Below the Skin: 3. Three

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3. Three



The thunder rolled and crossed the sky and he looked at her, he really looked at her. What is it, he said.

We are dissolved by the rain, she said. One drop can wear away stone.


After I left Eldarion to his rest, I was at a loss to know what to do with myself. It seemed I had an itch inside my skin I could not reach to scratch, and I paced the house in short steps like a young colt confined. I looked at my sewing, but could not bring myself to pick it up and work, and indeed the light was bled by shadow so that everything seemed dimmed. The servants, as ever, stayed out of my way so carefully that it seemed they were no more than apparitions against the dark wood, blinking solemnly.

I tried looking out at the garden, but Isil was caught behind his blanket of clouds, and the wind roared through the trees in a pulse-rhythm that sounded in my head like drums from somewhere far below. I thought I could see the trees bending before the wind, but the night was so black that I could not be sure whether I saw with my eyes or with my mind. Finally I went to sit by the bedroom fire, and Tamurile brought me unbidden some tea, and the fire warmed my face and the cup warmed my hand, and I watched the stories that the flames themselves told me. A kind of muted peace settled over me, and I prepared myself for bed.

The walls creaked and the crumbling ceiling rained tiny bits of dust and chips of stone as softly as breath, floating to earth in the firelight. After a while I closed my eyes so that I would not have to look on these pieces coming home, and I listened instead. My ears are good: I heard the house staff moving about, and the fire crackling, and my husband coming home and lying on the bed beside me. I was still, and breathed deliberately, and my heart beat its own rhythm unheard.

It had seemed I would lie awake all night, the strength in me as cords below the skin. But I must have fallen asleep, for the next thing I recall was waking sharply, with the sound of the wind in my ears, and something else: some sharp sound that clung to me. I think I woke and went to stand in one instant, but there was a hand firm on my waist, and I turned to look at Aragorn, who lay awake with one quiet hand about me.

My mind was still addled with sleep, and as I tried to speak I felt as though something rough-hewn and important was slipping out of my grasp. 'I heard...' I said, finally, and with difficulty, the words so large in my small throat. 'Crying....'

'You were dreaming,' he said.

'Nay, I heard...I....' And it dawned on me as my mind became clearer that he was right, that I could not have heard what I thought I had, and I was still. I started to smooth the wrinkles from the blanket about me, and then I noticed my hand shake, and put my hands beneath the covers instead. For warmth. 'I am sorry if I woke you,' I think I said, but I was thinking of something else. Why would he reach out to me while I was asleep?

'I was thinking,' he said, and did not continue. I almost retorted that that was no answer, until I remembered that I had not asked a question. Instead, I bit down on my lip and turned aside and waited for the trembling to stop. After a time I heard his breathing slow, and I rose and took a candle from one of the holders, and I lit it from the fireplace, burning my fingers on the flame because I held it too close. The candle-light flickered as I went out to sit in my son's room. I sat in the chair near the fireplace, and I thought about that hand on my waist, and how deeply I slept now. The candle burned down to a stub. Across the room, Eldarion murmured and turned in his sleep, dreaming his own sea.

Time slipped again. The next I knew was the light of the grey dawn in the windows, and rain softly pattering on the glass as though for entry, and Eldarion dressed and in the window-seat, looking out. I had not felt myself fall asleep, had not noticed sleep envelop me. It was bothersome, to say the least, that I had so little control over even my own rest.

I cleared my dry throat, and moved my hand to find I was covered in a blanket, and I stretched a little, stiffly. Eldarion must have seen me move because he turned, realising I was awake.

'What has you awake so early?' I asked him, and my voice was still a little soft with sleep.

He tilted his head to one side, wrinkling his brow in confusion, and I realised I had used a language he would not recognise. He had never heard more than a word or two of it spoken: only my endearments for him and the occasional frustrated exclamation I allowed myself when I had thought he was not around. At the sound of it, something twisted inside me, and I shook myself a little and repeated my question in the Common Speech.

Eldarion's face cleared. 'It is not early,' he told me. 'I have been awake long and talking to Father.' He nodded toward the doorway, and slowly I turned in my seat.

'My lord,' I said, smiling tightly. 'You seem to be making a habit of surprising me.'

He was leaning against the doorpost, and he held a cup in one hand, and he looked more relaxed than it is right to look at any time, least of all in the morning. 'Could it be your perceptions are slowing?' he asked, watching me lazily.

I straightened, and hooked my loose hair behind my ears with both hands. 'It could be that I need to have you fitted with a bell that I might know where you are from a moment to the next,' and though in my mind I intended it as a jest, I spoke sharply. I knew it, and regretted it, in the same instant.

His face did not change, but the look in his eyes cooled. 'I could have my staff provide you with an itinerary,' he said, and he looked at me so intently that I was unnerved and looked aside. My son had seated himself on the bed with one leg crooked beneath him, and was chewing at his lip and raising his hand to his mouth as though not by his own will. I caught his eye and glared at him, and slowly he dropped his hand to his lap, but slowly, as though he expected to be corrected in this, too. Somehow, though, this did not seem enough to me, and I was still annoyed, so I told him to go and begin his lessons, and not to hope of going outside on such a stormy day.

Aragorn began to ask me something about Eldarion's lessons, but then he paused and went past my chair to the wall-hanging above the bed.

'That is new?' he asked.

'Yes,' I said.

'It is beautiful,' he said, and reached his hand out as if to touch it, but his fingers stopped just a hair's breadth off the fabric, following the stitches as though he would commit them to his heart. 'The ship is beautiful.'

'It is the ship that bore Amroth.' He did not answer at first, and it was almost as though he was caught up in the scene, as if his thoughts were far away on other things. 'My kin,' I added, for although I had no doubt he knew of whom I spoke, his silence made me uneasy.

