Disclaimer: I own nothing pertaining to Lord of the Rings. For the sake of the plot, Glorfindel is a reincarnated Balrog-Slayer from Gondolin.
In the Elvish world, death is a concept rarely pondered. I admit that now and then I wish that I had not been forced to ponder it. Though my love for Aragorn is great, my fear of what I do not understand is almost as strong. I made a choice, and though I would never go back on my word, my fate terrifies me at times.
I remember one day a very long time ago. Lord Glorfindel seemed more subdued than usual, and when I inquired as to why, Elladan told me that his horse had died. Mother and Father would not have been so blunt, but at that time Elladan thought that he knew everything. So some things have not changed; Elladan still thinks he knows everything.
"Died?" I asked him blankly. "Is that very bad?"
Elladan hesitated. He could not tell me if death was bad or not. Certainly Glorfindel was acting as though it was not a happy occurence. "Perhaps you should ask Mother," he said, after a moment.
I went and asked Mother.
She was sitting on a bench outside, designing a statue on a piece of parchment. She smiled when she saw me trotting towards her. "Good morning, my little Arwen," she said. And then, proving she was her mother's daughter, she added lightly, "You look as though you have a pressing question for me."
"Yes," I said, scrambling up onto the bench and snuggling against her. She put her arm around me and brushed my dark hair away from my face. "What is died?" I asked her.
Her movements stilled, and when I looked up, I saw that she was frowning faintly. "Why are you wondering about death, my love?"
I repeated the new word. It was soft on my tongue. Death.
"Elladan said that Lord Glorfindel's horse died. I asked him what died was, and he told me to ask you," I said. "Do you know, Mother?"
She nodded, almost cautiously. "The horse was very old," she said. "She had lived a long time. And today she fell asleep and did not wake up."
"Will she ever wake up?"
She shook her head. "No."
I thought for a moment, and then a horror filled me. "Mother," I asked urgently. "If I live a very long time, will I fall asleep and not wake up?"
She laughed softly, kissed me on the forehead. "No, dear, that will never happen to you. Elves do not die. We are made to live a very long time, whereas horses are not. They need to rest."
"Oh," I said. "So Lord Glorfindel's horse is resting?"
"So is died bad?"
"Death, not died," said Mother. She was looking at her parchment, at the statue she had drawn on it. "Death is only bad if it comes too soon. It was the horse's time to rest."
"So the horse is happy?"
At the question, Mother seemed torn between amusement and dismay. "Yes."
"Then why is Lord Glorfindel sad?"
"Because he loved his horse, and he can never ride her again."
I learned two things from that conversation. Firstly, I learned that death is final. Secondly, I learned that sleeping can be dangerous. The next few nights, Mother found it very difficult to get me to stay in bed because I was afraid of dying accidently. I did not want to rest forever, not when I had so many things to do.
I grew older, and my knowledge of death increased. No one can live in this world and not see death, not even the Elves. I found the skull of a squirrel one day when I wandered in the woods, and I knew that once it had belonged to a living creature. Every autumn, the leaves turned red and gold and fell from the trees. They were dead and yet they were beautiful.
Death is not a bad thing. There comes a time for most things to die.
Despite this, I learned that death is a bad thing when it touches Elves, for an Elf's death always comes too soon. I learned this because Lord Erestor's method of teaching me history was to hand me a large, ancient tome and tell me to read it. I read book after book, and I learned about Elves who had died, who had been killed.
I understood killing. I had understood it ever since I learned where venison comes from. The fact that Elves could be killed worried me a little, but not hugely.
What worried me more, however, was the story of Beren and Lúthien. I had heard many tales of Lúthien Tinúviel -I had even been told that I walked in her likeness- but for years no one told me what had eventually become of her. I had always been proud to be the decedent of an Elf so greatly beloved, but I had been unaware that she chose to die because of her love for a mortal man. They wanted to protect me from the knowledge that she had died, and it was a simple thing to do, because I had not learned about dying.
Still, I was quite young when I heard her full story, and though I comprehended death a little more, I did not understand its vastness, and I did not understand the mortals' fear of it. I loved to imagine my great-great-grandmother dancing before Mandos, yet I also tried to forget her fate in the end. The end of her story had been a good ending. She had chosen it herself. Only I did not understand, back then, how she could have chosen it.
I am sitting in front of a mirror in my bedroom, and I have been lost in thought for a long time. Last night I awakened with a lump in my throat and feeling of dread in my heart. Everything was so dark. . .I could so easily imagine being dead and buried, lost forever, gone and forgotten.
I think I came very close to despairing last night. I am torn between living with Aragorn and living forever. Death will be a bitter cup, but I have sworn to drink of it.
I love him so much. The thought of him makes me quiver inside. I ache with loving him. I love the way he tilts his head, the way he talks when he's excited, the way he laughs as though no pain can ever touch him. I love his every strength, and I love him for his weaknesses. He is so very young, and yet he is wise.
I look in the mirror, and I see myself. . .or do I see Lúthien? Do shadows of time ever overlap? Are she and I ever one?
We are one in purpose, certainly. As the leaves turn crimson and die, and as new leaves grow in their place, so she lived and died, and so I lived and will die.
Telling Father of my choice should have hurt beyond bearing, but it did not. I think Father knew. . .he is wise and the Valar have blessed him with foresight. I was glad that I had found Aragorn, and yet, as I spoke of him to Father, so excited, so joyful, I found myself crying. Father held me and comforted me even though I was happy, even though I should have been comforting him.
I don't know why I cried. Perhaps I cried because my love for my father and my love for Aragorn were at war with each other. I still feel guilty, to realize that my love for a mortal man has triumphed over my love for my father.
