1. A Birch of Many Seasons
It was spring, a time of rebirth, of renewal, of change. Streaming down in patches between the branches of awakening trees, the sun's rays caught the cool morning mist and dew, and cast all, both air and earth, in a luminous glow. The trees flourished in response to the promise of light after the cold dark sleep of winter, and though her thoughts weighed on her mind as she walked through the woods of her childhood, Arwen's mood was lifted by the signs of new life all around her. She paused to gently touch the delicate leaf bud of a birch; a tiny shoot that within a short span of days would reach the full vigor of its maturity, only to wither and fade as quickly as it had thrived. While the leaf, like all its kind, would soon fall to decay upon the very earth which now sustained it, the tree itself would endure, as it had for years uncounted, to witness again this cycle of birth and growth, decline and death.
For how many centuries had she watched with unchanging eyes the seasons change? In some distant year past, she had ceased to number the passing years. Why today did she wonder at this? Little heed she had paid it till now.
Her thoughts returned again to a chance meeting just last eve amongst these very trees. Was it only yesterday when first she saw him? A mortal man, and even by the measure of his own people, barely more than a boy, and yet, somehow, she felt as though she had known him all the days of her life, so familiar was he. When before had they met? Perhaps in a dream. She heard him sing of Beren and Luthien, and Tinuviel he had called her. Aragorn, Arathorn's son, Lord of the Dunedain, he called himself.
On this day, however, she sought another in these woods, and as she moved silently between the white stemmed birches with the certain steps of one who had walked this path a thousand times before, she knew just where to go. Soon, the calming, constant babble of running water began to soothe her as a grassy glade by the side of the creek came into her view.
He was there, as she knew he would be, and she felt her spirits lift at the very sight of him. Oh, how she had missed her home and her family! So strong was her desire to return to Imladris that, despite her father's entreaties to stay in Lorien, she simply could remain there no longer, and she had beseeched her grandfather to arrange for her homeward journey earlier than planned. Celeborn never could refuse her.
The smile that now brightened her brother's face as she joined him by the creek side made quite apparent his joy at seeing her too. "Arwen! I am most glad that you sought me here!" Holding out a hand to her, he continued: "Come, sit with me, and let us speak for a time. I have dearly missed your company these past years, my little sister."
Taking his hand in her own, she sat in silence beside him on the grass, and as she studied the features of a face that she had adored for as long as she could remember, her smile faded. He had changed. So, too, had his twin. She had known it from the first moment she saw them again. Though still her brothers looked as young as ever they did when they had doted on her in her childhood, she read it plainly in their eyes: they grew weary from the weight of their years.
A gentle but firm voice drew her from her thoughts. "You know how little I care to see such an expression darken your fair face. As your older brother, it is wholly within my duty to worry over you, not the other way around."
In an effort to appease him, she smiled again as she teased: "And truly you do fulfill this self-appointed task with much diligence, Elladan."
His smile returned as well in response. "Of all that I may be faulted for, no one has yet to accuse me of failing to honour my obligations!" Turning to look over the rushing water of the creek, he then asked her lightly: "And what news do you bring with you from the realm of our grandparents?"
Recalling years unnumbered, each very much like the one before, that she had passed in serenity there, Arwen replied with a wistful sigh: "I have little to tell, for Lorien does not change. Amongst the beauty of the mallorn trees, one can almost forget the cares of the world outside those timeless woods."
Pausing for a moment, she studied his profile before speaking again, the tone of her voice now reflecting the gravity of her thoughts: "And yet, as sheltered as I was there, still word reached my ears of the ever growing shadow just beyond our protected borders. A day did not pass when I did not worry for the welfare of my brothers who were lost in that darkness."
Elladan remained silent, his eyes still turned to the creek, and though she tried to read upon his face the play of his mind, he kept his thoughts well concealed beneath expressionless features. Then, unexpectedly, a sly smile grew on his lips as he cast her a sideways glance. "And what of Rumil? How does Lorien's young border guard fare?"
"Elladan!" Caught off guard by the sudden shift in the conversation and taken aback by his impudence in even posing such a query, she was briefly at a loss for a response. However, she soon remedied that with a light swat on his arm. "You well know that Rumil is but a handful of years your junior! As for the question of how he fares, of that I have not the slightest notion, for never did he have a private word with me in the entirety of my stay there! I know not what you said to him when last we were in Lorien together, but it seems you have effectively convinced him of the wisdom in keeping his distance from me!"
As he tipped his head with a smile, her brother seemed far too satisfied with himself. "Now that is good news indeed."
