Peregrin's knock at their bedroom door was Arwen's signal to slip from her husband's arms, pull on a robe and shut herself into the privacy of Idril's dressing room. A rose red velvet gown, lavishly decorated with gold on neck and sleeve, was laid out on the table in the center of the room beside a gold edged surcoat of a blue so dark it was almost black. A light golden coronal, encrusted with garnet and ruby, glittered against the black felt lining of an open coffer next to them.

Gown and surcoat came not from the long dead Lady Elenwe but from Laebeth, and were made in the familiar Northern fashion. Idril had chosen the crown for her, taking it from the vault beneath the White Tower where the Queens' jewels had been gathering dust since the death of Ioringlas, wife of Earnil II. Arwen donned her finery rapidly and sat down to wait - but not for long. Soon there came a knock on the back door and she opened it to Idril and Laebeth. Both were formally attired; Idril in silver edged black with a thin pearled circlet on her unbound hair, and Laebeth in dark crimson velvet banded with gold, her long hair crowned by a netted gilt cap.

Arwen had invited them to help her arm Aragorn, a lady from Gondor and a lady from the North. She was a little proud of herself for having thought of that, it was important that she as well as Aragorn not be seen as favoring her own people above the Gondorim, or the other way around either.

Peregrin opened the bedroom door to them, a faintly scandalized look, instantly suppressed passing over his face. Arwen knew from Bilbo's tales of the Shire that proper Hobbit ladies didn't call on gentlemen fresh out of their beds, but of course Pippin had the sense to know that this was quite a different matter.

Aragorn had politely but firmly declined the ornate plate armor favored by the Kings of Anarion's Line. Instead his wife and kinswomen helped him don mail of galvorn with pauldrons and rerebraces of gilt edged Mithril. Then a long red velvet tunic went on, and over it a black leather surcoat embroidered with the Tree and Stars in silver thread, followed by vambraces and shin plates engraved with the winged crest of Elendil. Then Arwen buckled Narsil around his waist, and as a final touch, Idril and Laebeth fastened a long cloak of red lined black to his shoulders with the Elessar and a Mithril brooch etched with the Tree.

Arwen stepped back for a look and beamed her approval, he was truly magnificent, but she wasn't quite finished yet: "Sit down and let me comb your hair."

"I have combed it." he said, a trifle defensively.

"No doubt." she answered. "Now I'm going to do it right."

Peregrin grinned openly, and only years of strict training allowed the two ladies to keep a sober front. Aragorn gave her one of his dark looks but he sat, and she set to work combing the sable brown hair smooth then plaiting two narrow side locks with silver and fastening them at the back of his head Elvish fashion. That should keep his hair out of his eyes for once!

When she had finished Peregrin presented his lord with a glittering helmet with a star of adamant set above the noseguard and a crest of wide spread seagull wings on either side. Aragorn shook his head, smiling. "Leave that, Pippin, I will not wear it. And leave the shield as well. It will be no use to me and awkward for you to carry."

"To put it mildly." the Hobbit agreed with evident relief. Arwen didn't blame him, the shield was near as tall as he was and no doubt very heavy.

Aragorn rose from his chair but she stopped him before he could turn with an upraised finger. "Wait, there is one thing more." She had her saddle-bags near at hand, reaching into one she found what she was looking for and turned to present her husband with a silver fillet set with a great Elf-crystal.

"The Elendilmir!" Aragorn exclaimed, astonished and more than a touch disapproving.

"Gilya gave it to me to bring to you along with Narsil." she answered, and now it was her turn to sound defensive.

He half frowned but the deep eyes glinted with humor. "And what else do you have in that saddlebag of yours," he teased, "the Scepter of Annuminas? Elendil's chair itself?"

"Of course not," she answered, blushing just a little, "don't be silly, Estel. Now bend down and let me put this on you."

He bent his head and she fastened the fillet at the back and he straightened with the Star of the North blazing upon his brow, no longer merely Chief of the Dunedain of the North but High King of the Realms in Exile. Arwen's breath came faster, and not just with passion, for a moment she was almost frightened of the power blazing from her husband. But the fear, if that was what it was, quickly gave way to glowing pride.

"Onan-i-Estel Edain." she proclaimed. 'I give Hope to Men.'

Surprisingly Aragorn's face darkened. "U-chebin estel anim." 'I keep no hope for myself' he answered grimly, and took her hands in his. "Arwen -"

She pulled one free and put three fingers over his lips. "You will come back to me, my Beloved," she told him firmly, then smiled. "I have Seen you with our son."

"Son?" he echoed, a little blankly.

"And why shouldn't we have a son?" she demanded, half laughing. "Beren and Luthien did after all. His name will be Eldarion and he will be the very image of his father!"

"I cannot see that far ahead." Aragorn answered painfully.. "I can see nothing at all."

"But I can." she told him. "Believe in my vision since you have none, believe in us."

He took a deep breath. "I will try, but if I do not return -" She huffed out a breath in frustration but restrained herself. He would keep trying until he had his say, she might as well let him get it out now. "- it is still not too late for you to repent of your choice and sail with your father into the West."

"It is too late." she answered steadily. "If you do not return I remain here to abide the Doom of Men. I could not bear to wait all the ages of the world to see you again."

He let out a breath. "Promise me at least you will not lay down your life in despair and come flying after me as Luthien did. Go home to Rivendell, let your father comfort you if he can."

'He still thinks I may change my mind.' she thought with a touch of annoyance, but she would not lose her temper over something that would never happen. "I promise I will not follow you until I can do so in hope rather than despair. But you must promise in return to wait for me on the shores of the Outer Sea, as Beren waited for Luthien."

"I will." he said, and managed to smile. "And remember I won't mind if it is a long wait." And then, finally, he kissed her

Arwen gave the parting cup first to Eomer of Rohan, then to his lieutenants and finally to Meriadoc, his new esquire. Imrahil and his three sons were next, then Aragorn and those who stood with him. Halladan of course and Siriondil, the Captain of the new Royal Guard still uneasy with his new rank. Hurin had given both his eldest and youngest sons permission to ride with the army. The elder, Beren, was Aragorn's new banner bearer. Last but far from least came the King's esquire, Peregrin of the Shire.

She stepped back, the massive golden grail cradled in her two hands, and said the parting words traditional in the North: "We part but for a time. Fare you well until we meet again." then the Captains bowed to her and led their Men out of the court and down the long tunnel stair to the Sixth Circle.

Arwen shoved the heavy parting cup into the hands of one of Idril's maidens and ran to the edge of the long stone buttress, moving slowly down its length as she watched the long, glittering line of the army snake back and forth beneath her, zig-zaging down the Circles past cheering, banner waving crowds. Finally she reached the embrasure at its tip, and saw Aragorn and his companions ride out the Great Gate some seven hundred feet below.

For a moment her heart almost failed her, but the moment quickly passed leaving her faith unshaken. Aragorn would come back to her and they would have many years together raising their son and ruling the Realms of Men. But still she stood watching until the last glint of armor had vanished into the distance. Turning away at last she found Hurin standing by, concern in his eyes, and smiled determinedly at him.

"Well, Hurinya, we have much to do if this City is to be fit to receive the King when he returns."

TO BE CONTINUED....In 'The Steward and The Queen' coming - eventually - to a PC near you! ;-)