Frodo was quieter from that night, and the easing in his solemnity had ceased. He still laughed at times, but the laugh was quieter once more, his eyes not shadowed as they’d been, but not full of light, either. He watched his cousins and Sam continue to heal and find their joy once more and rejoiced for them, but with solemnity. He watched the easing in Aragorn as he embraced his new role of husband and lover and rejoiced there, too. But his own hope was diminished once again.
After the third day Arwen could bear it no more. Aragorn was telling all at breakfast of the finding of the White Tree upon the mountainside in the King’s Hallow, and afterward had commented on Ecthelion’s statement that once the great Eagles had come there to speak with those of the Kings most worthy of it, and she listened with attention. Frodo, who with Sam and Merry had come to join them in the meal before they accompanied the King to his audience, listened with interest, but she saw that Frodo’s features appeared particularly pale today.
When Aragorn rose to prepare for the audience she went with him, murmured to him, “Estel, when you are done, if you will I would like to go up to the King’s Hallow with you.”
He looked at her with curiosity. “You feel the need to meditate, my heart?”
“Since you so desire it, gladly will I take you, beloved. I, too, find I need easing for my griefs.”
She kissed him gently.
Rustovrid of Harad came before the King that day. The days of holiday surrounding the King’s marriage must give way at the last, and the Lord Elessar had indicated he would do as much as he could now, for he and his Stewards must go North and Westward to Rohan with Éomer King’s people when they came at last to fetch away the body of Théoden as they soon would. During their absence the Lord Prince Imrahil would sit upon the seat of the Steward and see to the leadership of the realm; but for now he would see the realm of Gondor prepared against that time.
As the Herald announced “Rustovrid of Far Harad, Envoy from the Farozi An’Sohrabi of the realm of Harad,” there could be heard a murmur of concern from those who sat in the Hall. Rustovrid stepped forward, ignoring the dislike he felt reflected toward his land, fixing his eyes on the King seated above him and on the two Men who sat on either side on the first of the steps to the throne. The Lord Prince Faramir was apparently a young Man, but one who had plainly been under the wings of Death, his eyes showing the memory of that experience, not with fear but with added patience. The other was older, but how much older he could not tell. He was broader of chest than Faramir, the carriage of his head indicating this was a Man to whom battles and patrols had been a constant for decades.
And there above all sat the King, his wife standing at his right hand, his great sword lying across his knees, the Winged Crown upon his brow, the Sceptre of Annúminas clasped in his right hand. His head was held proudly, but with the pride of one who was well experienced in the ways of the world, not the false pride of youth and callowness.
“We greet you with respect this day, my Lord Rustovrid,” said the tall figure who sat upon the high throne of Gondor. “And we thank you for the patience you have shown in the past few days, your own coming having been all but lost in the coming of my bride.”
“I thank you, my Lord King An’Elessar,” the envoy answered in careful Westron. “I bear greetings from my Lord An’Sohrabi of Harad, who greets you as one sovereign to another, a brother ruler among Men.”
The Lord Elessar bowed his head in acknowledgment, and sat still, waiting for Rustovrid to state his business. The Haradri took a deep breath and began. “Our own lands are now freed from the overlordship of the Death Eater,” he said, “and for most of our people this is a glad thing, particularly for our Farozi, who has ever bridled at having to send our young Men to fight and die at the whims of Mordor. Already An’Sohrabi does his his best to cleanse our lands of Mordor’s blight, and he has ordered the throwing down of the temples which had been raised to the Eastern Lord and reestablishment of the practices of worship for our people as has ever been done.”
The King answered, “This is good to hear, my friend.”
Rustovrid continued, “I thank you, my Lord.” He paused, wondering if what he had yet to say would be as well received. “I was sent by An’Sohrabi to offer you congratulations on your having been accepted as ruler of Gondor, and now, I understand, of Arnor as well.”
“Thank you again.”
“I was sent to bring you letters of authority from the Farozi and his council to treat in his name for the benefit of our people.”
“That is gratifying.”
“I was also sent to bring you a warning, Lord An’Elessar.”
“Warning of what?”
“There are those among the lords of Harad who cannot accept that things are not as they once were, and who would seek to bring about warfare between our lands and yours as has been true for generations. There are those who plan assaults on your borders.”
“And you would warn us of this? Why?”
“Because this is not sanctioned by An’Sohrabi, Lord An’Elessar. This is done contrary to his will. He finds that his control over those who served directly under the Eastern Lord’s command is not yet great enough to keep them from such foolish and destructive behavior. He would not have you blame him for what others would do, invoking his name without authority to attempt to make their assaults on your lands and peoples appear legitimate.”
“I thank you for the warning. As I suspect that much of what you would say is sensitive to your people and the sovereignty of the Farozi, I would ask that you remain a few day further to speak before the Council. Unfortunately, I have other business which must be met this afternoon.”
“I would be honored.”
“Will you agree to eat with my Lady and myself when we return this evening?”
“I would be deeply honored, my Lord.”
