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Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise up from the Ash: 5. Leaving Lothlórien
In the twilight that had fallen upon Lórien, time ran its strange courses. The days slipped by swiftly, and the nights stalled, run aground upon a deeper Night and its growing clangors and silences. The Song was shifting – its Measures beat out the weeks in a haste that even Men might marvel at. Time was running out...
Pippin gazed up at the waxing moon, which rode pale and high in the afternoon. Soon we will leave this place, he thought regretfully. The world outside remained a shadowy horror, but over the course of long, aimless days, he had felt his grief ease gently aside, drawing back from him enough that it no longer crippled him. And though the darkness remained deep beyond the golden woods, he, irrepressible as ever, faced it now with a sense of determined anticipation. But for the moment, he was more than content to remain absolutely still and let the world flow past him.
"I wonder if Mr. Bilbo is looking at that same moon," said a wistful voice at his side. Pippin glanced right and saw Sam standing there, gazing up intently.
"I shouldn't wonder if he were," Pippin replied. "Funny, isn't it? I haven't noticed the moon of late, yet it seems to me that I've seen it like this before. I wonder how long we've been here."
"Strider says time is different here, but what he means by that I couldn't say, unless it means just this: all the days run together, and somehow Moria seems very far away." But as remote as the vast mines and terrible, darksome splendor of Khazad-dûm were, the hobbits fell awkwardly silent. Gandalf's face flashed before Pippin's eyes, and he felt his heart speed in response. When we set out, Gandalf shan't be with us, and there will be no waiting for him to arrive and save us. Now it is up to us! The time was now past when he would have shuddered at the very thought, or wept; but he felt a thrill of dread nonetheless. Beside him, Sam was blushing fiercely, whether from embarrassment for the slip or in an effort not to cry himself, Pippin knew not.
"Time does flow by here, like a river over rocks: heedlessly, I mean. And though I do want to stay, I have this feeling that it is time to move on at last."
"So do I, sir," Sam replied, nodding, his plain face set in a stalwart expression that caused Pippin to frown and blink, for he had not seen the other in such a mood before. "So do I, and Mr. Frodo does, too."
"Say Sam, how is old Frodo? He keeps much to himself these days," Pippin inquired.
Samwise glanced at him from the corners of his eyes, and when he spoke it was with great reluctance. "Yes, well… I suppose he has, sir. And… you being his friend… I don't like to speak where I'm not wanted, Mr. Pippin, but I don't like how he's so quiet all the time. Of all of us, he seems the only one who hasn't got past that blasted bridge, if you understand me."
"I do indeed. Not that we shall ever truly 'get past' I suppose," Pippin replied thoughtfully. "But you mean he hasn't moved away from it at all."
"Aye, that's it. He clings to it, sir, and won't let nothing, not even Lothlórien, pull him away. That's no way to start a long journey – I know that now! And it isn't right, I think. There's something more in this than… than Gandalf's fall." Sam managed with only a slight stumble to force the words out. "I think he must have – "
Of a sudden, he stopped, scowling, and spots of red appeared once more on his cheeks. "Go on," Pippin urged, unwilling to let the matter drop here. "Frodo must have what?"
"I don't know as I'm supposed to say anything." Sam tried lamely to avoid an answer, but Pippin only shook his head and laid his hands on the other's shoulders firmly.
"Sam lad, you must tell me! If something is amiss with Frodo, then we must try to help him. But how can I do that if I don't know what is wrong?"
"It's just… it concerns the lady," Sam coughed, and his eyes cut upward to the treetops, where lay the hall of Galadriel. Pippin pursed his lips in a low whistle.
"Well, if that is it, then you must tell me – that can't keep! I mean, if the lady has said something to worry or help him, it can't lie silent. Well, can it, Sam?" the young Took pressed, more in earnest than he had perhaps ever been in his life.
"All right, all right! We, Mr. Frodo and me, we went with the lady Galadriel to her mirror. Just a basin filled with water, but you could see… visions… in it," Sam admitted. "I don't know if any are true, or if they're all only in my head, if you know what I mean. The lady said some don't come to pass, because the future is not something to be grasped from the present. But I think… I am nearly certain that Mr. Frodo saw something he didn't like. Something on top of everything else, for enough's happened to unsettle even Strider. But this touched something deeper, I think."
