"Fading Unto Night"
Legalese: All things Lord of the Rings belongs to JRR Tolkien, including many descriptions and some text that were taken directly from the pages of the famed trilogy. I claim ownership solely of the idea. No profit will be made by this.
Author's Note: This is a stand-alone idea that is in no way associated with any of my previous or ongoing works - merely an expansion of the greatness that has already been given. It's extremely short and will hopefully leave you with that desperate edge that lends its way to all things of great import- such as the ending of one of the greatest love stories to be found in all of Middle-earth.
As always, a huge thanks goes out to Nightwing for taking the time to beta this for me. You, my friend, shall always be my expert extraordinaire and I appreciate your critical eye. And per usual form, reviews are appreciated.
Brief Description: As to all things, the end has come.
Fading Unto Night
For six-score years Arwen Undómiel dwelt with Aragorn, son of Arathorn, in great glory and bliss as Queen of Elves and Men. Six-score, or 122 years that had seen the birth of their son, Eldarion, and of their daughters, Silivrenen and Idhreniell, the growth and prosperity of their nation, and many wonderful times with dear friends that were as family to the King and Queen. And yet to an Elf that had already lived near to 144-score years, six was so impossibly short that there were some days Arwen Evenstar felt as though time was slipping away like a cascade of crystalline droplets of water through her cupped hand.
She was mortal now, her decision irrevocably made, and yet time never touched her pale, flawless skin, never bent her proud shoulders or caused her graceful step to falter. It hadn't slowed the passing days and years, and always did her gift of foresight press upon her the knowledge and certainty that hers was a dream that could not last forever. Inevitably, one that did not last forever.
Spring had come to the city of Minas Tirith, just as it always had each of the one hundred and twenty years previous that she had dwelt in this city of Men. Her city of Men. Yet as the life returned to the lands, so did it seem that the light faded ever so steadily from her husband's eyes. The change in him was gradual, just as the wind wore at the strong oak, slowly stripping away leaves and thinning the thick bark. It was a gradual change, one that Arwen was not blind to, and yet why did it seem as though this day was so unexpected - so without warning? He had smiled as they had broken fast together that morning. He had laughed as Elladan and Elrohir, visiting from the north, regaled the children with tales of their father's more mischievous childhood. She had seen the love that shone in his gray eyes as Silivrenen left for a mid-morning ride with the son of Bremler, advisor to the king, the glance of understanding as Idhreniell tried to slip away unnoticed, a thick book in hand, and the pride as Eldarion agreed to handle the tasks of the court for the day. Such was the duty that their son, full-grown now, had taken upon himself more and more of late, leaving his father, still so proud and tall in stature, with the freedom of his younger days, when the world had not pressed so heavily upon his strong shoulders.
With a small tilt of his chin to her brothers, he silently extended his hand to her. There was so much love in those gray eyes, creased now by beautiful lines that cut deeply into his tanned face that was framed by long locks of black-flecked silver. With the grace of her youth full upon her, Arwen Evenstar placed her hand in his, her long strides instinctually falling in time with his own as they stepped through the wide glass doors and into the crisp morning beyond. The sun was warm and bright, glistening off of her raven locks as they followed a familiar, care-worn path into the gardens that wrapped the Citadel in a golden myriad of colors.
There was silence then. The silence between those whose love was so compete that their hearts beat together and their souls had long ago twined into one. Arwen knew this man who had become her life, her dreams, and her fate even better than she knew herself. She loved this man. She had carried his children, stood by him through the trials of governing a country, and had held him as he had wept bitter tears at the passing of those who had already faded into night before him. First had been Éomer, dear Éomer who had passed nearly sixty years before, followed soon thereafter by his wife, Lothíriel. After that had been Éowyn, sister to Éomer and wife to Faramir. Next went little Meriadoc Brandybuck, followed swiftly by his cousin Peregrin Took. Many years later Faramir, wise Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, finally followed in his beloved wife's steps, she who he had been parted from for so many years, as he lay down to rest until eternity.
Friends they had been. Family in the truest sense. Yet all had succumbed to the fate of all Mortals. A fate that was as inevitable as the passing of one season to another.
"Legolas and Gimli will be arriving before long," Aragorn commented, as though reading her thoughts as he named the two that yet remained.
