3. Chapter Two: Quest
Upon returning to the great hall where the Fellowship and invited guests were presently continuing their revelry into the night, Arwen learnt that it was no easy thing for a Queen to preside over celebration that gave her no joy. How could she after glimpsing the future in Galadriel's mirror? Even as she took her place next to her lord, her heart was pounding so hard beneath her breast she feared that he might hear it through the din of chattering voices around her. The memory of what she had seen preyed heavily upon her thoughts. In the sea of voices around her, oblivious to the nightmare that was unfolding in the future, beginning with the slumber of her unborn infant inside her body, Arwen felt terribly alone.
If not for Eowyn’s comforting support during the course of the evening, Arwen did not think she would have been able to maintain the mask of the gracious queen she wore for the benefit of those around her. Galadriel had chosen to withdraw for the evening, with Gimli acting as escort. The dwarf had never quite overcome his infatuation for her grandmother and Arwen was certain that on some level, his adoration amused Galadriel. Her father and Gandalf were conversing about matters of great importance in the realm no doubt as Lords and Wizards tended to do when coming together.
Arwen was glad that Elrond was not paying his daughter close attention, for he would have been able to sense her distress just as Aragorn would. Fortunately the King's attention was occupied with the company of his old friends. Arwen knew if he were to observe her closely, Arwen would not able to hide the true depth of her anguish because like her, he would surely know that there was something terribly wrong with his beloved. She longed to tell Estel of this danger that threatened their child, to feel his strong arms about her and hear him speak bravely that nothing would harm either her or the babe while there was breath in his body to prevent it.
Arwen knew that he would be true to his word. He would put his life before hers and their child and as surely as she had seen it come to pass in Galadriel’s mirror, Arwen knew that he would die because of it. The thought of his life being cut short, taken from her so soon before they even had a chance to live a lifetime together was more than she could stand and it stilled her wish to tell him. Galadriel was right; while the Enemy required her child for his dark purposes, Arwen was the only one who was safe from him. One who was powerful enough to draw the dark lord Melkor from the void was more than capable of killing the King of Gondor and Arwen would not let that happen. With as much conviction that Aragorn would protect her, Arwen would not risk his life.
The maiden Immoen known throughout Gondor as the finest songstress in the land was now performing for her King and his guests. Her voice was a sweet melody that captured the hearts of all that listened. As she sang her songs of love and courage enduring through all things, Arwen's gaze touched that of her husband. His hand fell across hers, squeezing tightly as the full measure of his feelings expressed themselves silently to her in his eyes. Arwen knew that in that one instant that he was finally happy with his life in a manner that he had not felt since his coronation. Her heart soared at this knowledge but also plunged realizing that her course was now clearer than it had ever been.
This quest that lay before her was hers to fulfill alone. She could not risk him under any circumstances.
However, was it fair that she risked Eowyn's life as well? The Lady of Ithilien had pledged her life and her sword to her queen. As much as Arwen wanted her aid in this journey she would soon make, Arwen feared that Eowyn could be in as much peril as Aragorn. She cherished Eowyn as much as she loved her Estel and knew that in facing the Enemy, Eowyn would be vulnerable. The lives of men were so terribly short. If Arwen were to die in this quest, she would do so with the knowledge that she had a good long life as measured by Men and she was satisfied with the joy she had experienced. It was not so for Men whose lives were a star burning hot and bright but short. If Eowyn were to come to any harm, Arwen knew she would spend much of her existence from that fateful day regretting it, And yet she did need the help. What was she to do?
As the night progressed, she debated this question deeply and as the King engaged his old friends in conversation, Arwen noticed that Frodo Baggins was seated alone for a time, choosing to watch with a smile the Fellowship together, without participating himself. She stared at him for a moment, realising at that instant how much older he appeared from their last meeting. His face was as youthful as ever but his eyes, they had seen too much of the world and been marked forever by it. Arwen suddenly realized that if there was one person who might be able to aid her in her decision regarding Eowyn; it was the Ring Bearer.
After all, he had once made the same choice.
"You do not join in Frodo," Arwen said as she took the seat next to his, following his gaze as he watched Merry telling the most animated tale involving Farmer Maggot and tainted brew.
"I join in my own way, your highness," Frodo smiled pleasantly at her. "I found that one of life's pleasures is to watch ones friends at their best and keeping the memory to sustain you in the dark times."
"It is a good habit," she agreed and supposed he would have done that quite a bit during his journey to Mordor to dispose of the One Ring.
"And are you excited at your news?" Frodo asked, aware that he had not had much time to spend in her company since arriving here.
To him, Arwen would always be that wondrous creature that had stepped into his delirious mind when the blade of the Nazghul had almost forced him into shadow. She was then and was still, the most beautiful woman he had ever cast his eyes upon and although he would never speak it out loud, there was a part of Frodo that would always be a little in love with the Elven queen. How fortunate a man was Aragorn that she adored him so and Frodo felt gratified that the king appreciated her as the jewel she was.
"Yes," she replied attempting to sound as happy as a woman in her condition should be but it was a difficult façade to portray in light of what she knew about her child's fate. "I am terribly happy."
