She knelt beside rushing Silverlode, grieved by the woman gazing up at her. Grey hair has this stranger I do not know; note the streaks, and how the wind has blown it all astray, for no comb she wears to keep it in place. How hollow those cheeks; sunken the eyes that have shed countless tears of parting and looked on as all once loved slipped away, away beyond the Sea, beyond the World. Arwen? Is that the name once I had, before bitterness left me alone upon this riverbank whose waters flow into Anduin, and thence, Belfalas, and thence places I will never see?
She stood, despairing, not wanting to look further upon herself, not even long enough to quench her thirst. That is not my face, not my hair streaked grey. Memories faded, the sun shone pale and cold. Silverlodes melody droned harsh in Arwens heart, out of tune, its cadence arrhythmic, a staccato drum beat. Around her the odor of decaying leaves and dry grass clung to the bank. Mallorn grew to great heights, but their leaves hung tarnished from brittle branches, gone the golden wood. Moss and lichen had taken hold on their thick boles.
This place was once full of song. A great swan once plied this swift stream, and a Lady sat upon it, tall and beautiful. In days long past, in memories grown stale. Had this ever really happened? Was once the forest floor a carpet of gold, and the canopy of translucent, living green? Or does my mind, my mortal mind, only imagine it to have been thus?
Ah! There were words then, words of power. Names. Elbereth! Amroth! Valinor! My mother dwelt here for age upon age! And her mother, the Lady of the Swan. Then another came, dressed in robes of white, my doom.
Thirst gnawed at her, yet Arwen welcomed the sensation, a distraction from her thoughts that turned her mind from old names meaningless now. Never will I drink again, for the longing is exquisite, the simple desire to want something, anything. She gathered her tattered robe around her against the chill. It had been white months before when she had gone out from the gates of Minas Tirith, leaving all behind. Nothingness lay ahead, the Doom, the Gift. She had seen no one, heard no voice but the winds, felt no touch but the rain, or the cold ground she lay upon when exhaustion stilled her feet. Ever her face had pointed northward, her path leading to a past that was no more.
Why have I come to this place? Alas, it is no more. Lórien, even Lórien, has ceased to be. As I knew it would be. They are gone, gone away beyond my reach, who once held title to Valinor. Varda has turned her face from me; grey hair, listless eyes and hunger are my reward. Father! You were right to bode me sail with you! The Havens I will never find.
Arwen turned away from Silverlode, from the reflection in the running water. She made her way along a path overgrown with brambles. They clawed at her, drew blood in tiny drops that glistened on pale skin. At least the sound of the river faded, for it clouded my heart as war drums heard from afar. Caras Galadon lay some distance ahead, yet Arwen knew no Elf would welcome her as once they had. If Elves dwelt there still they would slip away into the shadows, unseen, unheard. Yet the city drew her onward. She stumbled, weak with hunger, and tried to recall a song once sung here of happier days when the world was young and no evil had yet entered it. The words would not come, but tears did, warming her cheeks, tasting of salt. Her hair hung in tangles, and lines covered hands once so fair and strong. Arwen had danced here, in days gone by, in a time when Time had no power over this place.
The trees of Caras Galadon still stood, but no flet remained on the wide branches overhead. Arwen stopped and looked up at them, hands at her side, soiled robe blowing out from her thin body. Wind rustled dried leaves, whined through stem and trunk with a keening sadness. The great living wall had been left long untended; the white bridge lay in ruins. Moss wedged between the white stones of the road.
As if two thousand years have passed here in the fleeting life of a king. What once stood adamant against all powers, held at bay the world without, has passed with eagles wings into the present, rejoined the way of things now. Ah, Lórien the fair no more. Ah, Arwen, the lost. No ship. No kin.
She passed beyond to a secluded glade once fair and secret. Thorns reared ugly stems round garden paths. In the very midst a basin stood leaning, chipped and empty. The sun sunk low over the hint of mountains to the west. The passes lay that way, over steep stairs and snow fields, glinting rock and dashing stream. Then down to the hidden place beyond where dwelt my father and brothers. Where came the king to dwell such a short time ago. There I would pass a season, a lifetime of Men. But a few ripples for the Arwen of that life, sprung from immortal lines. All was fresh then, all beautiful! The stars of Varda! The light of the Mariner sweeping across the night on his never-ending voyage! Music in the hall beside the fire, soft and sweet. There was always song, and welcome.
Quiet now the hall, cold the hearth; closed the mountain passes. Councils of Doom were taken there, and all paths led to ruin. Yet, this I wished for, longed for, lived for. Ah, my fathers eyes upon Mindolluin as he pled with me sail with him. How clearly he saw.
