2. Chapter Two
Valar help me, it has been less than a day since I saw him last. Will it always be so? she wondered dazedly, watching him make his way down the length of the room. His progress was slowed by many greetings and he did not look at her again, but she could feel his awareness of her humming like a harp string between them.
He looks like a prince. She hoped she was not being too obvious in her enjoyment of the sight of him dressed - for once! - as befitted his rank, in a soft dark green cloak and elven-mail, with the star of the Dunédain gleaming at his shoulder.
When he finally reached her chair he bowed to her and to Elrond in the Elven fashion, hand over heart. I can think of several ways I would rather greet him - and be greeted, she thought wickedly. Wouldn't that give Lindir and the rest something to gossip about! She nodded to him regally, letting only her eyes show her joy at seeing him.
"Good evening, my lord. I am pleased to see you here."
"Thank you, my lady." He followed her lead, taking refuge in formality. But his eyes answered hers, likewise a little dazed, and she shivered.
"Have I missed Bilbo's recitation?"
"Yes - although only just," said Elrond. "It was...an ambitious work." Laughter rippled in his voice, and she smiled with relief as he let her feel some of the amusement he had been hiding behind his serious demeanour. Maybe tonight we will be able to talk easily, the three of us, she thought longingly.
Aragorn chuckled. "I warned him that if he had the gall to make verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond, he deserved whatever would come to him. He would not be gainsaid, though. Hobbits are amazing creatures."
The affection in his voice was warm and clear, and she followed his gaze to the doorway, where Bilbo was leaving with his young cousin. Just then, Frodo turned back towards the dais and seemed to be looking at them through the throng. She smiled at him, even though she wasn't sure he could see her, while her healer's eye assessed his condition.
"He is recovering well," said Aragorn beside her, echoing her thought with deep gratitude and something close to awe.
"It was a very near thing," said her father quietly. "He came very close to something much worse than death."
Before these last few days, I do not think I would have said there could be anything worse than death, Arwen thought. I never truly understood how Men could speak of it as Iluvatar's Gift - as a release, sometimes even a promise of peace...To us it has seemed ever a prison sentence, sundering us eternally from all that we hold dear. But... she remembered Frodo, in a moment of lucidity somewhere in the middle of the third night, begging "Strider" to kill him before the Ring overtook his mind completely, so he would not draw his friends into the Shadow with him. It had struck her forcibly. His death was the only weapon left to him. There would have been freedom, after all, in wielding it so - and a kind of power. Then, the inevitable, bleak thought: Will death be a gift or a weapon to me, when it comes? Or will it just be a meaningless ending, a disappearance into nothingness beyond the circles of the world?
She felt the touch of her father's mind, and knew that he had followed her thoughts. When she met his eyes, they were dark with the bottomless anguish that he had so seldom let her see since her betrothal. Grief and fear and anger suddenly spiralled through their connection, his and her own all tangled together, and she welcomed it all even as she struggled to encompass it. Please let this at last be a chink in the wall he has raised between us! Let him share the burden with me, that we might both be comforted...But even as she reached out to him, soul to soul, he closed his mind to hers so abruptly that she gasped in pain. Ada, please! she cried inwardly, but with shuttered eyes he turned away, sliding smoothly into conversation with Erestor on his other side, leaving her alone.
"Arwen?" Now Aragorn was looking at her with concern. She tried to smile at him, long-honed protective instincts holding sway. He feels guilt enough for the grief he thinks he has caused by loving me.
"I am well, my lord. Perhaps a little weary, that is all. I probably ought not to have come into the Hall tonight - I fear I am not very good company."
His mouth quirked up in a rueful half-grin. "Nor I - after so long in the wild, being in such a crowd comes hard to me at first...even in Imladris." He hunched his shoulders up briefly. "In fact, it makes me want to find a corner and hide in it," he said, trying to make light of the matter - but the tense line of his body echoed her own formless, vague uneasiness.
"Then why did you come, if I may ask?" She knew the answer, of course, but found that she needed to hear him say it, needed the intimate look he gave her that was like a touch of hands.
"To see you," he replied. This time her smile came more easily, but she found she could not meet his eyes for long. She turned her gaze back towards the singers.
"Truly, Arwen, are you well?" he persisted quietly. "Just now, you looked - "
"I am perfectly well," she said, cutting him off with more force than she had intended. Please, not here, Estel! She took a deep breath. Her voice sounded brittle to her ears. "But...I think perhaps I would like to be somewhere quieter, just now. Will you come and walk in the gardens with me, my lord?"
He looked at her, and she knew what he was thinking. Is it wise for us to leave together, in front of everyone? They had never kept their association a secret...but usually they kept any overt demonstration of it private. Well, she thought with sudden anger, my father pretends so well not to feel anything, let him now pretend not to notice this.
As applause broke out for the end of the song, she stood and bade the company good night; including even her father in a brilliant smile she did not feel. Moving down the hall with Aragorn at her elbow, she felt Elrond's eyes on her back and lifted her chin, wondering how it was that centuries after coming of age, her father could still make her feel like a naughty child, half ashamed and half defiant. But I am not a child anymore, Ada, and I must make my own way.
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.