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42
Until the Stars are All Alight

"Rowanna? Rowanna, is that really you?" A moment after knocking at Teon's door beneath the sign of the silver fish, Rowanna found herself enveloped in an embrace which nearly crushed the breath from her. "Béma be praised, child, I was sure when we heard the news from Mundburg that you'd gone riding to your death all those weeks ago! Come within, sit you down – Teon! Nelda, come quickly, you'll never guess who's here!"

Ushered into the cottage, Rowanna was at once overwhelmed by excited children, embraces and questions. The evening meal was simmering over the fire, and she soon found herself squeezing around the long table to share it.

"I can't stay beyond this evening, though, Edyth," she apologised as soon as she could get a word in edgeways. "I ride with the Sons of Elrond of Rivendell, and tomorrow early we set out towards Lothlórien..."

"The Golden Wood?" Edyth's hand flew to her mouth. "Now why on earth my dear would you want to venture there again –"

"We won't be going all the way to Lothlórien, although I wish I could!" Rowanna sighed. "We are to meet Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar, Elladan and Elrohir's sister – fairest of Elvenkind – who rides from Rivendell with a great host to –" She checked herself just in time. "To visit her kin from afar, Aragorn the new King of Gondor..."

"Rowanna, here's your stew – " Nelda put in –

"And then start again and explain this and everything else that's been going on!" Edyth protested.

This, with many interruptions and diversions, Rowanna did for most of the next hour while being plied with bread and stew.

"So what does Mistress Míranna intend to do, now the War's all over?" enquired Teon as he broke off a great hunk of bread. "Is she coming back to Edoras?"

"I'm not sure of her – of our – plans yet, Teon, in truth," Rowanna stammered, flushing a little. "Mother has found some of her own kin again, in Mundburg, and she seems to be making her peace with the place somewhat. Though I'm not sure how I feel about settling there - too much looming white stone! And after all that happened –" She broke off, biting her lip.

"Sure and it's true the poor lady could hardly be blamed if she never wanted to set foot in the Mark again," put in Edyth hotly, "and the more shame to us –"

"There, Mother," said Teon firmly, "we all know whose fault that largely was, and let's hope it's all over and done."

"And how is poor Lady Éowyn to make provision for all these great folk you say are coming?" asked Nelda, looking to change the subject. "With all that was wrought in the Westfold, the flocks driven hither and yon, the orchards burned – the Mark has not its usual riches to offer –"

"I wanted to know much the same – and so did Éowyn!" admitted Rowanna. "I do not think she will soon forgive Elladan and Elrohir for the short notice she had! She spent half a day interrogating me as to what orders she should send ahead to the Golden Hall..."

"...and some of the folk of Rivendell, at least, eat no flesh," Rowanna had advised a furiously pacing Éowyn. "I cannot speak for the Lothlórien Elves, though in the little time I spent with them we ate mostly berries and wild mushrooms –"

"The kitchen gardens," Éowyn had muttered, "I'll send to Garfrid –"

" – but as I told Éowyn, Arwen and Master Elrond at least more than understand what perils the southern lands have been through in recent times, and will stand on no needless ceremony," Rowanna finished. "For the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn I would not dare speak!"

At the end of a loud and cheerful evening, having kissed and hugged everyone from Edyth to the smallest of the children, she was escorted by Teon back up to the foot of the Golden Hall. She found the Peredhil lounging before the great hearth, talking with one of the minstrels, who was hanging eagerly on their every word as Elladan idly drew ripples of soft sound from a borrowed harp.

"Rowanna!" Elrohir hailed her, apparently cheerful enough. "Come and join us, have some of this mead –"

"She may rather wish to go to bed, brother!" Elladan pointed out. "Rowanna, we ride out in the morning – Father and Arwen are a few leagues north now, we meet them tomorrow."

"In that case I will turn in," Rowanna agreed; "we mere Mortals must sleep! I'll see you in the morning." She found the small side-room assigned to her – though I daresay tomorrow I'll be on a pallet in the women's guesthall, she reflected, for Éowyn will doubtless need every room the Hall has! and curled up, hugging to her as sleep overtook her the smooth folds of the precious grey Lórien cloak.

***

"Here you go," Merry set a tray of beakers and tankards carefully down on the large round table in the window-alcove of the Silver Swan. "Ale for five –" Sam helped him distribute the foaming tankards around the Hobbits and Gimli – "wine for you, Legolas." The Elf gravely nodded his thanks. "I didn't get one for Gandalf, since he was as unforthcoming as ever as to whether or when he'd be joining us!"

