1. Four Conversations and a Dream
Four Conversations and a Dream; or, Ever Widening
It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.
The garden of the Houses of Healing was Arwen's retreat on days when the clamour of Minas Tirith pressed too closely against her skin. Though the wind blew strongly in this high place on the city's sixth circle, the south and west-facing walls cupped the sun's rays like an alabaster bowl, and it was always quiet, for the sick required peace.
The guarded door that led to the Silent Street was not far away; from the parapet of the garden walls she could look down upon the Kings' tombs on the level below. In the soft rose light of evening their domes were sharply cut against the mountain. What would those Numenoreans of old, who had craved immortality so fiercely, think of an elf who had discarded hers? Arwen had wondered if she might perceive their motives more clearly once she shared their doom; but she understood their obsession no better now than before she had taken on the Gift of Men.
The snow on Mindolluin's peak still blazed in the clear air, but the sun had slipped behind the mountain mass some time ago and the colours of the garden were beginning to dim. Arwen turned back to walk east along the sun-baked wall, and met the Ringbearer coming from the Master's house.
She had not seen Frodo since her wedding; his pallor shocked her. He returned her greeting courteously and did not refuse when she asked him to walk with her, although she could see that he wished to be alone. They paced the rounds of the garden, breathing in the scents of sage and thyme as their feet bruised the herbs, and spoke of small matters – the reconstruction of the city, the young White Tree, the doings of the other hobbits. Yet the longer Arwen stayed with Frodo, the more uneasy she felt. He was not well, whatever Estel might believe; his bodily wounds were healing, but his spirit was fragile. To her eyes he seemed almost transparent, and he shivered in the cool air that Mindolluin breathed over them as the sky darkened.
"When will you return to the Shire?" she asked. Perhaps his homeland could bring him the peace necessary for healing.
"Soon, I think, Lady Arwen," Frodo answered. "Indeed, in a few days I hope to ask the King's leave to depart."
"I am sure he will not grudge it you." Arwen smiled, but her heart was still uneasy. "Shall we go in now?" With a small bow -- so like Bilbo it made her laugh -- Frodo offered her his arm, and the two of them left the garden for the Citadel's hall.
At table she watched Frodo behind the cover of her wine cup, noting again the shadows smudged beneath his eyes and his halting movement, like a warrior sore-wounded. Sam arranged the richest foods on his master's plate in tempting fashion and urged him to eat. Frodo swallowed a few bites, slowly; then Sam turned to speak to Merry for a moment, and Frodo's carefully composed expression slipped from his face like a discarded festival mask.
The cup trembled in Arwen's hand. That look of pain beyond endurance, borne in stubborn silence -- she had last seen it on her mother's face, after her torment in a den of orcs, before she had abandoned Middle-Earth forever.
"Grandmother." Arwen embraced Galadriel. "I am in sore need of your counsel."
Galadriel laughed. "This is a marvel, for my willful granddaughter to ask my advice or pay any attention to it once given. Since you came of age, always you have gone your own way." She sat on the stone bench beside the fountain, under the sapling of the White Tree.
Arwen shook her head. "It is not for myself I ask, but for the Ringbearer."
Galadriel's remote gaze sharpened. "What is amiss with Frodo?"
"He is fading. Do you not see it?" Arwen was surprised, and relieved. If the wisest of the Eldar left in Middle-Earth did not sense what she had, perhaps her perception was faulty and Frodo was healing, if slowly.
"To me he seems only very weary. But I have spent little time with the Ringbearer, Arwen, and I do not know halflings so well as you. Your years of friendship with Bilbo have likely taught you to see more clearly than I." Galadriel folded her hands in her lap and considered a moment. "I feel the Ring's destruction dragging on my spirit, and I never touched it. It may be that Frodo will become another of the beautiful and good things that Sauron had the power to ruin, even in defeat."
"But Frodo does not have to fade," Arwen insisted. "He can find healing in the West. I want him to take my place, and sail from the Havens." Her own vehemence surprised her, and she hesitated before pleading, "Can he?"
Galadriel sat still as the statue of a queen, her thoughts turned inward. Above her head, through leaves and the tossed spray of the fountain, summer stars shone like the glittering blossoms of Telperion. "I do not know," she murmured. "The Valar might permit it, after all…but would Frodo wish to leave Middle-Earth?"
Arwen let out a breath she had been unaware of holding. "He may not," she said. "But his wounds still pain him, and I fear the Shire can offer him little respite. Will you ask?" She sat down beside Galadriel, twisting the silver ring on her left hand. "It would comfort me to do this for Frodo, since there is nothing I can do to heal my father's pain."
