1. Chapter One
This story is inspired chiefly by Tolkien's work, specifically the Appendix, but there are shades of movie-verse in one or two passages where I felt it furthered the story.
"I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world."
----Aragorn, The Return of the King
She fled ever upward on a secret path he had traveled long ago, climbing toward the sky as if with some desperate hope that she might touch it, and find him again.
Only the High Kings had come to the precipice she stepped upon now, and she stared out over what had been his, and hers, where she had spent the years of her life that truly mattered, laughing, rejoicing, grieving, and always, always loving.
All the leagues below were of him; the mountains and the fields and the rivers, and the great stone city below her that the plains broke upon. He had united the people of Middle Earth. His people--his men--would have, and did at the darkest time, follow him unto the ends of the earth, for the simple, pure, and unending love of him.
Yes, he had been loved. Oh, how they had all loved him, and none so much as she.
She had passed all the years' darkness in his arms with the reassurance of the persistent thrumming of his heart just below her ear as he slept. She had thought him to be everlasting and denied fiercely that this time would come because there could be no world at all without him.
She had been right. Her world had tilted, spun hard, and come apart at the seams. The land below was as barren as Mordor now. She could take no comfort from his city, his realm. The wind caressed her cheeks, but it did not soothe as once it might have. She would never take ease in another touch again.
Standing in the place where Gandalf had brought Aragorn as he rose to all his glory, she could feel the tremble of the earth beneath her and knew it to be the hoof beats of horses long gone departing the city one last time, never to return. A clear note of memory fell upon her, like the silver trumpets that had always called him home to her.
She closed her eyes, lifted her chin, and conjured the past.
How was it so easy to recall him in a tree in Rivendell as a boy? Standing before her on the morning he departed with the Fellowship, unsure of his task, of the fate of the world, of everything but his love for her. Waiting in his winged crown, so regal, so wise, where none had denied his worth any longer as she rode into Minas Tirith on the night they became man and wife?
In her ears still there was Eldarion's angry cry and Aragorn's tearful laughter as he held his firstborn with one hand and gripped her shoulder with the other. She could hear ringing of steel upon steel as he and Éowyn teasingly sparred in the Great Hall one winter almost ninety years before, while fires roared and the world outside swirled madly in a blizzard. See the pleasure in his face as he looked over the horses that had been a gift from Éomer on the fifth anniversary of the fall of Sauron. See him in the courtyard below their chambers as he'd walked with Faramir in the early morning sunshine discussing matters of State, or pretending to as they actually discussed the lore of old.
Forever riding through the gates with Legolas at his side, both of them laughing from their adventures and the absolute ease of friendship and brotherhood they shared. At each other's elbows over the years they had lost the need of words. Staggering into their chambers after a night of drinking ale with Gimli. Smiling with pride as Merry and Pippin told him their tales of war, or as he held Sam's children. Forehead creased in concern as he watched Frodo for signs of the old injury. Beaming as he watched Gliriel canter for the first time on her pony, Eldarion's arrow find its home in a target. Trying to smile through his tears as he passed Imeren's hand to the man she had chosen, the son of Faramir, who bore the name of his fallen brother.
The terrible loss and knowledge in his eyes as he stood first at Éomer's burial, then at Éowyn's, and again at Faramir's. And so many since then.
She could still see every expression, every line of his face, every facet of his eyes clearly. And still she knew the memories would never be enough, not for she who had known the sound of his voice roughened with sleep and the easy touch of battle scarred hands.
It was why she had been unable to leave Middle Earth with her father. Because she would not live with only a memory of Aragorn's love.
Memories, it seemed, were all that remained. Faramir had passed from the world nearly forty years past, and dear, beautiful little Éowyn five years before that. Legolas had been scarce in recent years, and she knew that it troubled him to see that time was marking Aragorn for her own and that soon she would claim him. Gimli was getting on in years and could not travel so easily. Hobbits rarely made the journey from the Shire.
They were all still so near to her, and him most of all, yet the distance was one she could not traverse.
The pictures of him in her mind were so real, so clear, that he seemed to ride upon the very wind rushing past her, and she thought that if she moved quickly enough, she might seize him back.
But he was lost to her, and though the very air was filled with him, the one that had given such shades of meaning to her life was gone, and she felt herself hollowing, felt emptiness spreading from the center of her and outward.
She turned slowly from her place at the edge of the mountain, and felt some cross of pain and pride tighten her chest as her son paused in the clearing, looking uncertain. He had the look of his father. Words were too hard at this moment, she realized as she faced him, her throat ached far too much for speech. She had sent for him, had left word for him to meet her here.
