3. In the Twilight of the Trees
The end of the chapter overlaps with a short scene from Appendix A "Here Follows a Part of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" from The Return of The King and I have included a few direct quotes from this section into my text. Tolkien's words are written in italics.
Gilraen awoke from a dreamless sleep to the sense that something was not right. A quick glance around her chamber revealed nothing obviously amiss, but, although a mid-summer morning, the sky was dark and grey, and everything in the room looked faded, dull, as though muted and drained of colour. Shivering a little as she stood, she pulled on her robe and held it close against the strangely cold air. All was quiet, too quiet. Aside from the slight rustling of her own nightdress as she crept to the sitting room, she heard not a sound. Imladris was always a place of peace, of course, but now she noticed acutely the lack of soft, melodic voices raised in song, of birds chirping, and, most unusually, of the never-ending, soothing roar of water rushing down the falls.
She peered around the door that separated the sleeping room from her parlor. At first, she was simply relieved to see that Elrond stood there, though she thought it unusual that he had entered her suites unannounced while she slept. He looked as grand and magnificent as ever, and she knew that she had come to rely on his constant wisdom and his gentle strength far more than she might wish to admit. At times, in his company, she felt there was no problem that he could not put right.
But now, she realized, something was most terribly wrong. He neither smiled, nor turned to greet her as she entered the room; indeed, he did nothing to acknowledge her presence in the least. He remained absolutely silent and still, his face pale, his expression hard and unchanging, and the thought struck her briefly that he did look like some exquisite statue. Yet no statue was he, for now she could feel the sorrow and the anger that rolled off his body in waves and chilled the very air around her. While she could not imagine what she might have done to merit such displeasure, sudden terror at the thought of his censure compelled her forward, and, without thinking, she reached out to grab his wrist. "Elrond! What is the matter?"
His skin felt as cold and unyielding as the finest marble that adorned his halls, and she pulled her hand away as though she had been burned. Still he neither moved nor spoke, and finally she saw that his eyes were fixed upon the view outside her balcony doors. For some reason she did not understand, she felt a chill of absolute dread at the thought of what she might see there, and yet, she could not resist the urge to turn her head and follow his gaze.
For a moment she did naught but stare in utter confusion, unable to fathom the sight before her. Frowning, she tilted her head. It was not possible. The waterfalls no longer fell. The water had not dried up, it simply hung there, unmoving, solid and frozen in time. It was as though all the water that had rushed ceaselessly and for all eternity over those mountains and down those falls had just suddenly stopped still in its tracks.
Another breeze blew lightly across her face, but this time the air was different, sweeter and warmer, and she turned to locate its source. The doors that had always led to the grand halls of Imladris stood wide open, but now no halls were there. Instead she saw a forest, and an open trail that led between the trees. With a shake of her head, she whispered under her breath: "I have not seen that path before."
For a moment, she hesitated at the thought that perhaps she should be wary of a path that suddenly appears, and yet these woods were so inviting, so familiar, she felt compelled to follow. With one final, brief glance at the cold and stagnant scene she left behind, she strode out the door and into the forest. After a mere few steps, Imladris had already disappeared amongst the trees behind her, but still the path stretched out clear ahead, and she continued on without pause nor fear. She had not gone far when she began to hear laughter and merry chatter, and soon, she had arrived at a clearing in the woods.
What she saw there felt so warm and welcoming that she could not resist a smile. Her friends and family, all the dearly loved ones she had not seen in so very many years, were seated around a large banquet table, and they were having a joyous feast. She could hear the crackle of wood upon the fire and smell the wonderful aroma of her mother's stew, and she wondered at why, if it had always been so easy to go home, she had not returned much sooner. No one had noticed her yet, and, wanting so dearly to join them, she took, without hesitation, a step into the clearing.
However, she was halted from going any further by a familiar voice at her side. She had not seen that someone stood beside her, and yet words were now whispered so closely she could feel the breath upon her ear: "There you are, Gilraen. You have been gone so long, I had started to think you meant to avoid me."