"And you don't know what he saw? He would not say?"
"No, sir, he wouldn't. Very queer it was: he and the lady started talking, and they both seemed to know what the other meant, but I couldn't make heads nor tails of it." Sam paused, shaking his head ruefully. "Something about rings and the Dark Lord, and the First Song of the Aye-noor," he said at last, pronouncing that last quite awkwardly.
"The Song of the what? What are these… these… creatures?"
"As I said, sir, I don't rightly know. I think, though, that Elbereth is one, or perhaps close to one. Might be a question for Legolas or Strider, if I thought I could explain why I was asking! But Mr. Frodo seemed dreadfully pale of a sudden, and Lady Galadriel, too. As if they had both thought of the same thing, and didn't like it at all."
"And you haven't any idea what it might be," Pippin sighed, discouraged.
"No sir," Sam replied softly, bowing his head. "Not for the likes of me is such talk. Me, now, I've enough to worry over with just my Gaffer and wanting to go home to my own hole in Bagshot Row – I miss him, sir! Him and… and Rose, too, especially!" That last came out in a punctuated rush, as if torn from Sam by his own conscience, and he seemed close to tears. Pippin swallowed hard, and put his arms about the other's shoulders and gave him a gentle shake.
"There now! Brave lad!" Pippin mumbled by way of clumsy consolation. Bagshot Row, and the Cotton's farm. Rosie Cotton…. It was hard to comfort someone when one suffered from the same affliction, but Peregrin Took gave as easily as he laughed. Besides, he felt guilty, knowing that his own feelings for Rose Cotton were hardly disinterested, and that Sam had not the least suspicion. Years ago he had fallen under the spell of Farmer Cotton's lovely daughter, but tween-aged shyness had got the better of him.
Not that it would have mattered if I'd said a word, for she'd eyes only for Sam. And I wouldn't think of trying to convince her to look my way, when Sam loves her so, he thought. Still, it was hard to wish Sam well of her, in this time and place, when he knew that to do so meant he would never achieve his heart's desire.
"And that's not all, sir," Sam whispered, hoarse with the effort to control his tears. "Bad enough, missing home and Rose and the Gaffer, but there's worse things. I couldn't tell this to Mr. Frodo, it would've been cruel. But I can't keep it to myself either. I saw something in that Mirror. It was almost at the end of the visions when suddenly everything got very dark. I was about to pull back, when the water… it wavered and it seemed as though there were shapes in it. Nazgûl, I thought to myself. And they were, sir! Black Riders pressed so close in a ring about us that I couldn't see even the sky – but then I couldn't even look that far up, I think!" Sam paused, and his voice grew softer, yet more shrill as it tightened further. "Me and Mr. Frodo were trapped somewhere. And I couldn't let those filthy creatures have him – him with a Ring on and… and I knew it wasn't going to be him much longer. So I… I…"
"What did you do, Sam?" Pippin coaxed, easing the other down to sit upon the turf. "I promise you, I'll not say a word to anyone!"
"They were going to take him to the Tower," the other said, tone dull and flat now, lacking all inflection. It was as if Sam spoke in a foreign tongue, repeating the words verbatim as he received them, without understanding enough to give them life. "They would have taken him, and to die with the Ring on his hand – no. No that was too much. I had to save him, sir, you understand. I had to, and there was only one way out. Through Sting…."
"Sting? I don't underst – " Pippin stopped abruptly, and the last syllable hissed through his teeth as enlightenment struck painfully. "Sam, no!" he murmured softly, shaking his head in denial. "No, no! It was only a vision. You said yourself that the Lady Galadriel said they don't all come true. Maybe even none of them, if we are all careful."
"I don't know, Mr. Pippin." Sam buried his face in his hands and scrubbed at his eyes, leaving white runnels as he let his hands slide clenched over his cheeks. "I just don't know. But if that's even a possibility… I couldn't do that, any more than I could fly!"
"Well then, doubtless it will never happen unless you sprout wings!" Pippin said, falsely bright in an attempt to push the darkness away. "Come now, my dear fellow, let's not think on such things any further. All right? Think instead how glad Rose will be to have you home again."
