1. The Lonely Road
When the feast was over, those who were to go took leave of King Éomer. Aragorn and his knights, and the people of Lórien and of Rivendell, made ready to ride; but Faramir and Imrahil remained at Edoras; and Arwen Evenstar remained also, and she said farewell to her brethren. None saw her last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.
(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book Six, Chapter VI: "Many Partings")
Everything was different. Different and strange. She was now living among strangers, in a strange land. The changes in her life had been all-encompassing and irreversible. There was a part of her that embraced and welcomed the changes, and was already beginning to feel at home amidst walls of stone and the men whose fate she now shared. It was the same part that made her heart sing with joy and gratitude each morning, when she awoke in the arms of the man she loved more than her own life.
But there was also another part of her that was overwhelmed by a feeling of loss and sadness, a part that longed for living, breathing, whispering wood around her instead of cold stone, or wished to hear the distant roaring of waterfalls instead of the clear sound of trumpets early in the morning. She knew that much of the sadness and estrangement she felt could be explained by a simple feeling of homesickness, of missing both the places and the people she had come to know and love over so many years, but that was not all there was to it.
When Arwen had decided to forsake her immortality for Aragorn's sake, it had been a conscious decision. She had been well aware of what she would lose, whom she would be hurting, and the price she would have to pay in the end. She did not rue her decision - she never would; but now, for the first time, she would have to actually face the consequences of the choice she had made, and sometimes, it felt too much to bear.
Nothing could have truly prepared her for the pain of being separated from a large part of her family for all the ages to come; and while Elrond was still with her now, sharing their meals and living only three doors down from the chambers she shared with Aragorn, the time of their parting drew near. She could not look at his face anymore without thinking about it, and from the sadness and pain in his eyes, she knew neither could he.
Sometimes, she wished to cling to him, to beg him to stay, if only a while longer, but those moments passed quickly. Arwen had chosen to sacrifice all for the man she loved. If anyone was able to understand how much Elrond longed to be reunited with the woman he loved, it was her. She would not ask him to wait any longer. Leaving would cause him pain, but it would also cure a wound in his heart that had never healed. She did not want her father to suffer needlessly. Letting him go would be her last gift to him, though it felt as if a large part of her heart, of who and what she was, would be leaving with him.
Knowing that she had to regain control of her emotions and find some measure of peace before the time of their parting was upon them, and not wishing to burden her husband, who already had enough on his mind, with her troubles, Arwen had taken to spending some time alone in the palace gardens whenever the opportunity presented itself. She found the presence of flowers and trees around her to be soothing, though, in a way, it also accentuated the foreignness of this place.
Everything in the gardens had been planted and planned, and nothing had grown naturally or the way it wanted to. There were only small trees to be found, and since they had never been spoken to nor had ever felt the presence of an elf, they had no voices. After living in Caras Galadon, the city of the trees, amidst the branches of the majestic Mallorn Trees, for as long as she had, Arwen found it difficult to adapt to the silence and the size of the trees in her new home. In Imladris, at least there had been tall oak trees.
It was also quite obvious that the last Steward of Gondor, Denethor, had lost all interest in the gardens a long time ago. Though valiant gardeners had made some effort to restore at least some order since the crowning of the new king, a large part of the gardens were still overgrown by proliferating shrubs and weed. Arwen did not really mind. It made parts of the gardens look quite wild and lovely, and it ensured that she could always find a quiet, hidden corner where she would be left alone for a while.
One of her favourite places was a weathered stone bench surrounded by exuberantly growing rose bushes and shadowed by an old pear tree, the trunk of which was almost completely hidden beneath the thorny boughs of the bushes. It had not been easy to find a way to the bench, and Arwen had sustained quite a number of scratches and ruined her dress the first time she tried, but it had been worth it.
The roses were in full bloom. Their petals sported all the colours of the sunset - deep red, orange, yellow, and all the shades in between - and they smelled like citrus with a hint of apple and pear. Arwen loved just sitting there, looking at them and inhaling their fragrance. Their beauty made it easier to keep the sadness at bay and reminded her of the many joys to be found in her new life.
Unlike most places in the garden, this one did not afford a breathtaking view over the Pelennor fields far beneath. Where Arwen was concerned, it was rather an additional attraction than a disadvantage. Sitting on the stone bench, she could pretend to be anywhere she wanted to be, and forget about the White City and her sorrows for a while.
Today, however, Arwen could not escape from her sadness and her thoughts about the impending journey even here. The journey would be short for her, but it would leave scars in her soul that would last forever. Sitting in the shade of the pear tree, she pictured her father's face in her mind's eye, wondering if her new mortality meant that time would lessen the pain or that she would even begin to forget things, like mortals did.
As pleasant as it would have sometimes been to be able to forget some of the painful experiences in her life, Arwen decided that, in this case, she would prefer having to live with the pain to forgetting even one of the moments she had shared with her father, or her mother. She found some small solace in the fact that at least her brothers would be more than memories to her, though she would likely not get to see them very often, due to the distance between Rivendell and Minas Tirith.
