Below the Skin: 1. One

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1. One



I wondered why you never looked back, she said. If one day you would turn around and say, I thought once there was someone here.


It is such a seductive lie, this 'happily ever after'. I stood and looked out of this window, out over walls and scattered stones and buildings to the hills, weathered soft against the ropy spectres of darker trees, and the mountains beyond. Time creeps on heavy feet. Such a timeless fool I was to imagine it would be otherwise.

The sun shone water to steam on the walks below, glinting bright as I watched so that at times I had to avert my eyes, for it hurt me. It was, however, good to see the sun again after such a long cold year, so I tried not to look away, instead blinking away the water from my eyes.

A curse this is: this idle waiting. For months and years I have counted each moment slowly, with my fingers wrapped around the drape. It happened at times that as I stared out, my eyes on everything and nothing, that I would see something else than Gondor, something other than the black specks of the returning men in the distance, and feel the shift of sand beneath my feet.

Earlier my thoughts had been interrupted by one of the maids, coming to inform me that the tower guard had sent word of the King's return. I had nodded and dismissed her, intending to cross the room and gather my cloak and go out. But the window caught me up again, and I stood and thought, and thought more, realising even as I did that I was substituting this for action.

Finally it was, though, that I could wait no more, and I gathered myself to movement.

I met Calimo the keeper on my way, he having been persuaded by one of the cooks to stop and take some wine before walking out to meet the King. He rose slowly when he saw me, leaning on the chair for support. His leg must have been painful indeed that day: I could not remember the last time I had seen him move so gingerly.

He bowed carefully with his eyes on me. His dark hair was tousled, as though he had been caused to leave behind some strenuous work.

'My lady Queen.'

'Calimo,' I said, and began to feel a little better. 'Have you heard the maids speak of seeing my son yet? I fear he has strayed again.'

'I saw him heading for the garden myself. I told him we would meet him there.'

I hid my frustration at hearing this, as I had been irritated at Eldarion for disappearing for an entire morning, provoking as it had my own frustrated search for him inside and out in the gardens before I resigned myself to waiting. The maids had helped me search even as I thought I could hear them whispering to themselves. They do not understand, but lately it seems I am filled with fear whenever my son is not close to me. I start to twitch when I do not see him, and my mind speaks terrors to me that he will be lost, and I will be left alone.

'Shall we walk?'

I started, surprised back into the present. 'Of course. Need you your cane?'

He shook his head firmly. I did not pursue the matter further, but walked slowly beside him, listening to the difference in the sound of our footsteps; mine sharp, his soft and sliding. I offered him my arm as we approached the stairs, but he looked at me askance.

'Your majesty, it is not proper,' he told me, and in his voice was the attention to manner that only interests the very young, who have not yet learned how very dull properness can be. Instead, he stepped awkwardly sideways, one hand leaning on the wall. I followed, picking over the old stones worn almost to treachery at the edges, and thought to myself for the thousandth time that I really must have something done about these stairs.

'Always you tell me, Calimo,' I said, raising my voice so that he might hear me as I walked behind him, 'Of what is proper for the Queen of Gondor. One would think you imagined me unsuitable for my position.'

He stopped and turned to me so abruptly that I had to make a step back to avoid walking into him and knocking him down the stairs. I could see his eyes in the candled gloom. 'My lady Queen, I did not mean to say such things to you. I have overstepped, and my intention was not--'

'Be still; I was but teasing you. There are few who serve the King that I hold as dear as you, and I value that I might speak plainly to you, and I hope also you to me. We have known each other long enough now, have we not, that you might consider me friend above wife of the King?'

His thin face reddened, and he spoke more apologies, which I brushed aside as accepted, and he then peppered his speech with much nonsense about my fairness and nobility, which I politely ignored. Indeed, we had known each other some years, though for which of us the years had gone longer, I could not say.

Eldarion was romping in the garden with what looked like one of the maids' children, but he stopped his game when he saw us and ran up to me to encircle my waist with his small arms. He turned up his face to me, and I leaned down and kissed his brow; his skin soft as powder against my lips. He was scented of fresh grass, and had a smudge of green on his pointed chin.

'Where have you been this day, my son?' I asked him. 'I was set to send the hounds in search.'

His small brow creased, in mirror of his father, or mayhap yet my own father. 'Naneth, it was necessary that I patrol the city this morning, for it seems to me that with the coming of the fair weather, fell spirits are abroad.'

I forced myself to keep my face stern while my tiny son told me of the important duties he had fulfilled. 'Eldarion, the city has plenty of guards, and you are not one of them. I would have you stay closer to home, and also have you tell someone where you will be, that I will not spend the day worrying after you.'

He had the grace to look abashed, and muttered his apologies. I found a cloth in the pocket of my gown and spat in it and wiped his face clean, though he made a face and tried to wriggle away.

'Your shirt is muddy,' I told him with a sigh, and he looked down at the stains as though they were some kind of magic new to him. 'Yet your father approaches, and I think it may be he would rather see you scruffy than not at all. Bid your friend goodbye, and come with us if you would meet the King as he returns.'

Eldarion waved to his small friend and bounced beside me without another backward glance. I took his arm and slowed him at first, in respect of Calimo's pace, but soon gave up and let him skip around us, chattering like some woodland creature. I often found Eldarion frustrating in this mood, preferring instead to remember him quieter, such as when asleep. But Calimo was smiling one of his rare smiles, and he answered the boy's questions patiently and watched with amusement him leaping clay-coloured puddles of water with the fanfare of one crossing a giant river.