"You're right, sir," Sam sighed, heaving to his feet. "But I do wish I had never even dreamt that!"
So do I, Sam, Pippin thought, as he wordlessly fell in at his friend's side. So do I!
Meanwhile, high above the floor of the valley, Legolas perched easily upon a slender branch and looked out at the golden roof of the forest. A butterfly, with wings no less brilliant than the day itself, fluttered past, tracing its erratic path, and the Elf watched it go. Thus do we journey, he mused. The destination is clear before us, but our path is crooked and twisting out of necessity! But for the moment, even thought of the long road, which they must soon face again without the shield of Lórien's gilded girdle, could not dampen his spirits. The day was fair, and his own winding explorations of the forest left little room for discontent….
"Elves are daft indeed if they think any wingless creature was meant to see the earth from such heights!" The growled complaint issued from behind and below him, but though Legolas sighed dramatically, his lips quirked in a smile as he glanced over his shoulder at Gimli, Glóin's son.
The Dwarf was wedged firmly between two stout branches, unwilling to risk the freer (and more dangerous) 'paths.' His face was set in a formidable glower, but Legolas knew well that it was assumed. In truth, he suspected the other of enjoying the outing, though Gimli might never admit to such heresy. Strange how transparent he is, now that I turn my eye to him! How did I overlook that before? The elven prince turned fully and began to make his graceful way back down to where his friend clung like an abandoned kitten.
"Trees have not wings, yet they do see the world from above," he pointed out, raising a pale brow.
"Trees, he says!" Gimli replied, sounding exasperated, but there was a glint of real humor in his voice. "May we now descend so that I need not fear for either of our necks should our conversation distract us?"
"This way then, if you be not craven!" Legolas replied, and began to scramble down swiftly. Gimli uttered something in his own tongue, which sounded rather like a curse, but he followed his friend and tormentor, if more slowly. When at last, Legolas set foot on the ground, the Dwarf was still upon the rope ladder that dangled from the lowest branch.
"You will be the death of me yet," Gimli declared when at last he stood before him, scowling up at Legolas, and the Elf laughed.
"I doubt it not! But, we are now upon the ground, and you were quite right: we have much still to discuss."
"Indeed! I thought you wished to keep an eye upon Boromir today," Gimli replied, abandoning in an instant their banter for more serious matters.
"And I did," Legolas responded, sobering. "Even now, he is not far: perhaps a mile from here."
"And are your ears, perchance, as sharp as your eyes?" Gimli asked, raising dark brows.
"Even were they, it would have mattered little. He spoke to no one, and has wandered alone the entire day," Legolas sighed, and his face was troubled on Boromir's behalf.
"And when he is with us, he says little." Gimli frowned, stroking his beard. "I like it not. I think that Boromir is not accustomed to loneliness, and I fear what that might mean."
"You o'erpass me in this," Legolas admitted. "Speak more plainly!"
"I mean that Boromir is not one to keep much to himself, nor to suffer dispute easily or in silence. He is a warrior, after all." The Dwarf shrugged. "It is in him to fight, yet he has said no contrary word, nor spoken without prompting, since the argument that first night. And yet is it not clear that he feels alone? That he feels 'tethered' as he said?"
The Elf was silent for a time, considering the other's conclusions. "You may be right. But as with all our days of watching, this brings us no closer to the heart of the matter."
"True, but it brings us back to the beginning: to the argument," Gimli replied, and then frowned again. "I wish Aragorn had heard it, for perhaps he might have seen or heard something that we did not." He paused, then: "It has been many weeks – Boromir is no more helped by that time than are we. Should we not speak to Aragorn on this matter, Legolas?"
But the Elf shook his head. "Nay, not yet! I think, in the days to come, he will recognize himself the change in Boromir, if he has not already. The time is not yet ripe, I deem."
Gimli sighed. "And yet should we wait, we may miss the harvest, or find naught but a husk on the branch," he pointed out.
"I know the risk," Legolas replied. "But still, I would wait, and while we have this brief time of safety, I would rather Aragorn see to his own needs than burden him with another responsibility."
