17. Till the Snows are Melted
"Pass me that volume on the War of Wrath, would you, my dear?" Bilbo, almost invisible beneath the layers of woollens, comforters and cloaks wrapped around him, glanced up from his high stool at the end of the library table. It was a freezing day in the depths of winter, and the fires were lit everywhere in the Last Homely House - except, of course, in the library, which Elrond had expressly ordered to be built without fireplaces so that no-one should ever be tempted so to risk his precious books and scrolls.
Rowanna reluctantly uncurled one hand in its fingerless knitted glove from the fur muff on her lap. "This one bound in green? But," frowning as she wondered as usual whether she was mixing up her ancient battles, "why the War of Wrath, Bilbo? What does - "
"Dragons, my dear girl, dragons," interrupted Bilbo a trifle impatiently. "Ancalagon the Black, specifically, I just need to check a small point - "
Of course dragons, thought Rowanna with an inward sigh, nothing but dragons all this week. She pushed the small volume down towards Bilbo's end of the table, blew on her fingers a few times and hastily buried them in her fur once more as she attempted to return her attention to the tables of Sindarin lenitions Bilbo was urging her to master. "Good as your ear and your memory may be," he had insisted, "no-one will ever think you a true speaker of the Grey Tongue if you don't know the sound-shifts - "
As if anyone would ever take me for an Elf, anyway! Rowanna thought rebelliously as she struggled to keep her mind on her task and not on the ever-encroaching cold. You could be back in your room with a roaring fire doing this, she reminded herself, but she knew well enough she would not go; she wanted the company, even rather tetchy company buried beneath a pile of books and papers, as much as Bilbo did. She also suspected that only the cold of the library could keep her awake; ever since the day Caradhras had reared in front of her in the stable-yard her sleep had been restless, a new and unpleasant experience as far as she was concerned, and she woke several times a night with a strange feeling of dread she could not pin down and huddled in her blankets unwilling to try to sleep again.
Nearly a month had passed since the Company had departed, and Rivendell was a subdued, almost melancholy place. The valley had lain shrouded in grey mist for days at a time, hiding the mountains from view and muffling all sound save the steady dripping of water from the bare branches; then the mist had yielded to yellowish cloud - which Bilbo assured her meant snow on the high mountains - and bitter cold. The Hall of Fire lay silent and unused, echoing sadly to any lone footfall which crossed it, and Elrond's folk melted away into the chambers and corners of the House and talked in murmurs.
Stop moping around, Rowanna heard her mother's voice in her head, and do something useful! So when she was not wanted in the stables, or practising at the archery-butts (for she had not forgotten Legolas' remark about learning to shoot, and had badgered the armsmasters until one of them agreed to teach her) she and Bilbo spent their mornings in the library and their afternoons, as often as not, taking tea and kitchen dainties to Arwen and attempting to engage the Evenstar in whatever cheering, inconsequential conversation the pair of them could devise.
"Does no-one ever go to her but us, Bilbo?" Rowanna ventured to ask one day in the privacy of the library. "Surely everyone can see that she must need companionship now - and I thought all Rivendell was devoted to her! Why is she always alone?"
"Well, not quite always," Bilbo corrected, looking up from the scroll he was perusing. "She is with Elrond often enough, you know, in the evenings - and Elladan and Elrohir would be with her, if they hadn't gone haring off westwards again a fortnight ago to take messages to the Angle about something or other. But you're right, few enough of her father's folk would go and knock on her door. There's a tangle of reasons, I suppose - you must remember she was off in Lothlórien with her grandmother for years and years till not so long ago. And Elrond's people all adore her, that's true, but rather as they might love the evening star itself - a distant thing of inexpressible beauty, not one you share a cosy fireside chat with. But I think there's more to it than that, now..." He broke off, seeming suddenly flustered, and made great play of searching for his pen in the pile of papers scattered before him.
"What, Bilbo?" Rowanna insisted. "What do you mean?" Bilbo sighed, and seemed to dash something from the corner of his eye.
