"Men..should have a virtue to shape their lives, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else" (Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 1). A mortal woman is brought to Rivendell for healing in the summer of 3018, and thus becomes entangled with both Men and Elves in the events of the War of the Ring. How will destiny and choice shape the lives of the two Kindreds?
This novel-length story travels from Rohan via Rivendell to Gondor and back again, twining itself in and out of the canon events of LoTR as it goes. Gap-filling, drama, humour, a dash of angst and - eventually - romance between the OFC protagonist and a canon character (so don't say you weren't warned!)
Rated Teen for, in later chapters, some fairly explicit descriptions of the aftermath of battle and for some (non-graphic) sexual content.
Feedback via comment or private message will make me very happy - if one reader in ten dropped me a line, that would make this author's day.
Chapter One – To Rivendell, Where Elves Yet Dwell
July 3019, Third Age, Minas Tirith
"He's still there, then?"
Aragorn Elessar slid an arm around his Queen as he put aside his pipe and joined her at the window of their sitting-room in the White Tower. For once neither spared a glance for the riotously-blooming roses which filled the Citadel's gardens in midsummer; instead their eyes were fixed on the figure who was – to their eyes if not to most Mortals' – just visible among the foliage of a laurel tree, leaning back against its trunk, gazing southwards towards Anduin, Dol Amroth and the Sea.
"He hasn't moved for hours," Arwen sighed. "Just like yesterday, and the day before that, sunk in misery, and I cannot break through to him – not in word nor thought; I have tried…"
"He's convinced there's no help for any of it, and that the Powers have spoken," agreed Aragorn. "I've suggested he go to Dol Amroth, offered him horses, couriers to take a message to her, but he'll have none. And judging by the manner of her departure – riding out alone at first light with only a note left at her bedside! – nor will she…"
"We were neither of us very foresighted, were we?" murmured Arwen, resting her head on his shoulder. "If I'd only seen how this would end when she was first brought to Imladris; just a year ago…"
June 3018, Third Age, Rivendell
It was mid-June, and high summer was upon Rivendell. The House of Elrond itself was almost deserted. At this time of year more than ever his folk were largely to be found out of doors, some cooling off by bathing in one of the deep pools below the falls of the Bruinen, others seeking elusive breezes in the topmost branches of the trees. One hot afternoon, Bilbo the hobbit was dozing in a quiet corner of the gardens; the sons of Elrond were lying in the shade of a beech-tree laying plots as to their next expedition after orcs; and Arwen Evenstar was sitting on the bridge which led to the house, dangling her bare feet in the cool of the water as she daydreamed. So it was that Arwen was first to hear the light steps which sped out of the woods. "Neldor - why such haste, in this heat?"
"Lady Arwen, I must find your father - there are mortals come, with a lady ailing, craving his aid!" And with that the Elf sprang over the bridge, his dark hair flying in his wake, and was gone towards the house.
Scrambling to her feet and untangling her skirts, Arwen was about to go after him when it occurred to her that the strangers would be approaching from behind her, down the valley. She turned instead and began to walk back the way Neldor had come, curiosity stirring. Mortals – and not Dúnedain from the Angle, by the sound of it, or Neldor would simply have said so… Well, that would stir Imladris from its summer torpor quickly enough.
Sure enough, as she moved across the valley, she heard the excited murmurings in the trees around her - and then she saw them, with Elves escorting them over the slippery grass of the steep valley slopes; two Men on horseback, with a mule following behind. The horses, she noted automatically, were fine beasts; a chestnut and a grey, powerfully made, as though selected for stamina rather than for speed. That made some sense, for the mule bore large saddle-bags on both sides, seemingly provisioned for a long journey. And indeed a long and weary journey it looked to have been.
The younger man was tall, and upright in the saddle. His mane of blond hair was darkened with sweat around his temples, and his shirt and breeches were also damp and dust-covered. Wary relief, Arwen saw at once, was written clear across his sunburnt, open features. His companion was, she thought, in the late middle-age of Men. His face was even browner, heavily lined in the way of elderly mortals who spent all their life outdoors, and his sparser hair was greying. Unlike the younger man, he spared little attention even for the curious Elves thronging around him; all his care was on his burden. Cradled in one arm, against his saddle-bow, he held the body of a woman.