The twins had not made their choice yet, and sometimes Arwen wondered what they would do in the end. Would they choose a mortal fate, as she had done, or would they sail and be reunited with their parents? For Elrond and Celebrian's sake, she hoped her brothers would sail one day.
"You look sad," a voice remarked from somewhere above, interrupting her gloomy thoughts.
Arwen did not start, though it took some self-control to restrain herself from doing so. In the long years since her brothers had chosen to befriend a certain wood-elf, she had had ample time to get used to that familiar voice and hearing it address her from rather unlikely places like the branches of trees, rooftops, balconies, windowsills, or, occassionally, the hayloft. Arwen looked up at the branches above, espying a hint of gold amidst the green leaves.
"Is it my company you seek, or that of the tree?" she asked, deciding to ignore the implied question in his words.
"I came for the tree," the disembodied voice replied, "but you are the reason I have not left."
Arwen was not surprised that her old friend had sought refuge in the gardens, too. They had both been naturally drawn to this place since Aragorn had shown it to them weeks ago. She was quite aware, however, that Legolas' reasons for coming here were often quite different from her own. Concern for the elf, who had always been like a brother to her, prompted her to ask one more question.
"So it was not the call of the sea that drove you here today?" She kept her eyes on the roses this time, but she listened intently. For a moment, there was no sound at all.
"If it was, there would be nothing you could do about it," finally came the calm answer. "Today, however, I only wished to get away from walls of stone and too many voices for a while."
It was something Arwen could understand only too well. "It is not easy to get used to this place," she agreed, being reminded of her previous thoughts.
There was a gentle rustling of leaves, and then Legolas landed gracefully on the bench, sitting down beside her. "He is worried about you," he said, and Arwen knew he was not talking about Elrond.
"I know," she answered. "I wish he would stop feeling guilt for a decision that was never his to make."
Legolas smiled. "Then he would likely not be the man you have come to know and love."
She returned the smile. "You may be right."
There was a moment of silence. "Éomer is expected to return any day now," he then said quietly, "and the funeral escort for King Théoden will leave for Rohan soon afterwards."
She could feel his eyes on her, but she did not meet his gaze. It did not surprise her that he had been able to guess the reason for her sadness so easily. They had always been close, and since a certain human had found a place in both their hearts, they had grown even closer. Arwen could remember when they had last sat together like this, before the Fellowship left Rivendell, seeking comfort and strength in each other's presence. She did not think there would be any comfort for her today, but she could not help feeling grateful that he tried.
Almost everyone with rank and title who had been involved in the War of the Ring, as well as the remaining members of the Fellowship, would accompany the funeral escort to pay their last respects to King Théoden. Most of them would not return to Minas Tirith, but journey onward to their respective homes from Edoras, Lord Elrond being among them. Arwen would travel no further than Edoras, and it would be the last journey she ever made with her father.
By now, she was beginning to think that there was no way she would be able to prepare herself for that last goodbye. Suddenly unable to bear the thought of any further goodbyes, she found herself asking, "What about you? Will you return to us after your journey to Eryn Lasgalen?"
This time she met his gaze, and he looked at her in a way that made her feel rather foolish that she had had to ask. "Though it is a decision for a king to make, and not for a prince, my father would never force me to remain in a place my heart can call 'home' no longer," he simply said, and she could hear a sadness in his voice that was all too familiar to her.
She looked at him for a long moment, consciously realizing for the first time how similar their fates had become. Out of love, loyalty, or friendship for one man, they had both willingly made great sacrifices and both had gotten more than they would ever have believed to be possible in return. In a way, they were both homeless now, but at the same time, they had found a new home, a home which had more to do with the heart than with a certain place or family ties.
Leaving behind what they had held dear for such a long time had hurt, and would continue to do so; but neither of them could have made any other choice, nor would they want to. Their lives and fates had become irreversibly interwoven with Estel's long before he ever became King Elessar, and now that he finally was what he had been meant to be, their place was at his side more so than ever before.
Suddenly, Arwen realized that the road in front of her would not be a lonely road. Different, but not lonely or desperate, because she was not the only one walking that road. She had left her old family behind, but she would have a new one of her heart's choosing. Legolas would never be far away until the very end, and at Estel's side she would see her children and grandchildren grow. The thought was strangely comforting.
Right then, facing the days that lay in front of her and the painful goodbyes that would come with them did not seem like an impossible task anymore. There was a new life waiting for her, even while the old one was slowly fading away. Looking at the elf sitting at her side, she smiled.
"Hannon le," she said warmly, taking his hand and squeezing it.
"I did not do anything," Legolas replied, slightly puzzled.
"You are here," she said, her smile turning wistful. "What more could I ask?"
- The End -
A/N 1: This story was originally written for Prompt #128 "Future" in the Aragorn Angst yahoo group. The title was inspired by Enya's song "May It Be", or, more specifically, the line 'You walk a lonely road'.
A/N 2: Just in case there are any rose lovers among you, the rose Arwen was so fond of really exists and looks and smells exactly the way I described it in this story. It is an old French rose called "Belle Du Seigneur". I found it fits the story for more than one reason. ;-)
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.