Arwen moved along the neglected road through the gathering night, past the city, deeper into the forest. Her feet felt heavy, her limbs weak with mortality. She felt her heart beat dully in her breast, her lungs fill with stale, musty air.
This, a Gift? This weariness? Since before my fathers brother sailed to found an empire until this very turning of the moon I have never felt my heart beat so, nor had to struggle for breath. My eyes saw clear, neither would my feet want for lightness. Erus Gift is bitter to one used to dancing. To where will my spirit go when this flesh fails? Mandos Halls are closed. Is Lúthien but dust scattered on the winds? Will the dusts of my own body mingle with hers?
Ah, the stars are bright and cold. They, at least, remain the same, though they bring no hope, and seem more distant in the fields of night. Elbereth! Tis but a name, a legend from a past so removed I would doubt, but for the great spread above. The light they bring is not sufficient to show the way for these new eyes I see with, yet they are the stars of memory. Under them he too walked. Far abroad he traveled, on roads dark and treacherous, yet the stars shone and he looked to them and thought of me. Wise and fair, he thought me; bold and brave was he to me. Like a legend of old sprung into the world.
And so his doom became mine, and a cycle closed, a riff sealed, a debt paid.
Where are thou, Elessar? Why did you not tell me what mortal meant? Could you have not stayed but a while longer? But would that have made the bitterness less? Yes, you saw more clearly than I when you lay yourself down among the dead and spoke one last time to me, to Arwen.
Night deepened, grew cold, yet Arwen continued along the path. I will lay me done but once more. Upon the hill were Doom found me, and I him. Why did it seem to me that I found him first there, who I had met as a child? As someone new then I saw him, and the blood of his longsires lent him the air of an Elvish lord returned from long toil. And like a king of old he was, and I his queen, come up from depths of time so deep even the legends had failed but to a few.
The forest ahead thinned, opening unto a wide clearing, in the midst of which rose a hill, crowned with twin circles of great trees, silver and gold. In the center of all rose up a tree of great height, and upon it rested a flet of white. And so Arwen came at last to Cerin Amroth with the rising of the sun. She stood at the edge of the open place, her hands and feet stilled, eyes wide. Here the mallorn gleamed the gold of memory; golden stars shone at their feet, amid other, pale flowers. Upon the hillside grass grew lush and fragrant. She breathed in the cool, fresh scent.
Too much. There is here too much of what was! My heart cannot bear it, cannot continue its rhythm within me. I hear the echo of voices raised in song, see the shade of he who once dwelt here long ago, before he built his white ship. Ah, how defiant the power that kept this place, the wisdom of ages. I cannot bear to see this, yet cannot bear to turn away.
She took a halting step toward the green hill, then another. He breath came shallow, untrusting; her feet drug across the soft earth. A morning breeze surrounded her with a fragrance that filled her with memories suddenly clear. She closed her eyes and Lórien rekindled. Gold covered the ground, filled the forest; music rose, laughter. Her footfalls became light. The hill rose to meet her, and Arwen danced up its flower laden side.
Ah, lightness! I had forgotten its feel. My feet move as of old. My thirst is no more. No pain constricts my side.
The hill flattened under her, and Arwen opened her eyes. Amroths flet loomed, high above her, and about her Lórien lived again. The Mallorn shone with light, and seemed to shiver at her touch. Yet, when her gaze reached out beyond Cerin Amroth, all was dull and withdrawn. Arwen fell to the ground and wept, wept with the sorrow of all elves and men, wept with longing and love for the world that had passed beyond her reach wept for the lightness of her feet that she would never again feel, and for the choice she had made. For the bitterness of the Gift she had accepted. A slender elf-maiden in a soiled robe lying upon the grass, head buried in her arms, she wept.
"Here it was," a voice came behind her, "we forsook both Shadow and Twilight, beloved."
She spun around and he stood there, in a white robe. He smiled down on her, and in his eyes shone love and mirth.
"Estel!" she cried, and her heart failed within her. But it seemed she stood from her fallen body, and lightness returned, and her robes matched his.
"Did I not tell you beyond the circles of this world was more than memory?" he said, and his smile revealed his beauty. He gestured wide with his arm. "And behold, others have joined me here. Our kin from afar."
Arwen looked, and there on Cerin Amroth stood two others: a maiden of surpassing beauty lost long ago to her fair people, and a man no less tall and proud than Estel.
"Lúthien," she breathed.
"Yes, they have been granted this honor." He smiled again, and took her hand. "Here our journey began in earnest. Here it begins anew."
They rose up, and the world dropped away from them.