She was not truly angry at her brother's meddling, for while he might try to make light of it, she well knew that his compulsion to protect the ones he loved was as much a part of who he was as his fierce and selfless devotion to them. The tragedy that befell their mother had only served to strengthen his need for some sense of control. Long ago she learned to accept his overprotective nature and, in truth, she had grown to love him for it. That did not mean, however, she would allow an opportunity to pursue the matter pass her by: "Remind me again why it is that you feel the need to dissuade any male who pays me the slightest heed with such vigor, when Elrohir, who loves me just as dearly, does not display this same inclination?"
Elladan shook his head. "As fond as I am of him, I am afraid that brother of ours can be entirely too complaisant at precisely the wrong times." Though he schooled his face into a mask of seriousness and kept his voice stern, she could hear the teasing behind his words. "Vigilance is required in the protection of our sister's honour."
Arwen's tone mimicked his own, and she did not allow so much as a hint of a smile as she responded: "Do I have need of a guardian, then? You think me some giddy maiden, incapable of acting with wisdom in the choice of whom I bind to my heart? I have always believed myself to be higher in your estimation than that!"
He bowed his head, apparently in apology, but more likely to conceal a smirk. "You wound me. Never would I accuse you of giddiness or lack of judgment, my fair Undomiel. Truly, you are the daintiest of flowers, the sturdiest of trees, the swiftest of rivers, the mightiest of mountains, and the brightest of stars. I assure you that I hold you always only in the highest esteem!" Then, turning his head away from her, he continued in a low voice: "All those smitten, overly-eager swains who come sniffing around your door, however, are quite another matter."
"You would see me never wed!" She gave him another light swat on his arm in response, though, in truth, she greatly enjoyed this silly, playful banter, for it reminded her of happier times long past when they were young and carefree together. Since the departure of their mother, to see him so was rare indeed. Her presence seemed to bring him some measure of joy, and for that she was most glad. And yet, though he tried to keep their conversation light, she could sense the inner turmoil that he attempted to conceal from her, and she wished dearly to find some way to aid him. However, she knew her brother well enough to understand that if she were to press him now concerning the source of his distress, he would likely withdraw from her further.
Feigning insult, he replied in a tone of mock offense: "My dear sister, you speak unjustly!" A slight smile then crept back to his lips as he continued: "I swear to you now that when I deem a suitor to be worthy of the Lady Arwen's hand, I will most gladly take my place at the head of the wedding procession, bearing a banner of silver on my arm and a most contrite expression upon my face!"
"Ah, but therein lies the very heart of the problem, my dear brother, for if I was to wait until you judge a suitor worthy, then I truly believe that I would be waiting alone until the end of Arda."
Suddenly growing most serious, Elladan answered her in earnest: "Never will you be alone, not while your brothers remain to watch over you, and remain we shall for as long as you choose to walk upon this land."
Squeezing his hand lightly, she could not resist an impertinent smile and a wink as she teased him again: "As much as I love you both, I think it not quite the same to be eternally in the company of my brothers as I imagine it would to be alone in the company of my husband."
She watched with interest his eyes widen briefly at her boldness. It was always great sport to try to vex her brothers. In an obvious attempt to change the subject, he then asked her: "And speaking of never being left alone, do tell me, how fare our dear grandmother and grandfather?"
"They are the same as ever they were," with these words, she paused briefly for emphasis before continuing: "exactly the same."
"Ah, I see." Elladan nodded in an exaggerated expression of understanding. "I hope then that father will excuse you for returning to Imladris sooner than he may have wished."
Arwen remained silent for a moment, pondering the unusual tension she had sensed in her father just yesterday as he greeted her and welcomed her home. "While he has said nothing of my early arrival, still I feel that my presence here now does not entirely please him. What I can not fathom is why this is so."
There was a hint of laughter in her brother's voice as he responded, his hands raised in a gesture of surrender: "Please, do not seek from me the answer to such a riddle! Surely you can claim a far better understanding of our father's mind then can I!"
He paused then for a moment, apparently lost in his thoughts, and his smile faded as he cast his eyes down to avoid her gaze. "Though I will admit to you that as enigmatic as his words and actions so often are to me, only through severe trial have I come finally to see that a greater knowledge underlies all that he says and does."
Sensing a thinning of the armour that he wove around his thoughts, Arwen placed her hand under his chin and raised his head to look him in the eyes as she implored him: "Elladan, tell me what has happened to you."
He looked at her with an expression she could not decipher, and her concern for him grew with the moments that passed in silence, for he was not usually one to mince his words, or to hesitate in speaking his mind. Stroking his cheek lightly, she studied his face in earnest, and when she spoke again, her voice was quiet and sad. "I know of the injuries you sustained on your last patrol. I know also how close you came to the Halls of Waiting."
Would he try again to evade her? She could see that he would by the slight smile that returned to his face before he replied: "You have not yet been back even one full day, and still it appears that you have already found the time to gather information. Tell me, what magic do you cast upon Glorfindel that allows you to attain from him an unveiled response to your every query?"