Arwen wasted no time in demanding whys or wherefores. She bid them a swift and kindly welcome to Rivendell, and urged them to follow her across the bridge. The horses passed slowly in single file, one of Elrond's folk leading each, and came at last to the House. There the Master of Rivendell, alerted by the fleet Neldor, stood at the top of the steps, gazing gravely into the heavy golden light of afternoon to welcome these most unexpected guests.
The younger man dismounted swiftly, gladly gave over bridle and mount to one of the Elves who minded the stables, and moved at once to his elder companion's side.
"Give her now to me, Dirgon, my friend," he urged. With great care, the other lowered the woman into his arms; and those standing around could see now that her eyes were closed and her face very pale. She was clad in breeches and shirt like a man's, and despite the heat of the day a cloak was wrapped around her shoulders as though her guardians feared she felt the cold. She neither stirred nor showed any signs of life as the blond rider stepped carefully forward with her. Addressing the figure standing silently on the steps, as though aware this was someone of authority, he spoke in a voice hoarsened by dust and thirst:
"My lord, we seek one Elrond, called the Master of Rivendell."
"And you have found him, my friend," Elrond responded in the Common Speech the rider had himself used. "Come quickly. Bring the lady within to a chamber where she may rest and be cared for. When you yourself are refreshed you can tell us who she is, and how you come to bring her to us…"
For a moment the young man's shoulders trembled, and he closed his eyes. Then he squared himself again and mastered his voice.
"I thank you most heartily, then, Master Elrond." And as Elrond turned on his heel, the rider bore his burden up the steps behind him. His companion also dismounted, but did not follow, seeming a little lost. One of the stable-hands spoke a word to him; at this he brightened, and the two set off across the courtyard leading both horses between them. The respectful quiet which had surrounded Elrond yielded to a sudden flurry of whispers and murmurings, which dipped momentarily as Arwen moved through the thronging elves – then rose to a new hubbub, as she swept up the stairs and hurried in pursuit of her father and his charges.
Striding ahead of his guests down a passage-way which lay open on one side to the air, Elrond arrived at a doorway at the same moment as his housekeeper, who had quickly been summoned. She opened the door, listened attentively to another word from Elrond, and with a respectful nod was gone again, skirts swishing along the smooth marble floor. From behind her, a small dark-haired elleth darted through the doorway to straighten the bedsheets, and plump the unused pillows, before the guests were ushered in.
The room was as light and airy as any in Rivendell. On this side of the House, a cooling breeze blew up from the Falls of Bruinen on the hottest of days, and the trees of the garden diffused the harsh midday light. The rider's eyes widened for a moment as he followed Elrond into the room, taking in the exquisite carving of the window-frames and the vaulted ceiling; but he strode to the bed and lowered the woman on to it, positioning her head carefully on the pillows, and bending over a moment to smooth her heavy dark hair from her forehead. Only then did he straighten his back with a deep sigh, and turn to face his host.
"Be seated, my friend, while I examine the lady," Elrond commanded. The young man needed no second bidding, dropping into the cushions of the large wooden armchair which was indicated. The Half-Elven turned his attention to the woman, who lay still as stone upon the pillows. Swiftly placing hands on her forehead and her wrist, he found her breathing ragged, her pulse a distant whisper. And she was cold... on this hottest of days, there was a deep chill on her skin, beads of cold sweat standing out on her forehead, and her lips were blue.
"How long has she been thus?"
"Some eight weeks, my lord. Six of them while we journeyed here to you."
"What do you know of her condition? Do you know the cause?"
"I know when it began, my lord, but not truly how or why. It began with an accident, with a horse..."
"She was stunned? An injury to the head?" Elrond's long and slender fingers moved very gently around and under the woman's skull, feeling expertly for damage.
"Not that we could find, my lord. It is a long tale..."
"Then I think I must hear it." The Master of Imladris was silent for a moment. "But even without it, I think a little can be done. Let us see..."