Pippin lit up his pipe, with an apologetic grimace to the Elf who turned to open the window behind him. "Sorry, Legolas! But really, a beer without a decent pipe is no beer at all..."

"How did your cakes turn out, Sam?" Merry enquired. "Was that new flour you found any lighter?..."

The evening wound its way through several more pints and pipes, the tavern growing gradually busier. Many of the Men nursing their tankards were deeply tanned and weatherbeaten, for the Company had discovered the Silver Swan to be a favourite of sailors up from Dol Amroth. After a while, someone brought out a fiddle, another a small hand-drum, and the singing began; the Hobbits listened beaming to shanties and ballads.

"You should give them something, Frodo!" Merry urged mischievously. Frodo chuckled ruefully.

"I don't think I know anything nautical enough!"

"Besides," retorted Pippin, "the last time old Frodo sang in a tavern was hardly –" He broke off in confusion as Sam glared at him furiously.

"Hush now!" Legolas put in gently. "Someone else is going to sing..."

No dancing rhythm set by the drum, this time; after a moment's murmured consultation the fiddler opened with a single high, plangent note, and the singer began unaccompanied:

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking."

The tavern was spellbound, with barely a creak or a rustle. Sam, though, suddenly nudged Merry and nodded towards Legolas. The Elf had grown very pale, staring unseeing beyond the singer, his knuckles white as he gripped the worn edge of the oak table.

"I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying."

Merry grimaced, knowing what Sam too was thinking; could any song be harder for him to hear? Or more fitting to his pain? At Cormallen, I thought it was just a sort of wistfulness when he sang of the Sea, the way I might sing of the Shire in spring – but it's more than that: it draws the heart right out of him whether he will or no...

"I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."

The song ended to applause and renewed bustle; Legolas, however, did not stir. Gimli frowned. "Legolas? Elf!" He waved a hand in front of his friend's face, then sighed.

"Blasted Sea. Let him be, he'll come to himself in his own good time. I wish we'd never been near those gulls!"

"I wish Mistress Rowanna was here," whispered Sam to Merry as another singer conferred with the fiddler.

"Rowanna? Why?"

"Ha'n't you noticed, Master Merry? Rowanna can always draw him out of these strange trances – she seems, I don't know, realer to him than the rest of us when the Sea-longing's on him. He'd hear her voice, or she'd take his hand, and he'd come back somehow, as if he'd been far away..." Sam sighed. "Well, she ain't here, and I don't think as I'm the only one who's missing her. I hope she's back soon!"

The drummer and the fiddler struck up a reel, and whooping and thumping on tables drowned out any more of Sam's confidences. Legolas blinked slowly a few times, looked around dazedly at his friends, and took a long grateful gulp from the wine-glass Merry pushed back across the table towards him.

***

Gelion pranced and snorted the next morning as Rowanna and the sons of Elrond trotted out of the great gates of Edoras and away to the north, along with Marshal Erkenbrand and the rest of the small escort Eomer and Éowyn had wished to send as a mark of respect for the riders from Rivendell.

"What's got into you?" Rowanna chided gently, though she guessed at the answer. Nimfaun's ears were back just a little, and there was something not quite easy about Nimloss's gait; and when she looked more closely, she could see the origin of their nerves in the slight hunch of Elladan's shoulders, and Elrohir's knuckles just a little white as he gripped the reins. Her heart ached for both of them, but there is nothing I can say that will mend it! So she set herself to ensuring that the Marshal and his men noticed nothing amiss, by making desultory conversation about their mounts, the land around them or the homesteads from which they came; and was heartened to notice that Elladan, at least, gradually joined in, apparently with all his usual ease.

It was mid-morning when Elrohir suddenly frowned into the distance and said tightly,

"There they are."

Rowanna shaded her eyes, but could make nothing out at all across the vast grassy sweep of the plain. "Where?"

"Just on the horizon there, beyond that stand of trees – see?" At Elladan's pointing, she thought she could perhaps discern a faint smudging of the endless line where grassland met sky, but that could easily have been just the shimmer of heat-haze. Only after at least another hour had passed did she begin to catch the haze of dust thrown up by many hooves; not until the noonday sun was hot overhead did the faint blur resolve itself into the shapes of riders. Suddenly she felt the tension between the Peredhil as though a bow had been drawn: Nimfaun about to break into a gallop, Nimloss holding to a decorous trot. Come on! - No, stay! At last, with just a couple of hundred yards between them, it was a grey palfrey from the approaching company which broke away, and Arwen who galloped up to them and reined in laughing.

