1. Watery Grave
Lothlorien once glowed with life and energy, the trees sang and the elves were there to listen. All was warmth and light, and by the grace of Galadriel, Arwen spent years upon years in happiness beneath the golden eaves of the forest.
The leaves are falling, which should herald the passing of Winter into Spring. But Spring has not yet come. Though Arwen walks among the same trees and feels the same dappled sunlight on her skin, the singing has ceased. And where once there was a soft carpet of grass and flowers now dead things crackle beneath her feet.
It is lonely here, and she thinks often of her family - of her children and how their company felt empty without Estel. She could not stay with them. She came here to mourn, and to live out her remaining days. She chose this - always she must remind herself - she chose to be alone.
And so, alone, she mourns. But if she cries, it is not so much now for her loss, but because she does not want to die.
And though it only makes things worse, she thinks about sailing to the west, and being with her people again. She misses them - not even Celeborn remains here now.
She wants to see her family again, especially her mother, who was hardly even herself when she left Middle Earth - only a shadow of Celebrian in the end. Arwen tries not to think of what she has herself become. But of her mother she does think, and of how they did not know, when they said goodbye, that they would be forever parted.
It seems terribly unfair.
She wishes her mother was with her. In her weakest moments, she wishes anyone was. She is so lonely, and afraid to die, and she wants her mother, but most of all she wants to live.
Now, in this stark solitude, it seems horrific that she has brought this on herself. But, had she the same life to live over again, she has to believe she would make the same choice. There is bitterness and sorrow, but there cannot be regret.
Near the old borders of the woods, which are not so defined as they once were, she comes to walk alongside the Nimrodel. The ice must be melting up in the mountains, for the stream is high up the banks and flows fast and chill. The sound of the rushing water is still soothing and melodic though, and she listens, thinking back on times past.
It is a thing valued by her people, remembered in song, and its waters have brought relief to many a weary soul. She does not look for healing here, though, for she knows she will find none. Still she idles by the waterside, for one place is as good as another, after all.
Then, for the first time in a long while, something unexpected happens.
There is a figure before her in the stream who was not there before. A woman, standing waist high, water cascading down bare limbs and yellow hair.
Arwen starts forward suddenly.
For a moment, it might be her grandmother there in the river, all golden radiance like a bright sunlit morning. But even as she steps closer to the water's edge, the illusion of likeness is gone.
'Who are you?' she asks of the one who is not Galadriel.
'Goldberry I am called by some. River-daughter am I. And you are the Evenstar, that I have come to speak with. Many water-ways have I taken to be here, over land and under.'
She does not know what to say to this woman risen up out of the water, her long hair her only covering, who is really not like Galadriel at all. She is golden and glowing with a warmth that speaks of the earth and living things. Galadriel was hard and pure as the stars. And whoever - whatever - Goldberry may be, she is more than elf-kind, Arwen realises. Familiar-seeming too, though Arwen is certain they have never met before.
'You spoke the name of Galadriel to me,' Goldberry says. 'She it was passed through the land of my lover, as she went on her final journey. She bade me bring this message to you.'
Arwen is curious now. It was over a hundred years ago that Galadriel left the shores of Middle Earth forever - the message has been a long time in reaching her.
'What is it?' she asks.
'That you are not forgotten.'
She is bewildered, and does not understand. She suddenly wants to cry, and for all the weeping she has done, now she finds she cannot.
'Galadriel saw this fate you bear, Arwen, dearest daughter of your people. She could not remain here for you, and was sorry for it - that you should be now so alone. But I have always been here, and always will be, and I would give you now what solace I may.'
Arwen has many questions, but only gives voice to one of them.
'What would you do for me?' she begs, and as the tears finally fall she would take anything, anything.
The woman raises an eyebrow. There are many things in her gaze - warmth and light and laughter, and things far, far beyond understanding, and gentle pity, worst of all.
'Many things, perhaps. We will see.'
Goldberry is laughing now, or perhaps it is the joyful babbling of the brook - that Arwen only just now notices is still joyful, despite everything - or perhaps they are one and the same. She comes up out of the water, until it only reaches her ankles, and holds her hands out for Arwen to take.
'Come and swim,' she invites, laughing again, 'The water is cold and beautiful.'
