1. When In Dreams We Dwell
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
My words echo
Thus, in your mind."
-T.S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"
He couldn't sleep, dared not sleep. He prayed to Irmo to grant him dreamless nights but the guider of dreams did not hear. It had been days but the pain of exhaustion was less than the pain in his soul from his dreams: the dreams that lifted him to utter delight when they embraced him and left him in darkest despair in the harsh light of a new day. He tried drowning them with drink both fine míruvórë and strong ale, but then he woke from the dreams physically ill. Gandalf offered potions; the nights then were blank blackness but he staggered through the day groggy: the world gray-washed, but she was there, like a sogotheil agar* begging entry, at the edges of his consciousness still.
So, in the dark hours before dawn he sat back pressed against the cold stone in an embrasure in the King's apartments, in the palace in Minas Tirith, looking out across the moon-washed Pelennor to the silvery ribbon of the Anduin flowing ever to the sea, ever to his love. The gentle current, the waves lapping, Ithil sailing overhead. If he rode down to the river and lay back in it, warm as a lover's arms this time of year, would its gentle current take him to her?
He shut his eyes for just a moment. Immediately, he felt her hands on his neck and shoulders and inhaled her rose-washed scent. He knew he had succumbed to the exhaustion of his body. He turned. She stood before him naked; her dark hair fell in waves down her back. The moon silvered her pale skin. Her blue-gray eyes held all of time for him, all of everything that was good and right. He allowed her to lead him to the bed. He knew to resist, knew how this would end, but her lips seared his flesh, her hands slipped over his chest and lower. He gasped and moved over her and into her.
"Oh, Undomiel!" He thrust frantically, wanting to keep her there, but all the while knowing it was only a dream. He groaned and cried out her name again and woke himself. It was full morning, sunlight streaming through the palace windows in Minas Tirith, and he was alone in the king's bed. A sob escaped him and he rolled over to bury his grief in the bedding; ten years was long enough: he could no longer survive like this.
* * * * *
From the high white cliffs of Eldamar, she looked out across the ocean to the east, always east. The dawn sun blushed the waves and she smelled the salt-fresh air and heard the curlews crying. She dreamed of him again last night; allowed her body the luxury of remembering: a pleasure not encouraged in this place. It was not the waves she heard then in her dreams, but the rush of the cascades of Imladris: the music of falling waters. She shut her eyes and he was there, coming as he always had from somewhere far away, appearing suddenly out of mist or dark or storm. His mouth on hers, fingers trailing down her throat and up along her jaw, caressing the line of her ears. She felt his body against hers, the fur of his chest rubbing her breasts. She parted her thighs wider and gasped as he entered her and moved against her. She moaned his name against his neck, trembling, shuddering her release.
"Oh Estel! Aragorn, meleth nin!"
* * * * *
The king's advisors shook their heads sadly. Ten years had passed since Sauron's destruction. The lands were prosperous and quiet; the king had made it so. At first, the battles continued, the reining in of Harad and Khand and Rhûn: that work had kept him sane. The man worked tirelessly in the field and at the diplomatic table to bring the Peoples together. His success was a balm to the desolate lands. Commerce flourished in the old centers and along the greenways; great grain fields checkered the plains of Enedwaith; orchards, branches breaking under the weight of their glossy fruits sprang up around Amon Sûl. Now peace gladdened the hearts of all Middle Earth, but their king lived in torment. And now, they chose to torment him further. He sat in the Council Hall before them looking like a caged wolf, gaunt and mad-eyed.
Aragorn sat upon the throne: not the high throne atop the marble staircase, but a lesser one placed at its foot near where the Steward once sat. He looked away from them out through the open windows to the east, to the smoky ridges of Ephel Dûath, to Sauron's old realm, to the past. He could almost hear the trumpet calls at the Morannon, the cheers at Cormallion, but the councilors' voices interfered as they badgered him about taking a wife.
"You must, my liege. You must get an heir!" One of the council members beseeched again. Faramir, his steward and his friend, stood at his side, arms crossed, ready to defend him if the badgering became too fierce.
