The Sense of Time
"You do not know yet what you desire of me."
My Lord Elrond could always read me, so he must be right, but I felt full of desire, overflowing with it, dreams within dreams that rang with clarity. For in Arwen Undómiel I saw more than a bride, but something high and fair that I would claim for this Age to come, the Age of my people. I would give them a beginning drenched in starlight, a legend to sustain them for as long as our kingdom would last.
"I would not give you pain, for you have been as my father," I say. "But if I dare not reach, how can I hope to lift my people out of darkness? Arwen would be their beacon, as she is mine."
"Your pride will serve your people well, Aragorn son of Arathorn."
I preferred dignity. Hope. Estel.
Elrond Peredhel looked at me with bitter eyes. "Aye – but it will cost mine."
Now she lies beside me, legs tangled in the sheets, a smile on her lips. Moonlight falls through the window, and she is fair, so fair, and she sleeps. To sleep, now that the countdown begins! To sleep, to just surrender those first few precious hours, all that remains, as if she were yet living in forever-time.
I have won her, my Undómiel, and at last I understand the magnitude of this gift. I never understood how far I reached until I saw her fall
into my arms, urging me on, exhilarated, oh happy!
She seemed so young.
And yet the young are never so carefree.
Outside I hear murmured laughter and drunken footfalls on stone floors. A short bark as the watch changes, and then silence. Then the sound of my own sobs.
I have wedded her to death. Wedded her to death, and bedded her to death.
She would smack me if she would hear me tell it like this.
"Estel," she says softly.
"Estel, don't make this all about you."
I do not know where it begins. I am born. I am conceived. As if one day I happen and then am forever.
For those who have so much of time, it behaves strangely, in seasons and loops, in ages and winter mornings, one lifetime, two lifetimes in a single day. The world echoes with them.
I dwell in my father's house and trace the river bends, and in Lórien under the gloom of the canopy. My mother sings and I drift. My grandmother's stories bring structure, but no linearity, weaving in and out without a plot. Trees turn to saplings and disappear into the earth, and around me the world is ageing, dying.
I stay in the garden for a season, two seasons, and another autumn comes. I lay my needlepoint upon the seat, and stare into the mirror. They say I walk in her likeness, but all I see is a blank page. I gaze at my reflection. A wave rolls in, a murmur from the sea, and it distorts the image.
I think to go home. I dawdle, then find myself in the woods as if I have never been elsewhere.
My name yet not. I do not sing while I walk among the trees. It is too fated.
He watches me across the bank. A youth draped in legend. He calls again, Tinúviel, and then I, Arwen, jump across the stream like a deer. He smiles; I smile back.
Time suddenly pressed relentlessly forward.
For the first few years, Éowyn of Rohan and I are wary around each other. She comes to tea. I embroider. She stares into the distance. I stop embroidering and bring out my chess set. She does not know the rules. We sit by the water, her yellow hair tangled by the breeze, mine pliant, willing, intangible.
One day I decide to teach her the rules, and we play.
She beats me, again and again, her pawns like a relentless white-crested wave pressing forward across the board. All queens in potential, and she sees it.
It takes me a while to realise Éowyn plays with no vision beyond the unexpected, and that is why she is so hard to beat. As soon as I know this, I always win.
At night, we drink wine, at first at the table in high-seated carved wooden chairs, then lying on the sofa, staring at the sky, her bare feet tucked under a pillow next to my shoulders.
"Are you ever worried that men like you only because you are beautiful?" she asks.
She looks at me expectantly. I am not sure whether it is in challenge or reconciliation.
"Beauty is no lesser trait than any other," I say. My voice sounds sharp, I know not why.
I do know why. It is such a human thing to worry about.
"Éowyn, men may like you because you are intelligent and strong, because you are elegant, graceful and born to be a Queen. Because you are beautiful, too. Yet love comes not from a litany of good features. It is precisely those things that are essential to us that matter the least in the end."
She laughs at me and I laugh too. Four empty bottles of wine stand in the windowsill.