Frodo detected a flicker in her eyes of something undefinable but could not be certain of its cause and thought it rude to inquire after it, if she did not wish to tell him. "What would you wish for, a boy or a girl? I know it is tradition that you should want a boy but what are your feelings personally?"
Arwen swallowed thickly, never imagining that such simple questions asked so innocently could be the cause of such pain. It slashed at her, the hope in his voice, when she knew that this child was doomed to be a scourge if she failed in her mission. "I only hope that my child is born safely. I care not which gender he is though I think it will be a boy."
"Arwen," Frodo stared at her sensing melancholy in her words. "Is something wrong?"
"No," she smiled sadly, brushing away her sadness. "Frodo, if I were to ask you a question, would you be able to answer me honestly?"
The intensity in which she imparted the query took him back somewhat but he could never deny her anything. "Of course, we are friends and friends are honest with one another. Ask what you may and I will try to answer."
Arwen took a deep breath to steady herself for his answer, no matter how unpleasant it was. "When you left the others bound for Mordor on your own, why did you take Sam with you?"
The question surprised him and he had to confess, it was one that had not been asked of him before. He remember his thoughts at the time and how Galadriel’s Mirror had shown the consequences of failure if the One Ring were to return to Sauron’s hands. He thought about how Boromir had stared at the One Ring, thinking it a way to secure his people’s safety unaware that it was already swirling tendrils of darkness within his mind in readiness to take him. Boromir was a good man and an equally good friend. Until his attempt to take the ring, he had fought bravely along side the rest of them and after he had come to his senses, had died to protect Merry and Pippin.
After he had fled from the Fellowship, he had thought about how Boromir had succumbed and knew that it was not his fault. The One Ring was seductive and Boromir whose lands stood on the periphery of Mordor knew better than most what it was like to fight Sauron’s forces. If it had taken him first, it was only because he had the most reason to need it. Frodo had left because he had no wish to see the rest of the Fellowship suffer the same fate . However Sam had not given him a choice because his loyal servant was also a faithful friend and he could not deny that he was afraid to proceed onwards to Mordor alone. Still, there had been moments during that journey when Frodo had considered leaving Sam.
"I wanted to leave him behind," Frodo answered after a long pause, remembering that the point of all this had originated from Arwen’s question. "I did not wish to risk him as the others were risked but then he followed me, giving me no choice in the matter. I suppose I could have left him behind if I really wanted to but I think I was afraid that when I stared into the fires of Mount Doom when the time came to destroy the ring, I might not be able to. However, if Sam were there, he would see to it that I did what I had to. As it turned out, it was fortunate that he was with me."
"But how did you know that the One Ring might not influence him?" Arwen asked giving a short glance at Sam who was at the moment, seated next to his wife Rosie as Gimli told them tales of the Glittering Caves and his new home.
"Sam’s heart is purer than mine and I do think stronger. He thinks of practical things and when his course is set, he does not think about all the things that may go wrong or what dangers lie on the path ahead. He can only see the end of the journey. It is good to have a friend like that sometimes for he helps to keep you from straying from your purpose." Frodo concluded.
"What about the danger?" Arwen probed further. "Did you not worry that his life might have been endangered? That he might have fallen into shadow?"
There was a feeling of desperation to her questions that unsettled Frodo greatly and he wondered as to their purpose. However, he answered her nonetheless. "I worried about it at length but I also knew that I would not be able to convince Sam to abandon me nor did I have the right to force my will upon what was ultimately his choice."
Arwen shifted her gaze to Eowyn who showed no signs of worrying over what they would soon be embarking upon as she sat at Faramir’s side, listening to Merry and Pippin’s tales. Frodo was right of course but hearing his words did give her comfort at the choice to take Eowyn with her on this perilous quest.
"I suppose in the end, that is all that truly matters is it not?" She sighed softly.
"Arwen," Frodo said seriously. "You are troubled and this question does not seem to be in keeping with mere conversation. What is wrong?"
"I cannot tell you Frodo," she whispered softly. "And I beg you to keep what we have discussed between us. I have reasons for remaining silent which I cannot impart to you now but it is of the gravest urgency that you obey me in this, if you care at all for me or for Elessar."
"You need never beg anything of me Arwen," Frodo answered earnestly but the fear he saw in Arwen’s eyes was real and it made him question the sensibility of his agreement to her request. There were secrets that could kill, even those shrouded in the best of intentions.
"Thank you Frodo," she smiled wanly and knew that despite questioning its prudence, Frodo would keep his word and her confidence.
They spoke no more of secrets but it weighed heavily upon their minds until the evening ended and Arwen retired, leaving Frodo with anxious questions and terrible sense of foreboding that he may yet to regret what he had promised her this night.
"It was good to see everyone again," Aragorn sighed happily as he lay contented on the cools sheets of his bed and held his wife’s warm body in his arms.
It was in the small hours of the night and their guests had either turned in or were still sprawled under tables were they had drunk themselves to a merry stupor. When Arwen had spirited Aragorn away to their bed chamber, the king of Gondor was certain he had seen Pippin’s small feet protruding from beneath the table where the hobbit had spent half the evening imbibing pints of drink. He did not think that a diminutive creature like such as Pippin could possess such a lusty appetite for hard drink and but to his credit, Pippin had managed to last Gimli and Faramir in this endeavor. As Aragorn lay his head against the pillow, he knew being king of the unified lands was not going to prevent him from suffering the aftermath of the evenings’ celebration and he hoped his wife’s talents for healing would spare him the torture. If not, he would have to seek out Legolas in the morning since it was known that elves were not the best of drinkers and Legolas’ attempt to keep up with Gimli was sure to have painful consequences.