"I want none. Give the kingdom to Faramir's young prince or to one of my cousins. I care not," Aragorn replied wearily. They were all there, staring at him this day, those he once loved and now despised, all but Legolas and Elrohir. They had gone off somewhere; he wished he still had that freedom. Gandalf was growing angry at his silence. Once, he cared about the anger of the wizard.
"Nay!" Gandalf thundered, his patience at an end. "You would throw away all! You would discount the sacrifice paid in blood by so many?"
Aragorn did not heed his words; he was thinking of the dream he had had last night, a variant of the one he had most nights. A moon-lit beach, in her arms, her kisses, the feel of her hair like midnight silk, their bodies wrapped together…and then the morning came where he wanted death beyond all other things, awakening in his bed, the king's bed in Minas Tirith, living the dream they had dreamed so long together, alone.
"Aragorn, you must take a wife and produce a son." The quiet voice jarred him back to this day, this bright morning in the Council Hall at Minas Tirith. It was the one he once revered most in life and now the one he hated most: the one who had convinced her hope was lost. On the very eve of their great victory; at the moment all the movement of the world stopped...the one he called father put her on the swan ship and she had passed across the Gulf of Lhûn, forever lost to him. Elrond was standing beside Gandalf, staring at him with something akin to pity on his face. Aragorn passed his hand before his eyes and the one emotion he still allowed welled up.
"My lord, do you not have another place you need to be? You tarry long here in the White City. Does Imladris not need its Master? Is Cirdan so delayed in building you a ship to sail West!" His quiet inquiry ended in a thundering accusation. He saw his ada recoil from the venom of his tongue and he relented, loathing himself for the hurt he served up. The king stood abruptly and all others rose.
"I no longer wish to be involved in this discussion." He walked down to where his foster-father stood and hesitated, staring into the eyes of the one he had hardly spoken to except when dealing with state business since he had taken the throne. He made as if to speak and then violently swung away from Elrond and slammed his fist into a plaster column.
"All right!" he shouted. "All right." He sighed in defeat. "Find me a wife." Elrond watched the blood drip from his hand unheeded to the floor. "I don't care if she be Numenorean or orc. Find the one you want, but make certain she understands: I cannot love her." He strode out of the chambers, leaving Gandalf and Elrond standing with the others, at a loss to allay the council members' anxiety about the king's erratic emotions.
* * * * *
Arwen came upon Celebrian in the gardens. The music drew her. Her mother had been playing her harp, a sound Arwen remembered poignantly from her childhood. She smiled up at her daughter, reaching to caress her cheek, still amazed that this regal woman was the young girl she had left behind. Her daughter was so unlike her in coloring and thought, but Celebrian could recognize the haunted look in her eyes. It was the same anguish of love long separated that she faced every day in the polished silver mirror that hung in her room.
The woman collapsed at her feet now, as the young girl had so many times, and laid her head in her lap. Celebrian's heart ached for her daughter's unhappiness. The Blessed Realm gave no comfort to her; the singing and the gardens did not sooth her as they did Celebrian. The peace and solitude did nothing to calm her restless spirit and the girl tramped miles each day along the beach, like a lioness searching a way to cross the water before her.
"Mother, it has gotten worse. He haunts my dreams and my waking hours. I cannot forget him." She sobbed and Celebrian stroked her dark hair, at a loss to comfort her. She ached for Elrond also but knew that one day her love would step off the swan ship and they would be together again, so she could not truly share Arwen's pain. And, she recognized there was no solution for it; there would be no happy reunion for her daughter.
"Why did you leave him if you truly loved him?" The voice startled them both. Galadriel stood nearby, studying her daughter and granddaughter, regal and powerful as if she still ruled Lothlorien and dabbled in the affairs of the world. "You broke your pledge, granddaughter." Though many years by the reckoning of time had passed since her girlhood, Celebrian found she was still in awe of her fey mother, who looked queenly even in the plain robes of Eldamar, and her words sent a shiver through the lady. However, Celebrian had discovered since their arrival, Arwen did not feel the same honored reverence for her grandmother.
