1. Part One: When Winter First Begins To Bite
Later there would be a grand feast to pay homage to the late King and tribute to the new. The cooks kept the ovens roaring from dawn until dusk for the better part of a week. But now, there was only a loving father giving soft words of encouragement to his son before the final good-bye. Then that too was said and the King of Gondor and Arnor went to meet his people, followed by the advisors who now answered to him.
A kiss and a word for each and then the daughters also made their way from the ancient tombs.
Dimly, the couple heard the joyous shouts of praise and greeting. How appropriate, a new King crowned at the beginning of a new season. Life was renewed all around. However, for the widow-to-be, spring had come and gone and she began to feel the chill bite of winter in her heart.
Silence reigned. With a sigh, Aragorn lay back on the cold, unyielding stone. Arwen stood at his side, as she had for the last six score years since he attained the throne: Elessar, of the house of Telcontar, the last King of the Elder Days. So long had been his reign that there were now none left in the city that remembered the rule of the Stewards. None left that had seen the Battle of the Pelennor or the Battle at the Black Gate. The youngest infant who cried at the shriek of the Nazgul laid dead and buried for over forty long years.
Yet for Arwen Undomiel, the time allotted them was still not enough and, despite her vow, she could not help but ask her beloved for a little more.
She embraced the sound of his voice even as she shrank from his words.
“The grace given to you as a daughter of Elrond, you returned to cleave to a mortal man. A choice you made freely. Do you regret that?” Aragorn traced the line of her cheek with a trembling finger, his strength leaving him.
“That would mean to regret you, my son, my daughters. A joy that I would never have known in Valinor, no matter how many ages should pass. I could not have lived with a memory and a dream.” Arwen kissed the palm of his hand and then set it to rest atop the other hand on his breast. Better not to cling for too long lest the temptation to never let go be given into. “Still I cannot deny the joy is now bittersweet.”
As they spoke together, she steeled herself for what she knew must come. They could not go back nor could they renounce the choices they made. Both must abide by the Doom of Men. And yet she could not help but cry his name as he kissed her hand one last time before falling into sleep. Arwen forced back her tears and continued her vigil. She would not leave his side until the end.
Though they resting in eternal sleep under detailed graven images, Arwen felt the spirits of the Kings of old joining her watch. They pressed around her, a faint mist, and a shredded bit of smoke in the haze of the failing light. Arwen sensed their eagerness to welcome the one who had restored Gondor to a glory greater than she had ever known and reunited her with Arnor.
Strange, Arwen thought when she glanced back up the long hall. The lamps were lit. She had no recollection of the Keeper coming in to light them so that she would not have to stumble in the dark. A kind deed, unnecessary, but kind.
Lamps meant night. Her vigil would soon end.
The space between his breaths grew longer and longer until finally, he breathed no more.
“There will be nothing for you, only death. Yet not yours. You will not die until you have lost all that you gained.”
The words of her father echoed in her head, drowning out her voice when she called for the attendants and gave her last order as Queen. The beds of the Periannath, Meriadoc and Peregrin, were to be brought and placed on either side of the King’s. Even in death they were to be in his charge. Only Legolas and Gimli remained of the original Fellowship that was formed at her father’s home in Imladris.
And what of her elven kin? Arwen had lost Elrond when he went into the West. Celeborn had abided in the Last Homely House for a short time until the former King of the Golden Wood sailed from the Havens to join his wife. Rivendell, Imladris, the Last Homely House East of the Sea was no more. Lothlorien, the Golden Wood, was no more. The Havens lay empty and no ship had sailed west in many a year.
Now her heart and life resembled the old strongholds of Elvendom, empty and bereft. A lamp with the light snuffed out. A cold winter’s night with a sliver of moon that gave no light, dark and frozen.
It was time. Nothing remained for her here.