Early October 3018 T.A.
Arwen gazed out at the early snow flurry dusting the flagstones of the stone path. Of course she had other duties; the elves were hanging bunting and holly in the feast hall this afternoon, and she knew they would expect her there soon. But a nostalgic mood had taken her, and the smell of baking pies and the warmth of the great hearth fire made her reluctant to leave; for once she had given in to the urge to do as she pleases, at least for an hour.
The sleeves of her gown were rolled up past her elbows and fastened with ties from the sleeves of her apron. Edhwen, the cantankerous old widow whose iron will ruled these kitchens, would have it no other way. Arwen could have protested that this was not her best gown, nor her newest, but 'twas easier to give Edhwen her small victories.
Easier and kinder; Arwen knew how hard it was to have those around you called to great deeds while you stoked the fires and brought the welcome cup when they returned and could do nothing more. She envied her brother's freedom to pursue their enemies head-on, but Arwen knew someone had to run the home if warriors wanted warm breads to return to. There was honor of a sort in those simple tasks and she'd always felt her duty lay at home, though Arwen did worry over her family when duty called them beyond the valley. How, then, could she deny Edhwen the command of her own realm?
Arwen startled at the sound of a horse's hooves on frozen ground outside. She and Nessa, the young cook's helper peeling potatoes beside her, rose on the balls of their feet to get a better view. But it was only one of the horsemasters' apprentices, the one whose name she could never quite remember, walking a messenger horse up the path from the stables to the kitchen door. She supposed horses needed exercise, even in this foul weather, but she could not wholly suppress her disappointment, a soft sigh escaping past her lips.
Nessa patted Arwen's arm reassuringly, and Arwen knew she would speak if there was anything to say. They'd had no news of Gandalf or the periannath since Radagast's messenger had arrived, telling Elrond to expect them by late August at the latest. Now it was October, and the dearth of news had all of Imladris on edge.
Yet Arwen fancied she was more affected by this anxiety than most, for Radagast's message had had a postscript. Gandalf has charged the one they call Strider with the guarding of the Shire in his absence, so you need not worry after the halfling's safety, or that of the treasure they bear. In July that thought had comforted her, and when her brothers spoke of orcs growing bolder, she thought that at least Aragorn was away west. But now her brothers said nothing, and Elrond would not quite meet her questioning gaze, and she bit her nails nearly down to the quick in a most unlady-like fashion.
Perhaps that was why she came to the kitchen today. It reminded her of simpler times, before they had sent Celebrian west and Arwen's world began to fall apart. She remembered baking bread with her mother as a child, mixing the flour and eggs and milk and just a pinch of salt in the great wooden bowl, pounding it first with clenched fists and then pinching the lumps out with her fingers. Celebrian had insisted that even the lady of a great house must know how to knead dough and make a stew. Had Idril ever expected to have to prepare a meal herself? Yet she'd hunted for nuts and berries with the rest of the refugees, to keep her son from going hungry on the road to Doriath after the sack of Gondolin. Men could guard their people and perhaps craft cunning shelves and lamps and other niceties, but Arwen knew that the real burden of survival had always fallen on their wives and daughters. And it always would.
Arwen breathed in the scent of a baking pie, and the scent called her back to her self-appointed task. Edhwen glared at her from her place by the fire where she was seasoning the stew. "Durin's Day, I tell you...." the old woman grumbled, and Arwen felt herself blush. She was responsible, in an odd way, for the harried pace of the cooking today. When her father had complained that the whole valley seemed on edge and was in need of a holiday, Arwen had idly commented that they'd soon be in the last moon-cycle of autumn, and didn't the Dwarves have some sort of holiday to mark that?
Two days later Erestor had spread the word that they'd all be celebrating Durin's Day and that they'd enjoy it whether they liked it or not. Arwen felt a bit bad for all the work her comment had created, but she did think a holiday would do everyone good. Lindir claimed to have written some limericks of questionable taste for the occasion, and Bilbo had even promised to tell some of his adventures in the Battle of the Five Armies. Not the true story, mind, for who wanted to hear of a hobbit knocked out cold for the better part of the battle, but he'd make an entertaining tale of it. At least now, if people grumbled a little, it was about something within their power to address, not the helpless worry over hobbits in the Wild.
Arwen felt a wooden spoon rap against her knuckles, pulling her out of her thoughts. She looked over to see Edhwen standing beside her, her free hand set firmly on her waist. Arwen started to knead the dough again, but Edhwen grasped her wrist and stopped her. "Leave that for Nessa," Edhwen said, "for if we don't get this finished soon the bread will never be fit for high table."