"Gwanur nin!" She leaned across in the saddle and drew first one brother, then the other into her embrace. When she released Elrohir she was no longer laughing, and she held him with her steady grey gaze a long time. "Henion," she said softly, and her brother looked away. Only then did Arwen look beyond the twins.

"Rowanna!" A delighted smile spread across her face, and Rowanna found herself grinning broadly in return. "I wondered last night if it was you – I was sure I felt a Mortal presence I knew, but I wasn't certain –" She stepped the palfrey neatly across to Gelion's side and hugged Rowanna as enthusiastically as was possible from the saddle. "I am so glad to see you!"

"And I you," Rowanna assured her truthfully. The rest of the Elven party was drawing up around them now; looking around she recognised faces, Lindir, Erestor –

Then everyone somehow fell back as two figures made their way forward, and Rowanna suddenly felt extremely dusty, grubby, insignificant and altogether mortal. The Lady Galadriel – there was no other word for it – shone. She was clad in dazzling white, her golden hair glinted in the sunlight, and yet somehow neither clothing nor hair, Rowanna was sure, were the source of her radiance. She held Rowanna´s gaze for just a moment, and it was like sliding into a very cold river beneath a waterfall in summer; clean and clear and rejuvenating, but impossible to endure for long, and the mortal woman had to lower her eyes as she bowed in the saddle as best she could. When she dared look up again, Galadriel had moved on to greet her grandsons – whose affectionate exuberance was, Rowanna thought, just very slightly muted – and Rowanna found herself instead inclining her head to the Lord of Lothlórien. If Galadriel´s gaze was a clean cold pool, Celeborn´s was a well; still and tranquil and yet so deep there was no saying how far down it went. Rowanna wondered afterwards if she had been imagining a very slight twinkle of amusement in the depths of those eyes.

Now Marshal Erkenbrand, hastily mastering the faint tremor in his voice, was greeting the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood in the name of Éomer King and Lady Éowyn, and bidding the party welcome to the Riddermark of Rohan. A brief discussion with Erestor followed, the upshot of which was that all would repair to the shade of the stand of oaks they had recently passed, take their noon-meal and rest the horses before continuing on to Edoras. Rowanna sighed with relief; while the Elves seemed entirely untroubled by the midday heat, she could feel the sweat trickling down her back and knew her hair was clinging damply to her brow. As she finished unsaddling Gelion, she turned to find Arwen at her elbow.

"Come and greet Father, before we eat," the Evenstar urged. "I know he wishes to see that you are well – and as soon as we have a chance, I want to hear the whole tale of your ride from Imladris and all that has befallen!"

"That might have to wait for this evening, or another day," Rowanna warned her laughing; " 'twill not be a short account!"

Master Elrond was, Rowanna was delighted to see, mounted on Caradhras; the great stallion was just as glad to see her, blowing gently into her hand and butting his nose softly into her shoulder. "I am not forgotten here, at any rate!" she chuckled.

"Indeed not," Elrond agreed gravely. "It gladdens my heart, my kinswoman, to find you safe and well. And your mother?"

"Well also, now, I thank you, Master Elrond, after a very dark time. She was gone from Edoras by the time I reached it, and I followed her to Minas Tirith just before the darkness came and the city was besieged; she was very ill, but she lived, and the Healers of the city think her fully recovered."

"Good news indeed. And Gelion, I see, is hale also?"

"He's in fine fettle," Rowanna agreed. "He did good service in Gondor's direst need, too – Minas Tirith was very short of swift errand-horses, so I lent him to the Steward's stables for the duration. I hoped, in such a cause, you would not mind..."

"Far from it," Elrond smiled. "Indeed, I bear a message from Brethil – you recall Imladris' stable-master? – he particularly wanted me to tell you that should you desire to keep him, Gelion is yours, with his good will; and, of course, with mine."

"Oh, Master Elrond – I'd love to! Please, you must thank Brethil for me, when you return –"

"Come and eat something, Rowanna," Elladan broke in, "before it's all gone – have you seen what Grandmother has brought?"

Rowanna had vaguely wondered at the number of wagons in the Elves' train, since in her limited experience the Firstborn travelled light both of personal possessions and of wardrobe. All was revealed, however, when Elrohir lifted the corner of the canvas covering one of the carts which had been pulled into the shade. Rowanna's jaw dropped at the sight of the carefully wedged rows of clay pots.