Arwen is drawn out into the middle of the fast-flowing stream where it is deepest.
Goldberry was right, it is icy cold - she feels it keenly against every inch of her - and it is beautiful. The water washes over and around her, holds her softly, receives her tears and carries them away.
She is not healed, but there is comfort in the river's embrace, and some relief from the great weariness that lies upon her mind and body.
Day by day she feels herself ending. Little by little, fading like a flower between the pages of a book. She has felt it since the moment she bound herself to him. Now though, there is nothing to dull the sensation of her life draining away. It aches sharply, a constant weeping wound.
The current is swift and when it catches and pulls at the heavy material of her skirts she does not resist - just lets her feet be swept out from beneath her. She does not have the strength to keep it from sweeping her away.
Then long golden arms are around her, bearing her up in the water, the hold firm and sure.
'Not yet,' whispers the river-daughter, and cradles Arwen to her chest, and strokes her cold wet face.
Arwen is almost sobbing now. She wants to turn and cling to the other woman's body, but she has no strength. It has been so long since last she felt the touch of another. Mortal or immortal, it is something all beings crave.
How long has it been? It feels like a long time since she held her children in her arms that last time, since she left them behind. And yet she lives still, here, in Goldberry's embrace.
Hearing the clear lilting voice crooning words of comfort, she is reminded not of Galadriel as before, but of her mother and the warmth of her love.
'I do not know how to bear this,' she confesses. 'I do not want to die, but... I want this to end.'
'Be comforted,' is the reply, 'It is not for you to be carried off to the sea. Enjoy the water - given time it washes all things clean.' And the river-daughter turns Arwen's face towards her own.
Goldberry's kiss is a different sort of drowning.
The waters pour from mouth to mouth, she cannot tell in which direction they flow, but the rushing sound of it is loud in her ears. The sea is with them - and summer rains and winter snow and the clouds ever in the sky - the relentless life-blood of the earth that washes all things clean and wears all away, witness to the change of seasons, to time itself.
The current is fast, it pulls at her, and its lure is strong. But she holds on, clinging tight, because there is so much she has given up already - it is all she can think of. But it is the only way, in the end. Her own choice brought her here, and that is a comfort, at least - that she chose her own fate.
And so she lets it go, lets it all go. Relaxes her hold and realises what a tenuous grasp she has had on it all along. It is so simple, so effortless this time, to give up all the long years of her life.
The water passes through her and over her and flows away down the Nimrodel to the sea, bearing her memories of such bitter loss and the knowledge of all she has brought upon herself. And she is left shaking in Goldberry's arms, feeling empty and weightless.
Her heart is lighter. To dull the edge of her sorrow there is forgetfulness, and also hope. She sees clearly what lies before her at the end - it is not death, but a return to her lover. A time when she will be whole again.
Though, it seems far away, and not quite with her but with another Arwen, one she has been in another time and place, or perhaps an Arwen she will become. She has no need to ache for it.
What she feels is not bliss, but neither is it pain, and so she is grateful.
'This will pass, Evenstar,' says Goldberry, and rests her cheek against Arwen's dark hair. 'As all things do.'
Then she sings a long, soothing song, like rain, that softly and sweetly fills the air and for a time it almost seems that the trees are not so faded - that they remember their life and power of former years. It is as if Spring has come to Lorien.
To the sound of the river-daughter's voice and the echoing whispers of the trees, Arwen falls asleep...
And wakes to find Goldberry has pulled her from the water, and is holding her face and looking at her with timeless eyes. She is saying goodbye.
'Now I must go,' she says, 'For I too have a lover, who will also be waiting.'
The river-daughter gently kisses her forehead, which she barely feels, then her mouth, which lingers, thankfully, since this one last caress must last the rest of her life. And then Goldberry is gone, swallowed by the water.
Arwen is alone, her clothes and hair sodden, so heavy with water she does not have the strength to lift her face from the mud of the bank on which she lies.
The stream laps at her toes till night comes on, and still she does not move but looks up at the stars through the overhanging branches.
Tomorrow, she thinks, she will go to Cerin Amroth. One place is as good as another, but still she wants to see it again, to remind herself of that place where, she thinks, she might have been happy for a time.
Tomorrow, she thinks. Tomorrow she will go there.
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.