"Besides, men do not like me only because I am beautiful."
That night we are friends.
I watch her as she ages, so unobtrusively, and yet so fast, yellow hair turning white, blue eyes turning blurred. One day we are sparring in the yard. One day she sits and weaves beside me. We walk through the gardens of Emyn Arnen; then we sit in the solar and listen to the rains outside. I watch as she redefines herself. I envy her. The way she moves through time, leaning into it, embodying it, a story Man can read and understand.
Faramir ages more slowly. He helps her up her horse, and they splash through the river, laughing. In summer he brings her poppies and cornflowers, and lies with her in green fields. He is as in awe of her as I am.
I raise cities from the ashes.
In summer, I dance upon the grass, scattering dandelion seeds to the winds.
I build homes, and bridges, earthen walls and paths of stone.
I bear children.
I am not the soft last sigh before dusk, the beautiful coda of my people, but radiant, the start of a new age, perhaps the final age, but a beginning all the same.
I must believe that.
We have so many daughters. Daughters, who are by the law of our land defined by their relationship to men; daughters, whose life will stretch so far beyond the years set aside for romance.
I worry for them. For her, most of all.
I see Estel in her eyes, her brow, her height, and when she pulls her hair back and dons her mail, she is her father. She is everything, and expects everything, one of those people for whom every day is a battle, a battle to be fought with honour and joy. She loves with all her body and all her heart.
On her wedding day, I bid her live well, and in merriment, and she does. For three years.
We travel west to Dol Amroth for the funeral. I sit with her as she works on her husband's shroud. Her hands shake and a drop of blood spills.
I rise to open a window. "My love," I say.
She purses her lips; they are white.
"My darling little love."
She bends over, her shoulders hunched, her tall frame too much, too awkward for this day. "I want to sail," she whispers.
The wind comes crashing in and I feel my heart break.
"I want to sail," she says again. She looks at me in challenge and throws her needlepoint to the floor.
I look for the right words. They will not come. "My love, this is your world, the place to heal and find happiness. There is nothing for you there." And there are no ships, not for you, not for me.
She is heaving now, hands clutching at the table. "How dare you just sit there!" she cries. "How dare you have made this choice for me! You were wrong, you were selfish and now I can do nothing – I can be nothing!" I want to weep at the pain in her voice. I do not recognise this harsh creature, my wise daughter, and I want to leave and run.
Instead I take her in my arms, and let her sob. When she stills at last, I pick up the shroud, and guide her hands. A memory of another time comes to me, enveloped in golden hair, the sweet scent of wildflowers, lips brushing my ears as she hums a gentle tune. One day I must leave you, I think. As she did.
I comb my daughter's hair out with my fingers, one strand of silver intertwined with the black, time's mark upon her. Hours pass, days.
And then, the cry of a gull.
The story is told. It has already happened; the bitterness; the tears; my doom under the fading trees of Lórien. I need not search for it. I will go and it will come.
The margins are mine.
I sit by his bedside, and gaze upon his face, beautiful and young in death, the death that came on his terms. It is the face of a king and it is well chosen. Just the face to be entombed by stone. I cry, a lot, and then I grow quiet.
In the silent watch of the night come thoughts of my mother, who let go so easily, fading even as we sipped our tea under the almond trees of my father's house, as she braided my hair and sang of spring. I do not remember if the season came that year, or the year after.
"What will you do now, mother?" ask my children. I kiss them farewell.
I don my cloak and leave the land.
I wander to the edge of the forest. The river is not frozen yet. A bird sings; the day hesitates
on the cusp of evening. I sit and dip my toes in the water
just for a moment.
A/N: Elrond's words to Aragorn, "You do not know yet what you desire of me", were taken from the Tale of Arwen and Aragorn in Return of the King, Appendix A.
This one goes way back to a discussion about writing Arwen and what her voice would be like at the GoI, but it was just a few loose sentences in a notebook before I completed it for the recent Teitho challenge.