"Yes it was," Arwen agreed, savoring the feeling of lying in his arms and in their bed, secretly aware that it was going to be the last night she would spend in his company until her quest was done. "I have forgotten how much I missed them all."
"So had I," Aragorn replied, breathing in the heady scent of her hair into his lungs. "Sometimes I think that day in the Prancing Pony happened to some other man because it seems so long ago and a lifetime away from where I know now stand."
"The world changes my love," Arwen smiled, her fingers tracing the bare skin of his chest with small circles. "You have simply changed with it."
"Until tonight, I did not know I could be happy as I might have once been though I wonder if I was ever truly content. I was always filled with uncertainty although I had much freedom and now that I am so certain, I have little freedom. I have yet to decide which is better." He replied softly. "But I have you to love and soon my child as well so I think I can be happy as King."
"I am glad," she said softly, her eyes fixed on his. "I want to see you happy Estel. You deserve it. You have brought pride to the line of Isildur and to the great kings of the past. When our son is born, he will have a father he can look up to."
Aragorn looked at her with mischief and remarked with a brow raised, "how is it so that you are so sure its going to be a boy? It could be a girl." He teased mimicking the words she had used when she had first told him of the news.
"It will be a boy, "Arwen replied softly, saddened by how she had come to know this fact. "I know it."
"I did not lie when I said I did not care what it is Undomiel," he raised her chin so that he could look into her eyes. "Any child that comes from you will fill me with joy no matter if it is a girl or boy."
"I know," she smiled and slid herself along the length of him so that she could capture his lips in a kiss.
Arwen kissed her precious Elessar and there was no terrible darkness waiting on the edge of her consciousness when her passion ignited his. She felt his body cover her own and forgot the sorrow of parting that would come with the morning. Everything was driven away for a brief time when they were the only two creatures in each other’s world and it was enough to fill their hearts with indescribable happiness. Arwen did not care what tomorrow would bring, all she knew was that she loved him and that this was possibly their last night together if she failed in what she intended to do. Shrouded in each other’s heat, their need for one another became an agonizing game of pleasure and pain, of touching and tasting and animal lust wrapped within the complexity of deep abiding love.
And when they were both completed, when he lay against her breast, the air soaked with the scent of their lovemaking, she watched him sleep. His face no longer appeared as Aragorn Elessar the King of Gondor and Arnor but rather like that of a boy worn after a hard day’s undertakings and prayed that it would not be the last time she saw him this way.
Eowyn did not have so passionate a farewell to make with Faramir as Arwen but she did not mind it terribly. She loved her husband deeply even though once she had thought much of Aragorn. However, Faramir, younger brother of Boromir had won her heart with his gentleness and his understanding that she was a woman like no other and should be cherished for her differences. For that alone, she would love him until the day she died and while Arwen looked upon the quest ahead with much fear that she would not survive, Eowyn had refused to believe that this was the last night she would spend with her beloved.
Unfortunately, when he was in the company of the hobbits and Gimli, he seemed to lose all good sense and as she watched him snoring in their chamber, dead to the world, she could not help but smile at how peaceful he looked. Much too at peace for her to attempt to awaken him even if she would have been able to rouse him from his drunken slumber. Of course she did not berate him for his excesses in the company of the Fellowship and knew that it was not often that he could forget his station in life to be himself amongst people he could truly call his friends. Eowyn understood all too well what it was to live behind walls, even if they were erected around ones true self.
Eowyn rested all night at the side of her husband and only when the sun began its ascent into daylight did she stir to begin the day ahead. The merriment of last night ensured that he would not notice when she rose from her bed and prepared for her departure with Arwen upon this important quest. Even though she was now the Lady of Ithilien, she was still at heart the Shield Maiden of Rohan and her travel garments were the same that she had worn to disguise herself as Dernhelm when she fought at the Battle of Pelennor. Slipping into them gave Eowyn a sense of coming home and of melting into the person she was under all the finery that was a requirement of her station these days. Gazing at her reflection in the mirror, Eowyn felt more at ease with herself then she had in so long and realised how much simpler the days had been in years past.
Unfortunately, she could not linger indefinitely. She and Arwen had reached the same conclusion the night before that if either of their loves learnt of their plans, they would not be allowed to set foot beyond the palace walls, let alone go forth on this quest to battle an agent of Melkor. Taking the same blade with her that she had used to slay the Witch King, Eowyn was soon ready to leave. She stared at herself in the mirror briefly one last time, finding it a little startling to see the Shield Maiden of Rohan standing in the place of the Lady of Ithilien. However as always, Eowyn brushed aside such disconcerting thoughts for there was work to be done and time was short.
She crept to the bed where Faramir remained in deep slumber and found a little smile crossing her lips at the serenity on his face. She lowered her mouth to his and kissed him gently, though he did not know it for his black sleep, savoring the smell of him and the silk of his lips against hers. Sighing as she pulled away, Eowyn hoped he would not be too angry with her when he awoke and discovered what she had done. Casting a final look at him, she attempted to brand the image of her husband into her mind, so that she would have something to comfort her in the difficult days ahead before coming to the conclusion that she could not squander any more time with him. It was time to begin their journey.