'How long did it take to sew?' he finally asked.

'Three...' I paused, calculating. 'No, four months.' I remembered every stitch. Every tiny detail was mine, each wooden board I had sewn with textured wool and with silk thread. The green sky had come into being under my hands; one breath, one stitch at a time, and the waiting sea. I have never seen the sea, understand, except in drawings, but it seems to work its way into my designs nonetheless. Sometimes I look back on something I have sewn, and I find the sea in an unexpected place: a piece of it in the sky, perhaps, or in a green forest, in the background, or in a slant of light.

'There are no people on the ship,' Aragorn said, and seemed finally able to tear his gaze away, and he looked back; in my direction, but yet not, I think, at me.

'It is Amroth's ship,' I said again. 'Should I have shown him, drowning in his quest to return to his beloved? Crying her name in despair?'

He withdrew his hand, and stepped back. 'That would hardly be a subject to display in a child's bed chamber. But yet the story is a sad one, Amroth and Nimrodel loved each other truly. They were seeking a land of peace: Nimrodel could not live in Lothlórien, so Amroth left his people for her. He made that choice, for her.'

'And she loved the water,' I said. 'And the water killed him.'

'Mmm,' he said, and rubbed a hand over his mouth. Then, politely, he asked me if I would be sitting with our son as he read his lessons today.

Politely, I said that I would not.

Politely, he suggested that he might sit with Eldarion in my stead, and bade me good morning, and left.

Impolitely, I cursed him under my breath, and then cursed myself, and then the house, for good measure, and went to dress. I dressed myself in grey, as the day had, and pulled the hood of my cloak about my face, that I might not be recognised, and I went walking. The rain had slowed and it was soft and cold on my hands and it settled on my clothes, quietly but inexorably soaking to my skin. The streets were mired, puddles turned to treacherous eddies, cart-tracks carved into whirls. My thoughts ached in my head, and one thought in particular. Home.

I did not allow myself to think of it often. Sometimes it seemed I was forgetting my other life, and I could not decide whether I should fear this or embrace it. I have some knowledge of the action of memory--who could live a life like mine, so far removed from that of Men, and not know? I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to be like them. To grow fast, time always breathing at your throat. I suppose my son shall know, or does know, and will feel these things I could never feel. For it seems to me that I am the last left of my kind, with the departure of the ships. Those that stayed behind have now disappeared into their own wilderness: it could be, I think, that my brothers have not yet recognised how time passes here. Perhaps it is not like this for them. Perhaps, if I went myself to find them, I could feel as they feel and find comfort in that; in that sympathy and clarity. This Memory I find in Gondor is a hard creature and cruel, and I have no choice in what I let go and what I keep. It is a difficult thing to let go of my past, of my home, even of the tiny everyday occurrences--the shape of a smile in rain-filled light, the touch of a hand to a face--that must slip through. Especially, it seems, those.

As I walked further, past the Houses of Healing and into the lower part of the city, there were more people on the streets, and they passed me without glancing at me, their faces huddled against the weather. The walls of the streets were blue in the rain, blue with cold, and provided the only colour in the scene, between the white sky and the dark-mud streets. I rounded another corner, and the street opened into a clearing, and the undaunted traders of Gondor had set up tables of goods, and people wandered between them, trying to stay close under the cover of the surrounding buildings. And so the Queen of Gondor went to market day.

There were stone benches set around, and I reached one and sat, and the rainwater on the seat went through my skirt in an instant. The water was puddled beside me, and I reached my fingertips to their reflection, trying to touch the surface without disturbing it.

I was not sure what to do next.

People moved about me so easily; walking quickly, discussing prices, stopping to warm their hands over the half-sheltered fire. They scratched their ears and talked about the weather and argued light-heartedly. I watched as surreptitiously as I could, fascinated and surprised by my own fascination. I felt the strangest feeling: simultaneously close to and alienated from the mass. Even though I sat aside, I was accepted with nary a sideways glance, just another hooded figure among a group. But then, again, in an instant, it was as though I watched through glass, and I recognised the fancy of belonging for what it was.

I sat there until I began to shiver, and then I sat there shivering in earnest for a while. Some of the merchants were packing up their wares and moving on. A slow day all around. The sun came out between the clouds and its pale fire brought light without warmth. My teeth chattered, and I gave up curling my toes in my boots to try to keep them warm and I let them go numb. After a time, a lady in dark and stained raiment approached me where I sat. She pushed back the hood of her cloak, and for an instant in the sunlight her hair, coming loose from its binding, looked like pure gold. I blinked, and the illusion was gone, and once again a worn-looking woman stood there, and her hair was dark, and streaked with white. She said something to me, and it was a moment before I even realised that she was addressing me, and I had to ask her to repeat herself.

'Are you well?' she said, gently, in the tones one reserves for a child, and although this time I at least understood the question, I looked at her confused. 'Fine ladies do not often sit about the streets of the city in the rain,' she added, and this time from her tone I could tell she questioned my sanity. 'Your family will be waiting for you, my lady.'

I murmured something to the effect that I had stopped for a rest while walking, and that, yes, my family would be waiting.

'Ah,' she said. 'Yes, they will be worrying after you, I think. You young ones never keep time in mind.'

I stood up and my sodden cloak and skirt slapped against my legs. I thanked her gravely, and refused her kind offer of transport on her donkey-cart, and went back to my family.

End 3.


Author's Notes: The story of Amroth and Nimrodel is from the Unfinished Tales, 'The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and of Amroth King of Lórien'. There are several variations given of Amroth's lineage, so Arwen's claim of kinship may or may not be strictly accurate.

Thank you to Deborah.

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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