53. Crowned with Love
As the weather-wise among the Rohirrim had predicted, summer stayed true and hot for our journey to Minas Tirith. We rode under a golden sun through plains shimmering with the pale yellow of ripe grasses and made our camp under clear, starlit skies, caressed by soft summer breezes.
I rode with Éowyn and Arwen and delighted in the company and the companionship of the two women.
I have to admit that I was at first a little bit apprehensive about turning into the proverbial odd woman out between Éowyn and Arwen. Both were women of royal birth, both were born and bred in Middle-earth; I admit that I did wonder and worry where and if I could possibly fit in there. Back on earth I had more than once been caught in situations where three friends is one too many, and I am not talking sexual relationships here.
But it did not turn out that way.
I think Arwen was a little frightened by the fierce shield-maiden of Rohan, and Éowyn did not know how to handle Arwen's timidity. As I am neither especially shy nor especially extroverted, I was something like a link between them.
The journey to Minas Tirith…
The only thing I really minded about the fifteen days we needed to get from Edoras to Minas Tirith was that I did not get to spend more time with Éomer than during the busy days of politicking at Edoras before and after the Great Thing. I was too busy. He was too busy.
Sometimes I wondered if it would always be like that, seeing each other only in passing, gazing upon one another with longing eyes with little or no time to talk or touch or...
Oh, well. On the way to Minas Tirith, it was a noble purpose on my part that kept us away from each other.
Éowyn and I – there is no other word for it – ganged up on Arwen. In other words, we kept her as far away from her father as was possible within the bounds of politeness.
I admit that there were moments when I felt bad about this. But what was there to do?
Her father's sorrow was more than dampening Arwen's spirits. She was hurting every time she looked at him. Every time he looked at her. There's a real drawback to immortality. There's not only everlasting love to go with immortality, there's also a thing such as everlasting sorrow. When I looked at Elrond, I remembered the feeling I had observing Frodo during the celebration on the Field of Cormallen. This dead look in the hobbit's eyes, as if he had to concentrate all the time to be able to see this world at all, so he would not sink into memories of death and darkness. Now, the strange thought occurred to me that even when I had first seen the Lord Elrond in Rivendell, he already had that kind of look in his eyes, too.
But as he was an elf and I just a girl, so I had thought, what would you know about such things, Lothíriel, just let it go. And then I had come out of things more or less unscathed and untraumatized, so how would I be able to really understand that haunted look in Elrond's or Frodo's eyes. But here was the Lord Elrond riding to the marriage of his only daughter, after evil had been conquered and peace reigned supreme, and his eyes were an abyss of despair. And every time I saw Arwen near her father, this despair seemed to spread to Arwen. I could not turn away and act as if I did not see. And I felt that I did understand Arwen's feelings. At least a little bit. Well, a part of her sadness was easy to explain, I guess, even for an elf. She would never see her mother again. When she would bid her father farewell after her wedding, she would never see her father again. She would die and they would go on living. Arwen looked as if she was breaking apart with the knowledge of her father's suffering.
Perhaps I was wrong to interfere. I had no idea. But I reasoned that Arwen would have time enough to grieve later on. For the time being, she should be looking forward to marrying Aragorn, and not crying herself to sleep every night on the road.
But that was the reasoning for my decision that we "girls" should ride together from Edoras to Minas Tirith – and keep as far away from the Lord Elrond as possible.
Éowyn was happy with the plan, although I never explained it in so many words. Actually, I think she was a little annoyed at the Lord Elrond. Though Éowyn's heart was firmly in Faramir's hands, the vague suspicion that the Lord Elrond might deem Aragorn – King of Kings, Hero of Heroes, the only man under the sun, who might, just might, equal her Faramir –, that the Lord Elrond might think this paragon of manly virtues not good enough for his daughter… that suspicion did not sit well with Éowyn. She did not – as many others did – seek the company of the elf-lord, but was content to ride with Arwen and me, talking about the marriage ceremonies of Gondor and Rohan or about horses.