"She's going to die," he said bleakly. Then, hearing Rowanna's sharp intake of breath, he added hastily: "No, no, not now, not next week! But she has pledged herself to Aragorn, and you know what that means - come, come, you remember the tale of her foremother Lúthien? She has chosen mortality, and one day she will leave this world indeed, and the Elves will lose the one they most love. It is a great grief to her father's people, and more - I think to them it must be rather like knowing someone who has some terrible wasting sickness; you can see nothing, but you know it's there, and feel - almost shamed, somehow, that you cannot bear to speak of it, and so in the end you avoid talking to them at all if you can. And even stranger to the Elves, and worse, is that Arwen chooses this fate, is walking away from them down her own path with her eyes open, and nothing in all the powers or chances of this world will turn her aside."
For a long moment neither of them spoke. Then Bilbo shuffled his papers together vigorously, deposited the dragon-shaped granite paperweight carved for him once by Balin on top of them with a thud, and fixed Rowanna with a stern glare. "Now then - letter-shifts. What would bess become after i?"
So the mornings wore away in study, and the afternoons passed as cheerfully as the trio which met for tea in Arwen's rooms could contrive; Arwen sewed or used her small hand-loom, Bilbo and Rowanna rewarded themselves for their chilly hours of work with plenty of cake, and there were a great many tales of days ancient and more recent. Bilbo held his pupil to her promise of unravelling her complicated family history for him, and so Arwen did finally hear the story of Rowanna's lineage - though without ever fulfilling the mortal woman's prediction that it would put her to sleep. Over several afternoons Rowanna dutifully recited the whole: her mother's welcome into Lady Théodwyn's service after Rowanna's father's death in the orc-raid, and her own upbringing in Éomund's great hall in the Eastfold; the Marshal's death ten years later, followed swiftly by his wife's ("they said she died of a broken heart, poor lady, and it could well be so,") and the breaking up of her household.
"Théoden King took her children into his own royal house then; and there Mother and I could not follow them, having none of their claims on the King. I think it was around that time that Father's kin in Minas Tirith tried again to persuade Mother to return to them; I remember a messenger coming all the way from the White City, and Mother reading a letter and then hurling it into the fire and swearing that she would not go back to Gondor just to be conveniently re-married to whichever noble took their fancy, for she had had the best husband in the world and wanted no other..."
"But how did you live, then, my dear, with no menfolk to protect you both?" asked Bilbo anxiously. Arwen glanced up from her work, and Rowanna saw her struggle to suppress her smile.
"Mother is the finest embroideress in all Rohan," she said proudly. "She was known for her work for Lady Théodwyn, and half the court at Edoras wanted her to embroider their gowns. We had gold put by from the weregild Mother was paid for Father's death in Lord Éomund's service; so she could buy a little house in Edoras, close by Meduseld, and keep us both with her needle. I wish I could show her your work, though, Arwen - I think even she never did anything so exquisite."
The Evenstar was sitting drawn back a little from the fire, taking care not to scorch the great swathe of dark cloth which lay across her knees and which she was embroidering with sparkling silver thread. "You are not as clumsy as you claimed with every form of needle yourself!" she teased, nodding towards the headstall in her companion's lap.
"I can manage saddle stitch - there's not much delicacy needed for that!" Rowanna agreed, laughing. "And I can mend a tear in a shirt or cloak well enough to make shift for myself, though you'd always see the join. But Mother despaired long ago of me following in her footsteps - I never had the patience for the fine gold-work she made our living by; so in the end she had to agree to my being prenticed to Aelstan as a horse-breeder back out in the Eastfold, since quite clearly that was all I was fit for!"
"You must have been a happy child in Éomund's household, then, even though you had only your mother," Arwen remarked, looking suddenly a little wistful. Rowanna blinked, caught unawares.
"I.. I suppose so. Yes, for the most part - it was a huge hall, and I ran half wild on the plains, and they taught me to ride with all the other children of the household..." Who laughed at you for your black hair and your odd speech, whispered resentful childhood memory somewhere deep within, and called you Crow... "They used to tease me, because I was southern and strange - except for Éomer, Lord Éomund's son. Even though he was three years younger than I, he was so fiery and proud that all the others did as he said, and he would tell them it was shameful to mock a guest of the Mark so and harangue them all into treating me better!" Laughter bubbled up in her at the thought. "I'd quite forgotten that, it seems so long ago. He is Marshal of the Eastmark himself, now, and his little sister Éowyn who used to make me play shieldmaidens with her is mistress of the Golden Hall of Meduseld!" She fell silent, staring into the fire. I wonder how things fare in Edoras. I wonder if Mother is well...
