"She wrought it in secret, and long was the making. "
When she was ready to begin her work at last, Arwen set up her loom in a secluded grove far from her father's House, using the simple looms of Lórien as her model. The lowest bough of a great beech was the beam, and two straight saplings, carefully trimmed and smoothed, served as heddles. The warp was pulled taut by clay weights that she had shaped and fired long ago as a child.
No-one would have denied her the use of the great loom of Imladris for whatever she wished, but that did not matter; she must work in secret, and use nothing that had not been made by her own hands. Somehow she knew it was so, though her grandmother had not spoken of the practical part of the working, only of the mind's side.
To make something as strong, you yourself must be the weave, hìna, she had said, her deep eyes reflecting the starlight as they sat on an open flet far above the city of the trees. Your thought, your spirit, your being – as she lightly tugged one of Arwen's braids – all must be twined into the weft and warp.
At the time it had seemed merely an intriguing bit of family history.
By far the hardest task was gathering sufficient material. Arwen had not Lùthien's power, to enspell her hair to great length; and since her father was not so unreasonable as to lock her away, she could not crop it short without attracting notice. Instead, she had to glean from her combs and brushes. She snipped a lock or two at a time carefully, from the nape of her neck where it would not show. And she hoarded the strands like treasure, curling them in a lebethron casket to which only she bore the key.
What she gathered was blended with fine black silk from the South, brought for her by Elladan and Elrohir without questions. As soon as she had enough to make a start, she took up her spindle.
Arwen had always preferred to work alone, so none remarked on her long absences. Walking on the high paths of Imladris, she threw the heavy spindle out before her feet, then smoothly wound the thread around the distaff cradled in her left arm, over and over and over.
As she spun, she walked in dream and memory. She saw her mother, patiently teaching her the flick of the wrist that sent the spindle flying, laughing with Arwen as the wool they practiced with became a tangled matt. She remembered Celebrìan later, faded and sick at heart, leaving on an autumn day of wet leaves. She rode away without looking back, and Arwen felt rain mingle with the tears on her cheek like the salt spray of the sea.
For nearly three rounds of the sun Arwen walked and spun. She watched over Estel as he travelled through the northern wilderlands and in the far South. She saw the shadows lengthen over Lothlórien and the vale of Anduin and stretch toward the West. She never looked to the East.
Rather than shadowed and obscure, this cloth was made shining with authority. It must show forth the majesty and might of its bearer, drawing all eyes and hearts to it. She wove into the cloth the virtues of summoning, of finding and returning, of bright beaconry in the darkness. As she walked back and forth, drawing the shuttle through the great width of the hanging loom, she sang of Estel as he might be, as he would be some day, bearing on his brow the star of his forefathers, on his breast her grandmother's stone, and unfurled above him her own gift.
The banner would be her own defiance of the darkness. Her brothers would ride forth to the Black Gate – she could not; but the work of her hands would stand with Isildur's heir before the Lord of Torment.
Weaving was a long-familiar task to Arwen; rock prospecting was new. But again she heard Galadriel's voice in memory, speaking of the deeps of Menegroth and of Khazad-dûm.
Lay your hand on the rock. Feel how the veins of crystal run through it, as life runs through you. You will know where to direct your strokes.
The high walls of Imladris hid many crystal-bearing lodes, and Arwen found that Galadriel had spoken truly; it was not hard to tell which grey, undistinguished cliff-face would reward her tapping hammer with pale glimmers of clear stone.
Splitting and cutting the crystals was more demanding. At times she despaired of fashioning seven gems bright enough for her purpose. She spent days poring over the apprentice texts for jewel-wrights in her father's library, and practicing with flawed chunks of quartz. Slowly she learned how to facet stones so that they would throw back the light as dazzlingly as she wished.
Aragorn came to Imladris but rarely during these years, and Arwen did not speak of her work to him until his last visit, and then only obliquely. The need for secrecy still bound her.
The Council had debated, and the Fellowship been named; Aragorn was to be one of them, and both he and Arwen knew that the thread of hope the quest hung from was frail indeed. They spent what little time they could together, usually in the Hall of Fire of an evening, listening to the music and the tales, seeking a brief distraction from the stark truth of the choices that would shape their fate.
Her father had never spoken to Arwen of her choice. At times she wished that he would rail at her, demand that she revoke her promise to cleave to Estel, for it pained her to feel the tie that bound them fraying – but he never did so. Instead he watched her and Estel sit side by side, and his eyes were more sorrowful than she could bear. Harsh words would have been easier to stand against.
An unfamiliar feeling crept upon Arwen on a winter morning not long after the Fellowship's departure, as she sat stitching mithril thread into the banner. She felt unsettled in a way that she had never before experienced when creating something. With wonder, she realized she was anxious that she would not finish in time.
A sense of urgency like nothing she had ever felt gripped her tightly. She must hasten! She began to labour longer hours, sewing all night rather than seeking rest in dreams.
Now Arwen rarely appeared in the Hall for any meal, and more evenings than not she was absent from the singing as well. When she did appear she was pale and distracted, her spirit subdued and grey. The folk of Elrond's household began to murmur that the Shadow weighed heavily on the Evenstar.
She shrugged off their whispers, and bent to her work again.
In the chill dawn mist that rose from the Bruinen, a phantom host of grey horses and grey-cloaked riders gathered before the doors of Elrond's House. Elves moved among them, securing pack-straps, bearing stirrup-cups of warm cider, or speaking words of parting to the twins. Their father watched from the high verandah of his House.
Arwen had bidden her brothers farewell last night; she was abroad this early for another purpose. She snugged the laces more tightly about the bundle she carried and pulled her hood forward about her face.
"Halbarad, mellon nîn."
The tall Dúnadan looked down from the saddle, and bowed his head when he saw who addressed him. "My lady of Rivendell."
"I have a token for you to bear to the lord Aragorn," Arwen whispered, and she lifted the heavy staff into Halbarad's grasp. "You must give it into his hand, and no-one else's; do you understand?"
The Ranger nodded. "Is there any message to go with it, lady?"
Arwen paused. She had not thought of this as a chance to send word to Estel; she could see him in her waking dreams, after all, but that was not like speech… Longing overwhelmed her suddenly, and Halbarad's face blurred.
"Tell him – tell him that now the days of waiting grow short. Either our hope will come, or the end of all hope, and therefore I send him what I have wrought for him. He will know what you bear."
She clasped his arm in farewell, and turned to go back into the House. She could feel her father's gaze on her back, but she refused to turn and meet it.
* * * * * * *
And it came to pass that in the hour of defeat Aragorn came up from the sea and unfurled the standard of Arwen in the battle of the Fields of Pelennor, and in that day he was first hailed as king.
Return of the King, Appendix A
hìna: child (Quenya)
mellon nîn: my friend (Sindarin)
Many thanks to Azalais and snowballjane for thoughtful beta-reading.