"Because everyone said it was for the best!" The Evenstar raised her tear-stained face, flames of anger lighting her eyes. "Ada and you, Grandmother, convinced Aragorn that I should go. You convinced me that he wished me to go! You lied to both of us!" Celebrian could feel rage building in her daughter. Galadriel eyed her coolly.
"You accepted my advice, my dear. You lost hope and broke your pledge, and allowed fear to decide your fate." A trick of the garden light caused Galadriel's eyes to glow green and her voice took on deepness and power. "Look closely at what is in your heart, Undomiel. Gondor is without a queen and the balance of the world is in disarray. That is of your doing. Your father still tries to mend that. That is why he has yet to come. He must make Elessar take a queen." Arwen wasn't cowed by her grandmother's trickery.
"Perhaps you should take a hand in that, Grandmother. Your advice has proved invaluable to me." Arwen spat the words at her.
"Perhaps I should," Galadriel said mysteriously, a smile curling her lips and went off down the pathways. Arwen rose and sat beside her mother, who began to play gently again, hoping her music would smooth the ripples of disharmony and please Estë, and perhaps the Vala would heal her grieving daughter. Soon, Celebrian found her music jangled in her own ears and stopped, her hand poised over the strings. The inner peace that she had worked so long to find was gone and with the arrival of her daughter, the evils of the world had intruded in her life again.
"I shall speak once on this, my daughter, for I was not there and cannot not say what my advice to you might have been. But, had I believed I never would see him again, I could not have left your father. I would have endured all the pain I felt in Arda to be with him. I would have stayed until it overcame me." Celebrian looked at her daughter, her love tempered with grief. "You pain is mine now, child, for your father stays for him who you love."
* * * * *
"His mood is blacker than I have ever seen," Gandalf said in his private rooms. He was weary and he could see the struggle in his friend's eyes. Elrond was worn and the king's demons they both wrestled with took the heart out of him. The elf-lord grieved the loss of this son who now stood before him with eyes that loathed him as much as he grieved the never-ending separation from his beloved wife. Many times in the last few years, he had postponed leaving, fearful of the growing madness in the one they had placed on the throne. He stayed because their task was not complete. He stayed to assist Gandalf in comforting Aragorn. He stayed because the guilt would not let him leave.
"If Elrohir or Legolas were here, perhaps they could ease this demon that oppresses him even more of late," Elrond answered. Neither knew where the pair had gone. A few weeks ago, like a herald of old, Celeborn had galloped in on a lathered horse. Still booted and spurred, he closeted himself with the pair, and all three had ridden out to the south a fortnight ago without mention of their destination or request of leave, even from the king.
"We must make him listen. Middle Earth is still our lot, old friend. We are responsible for this," Gandalf said, bringing Elrond back to the topic at hand. "He no longer cares for us or himself. I feel he may do something desperate. Perhaps a wife will comfort him."
"Nay, he will find no comfort in any of our choosing," Elrond replied, thinking of his feelings for his own wife. "There is only one that would bring him peace."
* * * * *
Arwen looked out across the deep waters at twilight. The stars were just showing themselves in the violet sky. She stood on the very edge of the high cliffs. Her heart was in another land and she wished mightily that Manwë Sulímo, Lord of the Winds, would pick her up and carry her there to those soaring white walls. She raised her arms, feeling the east wind buffeting her body. So lost in a world far away, Arwen did not hear him come up, though she was not startled when he spoke.
"Undomiel, I thought you like Elwing would wish yourself into a great bird and fly to you beloved." She smiled back over her shoulder at Gil-galad.
"It truly is my wish, my lord."
"You shall never be content here. You should not be here."
"That is unfortunate for here I am." Her eyes were fixed on the point when the moon would peek above the horizon. "Do you ever dream of the forests and the rivers and the plains of Eriador?" She did not need to look to know he nodded. "I dream of the waterfalls of Imladris." She smiled and turned to her father's oldest friend. "Ereinion, I value your friendship as my father did and will again. You are right. I should not have left; I live to regret my choice, made for eternity. And I know now that I would find death sweeter than life."