Taking a deep breath, Elrond placed his palms across the woman's brow, concentrated a moment, and then steadily warmed her. Power went out from his fingers, flowing out against the cold that enveloped her. The only outward signs of it were Elrond's stillness, and the barely perceptible spread of blood into his patient's cheeks, gradual as the coming of sunrise. The Rider watched in silence, barely daring to breathe. Finally, Elrond tested the woman's progress, and ascertained that she breathed steadily, that her pulse was faint but regular, and that she was in no immediate danger of passing from them. There was time, then, to hear her companion's tale; but first he, too, must be cared for.
"She will do well enough, for now." Elrond turned from the woman's bedside as his daughter slipped in through the doorway. "I have touched her sleep, and ensured it will be deep and restorative; for although she was far from waking, there was something in it which was agitated and fearful. But now she truly rests, and I can do no more for her until I know more of her trouble and how you, all three, came to have sought our aid. Come therefore, my friend," he extended a hand to the rider, "and take refreshment, that I may hear all your tale. The lady shall not be alone; I will have one of my people stay with her –"
"I will watch over her, Father, if I may," Arwen broke in. "You can tell me later all I need to know of her journey. I will call you the moment I see any change in her."
"Lady, you – you are most kind –" the young man flushed and stammered, "but you must not trouble –"
"It is no trouble," Arwen soothed the flustered guest, who blushed even deeper. "I should like to stay with her. Go you with my father. Is there anything I should do for her?" She appealed to the master healer.
"Have cool water brought, and bathe her face if she seems over-warm," her father replied. "But beyond that, she needs only a friendly presence, I think, for she will know it even in her deep sleep."
"One more thing, my friend," Arwen turned another dazzling smile on the rider just as he was recovering his composure. "Will you tell me my patient's name?"
"Rowanna, my lady," came the reply, as the young man was escorted by Elrond towards the door.
"Rowanna..." Arwen echoed, as she drew up a chair beside the young woman's pillow, close to the window whose white drapes fluttered fitfully in the breeze, and her father closed the door gently on them both.
Elrond sat in a deep, cushioned chair with elaborately carved arms, fingertips lightly touching beneath his nose, watching his unexpected guest. When food and drink had arrived at the door of the audience chamber, the rider had suddenly awoken from the dreamlike state which the surroundings of Rivendell seemed to have induced in him, and asked after his older companion. Dirgon, he was assured, was taking a bite with the grooms, after rubbing down and tending to the three very weary beasts; and if he was not needed, was happy to remain and take his rest there for the time being. Elrond suspected that, being a man seemingly of few and painstaking words, this Dirgon was only too happy to let the fair-haired youngster muster explanations. For the arrival of three Mortals from the far South, one of them an unconscious woman, would take some explaining indeed…
The rider was, at Elrond's urging, eating and drinking his fill, and a hearty fill it was. Here was a young man of stocky build, well-muscled, who plainly lived largely out of doors. And clearly, Elrond had deduced as he watched the young man's stride down the corridor, mostly on horseback at that. Tension and fatigue visibly drained from the rider as he slowly allowed himself to believe in his surroundings, feeling the restorative effects of the cold meats, the fruits, and the cool water of Rivendell's spring slipping down his dust-roughened throat. Not only relief for the body, his host mused as he watched, but for the mind. Here is one who has carried a great burden of responsibility, for so many days that he had forgotten how it feels to be without it. Now he lays it down, and slowly straightens up, and blinks in the sunlight.
And indeed, the guest now stretched his long legs out before him, and his arms over his head, and heaved a great, gusty sigh of relief - then blushed (again! noted Elrond with amusement), as he recollected himself.
"Your pardon, Master Elrond! And my most humble thanks. Almost had I forgotten how food and water taste that are not coated with the dust of the road..."
"Then I am glad to have recalled them to you," his host responded, smiling. "Now then, my friend, you have much to recount to me, I think. Begin with your name – the lady's and your companion's I already know – and tell me how she arrived at this sad state, and how you have found the Last Homely House over so many weary miles. For you are come far from the South, I think?"
"I am Béodred, and we have brought the Lady Rowanna nigh on two hundred leagues North to you, indeed, my lord. But how did you know?"
"Although it is many years since I saw them last, I still know the gear and the mounts of the Riders of Rohan." Elrond smiled again at the startled expression which told him he hit his mark. "Those horses of yours are of Rohirric stock if ever I saw it, though bred for stamina rather than for racing."
