52. Return to Minas Tirith
The few weeks at Edoras passed much too quickly. If you are happy and busy, time just flies by. At the beginning of June, summer came to Rohan. The weather turned hot, and the wide, green plains acquired a golden hue as the first tall grasses ripened and dried.
Gwirith had her pups. No problems, but a wakeful night. It was not a sight for a weak stomach. All that blood and slime. Made me think twice about wanting a baby. But the puppies turned out to be absolutely gorgeous: six little, grey fuzz balls, two of them male and four female. I was crazy enough to accept Éowyn's gift of one of them. I dubbed him Gizmo for the time being. I could not even pronounce the fancy name he was born with due to his blood-lines, which go back to Eorl's dogs or even further back, I think. It was decided that Gizmo would stay with his mother and his brother and sisters for the moment. But Éomer explained to me that if I wanted a real Rohirric dog of my own, who obeyed my every word and thought, I would have to start training him personally in a few weeks. Éowyn promised to help me there. And Éomer, too. He got the other male pup, as he lost his old dog in the war. Éomer did not yet decide on a final name for his new dog either. In fact it was largely on Éomer's account that I did not dare to give a real name to little Gizmo. Éomer told me in great detail and in a solemn voice about how you ought to wait with naming animals until you knew who they really were – with their personality and their strengths. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, the saying goes, so I nodded my head and stuck with cuddling the little fuzz ball in silence, only calling it "Gizmo" when no one was within earshot.
It occurred to me then that Rohirrim are really difficult when it comes to naming their animals. They are perfectly content with one single name for a human being, but their animals have at least three.
One for the lineage, one to impress other people and one you really use. And perhaps a fourth, really stupid name that you will use only if you are alone with you horse, your dog (or your wife, probably).
I have to admit that I had started calling my beautiful, friendly Mithril "Mimi" most of the time. That is, if Éowyn was not in earshot – because if she heard her proud Meara called "Mimi", I'd be skewered on the spot, I guess.
Early in the morning of – according to Gondorian reckoning – June 14th, I think, a company of many horses and carriages crossed the Snowbourn River, moving slowly towards Edoras.
It was, of course, the wedding company travelling to Minas Tirith from Lórien.
At the front of the train, Elladan and Elrohir rode on their great white destriers, carrying the silver banner of Imladris. Behind them followed the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn, their hair flowing down to the backs of their white steeds like silken cloaks of gold and silver. For a dizzying moment I was not able to tell what was hair and what was finely woven gown. They were crowned with circlets of gold set with white jewels, riding as the Lords of Lothlórien for the first time in centuries.
With them rode many of the fair folk of Imladris and the Golden Wood, elves and elven women, cloaked in grey and wearing elvish jewels braided in their beautiful hair. They were not accompanied by singing harp-players, however, and in spite of how some story-tellers would have it, there were no lilies and roses springing up where the hooves of their horses or their feet touched the ground. Nevertheless, it is true that the bright and clear sound of the elvish voices sounded almost like music and was heard from afar. And it did seem as if a special, almost heavenly light lay on all of their faces and made the company stand out in an unearthly glow.
Master Elrond, astride a white horse that was the spitting image of his sons' great mounts, rode at the back of the train; and with him rode Lady Arwen on a smaller horse, a gentle, grey mare with a long white mane and a soft swishing tail.
I was looking forward to meeting Arwen again. I had liked her very much during the short days I had spent in Rivendell, once I had gotten over my shyness towards the Firstborn. And I knew from many moments of catching him lost in thoughts and dreamy-eyed at Cormallen, just how happy Aragorn was about his upcoming wedding. He had to wait many lonely years for this dream to come true.
So I stood on the terrace in front of the Golden Hall next to Éowyn and watched impatiently as the company rode up to the fountain below the palace, where servants already waited to take over the horses and lead the guests to the best rooms Meduseld had to offer.
As I had expected,, Arwen's face was wreathed in happiness. A smile was on her lips. A smile was in her eyes. But then I felt myself frowning. Something was off about the way she smiled. With a start I realized that there was an underlying sense of tension in the way she held herself in the saddle.