As Eowyn, shield maiden of Rohan, stepped out of their chambers, she hoped Faramir would understand and knew that it mattered little if he did not; Arwen needed her and Eowyn was not going to fail her Queen.
"What is our destination?" Eowyn asked as they began their journey out of the White City.
Behind them, Minas Tirith was still bathed in twilight and the city was silent since much of its inhabitants were lost in the slumber following the celebration. The evidence of the last night’s entertainment was obvious by the remains of litter, unconscious people who had not managed to return home and colorful decorations that littered the streets. Arwen basked in the sight of the city, surprised that in the short time that she had called this place her home, it had become as dear to her as her home in Rivendell. Boromir had not lied when he described the beauty of the White City and she was glad that Aragorn was determined to restore it to its former glory, following the war with Sauron. In the distance, Gimli’s unfinished gates framed the edge of Minas Tirith and Arwen knew that once past that boundary, the White City would truly be behind them.
"We are bound for Nargothrond," Arwen answered Eowyn’s question as the partially constructed gates of Mithril began to tower over them on approach.
"Nargothrond?" Eowyn stared at her with astonishment. "Arwen, correct me if I am mistaken but did that not used to be part of the Sunken Lands?"
"Yes," Arwen nodded anticipating Eowyn’s reaction the moment she revealed the name of their destination. "It was a part of the lands that was ally to Numenor. The home of Melian and Thingol."
Eowyn remembered the tales of Numenor, the ancestors to the peoples of Gondor and Arnor.
"Which is now under the sea." Eowyn reminded, aware of the history of the place they intended to journey.
"The Blue Mountains remain and we do not have to journey to Nargothrond itself," Arwen replied. "My grandmother told me what we seek lies in the foot of the Blue Mountains in what remains of the Forest of Brethil, where Turin had fallen."
Eowyn had been present when Arwen was given her vision in the Mirror of Galadriel but elves had a way of speaking that did not need words. She was certain the Lady of the Wood in this manner passed more of what was known of their quest to the Queen of Gondor. Eowyn was accustomed to the manner in which elves purported themselves for they were wise and far older than she had breathed life on this earth and so she did not question their need to keep some things from her. In a sense, it was prudent for they were embarking upon a perilous quest and should she fall, Eowyn would be most disturbed to think that anything she knew might harm Arwen by her being forced to reveal it.
She considered what Arwen had just told her before speaking as to what their next course should be. "If that is our course than it would be best served if we traveled by way of the Anduin River. We can seek shelter in Cair Andros and travel by land past Rauros Falls. The river would allow swifter progress in our journey and we can acquire fresh horses at Lothlorien."
Arwen could not disagree with Eowyn’s plan and travelling along the river would ensure that their chances of encountering danger would be less. Orcs preferred the land and the Anduin was wide and would take many days from their journey northward. It would keep them from travelling the Eastern Shore and from Lothlorien, they could journey to Rivendell. Despite the importance of the quest before them, Arwen felt a little pleasure knowing that she would see the valleys of Imraldis once again and once the elves had parted for the Western Lands, who knows if she would ever see it again? When the elves were gone, the power of Rivendell would fade and the city itself would disappear into the valley forever.
"I adhere to your counsel in this Eowyn," Arwen replied after a time. "I do not know these lands as well as you and we must make haste to reach our destination."
The anxiety in her lovely features was apparent and while Eowyn had no wish to pry, there were some things she needed to know if they were to vanquish this evil that was threatening Arwen's unborn babe. "Arwen, I know that you can only tell me little but I need to know something about what we are embarking upon if I am to be of any use to you."
Arwen sucked in her breath, not wishing to think about what lay ahead, but that was impossible since her whole reason for leaving Minas Tirith and Aragorn required her to keep their dark task in her head.
"Galadriel told me not of what we will face when we arrive at our true destination which is not the Forest of Brethil. We only journey there to find what we will need to vanquish the Enemy once he unmasks himself. Galadriel says that to know his name is to force his hand. His powers are weak I am told and though he is still powerful enough to harm both Aragorn and Faramir should he put it in his mind to, the Palantir in his possession does not allow him to see all as it did in Sauron’s hands. He will act rashly if we were to expose him to quickly."
"So that is why we must leave in secret?" Eowyn ventured a guess.
"Yes," Arwen nodded somberly. "His Palantir allows him only to see Minas Tirith and places of his choosing but it cannot show him what he does not know. Galadriel does not explain but there is something about the Enemy that does not allow him to use the Palantir as fully as it he should. He knows that I am with child but he cannot see into my heart and Galadriel was able to prevent him from seeing my audience with her when I looked into her Mirror."
"So he does not know that we are aware of him," the lady of Ithilien mused. "Surely he will suspect when he discovers we are no more at Minas Tirith?"
"He may but he will not be certain of our course until we reach the Blue Mountains." Arwen explained it as Galadriel had done to her the night before. "If we can accomplish our task there quickly, without interference we may be able to reach him before he is able to infect my child with Melkor’s dark spirit."