She did not know if she had a goodbye left within her and here was the one that mattered most. The words she had to say to him, she could not. Not when he stood before her, uncertainty and fear and grief still burning in eyes that were his father's, as well as a new knowledge that he was to lose her as well.
"You are leaving." It was not a question, not an accusation, but an accepted fact. Eldarion's eyes did not give her quarter as he walked to join her.
Wordlessly, she looked out upon the city and nodded, as the first hot tear scalded her cheek. Guilt and shame alike filled her. She had not the strength to stay here. Not even for her children. Because though they had her love, Aragorn had always been her soul. He had been the beginning and ending of all things. And she had not the desire, the strength, nor the will to discover what was beyond him.
"I miss him." Eldarion said simply. His tears swelled and glittered, were cradled upon his dark lashes. "I try to imagine how it must be, for you. And though I would have you here with me, I would not ask it. Because I see the light in your eyes has died away and that you cannot remain here. I will grieve, but I shall know joy again."
"And I shall not," Arwen observed aloud Eldarion's unspoken words.
He tried to turn them away. "There is hope of better times. Always, there is hope. You taught me to look for hope in all things, at all times."
And at that moment and with startling clarity, she understood Gilraen and her utter loss of hope after the death of Arathorn. Even in the darkest hours of the world, Arwen had clung to hope, refusing to relinquish it and scorning as fools those who would. Only now could she appreciate the strength of a mother who had gone on for so many years after the loss of the one she loved. She had chosen to live and she had raised her son until he stood alone.
Arwen wondered if her own son still had need of her, could she stay even then? She did not know the answer with certainty. All she knew was that Gilraen had remained.
She was blind with tears as she gave her son bitter words once uttered by Aragorn's mother to him, but she gave them gently as she stepped forward and lay her hand against his strong cheekbone. "Onen i-Estel Edain, u-chebin estel anim."(1)
Eldarion's hand rose and held hers against his face, hard, and she knew he understood what her words meant, that soon she would pass from the circles of the world in search of whatever hope she might find beyond it.
He then bowed his kingly head and his shoulders heaved in a great sob. Arwen's tears broke then, for she had never been able to bear her children's pain, and she stepped forward to take her son into her arms. She held hard to him, and he to her, and she did not know if she would be able to let go, though she knew it was the time to do so.
This man, this King of Men, who was his father's image had also learned his father's patience and wisdom and charity. And his honor. But perhaps what would remain Aragorn's true legacy, Eldarion was of a heart as loving, as loyal, as fiercely unselfish as Aragorn. Men adored Eldarion and would follow him, as they had followed his father, to whatever fate.
And now Eldarion turned that selfless love upon Arwen, and gave her understanding when she was full of doubt and pain for leaving him. And finally, Arwen realized that she did not hold her son in comfort; her son held her.
At last they quelled their tears and stood together hand in hand, and they looked out over Gondor.
"Look at it, Mother. Look at what he has built," Eldarion said with wonder, "at what you both have built together."
"Above all things, he found pride in you. Above all things, we loved you," Arwen whispered, for the words could not come any stronger.
"And always have I known it. And never will I forget the love you both gave to me, but perhaps what I will remember most of all is the love you bore for one another. Never was there such a love in all the world. Never will there be again."
Eldarion stayed with her until at last, she sent him away to his duties. When he went his shoulders were square and broad and his head high, and he did not look back, save once, just before he bent a corner and passed from her sight.
He looked so tall and strong and young, as the wind swept his dark hair across his forehead and clung to his damp cheeks. His hand was set upon his sword hilt just so, as Aragorn's forever was. For a moment, she might have been looking at Estel as she had the day she knew she would build a life with him, as he stood in Lothlórien clad in elven white.
She blinked frantically as tears blinded her sight of him, and as her vision cleared, he was gone down his path.
Much later, after he had climbed to the bottom of the mountain, she saw him racing across the plain upon his horse and heard the faint trumpet as the Tower Guard called him back to the city that was now his own. The white walls of the city welcomed and sheltered him, and so was the last sight she had of her son in this world.
When the wind had dried her final tears, she turned from her last view of the city of Men and made her way back down the mountain paths. As she came to the foot of it, she saw a horse coming toward her at full gallop, and when she recognized the rider, everything within her stilled.
There were still goodbyes left to say after all. And how did one say a lifetime's worth of goodbye?
Legolas had come to her.
He pulled his stallion to an abrupt halt above her. Her hand unconsciously rose to the horse's high crested neck and she stared hard at the animal for a moment, unable to bring herself to raise her eyes.
