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Partings  by Bodkin


He stroked her gleaming ebony hair as she sobbed on his shoulder.  ‘You could change your mind,’ he suggested provocatively.  ‘You could leave Estel and go with your adar.’

Her breath caught. ‘No, I could not,’ she said emphatically.  ‘I have made my choice and I could make no other – but it does not stop me grieving for what will be lost to me.  My adar will sail soon – I will never see him, or my naneth or Daernaneth again.  Not in this world, nor beyond it.’  She rested her head against her daeradar.  ‘I cannot show my sorrow to anyone but you,’ she said simply.  ‘It hurts Adar too much and it makes Estel feel guilty.  They are both prepared to give me up to make me happy – but they will not realise that my happiness is bound to bring with it a grief that cannot be avoided.’

Celeborn walked with her in the studied wildness of the Citadel’s gardens, gazing disapprovingly at trees shaped to provide an elegant counterpoint to the planting. Their long robes brushed against the neatly raked gravel of the paths.

Arwen laughed, a rather watery giggle accompanied by a sniff, but a laugh nonetheless.  ‘Oh, this will have to change,’ she said, shaking her head.  ‘It is bad enough that the garden is encompassed by stone walls, without having every plant standing to attention like the guards at the gates.’

‘These men of Gondor have a lot to learn,’ her grandfather commented, then, stopping, turned Arwen to face him. ‘You will neither of you find it easy,’ he told her seriously.  ‘Estel is as alien to them as you are, my dear one, and I suspect he will find confinement within these walls, restrained by royal etiquette, intolerable at times.  You will need each other.  Do not hide your sorrow from him, for he might come to imagine it to be more than a natural sadness for the loss of your parents and feel that you regret having chosen him.’  He hesitated, then continued, ‘He, too, is losing the only adar he has ever known – and he fears that he is parting from him in bitterness and hatred.’

‘I will speak to Estel,’ Arwen agreed.  ‘I will try to make him understand that I love him and could not take any other path than the one that he follows.’  She looked at Celeborn hesitantly.

‘It may not help,’ Celeborn smiled wryly, ‘but I will talk to Elrond.  If I am unable to penetrate the guard he has over himself, I will set your daernaneth on him.  And may the Valar have mercy on him.’

Arwen stood on tiptoe and kissed her daeradar’s cheek.  ‘Thank you,’ she said simply. ‘You are the only one to accept my choice as having been no choice at all.’

He closed his arms round her and pressed his lips to her forehead.  ‘I remember Luthien,’ he said softly.  ‘I watched it grow: the tragedy that was her love – a tale of misfortune that need not have been, had those who loved her more than life not wanted to protect her from her choice and turn her to their will.  I would not see that happen to you, my granddaughter.’ 

‘I am glad that you will stay a while,’ she said, ‘you and my brothers.   It is a comfort to me that I will still have family on this side of the sea.’

‘I wish to know your children and your children’s children, my Evenstar,’ he said, ‘and see Estel grow into the great king he will be.  I will not leave until I am no longer needed here.  On this you may rely.’ 

The pledge she heard in his voice made her look at him sharply.  Arwen inclined her head, understanding the offer of support hidden beneath the simple words.  ‘Thank you,’ she said again.  ‘Although I am not sure that Daernaneth will be very happy with you should you delay your journey by too long a time.’

He smiled.  ‘She will cope,’ he said, ‘and she will thoroughly enjoy attempting to make me suffer for my dilatory arrival.’

‘Take my brothers with you when you sail,’ Arwen requested, her voice low and intense.  ‘They will not leave while I still live, I know, but do not let them sacrifice themselves for pride.  They are elves in their hearts.  Take them to Naneth and Adar.’

‘I will do my best,’ he promised.  ‘And my best is very good,’ he added with an air of smug self-satisfaction that made her laugh again.

They passed through a small gateway and climbed a set of steep steps that led to a point from which they could look over the wall and down across the broad expanse of the Pelennor to the wide ribbon of the Anduin as it curved with apparent lazy grace towards the ocean.   Small figures moved busily across the plain, some accompanying carts as those exiled from the city continued to return, others carrying goods from the docks at the river’s edge, more scavenging the evidence of battle from the rutted land, or harvesting patches of garden crops: all busy resuming lives interrupted by war.

‘So many people,’ Arwen said softly, ‘all expecting something from me.  I do not know if I can be a queen, Daeradar.’

