Hope and Memory

by Elvellon Ringsbane


Dusk fell swiftly, the grey light of early evening receding into a deep twilight as one by one small white fires sprang up in the darkening sky. Above the Valley of Rivendell the stars seemed brighter than anywhere else in mortal lands, as if they hung nearer to the earth, wishing to reach down and touch the last haven of the Elves east of the Sea.

In the birch woods of Imladris Arwen walked alone, her grey mantle glimmering in the dusk. The night wind was in her hair, and about her echoed the murmur of the falls borne up softly on the breeze. It was spring, and the grass was long and green beneath her unshod feet, and all the trees were in flower, the fragrance of their blossoms filling the night air with a rich perfume.

Arwen reached out a hand, white and slender in the light of the stars, and brushed the laden boughs of a cherry tree, and a rain of blossoms fell about her like a fragrant snow. How often had she walked thus! How many were the memories that dwelt here…

In the spring of her youth she had run beneath the birches with her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, their laughter rising like larks to meet the sun as they chased each other amid the trees. Elrond followed at a more stately pace, a smile on his face and Celebrían their mother like a fair young mallorn at his side, clad in silver and crowned with gold.

In summer when the groves were cloaked in a rich green, she had paced the winding paths alone while her brothers rode off on errantry with the Dúnedain. Then when they returned she would sit upon the greensward, a wreath of flowers in her hair, and listen as they recounted their adventures and told of lands wide and wild far beyond the borders of Imladris.

Autumn came, and in the days when the leaves were gold before they fell she would climb to the edges of the valley where the wind came stiff and fresh from the sea far away. Looking down she could see all the vale spread out below her in a mist of crimson and gold, the river running through it as a bright ribbon laced with foam as the sun sank with fire into the west.

When the breath of winter put the autumn stars to flight, and the snow lay upon tree and stone like a mantle of white lace, then in the Hall of Fire lights flared up in sconces of silver and bronze and the harpers sang of Lúthien before the feet of Arwen Undómiel…

Spring came again, and like a bird released from bonds Arwen left behind the halls of her father and beneath the blossoming trees she danced upon the deep grass while flowers like stars sprang beneath her passing feet. Then the woods were filled with her song, even as with Lúthien’s of old, and all the valley was filled with gladness. And even so had she met Estel…

As a reflection in a crystal pool was the memory of his tall figure walking amid the trees as he sang of Lúthien, and the sudden wonder that touched his noble face, and the echo of his voice crying, ‘Tinúviel! Tinúviel…’

Arwen stood still, wrapped in memory like a cloak, as slowly the moon rose above the edge of valley and illuminated the clearing where she waited. Her silver mantle shone pale in the darkness as if she were clad in moonlight, and her long hair was as a river of twilight crowned with stars.

‘Undómiel.’

A quiet voice broke the stillness, and Arwen stirred and turned. ‘Ada!’

Elrond smiled. ‘Your thoughts are far away.’

‘Nay,’ said Arwen, returning the smile. ‘They are here, within this very glade. I was thinking of other springs, of you and Naneth, and Elladan and Elrohir…and Estel.’

Elrond’s face grew grave, and there was a light of sorrow in his eyes. His long robes whispered over the grass as he came to stand beside her. ‘Will you forsake all past memories for a future of fleeting joy soon to turn to sorrow? Naneth awaits you. What shall I tell her, if you do not come?’

‘Would she not wish me joy? The loss is hard, but the love is eternal. She will understand.’

Elrond sighed, and turned his face toward the West where Eärendil shone above the horizon, bright and clear. ‘Love remembered does not lessen present pain. It is not of your mother, nor even of myself that I think now, but of you, Arwen.’ He turned again towards her, and in the starlight his face was cold and hard, as a statue carven of stone.

‘Beyond all hope Sauron has been defeated, and Aragorn made king. But though all you yet desire comes to pass, still you will have to taste the bitterness of mortality. For whether by the sword or by the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die, and there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death, an image of the splendor of the kings of old in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.

‘But you, daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt, as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Alone shall you dwell, bound to your grief under the fading trees, until all the long years of your life are utterly spent, and you have lost all that you gained.’

A sigh broke the stillness, and looking upon Arwen he saw that she was pale, and tears shone in her eyes like stars. Grief smote him to see the pain mirrored there, and he laid a hand upon her arm, and said gently, ‘Do I not also have your love?’