"Today?" Arwen queried, her fair brow creasing as she turned to her husband. "But I thought that this year you wished not to celebrate the day of your birth."
"They do not come for the day of my birth," he returned, his words so simple that at first Arwen simply disregarded the deeper tones that lined his solemn statement. But then he slowed his steps, his fingers twining with hers as he gently turned her until her eyes were level with his own. Eyes that burned a truth that her heart was desperate to deny.
"Nay, my husband. How could you know such a thing?" she murmured, her words a breathless whisper as she tried to turn away - as she tried to deny the truth, if for just one moment longer.
"I know, the same as they knew it was time to come. Of us all, I believe that it was Legolas who saw the truth long before I," he murmured, his smile softening at the thought of the golden-haired elf that had long been as a brother to the ranger-turned-king.
"There is no truth to see," Arwen denied, helpless to do aught else as she felt the tears pool in her gray eyes, so like those of her husband.
Sighing softly, Aragorn gently ran a calloused thumb beneath her brimming gaze, wiping away a falling tear with one gentle caress. "Oh, melethin," he murmured, his smile at once filled with so much love and sadness as he seemed to age before her very eyes. "Always we knew this day would come, and it was for you that my heart has always wept. Gimli is mortal and is no stranger to the mortal fate, and Legolas will finally find the ease his troubled spirit has long been denied in the arms of his family upon the shores of Valinor. But you, my Love..." he sighed, words failing him as he looked upon her ageless face that was drawn in a grief that knew no bounds. "At last, Lady Evenstar, fairest in the world, and most beloved, my world is fading. Lo! we have gathered, and we have spent, and now the time of payment draws near."
But his words, long foreseen, were as poison to her trembling body, and Arwen pulled away from her husband's familiar embrace. She could find no comfort in his loving arms as the hurt and desperation throbbed in her body as a festering wound finally laid bare to the chilling elements. "Would you then, lord, before your time leave your people that live by your word?"
"Not before my time," he corrected, his words as gentle as the sun's caress. "For if I will not go now, then I must soon go perforce. And Eldarion our son is a man full-ripe for kingship."
"But would it be before mine?" Arwen returned, her voice dropping so low that even her sensitive ears had trouble finding the low timbre. But the words were borne out of bitterness, and her husband was spared from addressing them as a herald interrupted their solitude to announce the arrival of Lords Legolas and Gimli.
It had begun, and with the quiet certainty of a foreknowledge that she was powerless to refute, Arwen Evenstar understood that this beginning would also be her end.
The House of the King was as silent as the tomb it had long been, the final resting place for the rulers of Men; the final resting spot for Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Ranger, Nine Walker, King, Friend, Brother, Father and Husband. Yes, this bed of stone would hold her husband's proud form until it crumbled to dust beneath the press of time. The press that moved ever onward.
Without knowing how, the morning had been lost to her, and then her afternoon as well. They had gone somehow, and as she stood beside what was soon to become her husband's final resting spot, she knew that she could never get them back. Tears had been shed and goodbyes had been given. In the case of Legolas, and of the twins if they accepted the immortality that was their gift, these goodbyes were the kind that were meant to last forever. The spirits of Men did not pass into the Halls of Mandos, but disappeared out of all time and reckoning, lost to that secret place which the dead coveted. No, the Eldar and the Edain were not meant to be as one, by Ilúvatar's own design, and yet this reasoning had not prevented Legolas Thranduilion from binding himself through bonds of friendship and love to a mortal man that was destined to be king. Very soon Arwen knew that there would be nothing left to hold Legolas to this world. The fair-haired elf would finally build his ship and answer the call of the sea that had long rent his soul. He would leave these shores, as all Elves were meant to do, and he would find comfort from his grief upon the white shores of Valinor.
But Arwen Evenstar would never know comfort again.
Doing her best to ignore the tears that trailed down her pale cheeks, Arwen knelt beside the heavy stone bed upon which her husband lay, her fingers twined with his own. Minutes ago he had entrusted the winged crown of Gondor and the Scepter of Arnor into their son's hands, and now all were gone save the Queen that stubbornly refused to allow the King to go to his final rest. He had wearied of this world and was ready to let go, but Arwen was not yet ready to find her release, and finally she tasted the full bitterness of the mortality she had taken upon herself.