Arwen took her hands out of the bowl and nudged it toward Nessa. "What can I do?" she asked.
Edhwen clicked her tongue. "We can do it well enough on our own, as I told you when you first came in." Her words felt a bit harsh to Arwen's ear, and that thought must have shown on her face, for Edhwen gave Arwen one of her rare smiles. "'Tis hard to be so long separated when your heart's given, Arwen. I wish your mother was here to help you through it; families ought not to be split in two as yours has been, and you need her."
The smile left Edhwen's face, and her gaze became distant. "You gave your soul to him long ago, child," Edhwen said after a moment. "When that orc's scimitar cut my Gelmir, I felt it. You'd know, too, if aught was wrong with your Estel. Even if your bodies have never joined, you're as bonded as any husband and wife in your souls."
Arwen nodded gratefully. Sometimes the thought of Aragorn's mortality brought tears to her eyes, but not this time. It was a relief, not a sadness, to have someone understand. Especially someone as dependable as Edhwen. She was hardly a confidante Arwen would have sought out, but she had always been there, as strong and unchanging as the bones of the earth. She clasped Edhwen's hand in her own and squeezed it. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I'll just...." Her voice trailed off, and Arwen turned toward the door as if to leave, but Edhwen stopped her.
She turned to face the cook once more and was surprised to see that, for once in her life, Edhwen seemed at a loss for words. At last the cook sighed. "Leave the baking to us," Edhwen said, "but you needn't leave just yet if you'll stay out of our way. Take that seat by the fire, and I'll make you a cup of tea."
Arwen nodded and walked over to the stool Edhwen had indicated. She sat down and rested her head against the wall behind her. Nessa handed her an apple tart from a tray on the table, and Arwen accepted it gladly. She'd have to go soon enough, but she could spare a little while longer to just sit here among these women, soak up the warmth and the smells and listen to any homespun wisdom they had to share.
And really, Edhwen had been right. She'd know if the worst had happened. While that thought didn't keep her from worrying, and it didn't make her sure her Estel would come home.... well, it helped.
God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
(from "On His Blindness, by John Milton)
A little additional factoid from Martaverse I couldn't quite work in: the dough Arwen is kneading is actually for cram in honor of Durin's Day; Glorfindel won the recipe in a drinking game off some men of Laketown after the Battle of Five Armies. Every time I tried to write this event into "They Also Serve," it felt really clunky, but I quite like the idea and so I'm mentioning it here.
In the books Gandalf leaves the Shire to gather news in the summer after telling Frodo about the Ring. He asked Radagast to have his birds gather news, and Gandalf sends a note to Frodo to get out of Dodge as quickly as he can. It's never said that Gandalf sent a note to Rivendell, but since that's where Frodo was intending to go, it always seemed odd that no one would have let Elrond know the hobbits were coming. I compromised and had Radagast send a message to Elrond about this. If Radagast did send a message it would probably be fairly consistent with the one Gandalf left for Frodo, and so I think Elrond would be led to expect Frodo to leave the Shire much sooner than his original late-September start date.
On Durin's Day:
We know very little canonically about this Dwarvish holiday. The only quote on this holiday is available here. It occurred on the Dwarvish New Year (the first day of the last month of autumn), provided the sun and the moon were both visible in the sky at the same time on that day. We know this occurred in 2941 for the Dwarves near the Anduin (but not necessarily for the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains – see http://www.glyphweb.com/Arda/d/durinsday.html).
According to the Encyclopedia of Arda article above, the Dwarvish New Year normally occurred in late September or early October of our modern calendar. I place this story in the first week of October, which if my calculations are correct would be before Gandalf reached Rivendell. I fully admit that I'm bad at calendars, and so "They Also Serve" may have some timeline issues that make it A.U. if I figured things incorrectly.
I have not attempted to calculate whether the Dwarvish New Year in 3018 T.A. would have been a Durin's Day for Dwarves west of the Misty Mountains. Even Thorin admits that "it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again." ("A Short Rest," The Hobbit) If the Dwarves can't predict when their own holiday will occur, I certainly have no chance of figuring it out retroactively. Plus, Elrond is looking for an excuse to celebrate and may not have been that picky about the specifics of whether the day actually was Durin's Day. Even if he remembers the proviso about the sun and moon, hardly anyone else would notice the discrepancy if there was one.
Hope you enjoyed!