Perhaps it is only wishful thinking in order to justify our scheme of preventing Arwen from spending with her father on the journey to Minas Tirith, but I think the Lady Galadriel knew exactly what Éowyn and I were up to and decided to aid us. She – along with Éomer, Elrohir and Elladan and numerous Rohirric lords and ladies – kept Elrond busy with discussions of lore and land. Maybe Elrond himself saw what we attempted and would rather that his daughter ride with us and be merry, than that she ride with him and be sad.
That way – no matter how our travelling arrangements came about – the journey to Minas Tirith turned out to be very pleasant, in spite of the tension between the various members of our company.
We were able to keep right on schedule and reached Minas Tirith on the evening of the thirty-first of June or Nárië. June or Nárië in Middle-earth has thirty-one days. But the last day of June is actually reckoned as the first day of Midsummer. It was early evening of the day before Midsummer's day when we arrived at Minas Tirith.
Arwen would have no time to worry much about her wedding. The wedding was to be held on Midsummer's day, the hour of the sun's turning. "Sommersonnenwende" we call it in German; sounds nice, doesn't it? The day and the hour when summer's zenith has been reached, and the world is turning towards autumn and winter again. The symbolism was not lost on me. For her life Arwen's marriage meant the turning from eternal spring and summer to mortal autumn and winter. In her place, I would have agreed to any date but this one.
If you think I sound bitter about this wedding, you are right. I think there's a reason Tolkien does not have an account of the wedding in the book. Not every fairy tale has a happy ending in real life.
However, it was a perfect summer evening when we arrived in Minas Tirith.
The sky was blue as sapphire. The eastern horizon was already glittering with silver stars, but the West had not yet caught fire with the flaming colours of the setting sun. I felt drenched in golds and blues, with one of the longest and brightest days of the year.
As we rode from the Forannest to the Great Gates of the White City, our company changed ranks.
Now it was Elladan, who rode at the front, carrying the silver colours of Imladris. Behind them followed Erestor and Lindir and all the elven lords and ladies who had come from Rivendell to celebrate Arwen's wedding. Next came the herald of Lothlórien, a beautiful elvish lady, who held a banner that showed a golden tree. Behind her rode the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn and their glittering entourage. After the Galadhrim rode Elrohir, carrying a second banner with the silver colours of Imladris, and after him came at last the Lord Elrond and his daughter, the Lady Arwen.
And straggling along behind all that elvish beauty was the company of Rohirrim nobles and dignitaries invited for the wedding of the allied king. At the front of the Rohirric company was Frohwein, Éomer's herald, carrying the flag with the running white horse on the dark green field. Behind the banner of Rohan rode Éomer King, and with him was his squire, one Merry Brandybuck of the Shire. After Éomer it was the Lady Éowyn and, yes, the Lady Lothíriel on their beautiful Mearas – with which I do not mean to say that Éowyn was not beautiful, for she was, pale and proud and golden, and what was more, she looked so happy! Behind us followed the remainder of the retinue of the Rohirrim, the dignitaries and nobles of Rohan, all and sundry, excited and tired and probably as dusty and sweaty from the long day's ride as I was.
When we passed the Forannest, clarions sounded from the watchtowers of the Rammas Echor, and were at once answered by many bright trumpet calls from the walls of Minas Tirith. Was there someone impatiently waiting for our arrival at Minas Tirith?
Indeed! Aragorn was waiting for us at the Great Gates of Minas Tirith, which had been restored to at least a semblance of their old iron strength during the weeks we had been away, so that the city would not be completely without gates until a suitable replacement for them could be constructed.
Aragorn was clothed in black and silver but his cloak was blue, and he wore the winged crown of Númenor. Behind him the members of the fellowship who had remained at Minas Tirith stood in a line to the right, and to the left waited Faramir, Húrin of the Keyes, Prince Imrahil and Lady Míriël. Minas Tirith flowed with white and silver banners, and way up on the Tower of Ecthelion, even as we dismounted at the Great Gates, the silver and golden banners of Imladris and Lothlórien were being hoisted along with the colours of Rohan.