"Arathorn." His arms twined around her as she turned toward him, and though she noticed briefly that she could not make out the details of his face, at this moment, she did not wish to consider what that might mean.
"I have missed you, my love," he said as he began to trace soft kisses along the side of her neck.
Shivering at a sensation at once so familiar and so foreign, she sighed. "And I you, my husband."
Then she heard a childish giggle, and she turned her head in the direction of the happy sound. There she saw her young son, barely two years of age, skipping merrily on the grass along the edge of the clearing. "Aragorn?" she questioned with a smile, and she tried to move toward him, only to find herself hindered by Arathorn's firm grip upon her shoulders.
"Stay with me," he whispered.
At that moment, Aragorn turned and bolted into the forest. The sun was setting quickly now, and in the twilight, the trees suddenly appeared so much more dense and foreboding. "Aragorn!" she called urgently this time, twisting to escape her husband's hold.
She was held fast, however, and Arathorn pulled her close again to whisper in her ear: "Let him go, he does not need you."
"But surely he shall perish there, alone in the wild!" Pushing against him with all her strength, she finally managed to slip from his embrace, only to be caught again by a strong hand upon her wrist. Pulling frantically now against his grasp, she cried: "Release me! I must stop him!"
Though he did not let go, Arathorn smiled and chuckled as he shook his head, speaking to her as though he were talking to a child: "Foolish woman! You must know that where he walks, you can not follow."
Gilraen looked around desperately for aid, but no one else paid her any heed. Still her friends and family went on eating and laughing as though nothing was amiss. Turning back to Arathorn, she saw now that his features were blurred, as if she could not quite bring him into focus. She felt a deathly chill run through her.
"Something is not right..." As soon she spoke these words, Arathorn began to wither before her very eyes. In a heartbeat, his face and body grew sunken and hollow, as though muscle beneath flesh had dissolved away. His skin shriveled too and rapidly aged till it was nothing more than thin old leather stretched tight over a skeletal frame. A mere moment later, there was naught left of him but dry bones, which in turn soon crumbled to dust.
With a scream of utter horror, she turned and fled into the forest after Aragorn. The sun had set now, and the forest grew dark. The trees were close around her, the branches and roots hindering her steps. Her feet felt heavy. Still she heard him, somewhere ahead, ever further away. She called out to him, but to no avail. He did not seem to hear her. She could no longer move, she could not reach him...
Gilraen sat bolt upright in her bed, terrified and confused. The gruesome images still strong in her mind, for horrible moments she could not distinguish reality from illusion. Looking around frantically, she saw that she was in her chamber in Imladris, yet still she was reluctant to trust her own senses. But this time the room was warm and flooded with light, and she could hear the birds singing, and much to her relief, the roar of the falls outside her doors.
Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she clasped the pitcher on the table beside her with shaky hands and poured some water. More found its way onto the floor than into her glass. She struggled to slow her rapid breathing and calm her racing heart as she tried to make some sense of the disturbing yet compelling images of her dream. Was it only a dream? Shaking her head, she could not escape the feeling that it was not. Over these past few months, ever since Aragorn had learned of his inheritance, she had experienced many such dreams, heavy and dark, laden with portent. But were they truly significant, or merely an expression of her own fears and worries? To whom could she speak of this? Though she did not quite know why, she felt in her heart that these were not dreams she dared share with Elrond. Oh, how dearly she wished for her mother's insight!
Her thoughts turned again to her son, as so often they had these last months. Always in her dreams now she called out to him, always she sought to reach him, to warn him. But of what? She had grown more concerned for him than usual of late, for she perceived a great change had come over him, something beyond even the knowledge that he was the son of kings. Though he seemed full of hope, still he had grown quiet and restless, and he would not tell her why.
With new resolve she rose and dressed quickly. She would speak to her son with haste, and press him until she had an answer. She had to discover what strange thing had befallen him, for the warnings in her mind and in her heart were too dire for her to let it be.