"Is that – salad?"

"Brought still growing from Lothlórien, and watered along the way," Elrohir confirmed with a grin; "there's fruit in one of the other wagons, apparently! Grandfather pointed out that Rohan had had an invading force sweep across it, wreaking who knew what havoc, and that the feeding of a large party of Elven guests might cause mortal hosts no little anxiety; Grandmother decided she should provide, and lo! 'tis done..."

I can't believe they've managed to keep it all fresh! mused Rowanna; though she wondered whether any strawberry plant would dare to wilt if Galadriel had decreed that it should flourish. The salad leaves and tiny, juicy tomatoes were delicious, and despite the heat she ate heartily before the great riding gradually got itself back into the saddle and continued south to Edoras. Arwen positioned herself deftly between Rowanna on the one hand and her brothers on the other, and spoke little but listened much; so that by the time they clattered up the cobbled way towards the Golden Hall as the sun was setting, with children running along beside them waving and folk gathering in their doorways to nudge and point, the Evenstar had heard of everything from Aragorn's plans for rebuilding the Great Gate to the Hobbits' favourite taverns. And we can chatter all day about such details, thought Rowanna with an inward sigh, thus carefully avoiding the topic no-one, just now, wants to mention...

They dined under the great rafters of the Golden Hall; Éowyn must have had the kitchens in a ferment, for the tables groaned under the weight of the feast, with roasts and bread augmented by Galadriel's offerings of fruits and vegetables. Rowanna could not keep from chuckling at the serving-wenches' efforts not to stare, open-mouthed, at the Elves in their silken robes, braided hair cascading down their backs. And I'm not sure whether the female Elves or the male are attracting the most attention! she mused, as Elrohir bestowed such a dazzling smile on one serving-maid that the poor girl nearly tripped over her own feet. I just wish the Hall was not so dark, and the air not so heavy with smoke! I never really noticed it before – but to think of the great hall of the Citadel, or Rivendell's Hall of Fire...

If the Elves, though, noticed the smoke or the gloom, they were all far too discreet to pass comment. Conversation was a little laboured to begin with, since Westron was the only tongue all the company had in common, and some among both Rohirrim and Galadhrim spoke but little of that; but as the evening unwound and mead and music flowed, the murmuring gradually rose to a hubbub. Rowanna grinned at the sight of some of Marshal Elfhelm's éored offering the Noldor yet another drinking-horn; what they won't find out till the morning, she reflected gleefully, is that not only do Elves never appear to get drunk, but they seem entirely incapable of suffering any after-effects!

A good deal later, after the meal and the minstrels were done with and only those determined to drink and talk the night away were still in the hall, Rowanna and Arwen sat hugging their feet, nursing a hot posset each, on the bed in the room allocated to the Evenstar and her women. There were two more straw mattresses in the room; Rowanna was to take one, while on the other Arwen's maid, Sedilwen, already lay in waking dream.

"Did you really only bring one waiting-woman with you?" Rowanna enquired softly. "I'm sure the court of Minas Tirith will be amazed that you don't have a whole train..."

"I thought long on it," Arwen murmured, "but whom could I ask to come? To leave behind all society of our kin, to come with me into a land utterly strange... perhaps even to forsake the ships leaving for the West?"

Rowanna felt a slow, painful swelling of her heart in her chest. What was that little rhyme Sam once sang? 'They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea; they are going into the West and leaving us...'

"So in the end I did not ask," went on Arwen. "It was Sedilwen who came to me – she looked after my gowns in Imladris ever since I came back from Lothlórien, and she used to braid my hair –"

"I remember," Rowanna nodded.

"She insisted she would come with me," Arwen added. "And then when we passed through Lothlórien there was Galethril – she is one of Grandmother's handmaidens, but we were close during my time in Lórien, and she asked if I would let her accompany me too. But I wonder –" She broke off. Rowanna waited.

"I am not sure she will find it in her heart to stay," the Evenstar finished quietly. "She... she is struggling to accept what will happen when Aragorn and I are joined; that willingly I will renounce the life of the Firstborn..."

"She –" Rowanna bit her lip, then took a deep breath and went on. "She is not alone in that, Arwen. If you had seen Elrohir, these past days –"

"I know," Arwen said, and looking into her calm grey eyes Rowanna found they were very bright, though the serene expression did not change. "I cannot help but know what my brothers feel, and Father too. And I wish more than anything that what I do needed not to cause them the pain it does. And yet... Aragorn is my stars, Rowanna; he is the sea my life's river flows into, my part in the Song. I can no more choose to turn from him than I could choose to stop Ithil's rising and setting." Now for certain there were tears sparkling in her eyes, though Rowanna knew they were tears that mingled grief and joy. "He is mine, my own love, and I go to him!"