"My lord, we are indeed come from Rohan," the other acknowledged. "The Lady Rowanna is partner with my uncle in the breeding and training of horses for the court at Edoras, and for such other noble houses as need more mounts than they can train up themselves."
"A rare thing, is it not, for a Mortal woman to be thus her own master and work alongside the menfolk?" Elrond arched an eyebrow.
"Rowanna is no ordinary woman!" the Rohir agreed fervently.
Indeed? Elrond observed wryly. "And no Eorling, from her colouring." For there is Dúnadan blood there, without question, in the lines of her face and in that dark hair.
"Indeed no, my lord. And it is through her bloodline and kinship that we come to be here, to have known the way to you, and been sent to implore your help for her. For if I was told it aright, then though distantly indeed, the lady is kin to your house."
One of Elrond's eyebrows rose just a fraction. "Go on…"
"Master, the Lady's father, long dead, was of a noble house of Gondor. But her mother descends from the Rangers of the North, the Dúnedain as she tells me they were once called," – Elrond smiled to himself – "and I am charged to ask your help on account of her kinship. Her mother is Míranna, daughter of Rían; and through many generations she traces her ancestry back to one Elros, Peredhel."
Both eyebrows shot up this time. The Master of Rivendell was positively startled. Elros' own line! Through so many Mortal lifetimes? I had not thought that any that married into the southern Dúnedain would remember yet, nor trace it back so directly…
"Is she then indeed of your kin, my lord?" The young man looked anxious. "We have come so far..."
"My friend, were she no more closely related to me than any child playing on the plains of Rohan, she should have all my aid and care," Elrond assured him. "But if the lady's mother is descended as she says, then we are indeed, very distantly, kin. Elros Peredhel, the Half-Elven, was my brother."
"Your - brother, my lord? But -"
The sight of the young man's mental faculties grating like ill-matched cogs on a pair of millwheels, as he endeavoured to make sense of this calm statement, was so painfully comic that the corners of Elrond's mouth almost twitched. But he had had all too many millennia to practice courteous self-control. And a moment later Béodred worked it out.
"Oh. Oh, of course. The immortality of the Elves. Forgive me, my lord. I – I am not used to such company…"
"Do not trouble yourself, Béodred. But you have my assurance that the Lady Rowanna would indeed seem to be distantly my kinswoman; and as such she, and you, are doubly welcome beneath my roof. Tell me now though what has befallen her, and how you found us; for only thus can I begin to see what may be done for her."
Arwen sat very still in the cool, quiet sickroom, watching the rise and fall of the woman's breathing. Rowanna had not stirred since the blond Rider had laid her upon the bed; but thanks to Elrond's touch that icy chill which had lain upon her had been drawn off, at least for the moment. There was colour in her cheeks and the bruised, bluish tinge was gone from her lips. From time to time Arwen reached forward and carefully laid two fingers to her throat beneath her jawline; her pulse beat sure and strong, restored by Elrond from the ragged, faint murmur which had barely sustained her for so long.
You are free of the darkness, for now, my friend, Arwen told her in her thoughts. And yet you are still so very far away. What did this to you? What fear or horror drove you so far down into the depths of yourself? Come a little nearer the light; you are safe here…
Softly, wanting to reach out to the fearful, assaulted mind of the mortal woman who lay so close to her, and yet so unreachable, Arwen began to sing. She wove the gentlest threads of sound, working into them reassurance, friendship, tenderness:
"When sky was clear and stars were keen,
then Dairon with his fingers lean,
as daylight melted into eve,
a trembling music sweet would weave
on flutes of silver, thin and clear
for Lúthien, the maiden dear..."
Slowly, the hot afternoon wore on; and as Arwen sang her own healing to Rowanna, elsewhere in the house Elrond listened intently to the Rider's tale of her fall.
The story's title comes from Chapter I of the Silmarillion, Of the Beginning of Days: "Men..should have a virtue to shape their lives, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else".
Individual chapters' titles are all lines or half-lines from songs or poems in LoTR.
Arwen's song is from the Lay of Leithian (The Lay Recommenced, from History of Middle-earth Book 3, The Lays of Beleriand ).