I looked at Elrond. Suddenly it was easy to identify at least one reason for Arwen's tension.
Even I could see that it was an effort for her father to smile whenever she looked at him. Elrond's eyes were full of shadows, and his face was filled with weariness and ill-concealed grief.
I quickly looked away.
Sometimes life is beyond cruel.
Instead I tried to concentrate on the air, filled as it was with the fragrance of summer, sunshine and hay, and colourful butterflies were fluttering among the blossoms of the potted flowers set about the terrace. The weather-wise Rohirrim had told me that the weather would stay fine and hot for weeks to come, almost too fine where the farmers were concerned. But that way travelling back to Minas Tirith would be a lark, and Arwen's wedding really deserved the best weather this summer had to offer. It was a high honour for me to stand here on the terrace with Éomer and Éowyn, healthy and happy in pretty leggings and an ornate tunic to greet these high guests.
But I could not quite manage to banish the sudden sadness that squeezed my heart.
On the terrace down below the elves dismounted. The grooms were bowing almost down to their toes before they dared to take the reins of the horses and lead them away to take care of them. This scene was so funny to observe that the sudden twinge of sorrow, I had experienced a moment ago, diminished. How intimidated the servants were! Were they really that afraid of elvish magicks? But as I recalled clearly just how overwhelmed I had been in the presence of the Firstborn at Rivendell at first, I was able to keep my grin in check.
Then the company approached us, more gliding then climbing up the stairs. Being the complete elves, naturally. Elves are so damn elvish, if you know what I mean.
They walked up to us. I bowed deeply. Éowyn bowed deeply. Éomer bowed deeply.
They bowed back to us. Arwen curtsied. I was instantly glad that Rohirrim gals may wear trousers. I would tie my legs into a knot and fall right down before the Lady Galadriel's feet should I attempt a curtsy the way Arwen kept pulling them off.
"Welcome to Rohan, welcome to Edoras," Éomer told the elvish delegation. I sighed as a shiver of delight ran down my back. I felt certain that with his deliciously dark voice Éomer could hold his own against the best elvish singer – if perhaps not against the strange old harper who had sung at Cormallen, I amended in my mind. And Éomer was also almost as graceful as an elf, I mused. He looked stronger, though. His muscles were more pronounced. I thought that I rather preferred his powerful, muscular frame to the litheness of the elves. He seemed more real that way. Éomer made me feel fragile. That's a lovely feeling when you are a tall girl and normally quite curvy. How strange that here, in this world, I actually mourned the weight I had lost! And I had added only a little bit of weight since we came to Edoras because of Éowyn a.k.a. drill-sergeant Smith and her evil efforts. She was determined to get me to a level of skill that I would be able to save my life in close combat. I did not enjoy her efforts, though I did appreciate them.
Éomer went on, rousing me from my daydreams, "Quarters have been prepared for all of you in the palace. My squire will show you to your rooms so that you can refresh yourselves from your travails. Later I would ask you to join me for a welcome dinner to celebrate the friendship between Rohan and the Eldar. My ladies, my lords, if you would like to come with me for a cup of welcome and to meet my sister and the Lady Lothíriel?"
The lords and ladies in question – Galadriel, Celeborn, the twins, Elrond, Arwen and a handful of dignitaries – gracefully inclined their heads and followed Éomer into the Golden Hall, whereas Merry led the others away to the guest rooms.
I was surprised and gratified that Elladan and Elrohir hugged me in the easy manner I would have hugged my male friends back on earth. I grinned at them delightedly. My, was I glad that at least these two elves would not leave Middle-earth right away but at least stick around for my lifetime. Celeborn politely indicated a hand kiss, then moved on to chat with Éowyn.
Elrond inclined his head gracefully towards me. I whispered something like, "Wonderful to see you again, my Lord Elrond." I felt so horribly clumsy all of a sudden that I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. Elves do have those odd effects on you.