"How much time until your babe is strong enough for him to do this?" Eowyn asked once more.
"No more than thirty days," Arwen whispered. "I have until the next full moon to save my son or I will give birth to a child that is Melkor in human flesh."
Arwen closed her eyes in anguish, unable to speak any further because the horror of that was more than she could bear. Her body shook with emotion and her hands tightened around the reins of her steed with such intensity that her knuckles became white. Tears wanted to spill from her eyes at the unfairness of her lot but she knew that it would avail her nothing. It would not change that the Enemy was going to harm her baby unless she prevented it.
"It will not happen," Eowyn’s hand clutched her own.
Arwen looked up and met Eowyn’s eyes to see in them a substance harder than mithril. "I swear to you Arwen, not only as your friend but as your loyal subject and the one to whom I pledge my sword to, I will die before I allow my future king to be blighted in such obscenity. We will stop him Arwen, I promise. We will stop him."
It meant a great deal to Arwen that Eowyn should make such a strenuous proclamation. "Thank you Eowyn," she said warmly. "It means much to me that you say that. You are a true friend."
"Well," Eowyn replied with a hint of mischief, intending to bring a smile to her friend’s face. "That goes without saying of course."
Arwen laughed a little and was glad that her emotional torment had passed for the time. Eowyn was right. They would stop the Enemy. They would stop him or die in the trying.
When Aragorn awoke the next morning, he found himself alone.
His head ached painfully, reminding him starkly the evils of drink should never be underestimated and he grimaced at the throbbing inside his skull when he chose to sit up in his bed. Glancing at the empty space next to him where Arwen should have been, Aragorn felt a little hint of disappointment at her absence. He was not so lost in his drunkenness the night before to forget the memory of their passion and it filled him with a great desire to hold his wife in his arms and tell her that he loved her. No doubt she was somewhere in the palace, attending her own affairs, whether it be concerning the matters of the royal household or more broader tasks involving the kingdom itself, he had no doubt that she would appear soon enough.
Still as he climbed out of bed, there was this feeling of uneasiness about him, one he could not dispel lightly as much as he tried. He went through the rituals of morning, dressing and making himself ready to move about his court and appearing kingly as he did so, still possessed by this sensation that something, somewhere was not right. These were instincts that he had relied upon for much of his life that saved him and many others on more than one occasion. He could not understand why he should feel it now in this most benign of places. Tense, he continued out of his royal chambers, gripped in this feeling that something was coming but he knew not what it was.
Making his way to the great hall, Aragorn was certain that the hobbits would be awake by now, hangover or not. His long friendship with them had taught him one thing about the halflings, that not even Sauron himself could make them miss breakfast, or second breakfast he added to himself with a snigger or elevenses for that matter. Arwen had probably left him slumbering in order to see to their needs. The Queen had a great fondness for the little ones, ever since she took charge of Frodo when the Nazghul blade during the quest of the One Ring wounded him. When he had been in the throes of shadow, Arwen had maintained a vigil at his bedside along with Sam, after her father had administered with healing and Arwen had taken upon herself to attend to his recovery following it.
Before he even reached the hall, he could hear the excited chatter of Merry and Pippin emanating down the corridor. The sound of their animated voices brought a heartfelt smile to Aragorn’s face for it felt like old times again. However, before he could pass through the doorway into the hall, he heard someone’s voice behind him.
"Aragorn," Legolas was approaching and the king frowned. He should have known that the only person who could sneak up on him was the Prince of Mirkwood.
As Legolas approached, Aragorn was forced to stifle a smile for the prince did not appear to have the spring in his step that the king was accustomed to seeing. In fact, for someone so fair, it was safe to say that at the moment, the expression on Legolas’ face was positively grim. Fortunately, the disposition of his old friend did not appear urgent merely annoying to himself and Aragorn had something of an idea as to why he was feeling as such. He recalled the drinking contest of sorts engaged by Gimli, Faramir and the hobbits Pippin and Merry last night. Legolas being the friend he was to the dwarf had joined in for good measure but it was a known fact that Elves were no good with spirits, as Legolas was now finding out for himself Aragorn was certain.
"How do you fare this morning Legolas?" Aragorn asked.
"I think I’m going to be ill," Legolas grumbled.
"The nearest window is in that direction," Aragorn said helpfully.
The Elf gave him a look through narrowed eyes. "If you were truly my friend you would kill me and end my misery."
"I thought elves were known for their ability to endure," Aragorn teased. "I am certain that your suffering will pass."
"Not soon enough," Legolas grumbled as the two resumed their journey to the hall where the smell of food was wafting towards them.
"Tell me," Aragorn asked as they approached the entrance. "Did you see Arwen anywhere?"
"No," Legolas shook his head. "I have not. Why?"
"Its just that I have not seen her this morning," Aragorn replied, feeling once again that uneasiness that did not dissipate with Legolas’ arrival, merely shunted aside briefly until now. "I wonder where she is."
"She is probably seeing to your guests," Legolas responded, noticing the concern in Aragorn’s face as genuine worry.