This drew a deeper frown from Gimli, and he asked, surprised: "What needs are those?"
"I know not precisely," Legolas replied. "But one hears things."
"Naught that I should speak of here," the Elf demurred, ignoring his companion's exasperated snort. For though he would not deny a friend joy, still, the rumor that had come to his ears – that their friend sometimes was absent from their company to be with his betrothed – troubled him, for it was no light matter. Not when that bond went between Elf and Man: given the gravity of such a choice, among Elves, it was nothing to speak of, unless at great need. So far as Legolas could see, there was no great need. "For," said he, and not only to himself, "he will soon have to take up all the Company's troubles as well as his own, and if he has found some peace of his own, then I would not trouble it yet. Come my friend, we came to speak of Boromir, not of Aragorn. And to say farewell to good Lórien, fairest of all forests!"
So saying, Legolas led the way through the woods, and Gimli shook his head in a resigned, if amused, fashion, surrendering to deadly-serious elven whim, and followed along. Legolas smiled inwardly. And:
It is not good for a Man to be alone as Boromir is. You are right in that, my friend, he thought. Nor for a Dwarf, nor even for an Elf. At least I am no longer alone on this long path!
Had Legolas known the truth of rumor, he might have been less silent – at least to Aragorn. He did not, however – no one did, unless mayhap the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien, though not from any word of either their granddaughter or their newly-gained grandson. But if they knew, they kept as silent as the lovers themselves as the days fell away into weeks and the weeks themselves faded into the past, 'til the day of departure loomed over all the Company. Then especially did they seek each other out, between preparation and counsel, though they did not between them speak of the journey that awaited. Rather, of other times, and journeys, and memories of other places did they speak – of all the long years spent apart, and which had not been shared, and which, it seemed, they were compelled to share now, lest there be no time later.
"What think you, love?" Aragorn asked one evening. Before him stood Arwen, silhouetted against the open window, and the starlight glittered pale on her dark hair. Long had they sat in this little chamber among the high boughs of Caras Galadon, talking quietly together while the sun sank into the west. Eventually, they had fallen silent, and Arwen, restless, had risen to go and stand so as to catch the evening breezes, unquiet writ upon her fair face.
"That if you must leave soon, then I shall miss you, and even Lórien shall hold little joy for me," she said. Aragorn rose and silently stalked over to stand behind her. He drew her into his arms, holding her gently, and together they gazed out at the velvet night. The candle on the stand had long since extinguished itself, but neither had moved to rekindle it. Darkness was more comfortable of late, more concealing, protective – forgiving – than was pitiless daylight. For it spared them more than the eyes of others – it spared them each other, and at times, they needed that.
For with darkness came desire – hard to deny, having once submitted to it; harder still when one of them had no desire to deny it. And it was not that Aragorn felt untempted, nor that his regrets were so great – he had tried awhile, but in the end, he could not regret that evening in the woods. Which made it hard, when Arwen came to him, to refuse. Indeed, he hadn't at first, and even now, no one could say he did not tempt himself, but...
But though he might not regret, this furtive clutching in the shadows was not what he desired, for there was the matter of her father and brothers, and her grandparents, which honor could not simply cast aside. A late consideration, some might say, so late as to be senseless now, for the change was wrought. Yet it sat not well with him, either to continue in the darkness, to lie with her and lie to all others at the same time, or stand upon poor-come-by right and insist upon it to family who could but grieve to lose Arwen, and especially now. Ill wrought, their union, however innocently, he thought, and he would be leaving in any case soon. Better, then, for there to be nothing to insist upon – though he knew that that, too, grieved her, no less than it did him.
"Say not so," he implored therefore.
"You would have me lie?" she asked.
He sighed. "Have we not already?"
"We could do otherwise," she challenged, not for the first time, and turned in his arms to face him. Her eyes gleamed dimly in the night, and he felt her hands rest warmly upon him.
"You know," he told her, "that I cannot say 'yes.' Not as we are. Not as all of this – " he gestured to the world without, knowing well she could see even if he could not " – stands."
To that, she sighed, but said: "I know that you cannot."
He did not miss the slight stress on 'you.' Aragorn shut his eyes a moment, then reopened them, and lifted a hand to cup her face in it. He felt her lean all too gladly into his touch, and he could not but feel ashamed.
