Queenly Virtues

Midsummer's dSay, Arwen made vows: faithful love was easily sworn - long ago given, she'd but the reward to reap.

And the others? Wisdom, justice, mercy, steadfastness. She's wise, they say - three thousand years so. She knows mercy, they say - a woman must. And she's steadfast - he knows it best.

Justice, though... That is harder, and she's perhaps unpracticed. Elves have long been so, lonely as they are - leaving, as they have been.

But she's sworn: love is joy, the rooted rock. She'll not now be moved from this place and people - in them more than herself, justice shall be theirs.

'Hail, King of the Mark'

They'd brought him the babe, and his wife's farewell: "A son, my love, so grieve not - 'tis a new day with our Théodred."

He'd wept then for Elfhild, but kept her words close through the years. And there was a new day, after mourning's darkness.

But there comes for each Night irremissible. War brings it to many, kings and commoners alike. It took Théodred, and each breath brings him nearer that End.

But Night cannot take all. Eomer stands before him - his son, Rohan's hope now. And for himself? Théodred and Elfhild mark the way east, to Dawn beyond all...

Enter the Fourth Age, Hastily

What - comes - after - storms - when - the - winds - die - down - and - the - creatures - of - the - forest - no - longer - cower - in - the - boles - of - trees - beneath - frantic - branches - and - which - often - marks - the - start - or - the - end - of - the - day - when - the - sun - is - just - there - upon - the - rim - of - the - earth - and - the - light - falls - clear - and - bathes - all - the - land - in - bright - stillness - and - the - crickets - sound - quietly - as - they - go - to - sleep - or - hesitantly - as - they - wake, - and - it - is - like - a - calm - pool - where - the - fish - swim - deep, - leaving - no - ripples, - and - which - hobbits - call - so - shortly -

Peace.

Inheritance

Eomer remembers Eastfold as a light-filled glass: fields dotted with sheep; flapping on laundry lines, white sheets and shirts smelling ever of horses and hay; and Aldburg's familiar walls cranny-cozy.

It's been a long road home to a place grown strange with years and memory of loss.

Now Eomer stands beneath Emyn Muil. He kicks a rock, startles a hare, lies on his back and stares at the heights, fingers twisting the grass. There's nothing here, not even an echo of the past. Eomund is gone.

But Eomer remains. His father's war remains. Duty remains.

And I shall not fail!

Restoration

Dáin sits not often on his throne. He's tended the rock and labor of ten thousand hands, helped upbuild Dale and Erebor.

There's grace in generosity, and Dwarves, despite slanderous rumor, aren't ungracious.

But the clench - ah, the clench! To pour oneself into this rock, to give oneself over to carving a capstone, to filling cavernously empty rooms - to see all torn away, then have it again in hand for one moment? Of course the fist clenches, the spirit closes, and others cry, "Greed!"

Poor Thorin, caught in the clench. But Dáin will restore his cousin's people an open hand.

Idlewild

Sam dashes about, fetching water, seeking bread rolls, a bit of dried meat, a pipeweed pouch. He fluffs blankets and contemplates seeking herbs in the brush, 'til the calls begin:

"Sit down, Sam!"

"Enough - the day's done!"

"Rest while you may."

Then he obeys, but not gladly. Dawn shows his still companions: some asleep, others watchfully at rest. Save one: Gimli smokes, strokes his beard, plays with flintstones in one fist. A Dwarf's hands are ever restless. When he rises for the watch, one of those crafty hands claps Sam's shoulder.

I know, that touch says.

Thank goodness! Sam smiles.

A/N: There's a town in California called "Idyllwild." But the way everyone says it, you would think they were saying "Idle-wild." It fit so well, just the sound of it, that I adopted it for a title when I tried to think how Gimli and Sam might relate on the quest.

Uprooted

There's family and then there's family. Glóin's son stood for his father, alongside Dori and Dwalin, and with them tore his beard, lamenting Bombur's passing, sending grief to echo through the burial vaults.

Afterwards, Gimli sat quietly while the mead flowed at the wake, and he thought of the weight of Bombur's years, each one pounds of flesh. Contented flesh - six young Dwarves' worth of rooted rest beneath the mountain. "Growing stoneward," Dwarves said of such contentment.

But some roots were cut long ago. I cannot stay. He thrust his cup aside, rose, and went to take a walk - outside.

Recognition

She has a man's heart. An unwomanly heart, without womanly affection. So they say, uneasy wondering. Nevermind that to Ioreth's eye, the White Lady's too pale and pained, for all her pride cannot mend what's broken within.

So Ioreth strives to keep such whispers from the lady's too-sharp ears. But sometimes, there's a blush to that cheek nonetheless. Then Eowyn is cold indeed.

'Man's heart' - rubbish! Ioreth knows better. Takes a woman to see it - or the right man.