"But - must cleaving to Aragorn mean...?" Rowanna stumbled and flushed. "Could you not..."

"Hold to the life of the Eldar?" Arwen shook her head. "Not as one of Lúthien Tinúviel's kin. For that was her bargain with the Valar; Beren restored to her, hers lifelong... if that life had a mortal span, and she renounced the Twilight forever. And that is the choice passed down through all her line, as to no other among Elvenkind. Besides," she laid her hand over Rowanna's, "I do not think I could bear to remain immortal even were it possible. Think what that would mean; to watch Estel aging, year on year - I know he is of the highest line of Númenor, his years will be long by Mortal count, but what is that to Firstborn eyes? - and know not only that I was unchanged, but that he was slipping away from me as surely as the leaves turn or the snow melts in spring. To know that when his time came at last he would be gone from me forever, beyond the Circles of the World, out of my reach not only for all time but perhaps even at the End of Days, and that I must live on years uncountable with that loss..." The tears were back in her eyes. "In Middle-earth or Valinor, I do not think I could bear it."

Her fingers tightened on Rowanna's, and with the swiftness of sunlight she blinked the tears away and broke into a mischievous grin. "Do not look so stricken, mellon nin! I promise you, this is what I most want in the world, and I will be happy. And so now - I need you to tell me everything my husband-to-be has been up to since I saw him last!"

Rowanna swallowed hard, began to talk of Aragorn and the Fellowship and life in Minas Tirith, and for another hour she and Arwen were merry enough; but once they lay down and blew the candles out, she found sleep would not come, and lay long into the night staring into the shadows, with the Evenstar's words going round and round in her fretful mind.

***

They rode out once more from Edoras watched by intrigued crowds of Eorlingas, the children cheering and pointing; but one or two of the adults, Rowanna noticed, unobtrusively flicked a finger to ward off the evil eye as Galadriel passed them. The journey south seemed to go on for ever. Rowanna had always loved the vast open plains of the Riddermark; now there was no end to the hissing of the wind in the bone-dry grass, bleached white under the baking sun. She could feel the edgy unhappiness of Elladan and, particularly, Elrohir; Master Elrond was imperturbable, but said little, riding with Galadriel and Celeborn and occasionally exchanging a few words with them. The rest of the Elven company seemed merry enough, laughing and talking as they rode and singing when they stopped at noon and at evening; and yet, Rowanna thought ruefully, who can tell what's really going on in an Elf's head? Except –

Every time she thought of him, her heart hurt and it grew difficult to breathe. What am I going to do?... Arwen had noticed something, she was sure, for Rowanna sometimes caught the concern in her eyes; but I will not burden her with it, she insisted to herself. Aragorn asked me to ride with her as her friend and her support, to help her on the way to a new life; not to add to her troubles when she has enough to contend with! She probably just thinks I worry, as Elladan and Elrohir do, for her happiness – though it seems she needs no help from any of us on that score!

On their third day out from Edoras, they were considering pausing for the noon-meal when the Elves' keen eyes spied a rider approaching up the road from the South.

"Errand-rider from Minas Tirith," murmured Elladan, shading his eyes with his hand against the light. "Mailbags either side, and he's wearing black with the White Tree emblazoned... Sister!" he called to Arwen. "Message for you, I suspect!"

So it proved; when the courier reined in and hailed them, bowing low in the saddle to the company, he had letters for Master Elrond, for the Lord and Lady of Lórien, and for the Evenstar.

"I ride on to Edoras, my lords and ladies," he explained, "but was told I would most likely cross with your party on the road, and charged by my lord the King particularly to bring these to you if I did so." He gratefully accepted their offer of refreshment, and watered and rested his mount with theirs as they ate.

Arwen swiftly unsaddled her palfrey, took a hasty draught from her water-skin and then, without troubling about food, pulled out her knife and eagerly sliced through the seven-starred seal on her packet. Several sheets of parchment tumbled out, covered in flowing tengwar, along with one more sealed letter.

"Gwanur!" she called. "Notes for both of you – and Rowanna," she added as the mortal woman came over, mopping her brow and bearing trenchers of bread and cheese for both of them, "a letter in your name! Not Estel's hand, though, I think..."