Celeborn laughed.  ‘Being a queen is easy, Undomiel,’ he teased her.  ‘Being a good queen is a little more difficult – but it asks nothing of you that has not been bred into your bones.  You are the descendent of Melian, of Nimloth, of Elwing, of Celebrian.  You are the granddaughter of Galadriel – a queen is what you were born to be.’  He sobered.  ‘Estel will need your experience, child,’ he said.  ‘For all he grew up in Imladris, he has spent many years alone.  He will find it difficult to tolerate the councillors and the place-seekers, the monotony and the formality.  You will be able to guide him through it – for he can trust you with his very life.   I believe you were always intended to be Elessar’s queen, Arwen.’  He looked down from the wall contemplating this land of men, tall, his silver hair lustrous in the sunlight, an imposing figure, like a hero of legend, bright and pure and deadly, his eyes filled with the experience of the ages.   Beside him stood his granddaughter, slighter, as dark as he was fair, but beautiful as a star-kissed night, her hair studded with sparkling jewels, gowned in blue silk the shade of the sky just after sunset. 

Aragorn would have stopped to watch them, had not the presence of Galadriel’s hand on his arm pushed him into continuing to walk the paths of the private garden.  Seeing Arwen with her daeradar only made him aware again of the price he was expecting her to pay for her devotion to him and he was conscious of a wave of sadness.

‘No-one made her choose you,’ Galadriel observed, without apparently having paid him any attention.  ‘It was her decision.’ 

‘I never should have spoken to her,’ Aragorn said wretchedly.  ‘She is as far above me as a star – I would always have loved her, but I should have stayed away.’

‘Do not be foolish,’ his wife’s daernaneth said sharply. ‘Why do you think that would have made any difference?  If you could love her from afar, could she not do the same?  Do you think you would have spoken to her of love, had she not encouraged you?  And close your mouth,’ she added.  ‘You look as if you are catching flies.’

The king obediently pressed his lips together.  ‘Are you suggesting -?’ He stopped, not entirely sure where his thought was going.

‘That Arwen chose you just as much as you chose her?’ Galadriel asked. ‘Yes, of course I am.’  She looked at him sympathetically.  ‘Arwen is not one who will sit back passively and hope that life will turn out the way she wants it.  She knew your face from her dreams the moment she saw you.  She had been waiting for you for nearly three thousand years, and she was not about to let your shyness stand between you.’   Galadriel turned to the King of Gondor and raised her hand to push up his bearded chin.    ‘Elrond did not want her to love you – and I am sure that you cannot altogether blame him for that – but had he truly wanted to keep you apart, he would have had Arwen stay at Imladris to act as a second mother to you throughout your early years. Few men fall in love with those who have changed them when they were wet and insisted that they ate their greens and studied their lessons.’  She met his eyes, blue holding grey, until finally Aragorn was forced to drop his glance.  ‘Why do men wear beards?’ Galadriel asked curiously, her fingers brushing his jaw. ‘They feel most odd.  I shall have to speak to Arwen about it.’

Aragorn blushed at the very idea of the topics that might be covered in the possible conversation between the two elves.  ‘Do you mean,’ he said, ‘that Adar – Lord Elrond – knew what would happen when Arwen and I met?’

‘He is still your adar,’ Galadriel told him gently. ‘He has not stopped loving you, Estel.’

He looked at her unhappily.  ‘I can see why he cannot bear to speak to me, Lady Galadriel,’ he said, ‘but please, if you can, heal the rift between him and Arwen.  They have so little time left to be together.’ 

‘He is afraid,’ she told him.  ‘He is afraid he will lose all his children – as all who have loved him and whom he has loved have been lost.’

Aragorn hung his head, kicking at the gravel with the toe of his boot and sighed softly, reduced to childhood by the wisdom of the Lady of the Wood.

‘You should speak to him,’ Galadriel said.  ‘I can talk to him if you wish – but he needs to hear those words from you, Estel.  He wants to know that he can leave you to live your lives – and that you will forgive him for leaving.’

Raising his eyes to meet hers, Aragorn looked shocked.  ‘I have never blamed him for anything,’ he insisted. 

Galadriel smiled sadly.  ‘Do you think you are the only one who is torn, Elessar?’ she asked.  ‘Do you think Elrond would not choose to remain with you both for every day left to you?  We cannot stay, he and I, though we would give much to remain. We have little time left in these lands and none of it should be wasted.  Make your peace with him, Elrondion.  Go to him.’

The King of Gondor knew where to seek his foster father.  As gardens and trees drew the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, so books drew the Master of Lore.  Elrond was in no mood to bury himself in the depths of the citadel’s archive, where he would be confronted by the curious gaze of men, so his instincts would take him to the private study of the king, a room lined with books and scrolls, smelling of old leather and fresh ink.

