twins walked alongside Master Ruvemir and Owain, who carried their sketch booklets with them. Today their father walked beside the sculptor as well, asking him to tell him how it was to meet the King, and laughed to hear the details of how the rough stranger dressed in worn green leathers had come to his worksite, accompanied by one with a bow to sit, smoke, and examine the work in progress, and how annoyed but increasingly intrigued he'd been at the time. Then Pippin had described meeting Strider the Ranger in the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree, and how terrified and thrilled he'd felt at the time, and laughter grew among that small party. Aragorn looked across at the group and shook his head, smiling. When Éomer added how Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli had appeared to rise out of the grass of Rohan itself and had told of three days spent following Uruk-hai across the miles from Amon Hen, and how close all three came to being skewered on the ends of lances, the laughter spread.
"What are Uruk-hai?" asked Amon'osiri.
"The greater of the trugdels," their father answered, his smile fading at the thought of them.
Nefirnerini shivered. "They chased after trugdels? Whatever for?"
Pippin sighed, looking across to catch the King's eyes. "They'd captured Merry and me, and were carrying us back to Isengard, my Lady," he said. "They were trying to save us. In the end it was partly the Rohirrim and partly dumb luck and the ability to escape into Fangorn Forest unseen that saved us. They ran all that way, and found we didn't need saving after all--instead they found Gandalf returned while Merry and I met Treebeard."
"We yet chose the right path in the end," the King added, smiling. "When we reach the Western Palace, will you swim with me, Pippin?"
"Will it be safe? None of those crocodiles we saw in the marshes?"
"None," promised Ankhrabi.
"What of those we saw in the delta marshes?" asked the King.
"River wardens were sent to capture them yesterday. They found six, two of them quite young. They are already on their way back south to the marshes of Ba'alset."
"That's good," Pippin said.
"It was rather enjoyable hunting them when I was here before," Aragorn said. "And satisfying to know they wouldn't be killed, but taken safely where they belonged instead."
Isumbard looked at his cousin. "You won't go swimming, will you, Pippin?"
The taller Hobbit looked on his cousin with pity. "I can swim quite well, and you know it, Bard."
"It's just so--so unnatural, is all."
"Just because you've always been a Smial Hobbit...."
Ma'osiri, when the interchange had been translated by his father, asked, "Don't smiling Hobbits swim?"
Both Pippin and Isumbard roared with laughter, as did several others about the group. Master Ruvemir had to stop still and lean on his cane as he laughed. Even Ankhrabi was nonplused.
At last Captain Peregrin calmed his mirth. "I called him a Smial Hobbit, not a smiling Hobbit. We live either in long, low houses, or in homes tunneled into the sides of hills and ridges. Those homes that are dug into the earth we call smials. The largest complex of smials in the entire Shire where we live is in Tookland, the Great Smial, and that's where I live now. I grew up mostly on a farm that the Tooks own, however; so although I live in the Great Smial now, I've not always been a Smial Hobbit. And my cousin Merry is a Brandybuck who lives in Brandy Hall by the Brandywine River. All the Brandybucks tend to learn to swim; and he and Frodo taught me how to do so when I was a very small child." He sighed. "Frodo was always such a graceful swimmer as well as a dancer. Never took any chances, especially with the River; but he never lost his love of swimming until the quest. He didn't resent the River after his folks drowned, but he respected it, he did. Mostly, of course, we'd be swimming in the Water, the lake near Hobbiton, during our visits to see him and Bilbo in Bag End during the summers. But I've seen him swim the across Brandywine a time or two."
"Sensible Hobbits don't swim," Isumbard sniffed.
"Sensible Hobbits like Cousin Drogo tend to drown if they fall into rivers, too," pointed out Pippin.
"Primula could swim, and it didn't help her."
"She bumped her head coming up under the boat and stunned herself. Had she come up alongside it instead, she'd probably have managed to save both herself and Drogo. It's hard to see what might be above you when you're surfacing in the dark, and Uncle Sara said there was no moon that night--just starlight."
"Well, I'll not be swimming."
Pippin shook his head pityingly. "As hot as it is, I'll be glad to. Haven't been swimming since Merry and I were teaching Elanor and Frodo-lad and Rosie-lass last summer. Oh, and Aragorn--you'll never believe it, but Sam asked Merry to teach him at least how to float."
"Did he? He's always been eminently sensible. Did he ask you to teach the children how to swim?" Pippin nodded. "He's determined they won't be as vulnerable as he was."
"Elanorelle is almost as accomplished a swimmer as Frodo was. It was hard for Sam and Rosie to get her to stay out of the Water for the rest of the summer."
Again the King laughed, but gently.
They reached the barge that served as a ferry to the temple complex West of the River, and all filed aboard, Isumbard moving as far to the center as he could get. Soon they were across and disembarking, and the King signed to Hardorn to drop coins into the bargekeeper's hands with words of thanks.
The Temple of Neryet was the most graceful--and perhaps the oldest--which they'd yet seen. "Oh," said the Lady Éowyn, "but it is so very beautiful!"