Her companions must have guessed which way her thoughts tended, for they did not clamour for more of the story, but turned to talking quietly of Bilbo's researches and the latest progress of his book. The following afternoon, Bilbo said he thought he was finally getting somewhere with his chapter on the great worm Smaug, and was so determined to finish it that he took his notes back to his room to work on over tea. Rowanna therefore went alone to join Arwen in the afternoon, glad to thaw out the library's chill from her bones by huddling close to the Evenstar's small hearth.
"You're very quiet today," Arwen observed after a while. "And you look a little pale - you have not taken cold sitting all those hours in the library, have you?"
"I - no, I do not think so." Rowanna sighed heavily. "I am weary, Arwen, that is all."
"Did you sleep badly? There are black shadows under your eyes."
"I did not sleep well," Rowanna confessed. "I had some strange dreams..."
"Dreams?" Arwen put down her needlework and looked at Rowanna sharply. "What kind of dreams? Were they troubling?"
"I don't know... yes, they were, for when I woke I felt as though a cold shadow lay over me, and could not shake it off. Every time I tried to go back to sleep I woke the same way again; but what I dreamt, I could not tell you, for I remember nothing of them at all. But do not worry, Arwen - they were just dreams, not of any account."
The Evenstar frowned, but said no more for the moment. When Rowanna looked no brighter the following afternoon, however, she put the question again; Rowanna shivered and huddled closer to the fire as though the very memory chilled her. "It came again, all last night, the same dream - I'm sure it was, for the feeling when I woke was the same, only stronger; I woke up trembling and wanting to weep, and knowing something was terribly wrong and that I had to go, before it was too late..."
"Go - whither?" asked Arwen softly.
"Go home," Rowanna whispered, staring into the flames. "Back to Edoras - to Mother. She was in the dream, terribly unhappy, and afraid - I do not think in my life I ever saw her afraid! and she wanted me, and I knew I had to go..."
She was startled out of her reverie by movement; Arwen was on her knees next to her, embroidery abandoned on her chair, holding her hands and looking intently into her face.
"Rowanna, you must speak to Father about this."
"To Master Elrond? About a bad dream? Oh, Arwen, there is no need - I don't want a sleeping-draught -"
"I did not speak of physic," Arwen broke in gently, "though if need be I am sure Father could give you something to help you to undisturbed sleep. But this must not be lightly disregarded - "
"It was only a dream!" Rowanna protested, feeling suddenly alarmed by Arwen's concern. The Evenstar shook her head.
"Perhaps; but remember, I have known your mother's foremothers these many mortal generations. You are a Dúnadaneth; the women of your line do not go in for idle night-time fancies, Rowanna, as a rule, and sometimes see with more than the day's eye. Please - I do not wish to frighten you - but promise me you will come and sup with Father and me this evening, and tell him of this."
Elvish whim, Rowanna insisted to herself, more of this Firstborn obsession with fate and doom when probably all I need is some better weather so I can tire myself out with the horses as usual! But she could not deny that Arwen was both kind and wise, and hardly likely to worry her needlessly; and so she agreed to go that evening.
Elrond listened carefully to Rowanna's account; then got up from his chair, took hold of her wrists, and gazed into her eyes until she felt her head begin to swim at his searching gaze. When he released her he did not, as Rowanna had secretly hoped, make light of Arwen's fears and reassure them that all was well. If anything, frowning as he paced back and forth across the chamber, he seemed inclined to lend even greater weight both to the fact that she had been dreaming at all, and to the meaning of her dream, and before long had quite convinced Rowanna that the voices of her sleep might speak truly.
"But - in that case, Master Elrond, I - I cannot stay here any longer!" Rowanna burst out, leaping up from her chair as though she would depart that very moment. "If what you say is true, then - my mother may be in trouble, or in pain, and in need of me! I must go to her!"