I braid my long, dark hair, and I look in the mirror and see that I am only Arwen. Lady Lúthien is not a part of me. My grey eyes are tired, and I appear neither young nor old. Am I wise? Or was I foolish to fall in love with a mortal man? Was I foolish to give up eternal life for him?
He wonders. He asked me those same questions once, though he phrased them a little more tactfully. He does not think I am foolish, but he thinks that he is not worth my love and seeks to prove himself. His doubts have made me certain of where I stand. When he looks at me, worried, humble, hopeful, I know that I love him, that no fate would be so terrible that I should deny him.
Death cannot be so terrible. I fear it because I do not understand it, but that is all.
I told Lord Erestor this one day when we were in the library and he responded by handing me a slender book.
"You think that books answer all questions, don't you?" I asked him, chuckling a little.
"They have answered many questions," replied Erestor. He drifted away and left me to read .
The book was called Of Death and the Children of Eru, and the Marring of Men(1), and I had heard of it before. It was quite short, despite the length of its title, and I found a comfortable chair and read the whole thing in one sitting. When I had finished it, I had a lot to think about. Some of my fears, even fears I had not realize I possessed, had been put to rest. The plan of Ilúvatar is one of hope, so what have I to be anxious about?
I returned the book to Erestor and he gave me one of his rare, tentative smiles. "Did that help?"
"Yes, it helped very much, thank you. But I still have questions," I said.
"Ask Glorfindel," replied Erestor.
People say 'ask Glorfindel' all the time, as if Glorfindel can fix any problem. However, Erestor says this so rarely that I felt inclined to take his advice.
I found the Elf-Lord in the stables. I remember that he was eating an apple. "Good day, Lady Arwen," he said, inclining his head slightly. "What brings you here?"
"I wanted to talk to you," I said. "About death."
I repeated the soft, terrible word in my thoughts. Death.
Glorfindel raised his eyebrows, gave his apple to a horse, and turned to me curiously.
"Death," he said flatly. "You are worried?"
"I have no doubts," I retorted. Then I sighed. "I seek only to understand my fear of death."
He nodded and I suddenly knew why Lord Erestor had told me to ask Glorfindel. Warriors who fought alongside Lord Glorfindel had spoken, wonderingly, of his recklessness. They had explained that Glorfindel was not careless, but that he did not fear death. Apparently it is very hard to fight someone who demonstrates no trepidation at the thought of dying.
"Why?" I asked him, taking a step forward. "I have heard that you fear nothing. Most Elves have a healthy fear of dying in battle. How come you do not?"
"I suppose I do not fear death because I have died already," said Glorfindel. "There is still mystery in death, but there is no longer anything for me to dread." He smiled lopsidedly. "And anyway, it has occurred to me that getting yanked over the side of a mountain by a Balrog would be a difficult death to exceed."
"Oh." I couldn't help but smile back at him. Serious conversations with Glorfindel are never completely dark and dismal. "So what is death?"
I felt like I was a young child in the garden with my mother again, pestering someone with questions that were painful to answer. The thought of Mother brought a lump to my throat. She had not died, but she had experienced something almost as bad, if not worse. In fact, she had begged to be allowed to die. She had pushed Father away when he had tried to help her, and in the end, she had been forced to leave Middle-Earth to go to Valinor. I bit my lip, looked at Lord Glorfindel for the answer to my questions.
"Death. Death is not a beginning, nor is it an end," said Glorfindel slowly. "It is a doorway that leads to another kind of existing."
This was a weighty topic for two Elves to discuss, but Aragorn had made death very relevant to me.
"A doorway," I repeated.
"Your fëa is what makes you Arwen," said Glorfindel. "Your fëa can never be torn away from you, because it is you. And your fëa is eternal, even if your body becomes mortal."
"Is there ever a complete ending?" I asked. "A time when I will become nonexistent? A final resting?"
"I cannot say." Glorfindel rubbed his nose thoughtfully. "Would you like there to be such a time?"
"I do not know. I think that one day I would like to be made new."
"Yes. I think so."
We looked at each other for a long moment, and then Glorfindel said, softly, "You understand the seriousness of your choice, but I do not think you understand the joy in your choice."
I was startled. "I do understand the joy in my choice. Aragorn is the only man in the world for whom I would do this. I love him."
Glorfindel grinned. "Good. Now perhaps you should focus Aragorn and your love for him instead. You do not need to be obsessed with death. If all mortals obsessed about their ending, none of them would happy, and they'd all die a lot faster."
He could talk of death bluntly, and it did not hurt me or feel awkward. He had taken my fear of death away, somehow.
I am humming to myself as I braid my hair. My reflection still looks back at me from the mirror. I turn the mirror away. No need to see Lúthien gazing out at me.
The thought of life without Aragorn terrifies me far more than the thought of dying. The people I know have been good to me. They have tried to understand my choice, and they helped me understand its implications.
I stand, cross my bedroom, lean out the window. It is winter. The leaves have fallen from the trees, and the ground is grey and white with frost. Hanging on its rack is the banner I am making for my beloved Aragorn. I will put the final touches on it today.
I continue to hum. I feel full of life, happier than I've felt for a long time. Because I must number my days, I have learned to enjoy them more. I spin gently, feeling my long braid bump my back. I'm suddenly full of joy and hope. I want to dance. I have realized that death doesn't matter. I have a new word to think about, a word filled with the promise of spring.
(1) Also known as 'Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth' ('The Debate of Finrod and Andreth'). This highly fascinating work can be found in Morgoth's Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. It is a discussion between Finrod son of Finwë of the Noldor, and Andreth, a mortal woman focusing mainly on death and the relationship of Men and Elves.