Aragorn supposed that was possible. After all, they were host to some of the most prominent people in Middle Earth for this celebration. Lord Elrond of Rivendell was here, Galadriel of Lothlorien, Faramir of Ithilien and Eomer of Rohan and he was certain that Arwen felt a little self conscious playing hostess to such a prestigious collection. She was Queen as long as he had been King and while he had numerous chances to prove himself since beginning his rule, Arwen’s opportunity to shine in her position was limited to occasions such as this. Prior to the arrival of their guests, she had been a flurry of action, moving across the palace, ensuring everything was perfect.
"I am sure that you are right my friend," Aragorn smiled and then patted Legolas on the back and grinned, "come along Legolas. Let us get some food into you. I am certain, meat off the bone, tender and red, covered in thick gravy and eggs bubbling with fat will make you feel so much better. All that food churning in your belly, bubbling with last night’s spirits….."
Legolas glared at him and muttered under his breath, "and to think I saved you from the Orcs."
If there was one thing that Aragorn would never become accustomed to, no matter how long he ruled in the White City as king, it was the sight of everyone standing up whenever he entered a room. He resigned himself that such would be the reaction of all until the end of his days and had learnt to tolerate this unhappy symptom of his elevated status. But Aragorn had to confess, it felt even stranger when he saw his friends carry out this duty of royal protocol. He bade them to sit as soon as they had made the attempt and glowered at Legolas who was getting his own back at Aragorn’s earlier teasing.
Merry and Pippin well into breakfast and possibly second breakfast as the pile of food on their plates indicated that it was not their first helping. Frodo was a little more sedate and without Sam at his side. This did not surprise the king a great deal since if he knew Master Gangee with any accuracy, the hobbit and his lady were no doubt traipsing the sprawling gardens of the palace, enjoying the scenery. Elrond was also present, engaging in conversation with the former ring bearer and the Lord of Rohan, Eomer. Unlike his Mirkwood cousin, Elrond had been sensible enough to stay away from drink the night before and appeared quite well. Gimli was enthusiastically feeding himself for dwarves were capable of fashioning themselves stomachs made of iron as was the common joke about their ability to handle drink.
Faramir however, seemed to be trouble and Aragorn wondered what was the cause of it as he joined his friends and was served his breakfast by a serving maid. She then attempted to do the same for Legolas but was waved away by the elf. Faramir’s concern however did not seem passing and lingered on his face even after Aragorn had greeted him and he had responded in kind. He knew that Faramir would not confide in him unless he asked because in that way, the Lord of Ithilien was much like his brother Boromir. Even though Faramir was not the friend who had fallen during the quest, Aragorn would always feel the same responsibility towards Faramir that he did to the White City because of his promise to Boromir at his death.
"You seem troubled," Aragorn said quietly to Faramir, whom he had beckoned over.
"It is nothing," Faramir replied brusquely, clearly bothered.
"Faramir," Aragorn looked at him. "I am not merely your king, I am your friend. Tell me what ails you? With Legolas it is clearly too much drink."
Legolas, who was seated beside him, muttered something in Elvish that Aragorn did not wish to translate nor let be made known publicly. He did not know the Elves knew such words.
Faramir cracked a little smile at Aragorn's attempt at levity and decided that if he could not trust his king, he could trust his friend and Aragorn was right about that much; they were friends. "I cannot find Eowyn."
"That is hardly a cause to worry," Aragorn replied but inwardly, he was tensing because he now noticed that Arwen was not present either. "She is probably somewhere with Arwen. I have not seen the queen this morning either."
"I would not worry at all for my wife is very capable of fending for herself, except…," he paused hesitant to speak further for it might confirm what he feared to admit.
"Except?" Aragorn stared at him and by now, Legolas was also paying attention.
"She took her sword and her travelling clothes with her."
Suddenly, Aragorn could fully appreciate why Faramir was so concerned. Eowyn would not take her sword with her unless she was intending to use it. If she had taken her travelling clothes then it was certainly not to do so here. "Faramir," he finally spoke. "Have you see Arwen at all this morning?"
The Lord of Ithilien’s eyes widened, realising that perhaps his situation was not entirely unique. "No," he shook his head. "I have not."
Aragorn stood up abruptly, feeling his heart pound. "Has anyone seen Arwen or Eowyn this morning?" He asked loudly, silencing everyone in the room with his question.
There was a long pause and Aragorn saw by the blank stares that were aimed at him that no one had seen either his wife or Faramir’s at all this morning. Aragorn had not bothered to check Arwen’s things when he had left his chambers but he was certain that if Eowyn was absent, his wife was as well. There was nothing but his own heart to prove this but he could not believe anything else. As his gaze swept across the faces of his friends, he noted something in Frodo’s that was slight, almost a flicker actually but it was enough to catch the King’s sharp eye.
"Frodo?" He stared at the hobbit no longer as Strider or Aragorn but rather as King.
Frodo sat up straighter in his seat, appearing clearly disturbed now that Aragorn had singled him out and hesitated briefly, as he sought an answer. "I promised her I would not speak of it."
"Promised her?" Aragorn started to become more worried. "Promised Arwen?"
"Yes," Frodo nodded. "I do not wish to betray her confidence."
"Tell them Frodo," Gandalf the White’s voice sailed through the room and drew all eyes to him.