Long ago, upon hearing of her plight to the Hope of Men, her father had foreseen that the Doom of Men would seem hard to her at the ending. Even at their final parting he had tried to warn her again, and bitter were the words that were spoken between them at a parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world. She had been so stubborn then, so sure that their love would see them through any hardship that they faced. But how could their love, as bright, shining, and strong as it was, possibly see them through this moment?
Somehow, as always, Aragorn must have sensed the doubt and anguish which tore her heart in two, for his tired, solemn features softened as he looked upon her with all of the love of their long years together. "Lady Undómiel, the hour is indeed hard. Yet it was made even in that day when we met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond where none now walk," he began with all of the wisdom that is granted to those in this final hour. "And on the hill of Cerin Amroth when we forsook both the Shadow and the Twilight this doom we accepted. Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady," he continued without pause, giving her no chance to either argue or agree to his soft words - words that were brutal and harsh only in the truth that they spoke. "I am the last of the Númenóreans and the latest king of the Elder Days, and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep."
"Then you would leave me in this final, bitter hour?" Arwen murmured around the tears that thickened her breathing and burned her ageless eyes. "You talk of duty, and yet what of your duty to me? What of your duty to the wife that has sacrificed everything so as to spend this lifetime with you. Will you not stay even a moment longer to ease her pain?"
Sighing softly, Aragorn once more lifted a single hand to cup her pale, trembling chin with his loving fingers. "I speak no comfort to you," he whispered as her tears splashed upon his tanned skin, "for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men."
For the briefest of moments Arwen could only stare at her husband as his words cut her like a knife. Moot was such an offer, a fact they both knew well, and it seemed to her that these words could only be spoken to cause hurt or to mock all that she had forsaken for their love and this life together. Even if she were able to sail now to her kin, doing so would mean a separation far greater than death. She had pledged herself to this King of Men, and this pledge was one she had made to last all of eternity.
"Nay, dear lord," she whispered hollowly, her eyes wide and easily showing the hurt his callous words had wrought. "That choice is long over. There is no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or nil: the loss and the silence," she continued as she allowed her eyes to turn from his silver gaze to look upon the dark shadows that filled this tomb of Men. To either side of her husband lay the tombs of Merry and Pippin, fine statues of their likenesses carved into the strong stone. Yet alone she was, bathed in darkness, separate from Ilúvatar's song and smothered by the stillness of the dead that dwelt here.
"But I say to you, King of the Númenóreans," she continued, her dull, lifeless gray eyes finding his once more, "not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them," she admitted, "but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of One to Men, it is bitter to receive."
"So it seems," Aragorn agreed as he gently brushed away one more errant tear before allowing his arm to rest at his side. "But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring," he murmured as Arwen pressed a trembling kiss against the fingers that were still twined with her own. "In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory," he whispered, so much love and confidence in these promises shining in his beautiful gray eyes that Arwen couldn't help but grace him with one final, tremulous smile. A smile that he took as his final parting gift.
"Farewell!" he whispered and then pulled her hand to his lips to press one last kiss against her soft skin. With this final gesture Aragorn, son of Arathorn and King of all Men, released his hold on life and fell into eternal slumber.
"Estel! Estel!" Arwen cried, panic consuming her as his hand became limp in her own. For one limitless moment, the world went still and all of Arda held its breath as Arwen struggled for air that would not come. Death, that cruel, unforgiving villain that was so mysterious to all of her kind had stolen into these silent houses and had taken for all of eternity that which was dearest to her heart. He was gone, and Arwen knew this with an agonizing certainty as she felt that special bond that had always stretched between her and her husband become severed in one gut-wrenching blow. Reeling, the Evenstar keenly felt this loss with every beat of her shattered heart. She was bereft of her purpose for existing, and without that familiar connection she felt adrift in a world that was suddenly cold and strange.
And then the moment passed as the world teetered on, as it was always meant to do, the silence shattering as Arwen's lungs released her breath with an agonized hiss before mechanically drawing another. But something had irrevocably changed in that endless moment - something profound and all at once inescapable, for in that moment it was as though she had somehow passed all of her grace and her light to the body of her husband.