"I understand death." The former king looked off into the dusk that Arwen's eyes searched. "I spent time in Mandos' Hall before I was allowed here. I was out of place there, discontent and discordant, as you are here. But, do you understand death, Evenstar? You seek oblivion from the punishment you serve yourself for forsaking hope."
"I understand eternity in pain and torment, and will at my leisure be able to study both closely," she replied, and then she whispered softly. "I never doubted him, but I gave in to fear. I gave up hope because I was guided by my father's words and my own nightmares."
"The wide world is out of tune and the song of the Ainur is not as sweet. You should not be here," Ereinion repeated.
"I cannot go back, though that is my wish," she whispered as tears ran down her face.
"In all this time, have you learned nothing, girl, of hope?" The last Elven king folded her against his shoulder as the stars twinkled on in the sky.
* * * * *
Celeborn stood with Legolas and Elrohir at the quay of Dol Amroth. They had been waiting for nearly three days and the blond elf paced impatiently. He was torn, pulled by the siren call of the sea and by sharp cords of alarm he felt from the White City. Celeborn laid a restraining hand on the prince's arm.
"Be content and peaceful. All will be well."
"I fear for my friend! We should be back in Minas Tirith. The king is not well," Legolas said in anguish. He could have added 'the king is dying' but he could not bring himself to say the words.
"All will be well!" Celeborn said again. Ignoring the exchange behind him, like a sentinel Elrohir watched silently, skimming the horizon with his eyes. Celeborn had only told them they waited on a ship. The elf-lord willed this ship to come so they could be gone. He too feared for his little brother's health. He knew personally the kind of obsession that gripped Aragorn and, though he held the fire of a similar pain banked by time and practice, one spark of remembrance could stir it into an inferno and drive him to madness also. This waiting needed to end and they must be away north with all speed. But he knew his grandfather would not have brought them here without reason.
Elrohir started up, shading his eyes. Far out a ship shimmered. It sped across the sun-sparkling water, its sails blue as the twilight sky. As it came closer, he made out it was a swan ship. The three stood without speaking as the silver craft glided up and Elvish sailors leapt to shore to make her fast. A gray-cloaked figure stepped out onto the dock, seemed to pause as if to find footing, and came to them. This was a woman, only that was clear. She stopped before the dark elf-lord and tipped her face up from beneath the hood. Elrohir found himself looking into his sister's eyes.
"How is this possible?" he asked in wonder.
"Mae govannen, my brother. I have missed you," she said simply. He folded her into his arms and then she embraced her grandfather who had known all along, of course, they had been awaiting her. Legolas bowed over her hand and greeted her with a smile beaming through his tears, overjoyed for both the lady and his friend.
* * * * *
"Your Highness." The attendant bowed to him. "They wish to see you in the council chambers at your leisure." Aragorn nodded but did not rise, and after hesitating uncertainly, the servant went away. The king sat at his desk, completing paperwork, mounds of which accumulated in the running of a kingdom, a task that Faramir would have gladly assigned to an underling. But he would not allow it; this rote work numbed his brain so that he forgot his pain. But, now they interrupted him and the wound opened as if it were fresh. He finally rose with a sigh to find out why it was so necessary to disturb the king.
Aragorn strode across the gallery of the palace into the council chambers. He was surprised to find the Council was not in session. Inside the room at the far end, stood Gandalf with Celeborn, Legolas, and Elrohir. So they had returned. He faulted them not for fleeing from this dismal place, but for returning so soon. A few of the bureaucrats scuttled around the edges of the room like roaches.
"Welcome back, my friends." Aragorn hoped his smile did not look too contrived. Logically, he knew he should be glad to see them. He could even see the emotion under the frozen pond that was his heart. But it, like a victim suffocating under the ice, was just too far away to reach.