As we walked the streets the people watched us, or more correctly watched Eldarion and I, and bowed or curtsied before us, rarely meeting my eyes as I smiled or murmured greetings back. It was not as it would have been with my own people, I found myself thinking, and remembered with an ache the warm greetings and touches that would have been bestowed on me had I been walking through my own Imladris of old. But sharply I caught myself in this thought, for this was not Imladris, and I was not among my elvish people, and surely the span of so many years should be enough to start me thinking of this place as my own.

'Were you not watching for the King, your majesty?' Calimo asked me, limping through soaked ground and then turning to offer me his hand in assistance, which I did not need but knew better than to refuse.

'I fear I do not understand your question,' I said, gaining time.

He looked at me hard, and held my hand an instant too long. In return I fixed my eyes ahead. 'I know that you spend much time looking to the hills when the King is away, and I know also that your eyes are good. Had you looked any time in the last several hours, you should have seen the party approaching, and you may have ridden out to greet them, as you have done in the past.'

'I was busy with my embroidery,' I told him. 'I had not time for looking at the window.'

'Hmm,' he said, and appeared to think on this, but we had reached the gates and the riders were upon us, and he had no chance to continue.

The King and his men made a blazing spectacle of noise and motion; they looked tired and lucent and happy. The standard bearers rode to one side; their horses, pleased to be home, pulled at their bits with new energy. Ladies came forward to greet their husbands, children to their fathers. Aragorn was riding in the centre of the crowd, which I privately considered unkingly, but about which he felt strongly for reasons of morale.

The horse Roheryn had dropped weight, and so, it seemed, had his master. My husband's face was thinner and wearier than I had seen it in some time, but I had difficulty in seeing his eyes to determine his mood, for he kept his gaze not quite on mine, even up until he turned his head to dismount.

Still when I see him the world stops.

After he straightened up and turned to us, however, he saw Eldarion and laughed and reached down to embrace him. Then he straightened and regarded me. He leaned forward to kiss my cheek, then drew back quickly to slip the knotted reins over Roheryn's head. Eldarion reached for the reins, but Aragorn drew his hand away.

'No, my son, I would lead my own horse today. But I would have you walk with me.'

I walked on the other side of the horse, reaching under his mane to scratch his neck with my fingernails the way he liked. Roheryn twisted his head toward me as he walked, leaning into my touch, and I was cheered a little to watch him. We walked together to the stables, the four of us, and Calimo walked behind and hummed to himself some tuneless song.

Eldarion, thoroughly over-excited and thoroughly insufferable, ended his day early in bed at my request. He complained long and loud, and the King, I think, was disappointed, but I would not be swayed.

It was only after I had seen him to bed and Aragorn and I sat down to early dinner that I realised my mistake. A child is a thief of gravity; a giver of light, and we badly needed him in our darkness. The tap of spoon against bowl was deafening.

I cast about for some topic. 'Think you, then, that this last venture went well? That you may not need to leave Gondor again for a time?'

'Venture?' he repeated, placing his spoon on the dark wood of the table, and looking across at me.

'You would have me call it something else?' I asked, confused at his tone.

'I would not have you call it anything at all, Arwen. You need not concern yourself with matters of state.'

'With what should I concern myself, then? With my home, my son, my husband? My home and child are well under control, thank you, and...' my voice trailed off.

'And?' he prompted me, his face impassive.

'And...' I began, my voice rising, and then I paused and thought sadly, and not for the first time, of how things had changed. 'And it matters not. You are correct, matters of state do not interest me.'

He watched me for a moment before dropping his gaze. 'Calimo has tended the gardens well,' he finally offered, in peacemaking.

I nodded, and let the conversation lapse. All sound escaped outside, where it might avoid our company.

My people sleep in short spells, lightly and without true dreams. Since I came to Gondor, though, I sleep long and hard; soaked in sleep, inebriated by it until it casts me aside. It turns my bones to lead and weighs me to the earth, but still I crave it like one kept long underground craves the light.

It is frustrating, then, to lie long awake and ache for oblivion, with thoughts running through my head. How wide the span of a King's bed, that I might sit and listen to the rhythm of my husband's breathing I know so well, and breathe in the scent of his sleep, and still be so far from him.

He had found some distraction after dinner; some meeting of the minds. His first night back in the city, and so much to which he must attend. I sat and sewed and listened to my thoughts echo, and when he came home he acknowledged me with a polite hail and farewell before repairing himself to bed. I gave him good time enough to sham sleep before I went in myself and undressed gracelessly, my fingers stumbling over the ties, my face to the wall.

The moon shone as though calling me, and so I left the candle lit and sat before the window looking at the strange, silvered land. An alien land, I thought to myself. Every so often, I turned to look back to the bed. There is, I suppose, nothing unusual in a couple that has grown apart, even a royal couple. It is almost to be expected, in a callously ordinary way.

I came to think about when first we met, of his immediate and deep love for me even while I held myself aloof. And I thought of my feelings for him now--how deeply I felt for him, and of his feelings for me, and imagined that we may have traded places. What a terrible balance there is in love.

End 1.


Author's Notes: This posting-as-work-in-progress thing is all new to me, and I am sore afraid. Please review if you're so inclined: tell me if you like something or hate something, laugh and point at mistakes, share your granny's recipe for monkey bread....

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.

Story Information

Author: Kshar

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/10/03

Original Post: 06/26/02

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