A great beauty was now revealed in him, so that all who would come after would look on him in wonder to see the grace of his youth, and the valor of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age blended together. There he lay, an image of the splendor of Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.
But Arwen's light had been forever quenched by this most grievous loss, and she was now cold and gray as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. It was a bitter paradox for she knew that there was no life without her husband, and yet she was powerless to follow him on whatever path he had chosen. Thus she was forced to live on in a world that had lost its beauty, its luster, its magic, and its appeal. But worse yet, gone was the song that connected all things living.
She was lost.
Silent and still Arwen sat beside the body of her husband. Minutes, hours, and time uncounted slipped by as she clutched his dead hand to her bosom, her grief overwhelming. She had never known such pain, and had she still been of the firstborn, her fëa would have surely fled this cold shell for the safety and comfort of Mandos' Hall. As it was, she had become trapped in this mortal coil by the very love that had lifted her up and then cast her down upon the treacherous, jagged spires of shattered dreams and unfulfilled promises.
Her Estel had left the circles of this world, and now there remained nothing that could ease this parting or to lighten the darkness that consumed her, body and soul.
In the end, it was her brothers that fetched her from her husband's cold side. Great was their grief for the man they had called brother, but greater was their despair at seeing what remained of the sister they had long cherished. There was now no place for her in this city of Men, yet neither could she leave these shores to a place that she had forsaken. And so it was that Arwen Evenstar bid her final goodbyes to her full-grown children: Eldarion, firstborn and King of all Men; Silivrenen, second-born and fairer than the dew drops that glistened upon a winter morn; and Idhreniell, youngest of the three and gifted with foresight and a mind far keener than any Man. To Legolas and Gimli farewells were also given, for one she had loved many a long year as brother, while the other had endeared himself to her as strongly as with her grandmother. Both were precious to her, and yet her words were hollow and her eyes vacant, for after suffering such a loss, there was nothing left within her to give. There was nothing left save the cold, the dark, and the aching silence.
Six-score years past, Arwen Evenstar, fairest of all elven kind, entered this city of Men amidst much fanfare and celebration, surrounded by so many of her kin. Six-score years later she left as a pale wretch in solemn silence, with no more than Elladan and Elrohir as her escort. Swift was their journey, and all too soon one final goodbye was given on the borders of Lothlórien, for she would not permit her brothers to remain with her in her grief. Galadriel had voyaged across the seas and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent. There Arwen parted with the remaining vestiges of her beloved family as she passed away into the land she had once loved, there to dwell alone under the fading trees until winter came.
There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth. And it was there that she found her Estel once more.
Humming a broken song that was older than time itself, Arwen lay upon a bed of tangled grasses and scattered leaves as she gazed upon a barren canopy that revealed the stars in all their glory above. Never had she felt such cold as that which now invaded her body. She felt leaden and heavy - burdened down by thousands of years of thoughts and memories - and this weight frightened her more than she thought possible. How could she finally shed this mortal shell to float free amongst the stars when she was so heavy? She would sink into the ground - a dark place where elves were never meant to dwell.
But perhaps that was the answer to the mystery of mortal death: in the end, the mortal soul becomes so weighted that it falls down into darkness instead of rising up into the beauty of the stars above. Perhaps that was the real reason for the separation between mortal and elven-kind.
The thought terrified her, and added one more link to the chain that her soul was desperate to shed.
Breath catching in her throat, Arwen felt the warm tears course down her cold cheeks. Was this what it meant to be mortal? This terror at not knowing what would follow? Thousands of years she had lived with the reassurance that should death find her body, her soul would forevermore live on - first in the warmth of Mandos' Hall, and later upon the shores of Valinor. What if this death was to be the end of her, body and soul, for all of eternity? What if once death took hold, there came no after? Dimly she realized anew that elves were not meant to come to this moment.
Gradually the dark night began to lighten around her, until a brilliant glow dampened out even the bright shine of her grandfather's ship in the night sky above. Head falling woodenly to the side, Arwen instinctively yearned for this new light, her eyes skipping past the empty woods of her mother's land before they fell upon a vision from the past.
"Melethin," she whispered, the word a jagged gasp from her cracked lips as she beheld her husband in all his glory. There he knelt at her side, full of blinding light - brighter than the most beautiful of elven glows as he burned with the vitality of his youth. Yet greater than anything was the compassion and love that shone in his gray eyes, and the tears that dampened his dark lashes.