"And I know," he said then softly, "that I have brought you little enough joy. Nay, hear me!" he insisted, when she began to protest. "I do not apologize for that night, but can you say that I have done well by you – either then or now or any time since? Have I been what you wished?"
"You are what I wish," she answered, and he grimaced.
"But not as you wish – or we should not stand here now and speak thus," he replied. To that, she said nothing, and he felt a crooked smile tug at his mouth for the painful irony, as he told her: "I never looked to wrong you, and all the weeks since I came here, have I done aught else? 'Tis not that I hold you lower than others, but I know not how to do right by all."
Arwen bowed her head then. "Your time here grows short, my love," she warned, sad reminder.
"Too short," he murmured unhappy agreement into her hair. "There is not time enough for amends – not to you, though I owe them."
"Aye, you do," said she simply, lifting her eyes once more to his, and he felt her fingers brush along his brow, smoothing aside a lock of hair, tucking it behind his ear. Fingertips drew thence down and came to rest just over his pulse. "Be glad, then, of patience!" For a moment, neither moved nor spoke, but when her lips met his but a moment later, it was like rain come to earth – easy, swift, inevitable.
So much so, that it wasn't 'til the couch was at his back and she above him that he remembered himself, and sought to put her off. "Arwen," he protested, but was silenced once more by her mouth upon his, insistent as her hands... But though insistent, she was not relentless, so that when she withdrew, he managed hoarsely: "This you call patience?"
"This I call justice," she answered, and he shivered slightly at her tone – hard and laughing, grieved and loving all at once. "One night," she told him, then. "It does not make amends – that patience must bear, and shall. But you will give me one night, and suffer this one wrong to honor – yours and my father's and my family's and mine, as well – that I may miss you better, since you hold your absence at so little cost."
Unaccustomed as he was to calculate on his back, still, that seemed to weigh nearly evenly, though perhaps he might not have said so elsewhere. "So be it," he breathed, and acquiesced, and for a time afterward, there was between them nothing of either honor or fear.
The night passed slowly. The stars traced out their path, though they heeded them not. But when at last the night began to lift, and the dark of their room gave way to a deep blue dim, then Arwen lifted her head from his chest, and faintly could he see her face – dear and troubled, though she smiled a little when he drew his thumb down the line of her throat to rest his hand at length between her breasts.
"When must you depart?" she asked him then.
"A week – ten days at most," he answered, ere adding softly: "Better had we gone already."
Upon hearing which, Arwen said naught, but she withdrew from him then, rising to go once more to that window. He, after a moment, sat up and reached for his clothes. And he was quick about the washstand, for though Lórien knew no touch of frost, still, the air was cool.
Arwen had not moved from her contemplation, and he gazed at her a long moment, eyes wandering over her pale outline, and the shadows that lay upon her, and then with a sigh, he pulled his shirt over his head, and then his tunic, and buckled his belt over all. Then he stooped, found her cloak, and, joining her there by the window, laid it about her shoulders. She raised a hand to clutch the cloth, and his hand, too, and for a moment, they stood there unmoving, staring out at the waning night.
"Since Midsummer of that year I have watched all your ways: east and west, I have looked for you," she said softly at length. "But I cannot see the road now – all to the east lies hidden from my sight." And she turned then to him and laid her hand to his cheek. "Remember me," she said urgently; "When the road grows hard – remember me!"
He did not answer her with words. Long that kiss lasted, 'til passion threatened once more to claim them both, and then he drew back, assurance sealed. The light had grown greyer, and he bowed his head before it a moment, then looked her squarely in the eye. "I should leave."
"Yes," she murmured, and stood tall before him – as a queen uncrowned. "Yes, you should. Be well, beloved, this day and all the others!"
"Vanimeldë," he answered, and made her a bow. Then drawing his own cloak about his shoulders, he turned away and left her there, and passed in silence into the stillness of the world without.
And as Aragorn left Arwen, the dissonance at the edge of the Void reached the peak of its creative frenzy, fracturing the Song, and falling into deadly Silence. The Rift opened wider as the Fellowship prepared to depart upon its appointed path….
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