With him was Galadriel and as they swept into the room, they forced away the atmosphere of levity that had preceded them and replaced it with growing foreboding. Aragorn felt his heart starting to pound with worry that something terrible was about to be imparted upon him. The uneasiness that had dogged him all morning had now found its time and he lowered himself into his chair, waiting for the news that would tell him he had good reason to feel so much anxiety.
"But Gandalf," Frodo protested, not ready to break Arwen’s trust. "She was terribly insistent I did not say anything."
"He need not break Arwen’s faith, Mithandir," Galadriel smiled at the hobbit in admiration for his devotion to the Queen of Gondor. "We will tell Aragorn what he wishes to know."
"And I as well mother," Elrond said with just as much fear as Aragorn now. "She is my daughter as she is his wife. If there is a threat to either, I will know it now."
"Arwen has embarked upon a quest of her own," Gandalf explained, aware that the tempers in the room were frayed and it would take only a little for them to snap.
"A quest?" Aragorn sputtered. "She is with child! She is in no condition to go on any kind of quest!"
"She must go on this one," Galadriel answered calmly in stark contrast to Aragorn's harried tones. "It involves your child."
"And Eowyn went with her," Frodo mused, understanding at last the need for Arwen’s odd questions. "There is some great danger afoot isn’t there?"
"Yes Frodo," Gandalf nodded somberly, anticipating a loud outburst from Aragorn when he did.
"What danger? If there is a quest or some danger to our child, I should be the one to fulfil any quest. Not her!" Aragorn boomed. "How could you keep this from me, either of you?" He demanded, his eyes filled with accusation.
"Please understand that it is not our wish to see the Evenstar harmed," Galadriel hastened to explain. She could understand his frustration and his anger. Arwen was his wife just as she was Galadriel’s grand daughter. "The quest had to be fulfilled by her. She alone can fight the evil that threatens us all."
"And what part does Eowyn have in all this?" Faramir demanded just as angrily as Aragorn had.
"She pledged her sword and her life to her queen," Galadriel answered.
"That is why she asked me about Sam," Frodo sighed, understanding ever better now. "She asked me why I took Sam with me to Mordor, even after I left the others. She wanted to know if it was right to take him, even if it might cost him his life."
"Undoubtedly, she was worrying whether or not it was right to take Eowyn," Gandalf ventured a guess.
"What is this danger that she alone must face?" Aragorn asked, barely able to restrain his anger or himself from riding out immediately after his wife.
Gandalf and Galadriel exchanged glances, knowing that there would be no peace with Aragorn or anyone else for that matter until they learnt the reason for Arwen’s and Eowyn’s flight from Minas Tirith. Neither could blame those assembled for their anger, especially Aragorn’s for it was not only his wife at risk, it was also his child as well. As a king, a husband and a soon to be father, it was his natural instinct to wish to protect them both but he had to be made to understand why it could not be him, even though she suspected it would do little to hold him back. Still it might give him pause when the time came for him to decide what was more important, his pride or his child.
"Melkor." Galadriel answered in one word and braced herself.
"MELKOR!" Elrond exploded. "You send my daughter alone to face MELKOR?"
For an instant, Aragorn was filled with such fury that he could not think. He knew who Melkor was and he knew the legends of the former Valar who was equal to Manwe, who took physical form in the First Age as Morgoth and brought war upon the lands of Middle Earth. It had taken the combined strength of the Valar and the Maiar to destroy Melkor and return him to the Void. Did Galadriel expect him to believe that sending Arwen and Eowyn alone to face such horror to be any way to deal with such a threat? However, he restrained himself, giving Galadriel a chance to explain because he had to believe that there was a good reason for her actions.
"It is not Melkor that she will face," Galadriel saw Aragorn’s pause and was grateful for the chance to speak. "It is one of his minions who has chosen to resurrect Melkor by using your unborn child as its vassal. The Enemy seeks to bring Melkor's essence from the Void and infuse it into your son's body, displacing his soul for Melkor's own."
"By Valar," Aragorn heard Legolas whisper in shock while Elrond had dropped to his seat in horror.
"And you sent her to fight him?" Aragorn managed to speak, his voice nothing more than a low hiss.
"She is the only one who can fight him Aragorn," Gandalf answered for Galadriel. "While your child slumbers in her womb, the Enemy cannot harm her. If he were to harm either your wife or child, his plans will not come to fruit. However, if you were to go and attempt to face him, he could kill you and anyone who goes with you easily. He has that kind of power. It must be Arwen that goes because she can use his need for her safety as a weapon against him."
"And what of Eowyn," Faramir demanded coldly of the wizard. "What of my wife? Is she as safe?"
"Eowyn pledged herself to her Queen," Galadriel stared at him. "She is not safe but she is a good warrior and will acquit herself well."
"Where did they go?" Aragorn asked quietly and in a tone of voice that not even the Lady of the Wood would dare defy.
"Arwen has to find the tools to with which to battle the Enemy and her journey would have taken her north, towards Lindon."
"To the Grey Havens?" Elrond asked.
"No," Galadriel shook her head. "Beyond to the Blue Mountains, into what was known as the Forest of Brethil. She must recover the weapon of Turin."
"Then that is where I will go," Aragorn pushed himself away from the table.
"You must let Arwen complete this task," Galadriel implored. "You are vulnerable. She is not."