"Come, hina." Galadriel drew Arwen's head against her shoulder and stroked her braided hair in a comforting echo of childhood caresses. "Your father's bitterness will not last forever. Do not take on the burden of his mourning. Later you will taste sorrow enough; now you savour the sweetness of mortality, as you should." She touched her granddaughter's cheek. "Speak to Mithrandir, for he knows more both of Frodo and of the will of the Valar. In this matter, he can advise you better than I."
Mithrandir heard Arwen out with a deepening frown. "Have you spoken to Frodo already?" he demanded, glancing at her from beneath overhanging brows.
"No. I would not unsettle him, nor raise his hopes cruelly unless I knew that it were possible."
The wizard was silent for a long moment as they stood together in the morning sunshine and fresh wind, under the flourishing Tree of Gondor. At last, he said, "I have seen the same decline that worries you."
"Then--Frodo is fading?"
"Yes," Mithrandir said, the single word heavy as a stone. "Still, he wishes to return to the Shire so strongly… I had half-convinced myself he could be healed by its peace."
"Perhaps," Arwen said. "But if Galadriel sees truly, when he returns his home will not be peaceful. The Shire will need healing of its own that Frodo may not have the strength to undertake. And I fear the Ringbearer will find that his heroism goes unrecognized, and his labours unrewarded."
"It is often so." Mithrandir stared into the leaping water, his face weary as though all the long years of his own task suddenly weighed on him, as Arwen had not seen him look since he returned from Moria. "It was well thought, Evenstar. I will intercede for Frodo, and ask that he go in your stead."
Arwen clasped the wizard's strong wrinkled hands. "Thank you."
Today Arwen sat by the fountain alone. Her fingers wandered over the strings of her harp, though she was not playing any melody she knew; rather, she was trying to pick out a counterpoint to the songs around her.
There was no longer any doubt that her senses were fading. She could hear the Tree beside her clearly: young and vigorous, it nearly shouted in its joy. But the water did not sing to her of the cold veins of the mountain, the living stone under her did not mutter of the burdens it bore; their voices were no more than elusive whispers. Arwen closed her eyes and strained her senses but could hear only a faint dying fall. Her hands slowed in their rhythm, faltered, and stopped.
She opened her eyes and saw the Ringbearer standing on the other side of the fountain. "Welcome, Frodo," she greeted him. "Are you seeking Aragorn? He is within; let me send for him."
"No, Lady Arwen," Frodo said. "I came to speak with you, if I may."
"Of course." She gestured to the bench beside her. "Sit with me."
Frodo sat down in the sunlight with a sigh. Despite his avowal of intent, he did not talk at once of what concerned him but remained silent. Arwen began to play the harp again, very softly, the ringing notes of the invocation to Elbereth. Frodo's right hand moved to clasp the white jewel that hung from his neck and she noted that the stump of his bitten finger was healing well, but the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth were still etched deep.
Frodo said abruptly, "The jewel is a comfort, my lady. Thank you. But I do not think I can accept your other gift."
"No need to decide now," Arwen said quietly over the sound of her playing. "The ship will not sail for many months yet, and my place on it shall remain empty no matter what else befalls. Take time to think on it."
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I know that sailing West is a grace granted to very few. But all I want is to go back home to Bag End and never leave it again." Weariness leached the emphasis from Frodo's voice and left it colourless.
"I understand," Arwen told him. "You and I have both found that the choice of an instant altered us so deeply that we may never return to what we once were. Only remember that you do have another choice, and that even when the darkness surrounds you, it is not inescapable."
"You may understand how it feels to be uprooted from everything. But at least," Frodo said bitterly, "you knew all the consequences of your choice when you made it."
Arwen's hands stilled on the harpstrings and she drew in a deep breath. "It seems that way," she agreed. "But I suspect that I shall not realize the true cost of my choice until I must pay it in full." She turned to look at the Ringbearer directly. "I do not offer you this gift out of pity, Frodo. My reasons are more selfish than that. I hope that you will think of me with kindness, wherever you are, when it comes time for me to discover the doom of men."
That night Arwen dreamed of her mother walking on the jeweled sands of Eldamar, silver braids unravelled by the sea wind, calling Arwen's name. She woke suddenly, tears sliding down her temples and dampening strands of her hair. Was it real?
Mortal dreams were strange things, lacking the cool clarity of Elven visions. Before, whenever Arwen had walked in dreams she had always known what she saw, and that she saw truly in some fashion. Now it seemed as though she was trying to make out an obscure path by flashes of lightning.
Aragorn lay next to her asleep -- she could hear his rough breathing -- but she did not reach out to him. He shuddered and mumbled without waking, and Arwen watched his head move restlessly on the pillow. Was their time so brief that mortal men grudged even the few hours they spent insensible each night? She wondered if that was what her sleeping form looked like now, and if Aragorn would understand why if she asked him.
Thanks to Azalais & Elena, beta readers plenipotentiary.
The quotation at the head of the story is taken from Tennyson's Idylls of the King (Vivien's Song).
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.