Feeling much relieved, Rustovrid gave a deep bow, and indicated that those who accompanied him should bring forth the presents which the Farozi had sent. The King looked on them and accepted them in the name of Gondor, then rose to bow deeply to Rustovrid. “It is a matter of joy,” the King said, “to look at one formerly thought to be an enemy and to find there honor and discernment. You are comfortable in your quarters, my Lord?”
“Yes, indeed so, and we thank that so much has been done for us with signs of respect to our ways.”
“I once sojourned in your land, many years ago, my friend. I would return the welcome I found there, and moreso. It is an honor to host you and your party.”
With that the audience was over, and Rustovrid retired, feeling much heartened by his encounter with the King of the Northern lands.
After luncheon Aragorn and Arwen went quietly to the Sixth Circle. Hardorn was unhappy they would not allow him to accompany them beyond the gate in the far wall of the Rath Dínen, but agreed to remain there. The royal couple went themselves up the path to the King’s Hallow, finding themselves at last on the shelf high on the side of the Mountain at the foot of the first snow field.
Arwen walked to the center of the Hallow and stood there, closing her eyes, bringing all her concentration about herself, while Aragorn stood near where he’d found the Tree, watching her. Finally a shadow fell on them, and he looked up to see one of the great Eagles circling the two of them. Gently it settled lower and alighted in the Hallow before them. It turned its head to examine her closely. “Lady,” it said solemnly, “you desired one of us to come to you?”
“Yes, Lord Gwaihir,” she answered him, bowing low as did her husband. “I have a boon to ask of the Valar.”
“For yourself and your husband?”
“No, not for ourselves. For the Lord Frodo Baggins.”
“What would you ask for the Cormacolindor, my Lady?”
“That he be granted the right to take my place on the Ship now being built by Círdan when my father and brothers and grandparents quit Middle Earth.”
“You ask that a mortal be granted leave to enter the Undying Lands? You know that such as he would die there as he would here.”
“No further than Tol Eressëa, which after all was once part of Middle Earth. But he has been sorely wounded by his time bearing Sauron’s Ring, and so many of his sources of joy have been scoured away. He survived on the lembas for so long, and already is the Sea Longing awakened in him. He deserves to know the chance to have his wounds heal as best as they can, to have the Shadow cleansed away by pure Light, to have the chance to know pleasure and pure joy unbridled once more.”
“He is unwilling to wait until he finds his way to the Presence when he leaves the bounds of Arda?”
“He does not ask this and I have not told him I ask it for him.”
“Then why do you ask this, knowing his easing will come in time when that day comes?”
“I fear he will not wait until the proper time if he has no hope, my Lord Gwaihir. I fear he may seek to speed that day when the black moods fall on him.”
“He may yet seek to speed that day even with the hope granted, Lady.”
“Yet even then he is more likely to stay his hand and know patience if he has the hope before him.”
Gwaihir turned his attention to Aragorn. “You, son of mortals, you ask this for him as well?”
“I had not thought to ask any such thing, my Lord, for I have not the right to do so. But I have asked for easing for him, for the weight of the losses is great upon him.”
“Did you know why your wife asked you to bring her here?”
“No, my Lord Gwaihir. She merely asked that I do so.”
“He speaks truly,” Arwen added. “I merely asked he bring me here, and gave him no reason. He asked if I felt the need for meditation.”
The Eagle’s expression softened. “I will see if I will be allowed to bring your petition before Manwë, although I can not promise any particular answer.” The
Eagle examined both of them intently. “He cannot live a life normal to his kind there, will never be able to marry or father children, or even to love another as one would desire.”
“We know that, Lord Gwaihir. But he could at least know Beauty and Light as his heart longs for without bounds, and we hope peace for his soul. And we hope time to prepare for when he must indeed leave the bounds of Arda, that his full Light be restored before that day.”
Aragorn had come closer to his wife, put one arm over her shoulder. “I love him, Gwaihir, as I would love the brother of my body. He was scoured to the core of his soul by what he endured. He will not live long at all if he remains in Middle Earth, and may indeed seek to destroy himself if he is granted no sign of hope. I would not desire to see him kill himself at a time of deepest pain and despair when he is turned from the Light and cannot find his way, and when I cannot be by his side to offer him guidance.” He gave a shuddering breath. “If I must lose him, I would rather it be by way of Tol Eressëa than by the horrors of suicide or by the loss of hope and withering of his spirit.”
“You think this is possible?”
Aragorn’s voice was solemn, his eyes downcast. “After seeing how he was after the dance he gave the other night, I am certain of it.” He raised his eyes to those of the Eagle, and the pain in them could not be denied. The Eagle raised his wings over the pair before him, then lifted them to rise off the shelf on which they stood.
They watched after, and remained a time after his leaving, their arms about one another while each was intent on the thoughts and desires within his or her own heart. At last Aragorn looked into the face of his wife, and she returned his attention. “One thing I rejoice for, beloved, that you were granted a hearing. It was a bold request to make, and one I never foresaw.” He smiled at her, leaned forward, and kissed her tenderly. Then together they turned to go down the mountain again, Hardorn looking on them with relief when they again entered through the back gate to the Rath Dínen.