When she did not find him on the training fields, she knew where next to look. Lately, he had taken to long, solitary walks along the forested paths that laced Imladris, particularly, she had noticed, on the greensward amongst the white stemmed birches. Surely enough, there she found him, singing softly a haunting tune, one that she too had come to know well during her time in Imladris. "The Lay of Beren and Lúthien always fills my heart with such sadness, though I know not quite why," she said as she approached him.
"There is sadness in the tale in part, and yet much hope as well," Aragorn responded with what seemed to her an unusual smile as he turned to greet her. "I owe my very life to their love, if I am their descendent as I have lately been told."
Linking her arm with his, Gilraen came to walk in step with her son. The images of her dream still pressed heavily upon her mind, and she spoke to him without further preamble: "Tell me, Aragorn, why is it that you have been so quiet and withdrawn of late? I worry for you."
"Do not worry about me, mother! I fare well. In truth, I am far better than well. I simply have much to think upon these days."
Again, there was that odd little smile, one that seemed to her so foreign on her son's face. She studied him intently, and with dawning realization, she knew she had seen that look before on the faces of other young men, albeit not for many years. It could not be, could it? Was it truly the smile of a young man who thought himself in love? What woman could possibly have drawn his fancy now, in this place? Knowing that the answer to this question would not please her, still she pressed on: "Has a young lady caught your eye, my son?"
Aragorn looked down and was quiet for a while, and she could see the slight flush of red spreading on his cheeks. Then, taking a deep breath, he seemed to steel his resolve as he looked back up to her and said: "A lady yes, one of the finest quality, but, though she is more beautiful than anything I have ever before beheld, I do not think she is so young."
With a growing pit of dread in her stomach, Gilraen asked him: "Tell me, who is this lady?"
"I met her in these very woods, but a few months ago." He stopped walking, and turned to look around as he spoke, his voice distant. "Here, the course of my life was changed forever, and I met my destiny one evening in the twilight of these trees, for here I did first meet Arwen Undómiel, the daughter of Elrond and the fairest child of Eru ever to walk upon Arda or Aman."
Gilraen felt a sharp stab pierce her heart, and she thought for a moment that she could no longer breathe. He was completely besotted; she heard the passion in his voice. It could not be, and yet it was, that the son had fallen to the same folly as the mother. If only she could spare him the pain of the love of a mortal for the Eldar, but he was his father's son, and once he had set his mind, he would not waver. Still, she had to try. "My son," said Gilraen, "your aim is high, even for the descendant of many kings. For this lady is the noblest and fairest that now walks the earth." She paused briefly to compose herself, and yet she could not completely conceal the tremor in her voice. " And it is not fit that mortal should wed with the Elf-kin."
"Yet we have some part in that kinship," said Aragorn, "if the tale of my forefathers is true that I have learned."
"It is true," said Gilraen, "but that was long ago and in another age of this world, before our race was diminished." She remembered her dream; of Elrond, cold and unyielding, full of anger, grief, and sorrow. "Therefore I am afraid; for without the good will of Master Elrond the Heirs of Isildur will soon come to an end. But I do not think that you will have the good will of Elrond in this matter."
"Then bitter will my days be, and I will walk in the wild alone," said Aragorn.
His words sent a chill through her, for she knew now the truth of them. Suddenly, the images of her dream, her vision, came together with clarity. Her son's life would indeed be a bitter one, full of trial and hardship and suffering, and she could not see a light at the end of it. For a brief moment, she was overcome with the desire to turn back time, and have her son simply be a little boy again, one whose biggest concerns were of scraped knees and boiled beans for dinner. She shook her head, angry at her foolishness. No mother can protect her child forever, no matter how much she might wish to. Aragorn was a man now. A man who needed to make his own mistakes and grow from them. A man who needed to seek his own destiny.
Thus, she turned to him and said simply: "That will indeed be your fate," and then she spoke of it no more.
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.