Galadriel embraced me, too. She smelled of blossoms and of cool, clear water. Don't ask me how someone can smell that way. But she did. Galadriel's eyes were just as deep and turquoise as I remembered them. But her face seemed softer, more relaxed, as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her heart.
"I am sorry for your loss," she told me in a calm voice, so that only I would hear her words.
"Thank you," I whispered. Sometimes I made it through a whole day without thinking about Boromir. Not often, but sometimes. Such things just take time. Where in those days of war only an impossible promise and a somewhat desperate desire had held my heart, in these days of peace my heart was filled in equal parts with – I admit – fluff, desire and high hopes for a future filled with happiness. That helped.
"It is good to see that you are able to move on and be happy," the lady said and smiled at Éomer. She had not lost that power. Éomer must have felt her gaze and turned around. For a moment it seemed to me as if the proud warrior blushed a little under his tan, discomfited under the lady's gaze. He came over to us and positioned himself next to me in quite a protective way. I enjoyed standing close to him, feeling the warmth of his body against my side. The lady's smile widened and she gave me a tiny wink.
"I am lucky," I said and my smile belonged to Éomer. "Really lucky."
Dark eyes lit up in an answer that did not need any words.
Then Arwen walked over to me. Her embrace was unexpectedly fierce. "It is good to meet you again, Lothíriel." The words practically tumbled out of her mouth. Suddenly there were tears in her eyes. She was more than nervous. Underneath her happiness threatened a deep well of despair.
Fuck, was the word that came to my mind.
I remembered how I had met Arwen in Rivendell. A high, lovely lady, but easy to talk to and to laugh with. I remembered how her eyes had lit up whenever she saw Aragorn. How his eyes had lit up whenever he saw Arwen. Now she was travelling to her wedding and her one true love, and all she should be was be happy and care-free, and look at her!
I might not be good at girl talk, but I did realize when someone was on the verge of tears. It would do nothing for the atmosphere if Arwen were to break down crying with nerves and grief in front of her father, who looked to be on the verge of tears himself.
"Tea for three," I said firmly. "Éowyn, why don't you and I have some tea with Arwen in the rose garden. Some peace and quiet before the festivities." I widened my eyes at my friend and raised my eyebrows slightly. Éowyn did not have the sixth sense of an elf, but she was very perceptive. Probably more so than I was.
"My lords, my lady, if you will excuse us," Éowyn said politely. "If you will follow me? The rose garden is really beautiful this time of the year." Then she walked briskly ahead of us towards the rose garden.
"Come, my lady," I whispered and, firmly banishing that feeling of awe that seemed to be inevitable in the presence of the elves, forced myself to put my arm around Arwen and lead her off, following Éowyn. Éowyn in passing ordered a servant to serve tea and things for three in the pavilion in the rose garden.
"Oh, but that is indeed a beautiful garden," Arwen exclaimed when she walked through the gate.
The rose garden of Edoras was exceptionally beautiful. It was hidden in a sheltered southern corner behind the palace, and during the last days it had filled up with colourful, delicate blossoms and a delightful, heady fragrance. A small fountain, decorated with a dolphin of all things, strangely out of place in this horse-centric environment, burbled with clear, cool water and to one side of the garden there was an enormous aviary with some twenty or thirty song birds native to Rohan, which were trilling happy songs all day. At the centre of the rose garden was a thatched pavilion with a round table and some simple wooden chairs set around it. Éowyn and I often had our tea in that pavilion during the last sunny days, which is how I happened on the idea to go there with Arwen for some respite.
"There, sit down and relax," I told Arwen. The elf promptly slumped down as ungraceful as any human girl, hid her face in her arms and started crying.
Éowyn looked at me with a bewildered expression on her face. I shrugged. How could I possibly explain what I suspected to be the reason for Arwen's tears? Now was not the time for explanations. Éowyn nodded and walked away to get the tea herself, sparing Arwen the humiliation of servants witnessing her outburst. As a shield-maiden of Rohan she knew about pride and keeping up appearances in dire circumstances. I sat down next to Arwen and, elf-maiden or no, put my arm around her. Finally her sobbing stopped. I produced a wrinkled white kerchief from my pocket, grateful that I had managed for once not only to have one on my person, but that it was clean, too.