As if they had rehearsed it, the entourage of Imladris lined up on the left side of the road, whereas the company from Lothlórien arranged themselves to the right, leaving Aragorn to face the Lord Elrond and the Lady Arwen.
Elrohir took the reins of their steeds. Elrond dismounted and then aided Arwen down from her horse. The Lord of Imladris offered his daughter his arm. I watched as Arwen laid her white, trembling hand on her father's. I did not need to see her eyes to know that they were brimming with tears. I preferred to not being able to see her father's eyes.
Now Elladan approached his father and knelt down before him, offering him a silver rod of the same exquisite, flowing style as Aragorn's crown. I had been told what it was: the sceptre of Annúminas that had been brought to Middle-earth by Elendil himself and had been part of the royal insignia of the North-Kingdom of Arnor. It had been kept at Rivendell. Now that the king had returned to Minas Tirith, and the realms of old were reunited, the sceptre would be held by the King of Gondor once more.
With measured steps Lord Elrond led his daughter towards the King of Gondor and Arnor. Three feet from Aragorn they halted. Elrond raised his head and looked at Aragorn in silence for a long moment. Then he spoke in a clear voice: "Tollen anno mir in-ardh-en-daur a dineth in-ind-en-daur. I have come to give a jewel to the realm of the king and a bride to the heart of the king."
He took Arwen's hand and placed it firmly in Aragorn's hand. In that instance a glorious smile lit up her face and Aragorn's eyes were positively glowing with love and joy. But I also saw how a sigh escaped the sad elf-lord's lips.
Now, I was in no position to bitch at the Valar, after all they were now my Gods, too, and their ways of taking an almost Greek interest in the dealings of men and elves commanded an amount of real life respect that cannot be compared to the religions of Earth. But even though I don't really dare to criticize the Valar, and Gandalf told me that Eru Ilúvatar kind of takes a long range view of things, I think in the case of Elrond, Eru and the Valar are taking a long range view of things that is a bit hard even for the bravest and strongest immortal being to take. I really hope that he will be happily reunited with his wife when he gets to that elvish realm across the sea.
Anyway, after Elrond had spoken those words and given his daughter away, he then knelt down before Aragorn and presented to him the sceptre of Annúminas. Aragorn accepted the sceptre, inclining his head gracefully.
"I thank thee with all my heart," Aragorn said simply.
Elrond rose to his feet again.
Only then deafening cheers rose from all the walls of Minas Tirith. I realized that probably each and every inhabitant of the city was crowded up on the sentry walks of the battlements to witness the arrival of the queen-to-be. Arwen blushed prettily and raised her hand in a shy gesture of greeting and gratefulness. The cheering increased to a sound of thunder fit to shake the foundations of the city.
Already the people of Minas Tirith and Gondor loved their beautiful queen.
Then it was time to enter the city and walk up to the Citadel.
As we passed through the Great Gates I had the eeriest feeling of déjà-vu.
Probably a simple mix-up of the celebratory processions into Minas Tirith and Edoras and the fading memories of the movies. Nevertheless the tiny hairs rose at the back of my neck, and an involuntary shiver passed over my body. The strange sensation dissipated when we walked up to the second circle of the city, and I was getting hot and sweaty again even though the heat of the day was already gone, especially when I realized how far we still had to walk until we had a chance of getting something to eat or drink or going to the toilet.
Aragorn and Arwen walked hand in hand ahead of the bulk of elvish and Rohirric wedding guests. They had no thoughts left for heat or sweat or hunger or thirst. That was pretty obvious. And very sweet, actually.
But behind the king and his bride Elrond walked alone.
After him followed the rest of the elven and human dignitaries. At last it was Éowyn and I, still side by side, both of us with a dreamy-eyed expression on our faces, I bet, and images in our minds that involved one very grey-eyed and one very dark-eyed warrior leading us towards our future as a married woman.