She's glad, therefore, to see that golden head laid trustingly upon his shoulder. Ah, great heart - and every beat a woman's!

A/N: Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote a sonnet: "To George Sand: A Recognition." What recognition? That the deeds of a great artist are the deeds of a great woman when the only understanding to be had of her success was to say she must have been more male than female. One imagines Eowyn must have faced similar idiocies at least some of the time.

Osgiliath

The Shadow came with nightfall. On the bridge, on the narrows, death before and life behind him, could a man do otherwise than stand? Stand and slay, as terror flowed freely: friend and foe alike stricken with it as if with the falling sickness, they lie writhing in the dust. Not him. Not yet - there's lust too fierce to fell. Boromir feels it, stands screaming it out upon sword's edge.

Then comes the water, and the cold, and afterwards, the quiet. Then come the shakes, and awful knowledge: valor cannot win this war.

Night departed, but the Shadow remained.

Clear-sighted

"Paint-lizard cloaks?" Legolas asked, skeptically.

"Better than elvish weave," Aragorn replied, sincerity itself. "Their skins match all colors - to wear one is to disappear. Haradric lords ransom sons for them."

Nearby Boromir, coaxing a fire to life for eager hobbits, snorted. "Tell him what befell the king gifted a suit of paint-lizard skins, Aragorn."

"What happened?" Merry demanded immediately, and Legolas raised a fine brow inquiringly as well.

"The first child on the streets screamed, 'The king goes naked!'" Boromir answered, ere Aragorn could say aught. Gimli chuckled. The hobbits looked from Ranger to Captain-General, who weren't giving an inch, then turned to Legolas.

"Well?" Pippin asked.

Legolas considered his companions. Then: "Guile is a Ranger's virtue, but Men of Gondor tell no lies."

Aragorn sighed. Gimli and the hobbits chuckled. Boromir said only: "The Elf wins again. You owe me a watch, Ranger."

"Fear not," Legolas murmured, gliding over to touch Aragorn's shoulder, as the Dúnadan settled in to rest before pulling his two watch shifts, "he'll end standing the third watch twice in a row, for if Gondorians do not lie, Elves are not easily fooled. Especially," he said, and smiled wickedly, "by those unpracticed in the art!"

Hyarmendil

The wind blows hot over the sands, and tents swell with it. Aragorn perches upon a stray few boulders, watching as the tribe gathers, voices raised in a rare excitement.

He came here to learn their hearts, but at the moment, he does not know his own. At the least, 'tis conflicted - Mettarë means many things, but never love for the Lord of Gifts. Umbar's customs are somewhat different, so perhaps they may excuse him, but...

A shadow falls upon him. "Are we so strange to you, son of Umbar?" Wizened old T'houtekh, desert-sly, appears suddenly beside him.

"Sometimes," Aragorn murmurs. And to the listening silence: "In Umbar, we wait for the dawn."

"Ah." T'houtekh considers this, then says: "In Umbar, there are ships and rivers, I hear. It must be cold." Aragorn smiles slightly, thinking of the snow not even the Umbarians have a word for. "They can wait for dawn in such a land. The sun is not so cruel. But we must wait for dark. Look!"

A gnarled hand shoots out, points as the sun sinks beneath the horizon at last, the light fast-fading. And there upon the desert floor bloom suddenly lights - red, green, blue, orange, yellow, it shines through tinted glass as halai lanterns are lit. A swell of sound rises: drums and ululating voices lifted in song.

"'Tis a night for singing, and for promises, and for weddings."

"Why for weddings?"

"Umbar has grown far away from her roots, I see. Pity." The old man shakes his head. "Why for weddings? Because we are all promised, of course - when first we were made, the Giver promised us: the world is not complete, for though the heavens above are perfect, below there is lack. Go then and be glad, be fruitful, and when you are as many as the stars, then shall there be a perfect mirror, and the two shall touch." T'houtekh pauses, then says: "So you see why we wait for sunset on this longest of nights. The world is imperfect yet, but look you, and see what awaits!"

Aragorn tips his head back. Above, in the deepening night, the stars grow brighter, more of them appearing, scattered across the sky in strange new shapes. And yet they are still Varda's stars, and there on the horizon is yet that brightest one...

"Perhaps your customs are not so strange after all," he says.

Bequest

There's steel-scent on the wind—hot, sharp, fearful. 'Tis a new Age, but though the War is over, war remains, while wisdom lies suspended on sword's edge.

She's long stood upon war's edge. But this time, 'tis different. 'Tis no other's war that Arwen must make her own, but hers, child of her choice, of their choice, even as the young captain standing ready.

Eldarion!

Her war, but his now. This is the way of the world—the meaning of birth, which makes Elves mortal as Men. Is it folly to question such necessity? She knows not.

But she hopes...