Arwen rubbed impatiently at her eyes and blew her nose. When she looked at me again, you would not have believed that she had been sobbing her heart out a minute before. No red-rimmed and blotchy eyes for elvish princesses. Life's unfair that way.
"Thank you," she said, her voice trembling. "You must think me very strange. Here I am on the way to my wedding, to the one I love, and I am so happy, and at the same time I am so sad. I feel like I'm breaking apart. I have waited many lonely years to be wed, imagining all the details of this day… And now I only wish the wedding was already over." She sighed, then pulled herself together with an almost visible effort, managing a brave smile that would have flattened most mortal men well and good. But somehow I managed to see through that brave smile. Somehow, for the first time, I was able to see not the elf, but the person. Her smile was an act. It was a good act as acts go, but it was only that, an act.
"I know I am being silly," Arwen repeated and went on in an obviously well-rehearsed litany. "It's probably only the journey, a case of nerves, because of the wedding…"
"You are not silly. And I know it's neither the journey, nor the wedding," I told her. "Look, I may be mortal, but I'm not stupid. It's o.k. if you are sad."
At that moment Éowyn came back with a tray with cups, plates, a pot of tea and a cake.
She put down the tray and swiftly poured tea and divided up the cake. Then she turned towards Arwen and smiled politely. "I don't think we have been introduced yet. I am Éowyn, sister to Éomer King, sister-daughter to Théoden son of Thengel."
Arwen made as if to rise and curtsy. But Éowyn shook her head. "Just stay seated and have that cup of tea. It's an herbal mixture. Lime and chamomile, to soothe you, my lady."
"Thank you," Arwen said. "But please, call me Arwen."
I was dismayed to hear about Éowyn's choice of tea. Although it might do wonders for Arwen's frazzled nerves, I am – when healthy – not really partial to chamomile tea. Éowyn grinned at me. Then she reached behind her back and put a second pot of tea on the table.
"You know that you are mean, Éowyn, don't you?"
Éowyn just grinned at me. Distracted, Arwen raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"Lothy here does not really like my herbal mixtures, that's all," Éowyn explained to the elf.
"Oh, but it is really good. And you made it quite strong. I guess I need that, though," Arwen admitted wryly.
"Éowyn is really good with herbs," I said, refusing to rise to the bait. "Do you feel better now?"
Arwen nodded. "Yes, I do. Thank you for…" She hesitated. "Thank you for getting me away from my Ada."
"What is the matter between you and your lord father, if I may be so bold and ask? You are going to marry a king and one of the most valiant and honourable men of our times," Éowyn asked. "How could your father be opposed to that?"
Silence stretched out between us, a silence filled with flitting thoughts: because she will die and he will leave Middle-earth, they will never see each other again…
"I will become mortal and die when I marry Aragorn," Arwen replied simply. "When my father leaves for Aman, the Blessed Realm, in a few years, we will never meet again, even beyond the end of time."
"You will sacrifice your immortality for Aragorn?" Éowyn stared at Arwen.
I felt my face grow in turns hot and cold as I remembered Éowyn's infatuation with Aragorn not so very long ago. And I had just dumped the reason for Aragorn's refusal to look at Éowyn as a woman right in her lap. Even though she really, truly loved someone else by now, it was probably not amusing to meet the other woman. But once again I had underestimated Éowyn. I guess I should have known. With her penchant for heroic deeds, this sacrifice immediately formed a bond between the two women.
"Yes, I will," Arwen whispered. "I have. I have sworn that I would never regret it. But to see Ada so sad…" Tears gleamed in her eyes.
What was there to say to that?
"I am sure your father will be happy when he sees that you are happy," Éowyn said encouragingly, though her eyes held the shadows of her own grief and loss. "And Aragorn is a truly great man."