Aragorn paused in the doorway, feeling foolishly reluctant to enter his own room, like a child who had been summoned to judgment to face the consequences of his actions.  ‘Adar,’ he said hesitantly.

Elrond raised his head from the cool wood of the window panelling where he had rested it – some moments or some hours before, he could not be sure.  ‘Yes, my son?’ he asked, his voice even and calm.  He turned towards his daughter’s husband, one eyebrow lifted quizzically, shrugging on his public face as easily as one of his long experience could, but he had not been swift enough to hide the shadow behind his eyes.

‘I am sorry.’  Aragorn moved towards him automatically, abandoning the guilty caution that had marred their relationship in recent years, remembering only that this was his adar, who had taken him and raised him with the same love he had shown his own sons.

‘I, too, am sorry,’ Elrond responded.  ‘I fear that, in my reluctance to bless your union with Arwen, I have forfeited your affection.’

Aragorn looked at him fiercely.  ‘Never,’ he said, enveloping the elf lord in a powerful hug.  ‘It is I who do not deserve your forgiveness – I feel that I have stolen Arwen from you.’

A long sigh preceded Elrond’s soft words.  ‘She was not mine to steal, Estel – as you will learn one day.  You have children and do your best to raise them.  You love them always – but they belong to themselves.’  He raised his long-fingered hands to cup his son’s head.  ‘She chose you and she chose wisely,’ he murmured, pressing a gentle kiss on his forehead.  ‘You have my blessing, both of you.’    He looked in the clear grey eyes of the king, his approval and affection clear to read.  ‘I am sorry that I will not be here to support you – and that your children will grow up without knowing their daeradar, but I am become too – thin,’ he said, turning his gaze on his own hands.  ‘Time has become like sand, slipping through my fingers,’ he remarked wonderingly, ‘and the wind blows through my bones.  If I stay much longer, I will fade.  I am a relic of a past age.’

An expression of concern tightened Aragorn’s face.  Immersed in his flood of guilt that Arwen had surrendered her immortality for him, he had failed to observe the changes in his adar’s face that spoke of age and weariness and the weight of responsibility that had brought Elrond to the point of despair.  ‘How long will you remain?’ he asked, his voice gruff with loss.

‘A turn or two of the sun,’ Elrond said reflectively. ‘No more than five, I would think.  There will be arrangements to make – Imladris to leave in safe hands, the passage to organise, farewells.’  He paused. ‘I shall be sorry not to see your son,’ he added.  

Aragorn cleared his throat and blinked to clear his vision.  Since early youth he had known that he would die, but somehow he had envisaged an Imladris that would remain eternally unchanged, with Elrond serenely directing the activities of the haven. Seeing the elf lord contemplating his own departure from a world that could no longer sustain him gave him a feeling of bereavement similar to that he had felt when his mother died.   ‘I love you, Ada,’ he blurted out, with the embarrassed awkwardness of a grown man caught admitting to emotions.  ‘I will hold you in my heart always.’

‘And I, you,’ Elrond told him more easily.  ‘You are my son, Estel,’ he added, a wealth of meaning in his few words.

‘Arwen,’ Aragorn said, stopping as he realised that he did not know how to express his worry.  ‘She – she needs to know that you understand.’

Elrond turned to the window, gazing down into the bright garden where his daughter sat between her grandparents.  He could see them in the eye of memory in the same positions as they rested in the gardens of Imladris or sat among the mallorns of the Golden Wood while Arwen listened to their tales of ancient days. Arwen; her head resting on Celeborn’s shoulder as her eyes drifted in sleep; pulling faces as Galadriel brushed the tangles from her hair; confessing her mischief; talking excitedly of her joys; weeping in their arms after Celebrian had been injured; frozen between them as her naneth’s ship sailed beyond their sight:  Arwen; her face bright when she told him of her love for Isildur’s heir, defensive when she realised his distress, patient as she waited for her destiny.  His princess, his Evenstar, his Luthien, his hostage to fate, his gift to the new age.

She looked up to see him at the window, her husband at his side, and smiled.

She needed to know he understood.  Although Estel had not been able to put it into words, she needed to know that he loved her, that he accepted her decision and that he would let her go.  He could do that.  He must.  If he had to sail to join her naneth, leaving their daughter to die a mortal death, the least he could do was to leave Arwen secure in the knowledge that the bonds of love would hold them beyond time and distance until the final day when the world would be remade and they would be reunited.

‘It is a beautiful afternoon, my son,’ he said, turning to Aragorn with a slight smile.  ‘Perhaps we should spend it in the garden.’


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