Despite her frustration and concern, Arwen could not help but smile a little at the irony of Elladan's own evasive response. She dropped her hands to her lap with a sigh. "Attaining clear answers from Glorfindel is not so very challenging. One simply needs to know the right questions to ask."
Elladan's smile grew broader. "I doubt that any question I might ask of him would result in an answer that I actually seek. Mind you, I have not had him twined around my fingers with my charms as you have since you were but an infant."
Frowning, she shook her head. "Do not try flattery in an attempt to forestall my queries! Glorfindel spoke openly to me on this matter in the hope that I might find some way to aid you. You may not believe it, but he worries for you. As do we all."
"There is no need for you to worry, I assure you."
His words failed to convince her, and she clasped his hands again as she searched his face for answers. "Tell me truly, do your injuries pain you still?"
The smile he now forced upon his face was clearly an attempt to reassure her. "Nay. I feel little discomfort but for a stiffness in my arm in the morning, and that too is diminishing by the day. Soon I will be back to my old self, you will see. You have a hard headed, stubborn mule for a brother, one who would never allow a mere wall of rock to claim him."
She did not like to remain uninformed, particularly when the well-being of her loved ones was at stake. At yesterday's banquet, she had acquired from Glorfindel a part of the story of last month's fateful patrol, and a careful questioning of Elrohir earlier that morn had garnered more details. In the telling of this tale, one name was mentioned repeatedly: Estel, or Aragorn, as he had introduced himself to her last eve. "But there is more to your survival than your hard head, is there not? I have heard tell that the boy of the Dunedain, the one father named Estel and calls his son, had a part to play in it."
A sudden thrill coursed through her as she spoke of the mortal youth. Why did he unsettle her so? She felt as though the answer to a complex riddle that had long eluded her was now temptingly close at hand, and yet, still just beyond her reach. Who was this Hope? No matter how dark the days grew, and dark indeed they had grown, their father continued always to hold to hope for the restoration of the kingship of Men through the unbroken line of his mortal brother. Elrond had not given this boy the name 'Estel' lightly, of that much she was certain.
Elladan's voice pulled her from her thoughts. "In truth, I owe my life to him. He is gifted with the hands of a healer."
"And the heart of a king?" Her voice quavered slightly as she spoke these words. Could he be the one for whom they had all waited so many generations of men?
Again she had the sense that he withheld something from her, some significant piece of this puzzle, as he looked down and responded quietly: "Of that, only time will reveal. He is very young still, and I fear many years of trial await him."
He kept his head bowed, his gaze fixed firmly on her hand in his own as he sat for long moments in silence. Then, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze, whether to comfort her or himself she did not know, before he spoke again: "No matter his fate, I foresee that the time of our father's dwelling in Middle-earth draws soon to an end." His next words were so soft that Arwen had to strain to hear him above the noisy babbling of the ever rushing water. "Tell me, have you thought much upon the choice which will soon be laid before us?"
Though his voice was barely more than a whisper, his words screamed in her ears, and she felt for a moment as though her breath had been stolen from her. The choice of the children of the peredhel was not something they spoke of lightly, for the pain their father bore still from the sundering beyond the end of the world of brother from brother was bitter for them to see. And yet, as unexpected as this question was, to Arwen it felt somehow most timely, for portents of her doom had seemed to dwell in the very air and the earth and the water all around her since her arrival home last eve.
She paused for a moment, taking in a deep breath to compose herself before responding: "Little have I considered our choice throughout the many years of my life, for my path has always appeared to stretch out clear and straight ahead. Now, I find that I have been reminded of the choice of the peredhil twice within as many days, and suddenly it feels as though the road before me turns and my way is obscured from view."
"In that, you..." He paused mid sentence, his brow furrowing as he looked at her directly. "Twice? Who else has spoken to you of your choice?"
"Not spoken of it as such, but when I first met him last eve, Estel called me Tinuviel, and said that I walk in the likeness of Luthien."
His grasp on her hand tightened briefly and she could feel the sudden tremor that coursed through him. "Did he?"
In his voice, she thought she could detect a tone of wonder, and perhaps, of dawning realization, but a realization of what, she did not know. One thing she knew for certain, however, was that she too had much to think upon, and that much of her thought would be devoted to a young man who bore the name of Hope. Unable now to express her thoughts more clearly, she said simply: "He is most intriguing."
Elladan turned his eyes away from her again to look over the water of the creek, and to Arwen it seemed as though he were searching for answers there. "That he is," he responded absently, and with these words, he fell silent.
Arwen, too, spoke no more, for she found that she had lost the will to press him on this matter. Perhaps there were some answers that were best left to time to reveal. Instead, she offered him what comfort she could with her presence and took comfort herself in his, as the two sat hand in hand in silence for hours they did not count, each lost in their own thoughts as together they watched the cool, clear water of the creek run its sure and rapid course.
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.