"Beloved, I am so frightened," Arwen brokenly whispered, her own tears falling freely now as she curled towards his familiar frame, yearning for his touch even as her mind shied away from this vision. "My body is mortal now and bound to Arda, and my feä cannot release its hold at my bidding. I have tried," she cried as her body shook with the force of her sobs. "Oh Valar have I tried! After your passing I longed for nothing more than to join you, but my body betrayed me then as it betrays me now! I... I do not know how to let go of this world!" she admitted in a breathless wave of fear as Aragorn smiled sadly down upon her before slowly opening his arms.
Immediately Arwen felt strength enough return to her limbs as she threw herself forward, a strangled cry escaping her lips when she felt his strong arms encircle her in his familiar, warm embrace. His arms were everything that she remembered, everything that she had longed for, and everything that she had begun to fear that she would never feel again. In his arms she found safety and a beacon of light in a world that had grown dark and cold.
"Shh, my love," he whispered, his words falling like a soothing balm upon her hurting spirit as his breath fanned across her cheek. "Why do you weep so?" he murmured as he lovingly held her close. "I am here now, and soon you will see all of your fears pass away."
Lungs laboriously struggling to draw breath, Arwen clutched at his arm as her body fought a foe that she could not see. "Estel, please help me," she wheezed, terror filling her as the air grew colder around her. "I do not know how to let go," she whimpered as she felt his hand brush soothingly across her pale brow, gently forcing her to lay her head upon his lap.
"I will show you how," he assured her as her eyes greedily locked with his own, desperate for the strength and peace that she had long been denied. "The night is falling now, and you have come to journey's end," he explained, his words washing over her and helping to ease the frantic beating of her heart.
"Shh, melethin," her husband urged as her eyes began to slip shut of their own accord. "You will be safe in my arms," he whispered as she felt his hand continue to run across her brow, smoothing the deep lines that marred her pale skin. "Sleep now," he instructed, "and dream of the ones who came before. They are calling you home," he murmured, "from across the distant shore."
Struggling for each increasingly weakened breath, Arwen nonetheless felt her body begin to relax upon the soft ground as her mind drifted. The weight of the passing years began to crumble beneath her husband's loving ministrations, and slowly she felt her burden lighten until her soul seemed unfettered by all that had held her upon these shores for so many years.
"Arwen, open your eyes," she heard him whisper, his hot breath tickling her ear as she smiled in the darkness that encompassed her. "Arwen - look now. The ships have come to carry you home," he continued, the softly spoken words causing her heart to stir at the promise that she had long been denied. There was to be no ship to carry her home, she thought as her the tears fell anew from her tightly closed lids. "Come beloved, look to the horizon and see the pale moon. Tis a light on the water that will beckon us home," he urged as she slowly did as her husband bade her, opening her eyes to find that the empty forest of Lothlorien had been replaced by the shores of the ocean, deserted and sparkling beneath the light of the moon and stars above.
"Estel," she breathed as she slowly stood from his embrace, the long cold melting beneath the warm sand that sifted beneath her bare feet. In the shallows of the water stood a magnificent gray ship, a beautiful craft that stood tall and resplendent amongst the waves that rocked against its strong hull.
"Come, my Evenstar - let us go home," her husband murmured from beside her as he took her hand in his and gently led her towards the water's edge.
Nodding absently, Arwen followed in her husband's wake, a delighted laugh escaping her lips as the cool water washed over her feet and caused her long dress to lap against her legs. Smiling, she glanced down into the dark water that was as clear as glass, and paused, startled by her reflection. She looked as she did before, young, and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night.
Smiling softly at her reflection, Arwen slowly looked up and into the beautiful eyes of her beloved. "Let us go home," she whispered as she gripped his hand tighter, her eyes glittering with unshed tears as she waded further into the waters that would carry her home.
The woods were quiet and still as the fading land held its breath at the passing of one of her most beloved children. Faded leaves fell upon her pale, still form, covering her in a blanket of muted colors as Arwen Evenstar took her final breath and passed into darkness.
And all will turn to silver glass,
A light on the water; all Souls pass.
White shores are calling;
You and I will meet again.