She smiled tremulously through her tears, and pressed his hand to her cheek. ‘Of course you have my love, Ada!’

Arwen buried her face against his chest as he drew her into an embrace, breathing in the familiar scent that always lingered about his robes. From the time she was a child it had brought her comfort, and his quiet strength had never failed to dispel her doubt and fear. And now she wept at the thought of leaving him forever, for as great as was her love for Aragorn, no man can replace a father’s love.

Elrond held his daughter close, stroking her dark hair. The thought of losing her was a sorrow almost too great to bear, but he desired above all else her happiness, whatever the cost to himself. And how could she find it here, in a land of tears and war, where there was no lasting joy or peace? ‘Your joy means more to me than all of Arda,’ he pleaded. ‘Take the ship into the west and bear away your love for him where it will be ever green! There is nothing for you here, only death…’

Arwen drew back gently from her father’s embrace. ‘Ever green, but never more than a memory!’ Tears were on her cheeks, but her voice did not falter. ‘No, Ada. I have made my choice.’

Elrond looked on his daughter, and there was no anger in his grey eyes, only an immeasurable sorrow and the pain that foreknowledge brings. ‘Then the Eldar shall be a second time bereaved, and the image of Lúthien pass forever from the world. For we are the firstborn, the Children of the Stars, but Men are the Children of the Sun, forever destined to rule the world. The time of the Elves is over, and as a star before the dawn you will fade and fail.’

‘Such is the fate of all our race,’ answered Arwen, and her voice was sad. But in her eyes there was a light that did not die. ‘But if the stars fade not, dawn cannot come. Sauron indeed has been defeated and the One unmade, and Aragorn sits now upon the throne of his fathers, but the hope that has been borne anew among Men will soon wither unless our union come to pass. For Aragorn will die, even as you say, and who then will guide the people of Arda?’ She looked searchingly at the Lord of Rivendell. ‘Would you condemn Men to the darkness even now?’

‘No, but neither would I condemn my daughter to death!’

‘Not to death, Ada!’ said Arwen, and she raised her hand and laid it gently on his cheek, an unfathomable love in her grey eyes. ‘Not to death, but to a new and different life! For even as the choice of Lúthien gave new hope to a world in darkness, so too shall it be with my choice. Then the White Tree shall flower again in the courts of the King, and the Children of Hope will play in its shade, and sunlight and starlight be mingled forever. And through the sons and daughters of Elfstone and Evenstar the memory of the Eldar in their days of glory will endure beyond this age of the world.’

Elrond did not answer, but stood with his face toward the west, his eyes fixed on the distant fire of his father’s star. A silence fell upon the glade, and in the stillness the rushing of the waterfalls filled the cool air as overhead the stars began to pale towards dawn. One by one the fires of heaven vanished into the lightening sky, and last of all Eärendil dipped slowly behind the rim of the world. Then at last Elrond stirred, and turned to the silent figure beside him.

Arwen remained motionless, like a statue out of forgotten years, her silver mantle glimmering like gossamer in the shadow of the trees. Her long sable tresses stirred in the wind, and her face was pale as she waited, hands clasped tightly before her. Elrond raised his head, and their eyes met. Tears marked his cheeks, but there was a smile upon his ageless face and a new light in his eyes; and Arwen knew that he had accepted her choice at last.

For a moment they stood thus without speaking, then suddenly Arwen laughed, a clear, joyful laughter that rose like a lark to meet the dawn. She sprang forward, flinging her arms about her father, and Elrond caught her and embraced her tightly. Then they parted, and as if by some sudden instinct or command, turned together to face the east.

The light had grown steadily, and now streaks of rose and amber were spreading like shafts of fire beyond the lifting night. Then suddenly darkness fled and the sun leapt into the sky, kindling the distant mountain tops to a golden fire.

Arwen stood beside her father, her hands clasped in his as the first warm rays of light slipped through the trees to bathe their upturned faces. ‘Lo!’ she exclaimed. ‘Arien has passed the Gates of Morn.’

‘Yes,’ answered Elrond quietly, and his eyes twinkled at her like the last stars ere the coming of day. ‘A new age has dawned for Men.’



*Ada = father
*Naneth = mother