"My liege," Gandalf announced. "They have returned with the woman you will marry." Stunned, Aragorn stopped; any small amount of light in his soul at seeing his friends sputtered out. He shut his eyes and the world reeled. These two, his most trusted brothers-in-arms, had brought him a wife. The betrayal was bitter.
"That did not take you long, Mithrandir." Aragorn had recently taken to calling him by that name and his tone reminded Gandalf of Denethor at his worst. "You sent them even before I agreed?" The king's eyes, the color of deep winter ice, reflected the coldness in his soul. "Very well then. See the lady is housed comfortably and arrange whatever ceremony you think proper. I will see her then." He turned to leave, fighting the horror of this final betrayal he woud be forced to commit, rushing to leave before the despair overwhelmed him. Before him, Elrond stepped from an alcove, a cloaked figure on his arm. Aragorn instinctively threw up an arm as if to ward off a blow.
"I do not want to meet the lady!" the king, losing control, shrieked. The woman raised her hands to her hood and pushed it back to reveal dark hair and the flawless face of his beloved. Aragorn's eyes lit up, but only for a moment. He took a staggering step toward her and almost collapsed. Drawing on an inner strength, he pulled himself upright.
"What fell magic is this?" he muttered and turned away. "My friends, do you realize what pain you cause me?"
"My lord, I've traveled far to come back to you." Her voice, strong and clear, carried to him.
"I cannot believe!" he cried, his back to her, eyes closed, tears coursing down his cheeks. "Else-else I shall lose the last strand of sanity I hold and run mad when I find it is a lie."
"Aragorn…Estel…meleth nin." Her boots rang out as she crossed the distance between them. Arwen reached out and touched his arm. Her gloved hand burned like fire and he shuddered. "Why have you given up hope?" she whispered, her words only for him.
"I always had hope for a hopeless cause, but I never thought to win, never thought to live. Now I find that I have not the will to live without you," he whispered.
"I have come back, meleth nin, because I did not want immortal life without you. If I could have but one day---nay, one hour to feel your kiss and hold your hand, to hear you laugh, I would gladly give up what life I have and die contented in your arms." He surrendered then, no longer caring if he was mad, and turned into her embrace.
When Aragorn opened his silver eyes again, the tarnish that had filmed them since his crowning had washed away. He felt her substantialness, smelled the scent he kept so dear, saw the arch of her brow and full redness of her lips, and bowed his head to them. Fire burned along every vein and sinew in his body, cleansing fire that consumed the darkness in his soul. The kiss felt as if it lasted eons, but in a brief moment, their lips parted. There was a bemused look in her eyes.
"What?" he whispered, gently.
"I thought I had forgotten how that felt." Her cheeks blushed. "I hadn't."
"Gandalf, do you perform weddings?" Aragorn asked without looking away from her.
"I can if the occasion requires."
"It does!" He bowed his head to Arwen's lips again.
"My liege!" one of the bureaucrats interrupted. "There are legal obligations! Witnesses! Announcements! The parliament must approve!" The king stopped him with a gesture.
"Nay, there are none of those. There will be no bureaucracy involved in this. It is a matter for family and we shall marry with their blessing alone." He looked to Elrond who was staggered because in that gaze he saw the dancing, joy-filled eyes of his beloved adopted son. He mutely nodded.
"But, my liege, there must be rings at least!" the small man whined insistently.
Aragorn chuckled and then laughed outright, long and loudly, a sound that never before had been heard in the halls of the White City . From his tunic throat, he drew a golden chain and upon it hung two gold bands, the mates of the silver ones they exchanged on Cerin Amroth so many years ago. He had worn them there since Elrond told him her ship had sailed ten years before.
"This group is never at a loss when it turns to a matter of rings." With little fanfare but many joyful tears and smiles, the promises made so long ago were finally fulfilled, the rings exchanged, and Gondor had a queen.
*sogotheil agar: (neo-Sind.) A female night demon that seduces then drinks the victim's blood; a succubus. The Dunedain told stories about this creature, mainly as scary campfire entertainment for new recruits.
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.