Arwen nodded, trying, knowing that the other was right, but with her heart not really convinced.
"How do you do it?" she asked suddenly.
"How do we do what?" I looked at her, waiting for her to go on.
"How do you bear it to lose people you love forever?"
I felt a lump in my throat as my mind turned to a memory of a sunny afternoon on the banks of a cold mountain river, a memory of a smiling face, bright, grey eyes, sweet kisses and a promise that never came true.
Éowyn's eyes turned to that glassy stare you get when you are fighting against tears, and losing the battle. I knew what she remembered. She was the best friend I ever had. We had talked not only about sex during the nights here at Edoras. She was thinking about her uncle and her cousin right now. She was thinking of the day of the Battle of the Pelennor and of her uncle's body smashed under his beloved horse. She was thinking about the wee hours of a dark night spent sitting at the bedside of her cousin when all her hoping and praying had been in vain, and the eyes of a Worm had followed her every step.
"Well," I said slowly. Éowyn would not find words yet, I knew that. "We go on living. Day by bloody day. At first, you think you can't make it, to go on living without them. But you have to. You think about them, every day. Hell, every night. And it hurts so much that you think you can't bear it. You cannot even imagine that there might come a time when you don't think about them day and night. But you go on. What else is there to do? They would want you to go on. They would not want you to remain sad forever. And after a time, a few months, or a year, or two years, there comes a time when a day can go by and you don't think about the ones you lost. There comes a day when you can remember the good times you had together, there comes a time when you can be happy about each precious memory of the time you shared. There comes a day when you can look back and smile…"
There comes a time when the agony of loss turns into a bittersweet, aching smile.
I realized that I was not quite at the point of looking back with a smile yet where Boromir was concerned, but I noticed to my relief that the pain had faded to a tolerable ache. Talking about Boromir with Faramir and Éowyn had helped. Admitting that I had loved him and that I had lost him helped.
How long would it be until I would be able to live my own advice, until I would be able to look back with a smile?
As if on cue I felt tears well up in my eyes again, and knew at once that I would not be able to hold them back. Damn it all to hell. The one day I had had a clean kerchief…
I sniffed noisily and rubbed my sleeves across my eyes.
When I looked up, I saw that Éowyn was crying, too, releasing her grief in a silent flood that sparkled like tiny crystals on her cheeks in the sunlight.
This time, Arwen did not hide her tears.
So we sat in the rose garden of Edoras, two young women and one elf, and cried our hearts out over love and loss and war and the transience of mortal life. When we finally dried our tears and proceeded to drink our tea and eat our cake, we were friends, the three of us.
We were friends and have been ever since that sunny afternoon in the rose garden of Edoras.
Some friendships begin in a heap of manure. This one began with tears and a clean handkerchief.
You may guess which way I prefer.
Yes, you are right.
It's definitely the manure heap.
Two days later we set out for Minas Tirith.
I was disappointed when I realized that Glorfindel, the Lord of the Golden Flower, had not come to see Arwen married, but instead had remained behind to rule Imladris while Elrond was away.
Glorfindel had been my first friend among the elves. The first elf I knew beyond that feeling of breathless awe that the presence of the Firstborn inspired in me. It was him who had taught me how to shield my mind against the evil power of the enemy. Without Glorfindel's help, I would never have made it through the quest. I would have lost my life and probably my soul. I had wanted to thank him. I had wanted him to meet Éomer.
Now I was wondering if I would ever see the gold-haired elf again.
But although Glorfindel had not been able to come himself, to my surprise he had sent me a gift. It was a small bag of dark green velvet that contained two small elvish jewels of an exceptionally beautiful green colour. They would make perfect earrings to go with the beryl that I found so many months ago in the dust of the Last Bridge.
I guess that means even if I never see Glorfindel again, we will remain friends. Friends forever. We humans may be mortal, but that does not mean we don't have a little bit of immortality in our souls, too. I for one do believe that friendship and love may last forever. Through life and death and time and space.
Isn't this what life is all about?
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.