As I said before, it was a long way up to the Citadel. And it was a noisy way, too. By the time we reached the fifth circle of the city, I was wondering if anyone would be up to any cheering for the wedding tomorrow, or if all of Minas Tirith would be reduced to a hoarse croaking of their blessings. I was also wondering if they had any blossoms left to decorate the Hall of Merethrond for the wedding ceremony tomorrow. By the amounts of flowers that rained down on us, I thought it highly unlikely. Perhaps the flowers had been shipped from Ithilien.
When we reached the Place of the Fountain at the foot of the White Tower of Ecthelion, the sun was finally setting in a brilliant display of colours, and my feet hurt like hell. The western horizon was glowing, rimmed with a deep amethyst halo that was gradually darkening into an indigo hue with myriads of blazing silver stars over the city of Minas Tirith. As I beheld the Place of the Fountain, I gasped, my breath catching hard in my throat.
The dead white tree of Minas Tirith was gone.
In its place grew a slender white seedling of a tree that was only as tall as a tall man, and as the last golden-red rays of sunlight touched the tree, I saw that its boughs were laden with white and pink blossoms. The sweet fragrance of the blossoms filled the air with a heady floral perfume.
Two white chairs had been placed underneath the tree and it was to those two chairs that Aragorn led Arwen. She gracefully sat down in the right chair while Aragorn took the left.
In that moment many lanterns and torches were lit all around the Place of the Fountain, and an orchestra of Gondor's finest musicians, assembled on the dais in front of the Tower of Ecthelion, started playing. It was music that sounded golden like the sun, and glittering like the stars, and clear like a mountain stream, a music of harps and flutes and violins, a music that was floating in the air like gossamer.
As I looked around me, I realized that all around the Place of the Fountain and on the Embrasure, the rockface that jutted out of the hill of Minas Tirith like the proud keel of an immense ship, tables and chairs had been set about, and many servants in the black and white livery of the Citadel were hurrying towards us, carrying silver trays with wine and champagne and a variety of delicious foods. Soon song and laughter mingled in joyful celebration.
Arwen was greeted with a royal welcome indeed.
I looked at her, as she sat with Aragorn under the flowering white tree. She was beautiful beyond any woman I had ever seen. Her elvish beauty had always been there, of course. She had the lithe, graceful figure of an elvish queen, slender as a dancer of ballet but with delicate womanly curves. She wore her hair as a silken mantle of shadows, her tresses flowing in gentle waves down to her hips, held back only by a silver circlet set with white diamonds. And with her starlit, silver-grey eyes, with her high brow and her smiling lips (the first lips I ever saw that really looked like the petals of a rose), she really looked more like an angel than a mortal being.
But it was more about her that night even than that elvish, angelic beauty. It was a beauty that made me forget my hurting feet and my sweaty, itching skin.
Arwen was shining like a star, because she was radiant with happiness.
She was crowned with the light of love.
She shone with an almost tangible halo of love, and it was this light of love that elevated her beauty beyond any elvish or mortal woman who ever walked the lands of Arda.
I stood at the edge of the square and gaped at her, almost forgetting to breathe. Then I heard a small sigh next to me. When I looked to my left, I saw that Frodo had joined me in my reverence of the future Queen of Gondor. His eyes were filled with wonder.
"Now I understand what we have waited for," Frodo said with awe in his voice. "This is the end and the new beginning. Now not only day shall be beloved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear shall pass away!"
But at the very edge of the Embrasure a shadowy figure was standing all alone, staring out across the desolate and infertile fields of the Pelennor and beyond the Rammas Echor to the silver, starlit floods of the Anduin. It was the Lord Elrond, and his head was bent in a sorrow that would never be lifted either in Arda or in Aman.
I shivered slightly at the sight, then I made myself turn around and go in search of something to drink and the toilets.