"You do not understand do you?" He stared at the Lady of Lothlorien. "I love her more than my life itself and if any harm befalls her, I will be done with this world. You assume she cannot be harmed but if she refuses to submit to the Enemy, what assurance do you have that he won't kill her out of sheer malice? I know my wife, perhaps better than you, Lady of the Wood. Did it not occur to you that if she cannot defeat the Enemy, she would kill herself rather than allow him to use her or our child to bring Melkor’s evil into the world?"
"She would not do that," Galadriel retorted, not anticipating the possibility. Elves were immortal but those who chose mortality did so at great cost and consideration to themselves. Life was not something to be squandered and taking one’s own was beyond comprehension. Why was there such need when all one needed to do to escape the pains of this world was to simply sail across the sea to the Undying Lands? Yet, Evenstar had always been something of an aberration. She had done nothing that was expected of her and so could Galadriel say for certain that she might not chose such a course if there was the possibility of failure?
"Yes she would," Elrond hissed with as much anger. "If she for one minute thought that her child would be the source of such destruction upon Middle Earth she would not hesitate to make the sacrifice."
"Lord Eomer," Aragorn turned to his trusted comrade, no longer looking upon the troubled visage of Galadriel. He was too angered by what he had learnt to do so, aware that he may be uncivil to the lady and he did not wish to disrespect Undomiel’s grandmother, though she sorely deserved it in his opinion. "I would request that you remain in Minas Tirith and oversee the kingdom for the duration of my absence."
"Of course Sire," Eomer nodded obediently, for Eowyn was his sister too.
"I will go with you Aragorn," Gandalf offered, wishing to be present to counsel Aragorn when the time came.
Aragorn was also angry at Gandalf for keeping his secrets with Galadriel, however, their long friendship stilled his fury and Gandalf’s knowledge of the events transpiring was needed for the journey ahead. "I will be grateful for your counsel in this mission."
"My wife rides with yours," Faramir stared at Aragorn. "Thus I will ride with you. I pledge my sword to my King as my wife has done for her Queen."
Aragorn smiled gratefully and could not refuse his aid; after all he was right. Eowyn was in even more danger than Arwen. "Thank you my friend."
"You will need my sharp eyes and senses, such as they are at the moment," Legolas added his voice into the mix. "When my head stops hurting, I am certain I will be of use to you."
"Well you cannot go out there with so much danger armed with an elf who can hardly hold his drink," Gimli’s loud voice boomed in Aragorn’s ear.
Legolas frowned at the dwarf whom he had considered to be his good friend, wondering if it was such a bad thing if he were to accidentally shoot the dwarf in the behind with his bow once they were out in the open. "Your consideration to you king is admirable," Legolas glared at him.
"I would be glad to have your company, Gimli, son of Gloin," Aragorn smiled, glad to be surrounded by so many good friends, who were willing to ride with him on what was clearly a perilous quest. Suddenly he was reminded of being back in Rivendell again, in that Council meeting where Elrond disclosed the re-emergence of the One Ring and the growing threat of Mordor. When Frodo had agreed to take the One Ring to Mount Doom, he had suddenly acquired a slew of companions who would make the journey with him. As his friends offered themselves to him, he now understood why Frodo had been willing to walk away from them in order to spare their lives.
"And what about us?" Pippin stepped forward, staring at them reproachfully for forgetting the contingent from Hobbiton. "Clearly you'll be needing people of some intelligence in this expedition. Before you say anything Merry," he glared at his friend. "I know where we're going."
"Arwen is as dear to us as she is to you Strider," Merry said seriously, ignoring Pippin for the moment. "We would be honored if you allowed us to ride with you."
"And I would be equally honored to have you Masters Brandybuck and Took." Aragorn replied graciously before his eyes rested on Frodo. "And you Frodo?"
"Sam is seeing Rosie home as we speak," Frodo announced giving Gandalf a smile. "I had some idea that you might need us and made preparations accordingly. I am sorry I kept what I knew from you Strider, Arwen begged me not to speak of it and I can never deny her anything."
Aragorn let out a heavy sigh, remembering the night before, how she felt when he kissed her, how she had whispered his name in his ear when their bodies were one. He closed his eyes and in a split second all that she was since the day he met her, tugged at his heart. He loved her so, his beautiful Undomiel and the thought that she was beyond the safety of her home, preparing to fight a battle she may not win not only for him, but also for their child, made his soul cry out in torment. He could not lose her. Being king, being alive meant nothing without her. In this life, meeting her had been his finest hour and if he had to die to keep her and their child safe, he was willing to make the sacrifice.
"It is alright Frodo," Aragorn answered with more empathy than Frodo might suspect, "I understand all too well how you feel."
"Aragorn," Elrond came to him. "She is my daughter, my Evenstar but you have been as a son since you came to us in Rivendell, I would see you safely back as well."
It meant a great deal for Aragorn to hear Elrond’s words knowing that it had not been easy for the Elven Lord to accept his daughter’s desire for the mortal life with him. "I will bring us all back safely if it is in my power."
"I believe it is," Elrond smiled as his gaze swept over the faces present. "There is very little you cannot do when your Fellowship is with you."
Aragorn smiled, realising that he was right. The Fellowship would prevail and hopefully, with it so would Arwen and Eowyn.
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.