Nefiramonrani nodded, glad to enter its coolness. All quieted with respect as they entered the building. They could see that there were tables set about the room, where sat cages of white doves and banks of flowers of all sorts. Husband and wife led the way, Ankhrabi having taken the great sheaf of white flowers his attendant had carried in his own arms, and together he and Nefiramonrani approached the central table where they bowed deeply, then set their offering on it respectfully.
A priestess appeared from behind the table, and looked on them serenely. "You may set the flowers into the water," she said quietly.
The two smiled in return and stepped forward, then began removing stalks of flowers and greens from the sheaf and setting them into a long tank of water that ran all along the length of the back of the narrow altar. The others watched. Lorieth, Éowyn, and the Lady Arwen had been advised they ought to bring flowers predominantly of blues and reds to mark they were the mothers of sons, and now the Queen of Rohan and Princess of Ithilien accepted from other attendants the bouquets they'd brought, and the three moved forward with them, uncertain as to which table they ought to approach. The priestess saw their uncertainty, and in Westron advised them, "Over at that table you may place them." They inclined their heads in thanks, and moved to the indicated altar where they curtseyed deeply, then moved forward to set their offerings also into place. Avrieth reached out to take Eldarion from his father's arms, and he let the child go reluctantly, then took the wreath from the Farozi from Benai, and stood, waiting patiently.
"This is not from yourself?" asked the priestess.
"The Lord An'Sohrabi sends it in thanksgiving for the advent of another grandchild," the King answered in Haradri.
She smiled in appreciation for his courtesy. "He has ever been a generous Lord," she commented.
He examined her. "Then you were wife to Bhatgebamun?" he asked.
"Yes." She smiled. "You have heard the story."
His face had become solemn. "Yes, I have heard it and more. I grieve at the loss of your husband. All appear to remember him with honor."
"Yes, all do. And, having lost him, I could not think of perhaps taking another and finding myself less happy in the future. So, I came here, and the Lady of Stars has eased my loss and given me purpose." She examined him. "You are the Lord An'Elessar, and the one my husband's babari knew as Horubi'ninarin?"
"A Man devoted to the Stars of Neryet. Yes, I can see that is true." She searched his eyes. "Older than most you are already, and yet you will remain years yet." She turned to look at the Queen where she set the last of her blossoms into the trough behind the table where her offering had been made. At last Arwen straightened, stepped back, and gave a profound curtsey, then turned to meet the eyes of her husband. The priestess straightened as she saw the Queen's eyes and face, her eyes widening with surprise. "She is no mere mortal."
"No, she is not. She is the daughter of Elrond Half-Elven, the granddaughter of Eärendil and Elwing, descended from kings of Men and of Elves both."
"Osiri's own grandchild?" she asked, her awe deepening as Arwen approached.
"Yes," Arwen said gently. "Undomiel am I, the Evenstar of my people, the sign our time in Middle Earth is now over and our folk must sail at last West or fade at the end as the Day of Man brightens."
"Yet you have taken as husband a mortal."
"He, too, is descended from Eärendil, as are the most of those from among Men who attend him, including that one," she said, indicating where Benai stood patiently with the other guards of honor.
"And you have sacrificed your immortality for his sake...."
"And accepted the other form of immortality, that which is granted to your people. I will not willingly leave his side."
"Yet you shall be sundered when one or the other of you goes," the priestess said.
"For but a short time," the King said, his eyes on those of his wife. "For but a short time, and then we will be together again and may enter the Presence together." He looked into the eyes of the priestess again and smiled softly. "As it will be true for you, also. He awaits you with all patience, you will find."
She smiled a woman's smile this time, tears of joy filling her eyes. "I will wait equally patiently, then, until that day comes." He reached forward to cover her hand with his own, and she felt an odd thrill of joy fill her, looked up into eyes where she saw the confirmation he was indeed descended from the Lord of the Star of Hope.
Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani now stepped back from the altar where they'd worked together, each placing their flowers just so. As they bowed deeply, the King inclined his head gracefully to the priestess, then turned to take the Farozi's gift to the same altar, to set it there with deep respect, then stepped back to bow with the singular grace he bore.
Other priests and priestesses had come forth, and among them the high priestess, who uttered the blessings over those who now knew they awaited the birth of a child in months to come, and to the children born already and brought before her. Arwen had taken back her son, and Melian now stood close beside her, and all the women bent over the two of them in honor and respect and the simple pleasure all women of good will feel in the presence of children.
Then at last the high priestess looked up into the eyes of the Northern Queen and saw there reflected the Light of Stars--and she paused. "You do us great honor, Lady, deigning to come to a temple of Men honoring She whom you know so much better than we do."
"Yet my lot is now cast among those of your kind. But the Lady Varda has ever blessed my people."
"You will find, child of the evening, that she has but given you into the hands of her own for your cherishing, to prepare you for when you find your way further than she can come again for many ages of Middle Earth yet. Then it will be you who will greet her."
The Queen's face fairly shone with the glory of her solemn joy and delight.
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