"I would not in any way gainsay you, my child," Elrond put in gravely, "but you must consider how the land may now lie between Imladris and Edoras. The times grow dark around us and the ways uncertain, and I would not have you risk your own life to orc or warg - or worse."
Rowanna shook her head. "Your pardon, my lord, but - we speak of my mother whom I love, and it matters not to me what the risks are! If she needs me, then go to her I will though all the orcs of Mordor stand between!"
"Such straits, I hope, we have not quite reached even yet," Elrond murmured dryly, and the mortal woman flushed. "In any case," he went on, "neither love nor valour will serve to unlock winter's grasp on the mountain passes, I fear. Consider: I know not how closely you heeded the accounts of the Council after Frodo arrived, but we have known since that day that Saruman in his tower at Orthanc is turned against the rest of the Wise. Which means - " as Rowanna looked blank - "that the Gap of Rohan may well be closed to any who are seen to approach it from Imladris, and that in any case the western approach to your homeland, by the Misty Mountains and the Fords of Isen, must be growing lawless and perilous. Which leaves you with but one course; east of the Mountains, through the Vale of Anduin to Lórien and beyond..."
"Well, then we can go that way!" Rowanna exclaimed. "There are maps in plenty in the library; there must be one of the Mountains and the land to the East - we could make a copy; and Dirgon can escort me -"
"But to make your way south to Rohan with any speed you would need horses," Elrond pointed out. "And since any who would go South by the eastward way must needs cross the Mountains by the High Pass, it cannot be done before the spring thaws; the Pass is hazardous to riders at the best of times, but impossible in the snow unless you wish to risk your horses' legs or their necks!"
Rowanna shuddered, remembering occasional forays on horseback into the foothills of the White Mountains in early spring: mud and potholes and pockets of snow to betray the footing, even after the thaw, and we nearly lost the pack-mule when he slipped on the path... She nodded reluctantly, and felt frustrated tears springing to her eyes: with a soft rustle of skirts Arwen moved to sit beside her, squeezing her hand and bending a questioning gaze on her father. Elrond sighed.
"I do not doubt your courage, child, nor dispute your wish to go," he conceded. "And indeed, I have been watching and hoping for the first signs of Stirring myself. I have much need of counsel from Lothlórien, and must send messengers southwards as soon as the Pass can be tried; for I would not call the Enemy's attention to the way west of the Mountains by sending any more out from Imladris by that road. "
"How soon?" asked Rowanna hoarsely, scrubbing at her face.
"We must wait some weeks yet, in all likelihood. The year's turning is a month gone already, but it is rare to see the thaw yet; I cannot recall such an early Stirring since before the last time the White Council met, half a Great Year ago. We can but watch, and hope."
All Rowanna could do, then, was to work away in the stables and the library; bear Arwen and Bilbo company as cheerfully as she could, and try to ignore the slowly swelling tide of unease which rose nightly into her sleep, and began to lap even at her waking hours, insisting: You cannot wait! You need to go!
A week later came the worst night's sleep she had known in her life: again and again she woke bolt upright in bed, shaking, and after the third time lit the lamp. Arwen appeared in her doorway almost at once, and insisted on calling for warm drinks and sitting out the rest of the night with her. At last, towards dawn, with the Evenstar's soft song enfolding her, Rowanna managed to drop into a fitful doze. She woke, foggily, into a late morning of bright sunshine and birdsong, and Arwen in the windowseat smiling broadly. There was a faint sound drifting in through the window which for a moment Rowanna could not place; then it came to her - the noise of rushing water. The Bruinen was in full spate as the snowmelt raced down the valley, and the thaw had come.
Some notes on dates etc, just for clarity: Rowanna was born, in Rohan, in 2988 T.A. (so at the time P&C begins she is thirty). Her father was killed in 2992. Éomund, chief Marshal of the Mark, was killed, also in an orc-ambush, in 3002, and "not long after Théodwyn [his wife] took sick and died", at which point Théoden took Éomer and Éowyn into his household (LoTR Appendix A). The White Council had last met in 2953, 65 years before (half a Great Year being in fact 72 years).
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.