He waited in silence, and his pain was a tangible thing. She could feel it from this proximity to him, so potent and raw and deep that he might have bled with it. At last, reluctantly, she lifted her gaze.
His grief was absolute, irrevocable, as only those who do not bend under their passing years are wont to know it. Since they had known him, they had shared a love for Aragorn, a complete and undying love. And they paid the price now of loving him, of giving their hearts to one who had left them, the one who had been fated to leave them from the very first day.
He knew death then as she knew and it was a bitter lesson for them both.
His pain was not all his own, she knew. He grieved for her as well, for whatever it was that he saw in her eyes as he met them. At last, he held a hand out to her.
She stepped to his side and took his hand and pushed her face in it, and her tears slipped through his fingers and were greedily taken by the dust of Gondor.
With his other hand, he touched her hair and then lifted her chin, and she looked into his dark eyes and she nodded and allowed him to pull her onto the horse before him.
He would see her to Lothlórien. They would make a last journey as friends, and though she had no need of his comfort or his protection, she would have both. Aragorn would have wanted it so. It was not, just yet, the time for parting.
Eldarion, from high in the citadel, with his youngest sister at his side, watched as a horse raced across the plains, not for the city but from it.
The riders' hair whipped like golden and ebony banners behind them, and not once did they slow down, not once did they hesitate or look back.
And neither Eldarion nor Gliriel, nor any who watched the going of their beloved Queen and their King's most loved friend, were certain if they were running away from Elessar, or desperately chasing after him.
At last, the riders passed into the shadow of the mountains and were lost from even the keenest sight. Eldarion had just turned from the window, when from the tower a single blast of trumpet rode out upon the wind, after the two who had passed on. That note reached far into the heart of Gondor and hung upon the air longer than any call from the city had ere that day, haunting and somber.
Eldarion bowed his head further.
"Goodbye," he said softly into the air.
They traveled paths that had once been fraught with grave danger, paths where the Fellowship's footsteps had fallen, when they had been so young, and brave, and had refused to accept the coming of darkness, even faced with their impossible task.
When they came to Lórien, there had been few words between them.
The wood too, was dead. Haunted, men said and none dared cross the old borders of the elves. The trees, with none to walk among them, with none to admire them, had seemingly given up hope of their own, spearing the sky like high, broken swords of warriors long lost upon battlefields below.
Legolas would go into the West and find what peace awaited. Maybe the voice of a sea that had called him for so many years would rise above the memory of men's voices and laughter and the sound of wind in the trees.
And so it was that he stood before the Evenstar and leaned forward and kissed her upon the brow, then lightly upon the lips. He held to her hard for a moment, and she to him. She had been such a part of his life, ever smiling and alight with hope and love and goodness.
Legolas had loved them both well and long. But this was a time of endings between them.
There was fear in him. Fear of final goodbye. He wished for what could not be, and he was frightened of what would become of her. Perhaps more frightened than he had been in his time on Middle Earth, he who had stood against the darkest army of the age.
Arwen stepped away first, bringing a slim hand to touch his cheek in fondness, for she loved him still, as he loved her, and there was no need of the words between them.
She turned and walked away, and it was far too late for backwards glances. She pulled the hood of her cloak close around her face, walked into and merged with the mists lingering there with the rotting trees. Her shifting shape was lost in the shadows, and he looked for her long, long after she had faded completely from his sight.
And then he left Arwen in the Lady's woods because it was what she wished, and he turned to find his way home.
She went to the hill where they'd made promises to one another, and with the heat of Legolas' lips still lingering upon her brow--a brand to carry with her and the last touch of another she would have upon Middle Earth--she lay herself down and she waited.
For the first time in her life, time seemed to stretch, rather than stealthily absorb the moments between her heartbeats, until she felt she had stayed there for an eternity, apart from him.
But not even so worthy a foe as time may win over loves that will not respectfully bow to the boundaries of hours and days and years and ages, and at last, below her, the earth changed and time relented.
She could feel him again, could hear his voice on the wind and feel his heartbeat beneath the bones of the earth and the sky was the hue of his eyes. He was everywhere. He was everything.
Joy and peace swelled within her to such proportions that she wondered if there was any way to contain it, or if it would simply dissolve the limits of her and scatter her to the wind.
And in escaping the circle of the world, she completed her own.
(1) Translation (from Appendix A): I gave Hope to the Dunedain, I have kept no hope for myself.
*My thanks to the reviewers who gave me their thoughtful comments on this. All were considered with gratitude for the spirit in which they were given; some were heeded and others not in keeping my own vision for this story.
Title Translation: Farewell, Elessar
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.