"For me?" Rowanna was startled. As Arwen passed the folded sheet over to her she exclaimed, "But that's Mother's writing! Oh, Béma –"

"Fear not," Arwen said quickly. "I am sure that were anything amiss we would already have heard from Estel or from Faramir! What does your mother say?..."

Rowanna was rapidly scanning the single sheet. "She –"

14 Lótësse

Dearest of daughters,

I hope and trust this will find you well, and indeed that it will find you at all; Faramir assures me that he expects to send an errand-rider north before the seven-night is out, and that this will either wait for you at Edoras, or meet you on your southward road. I did not want you to return to the White City and find me gone – one such shock in the recent past I am sure was enough!

Cousin Pennastir – he whom you met just before you and Meriadoc rode out to Cormallen, the captain in Prince Imrahil's navy – has invited me to spend a few weeks with his family down in Dol Amroth, and after much thought, I have decided to accept and to travel south with him now rather than to wait for your return. I hope you will forgive me this – there are three reasons for the haste. Firstly, Pennastir's wife Almiel, who as you will remember is crippled from a riding accident, is unwell, and I know he is anxious and would welcome more help with his boys. Secondly, the White City grows unbearable in this summer heat. And thirdly, if I have to endure many more days of Ithildîs without respite I shall go stark, staring mad.

Rowanna put a hand hastily to her mouth to mask her snort of laughter.

It goes without saying, her mother went on, that Pennastir and Almiel would welcome you with open arms at any time that you choose to come; so feel free either to follow me down to Dol Amroth as soon as you wish, or to stay longer in the White City, as you prefer; send word when you can and let me know all is well with you.

The Powers guard and keep you, my dear, and bring you safe to me soon,

Your loving mother, Míranna.

"All is well?" Arwen looked up from her own letter.

"It – yes; yes, Mother writes to let me know that she has gone down to stay with kin in Dol Amroth, to escape the midsummer heat in the White City. I cannot blame her; I am sure it must be stifling by now!"

But Rowanna bit her lip; I hadn't realised, till now, how much I was missing her, and her wise counsel. And now I shall have to wait even longer for it!

The nights, still and clear, were almost as warm as the days; the company spent them under the open sky, scorning to pitch tents, and indeed in the case of the Elves rarely bothering to sleep at all, preferring to sit around a lantern or a small fire and sing to Elbereth. And her stars well merit song, Rowanna thought, gazing sleepless up at the great sweep of Varda's Cloak from horizon to horizon. I never saw a sky more brilliant. If only my path were so clear! In Rivendell the sound of Elven hymns to the Star-Queen would have lulled her to sleep; now she tossed and turned for hours on her bed-roll, when she did not give up entirely and sit with the Elves, or go and keep company with Gelion. I don't know what to do. If even Arwen, who has endured so much and waited so long, could not bear to live on after the one she loves –

They made camp for their last night in the fringes of the Drúedain's forest. Celeborn and Galadriel set off into the trees on foot with a few of the Galadhrim, carrying in their own hands cloaks of Lórien weave and other simple gifts for Ghân-buri-Ghân and his people; "for they are some of the oldest still to walk the forests of Arda," said Celeborn, "as are we, and we pass their lands in peace."

Long after Arwen had closed her eyes – did she always sleep thus? Rowanna wondered, thinking back to Rivendell and unsure if she remembered, or has she already decided to begin to live as Mortals do? – Rowanna was still fretting, turning over, sitting up, lying down again. Tomorrow, the White City. Oh, Legolas, I long to see you again, and yet –

This is foolish, she eventually insisted to herself. Tossing and turning like this is never going to bring sleep. Untangling herself quietly from her bedroll, she pulled her cloak over her shoulders and wandered away through the trees, past the Elves' small fire, listening to their singing drifting on the night air.

Just like Lothlórien, she realised, and at the memory tears she could not explain welled up in her eyes. She curled up at the foot of a great oak, drawing Legolas' grey cloak around her more tightly. Lost in thought, she did not notice a dark figure rising from the group around the campfire, or hear Elrohir coming until he spoke.

"Not sleeping?" When she started and gasped, he added hastily, "I didn't mean to startle you – I could see you were leagues away. Should you as a mere Mortal not be getting some rest? I don't suppose between official receptions and festivities, and Hobbit gossip and news-gathering, the next day or two will be very restful!"

"I – I can't sleep..." Rowanna admitted.

"I thought as much," Elrohir retorted. "And you haven't been sleeping properly since we left Edoras, have you?" When Rowanna said nothing, he dropped to his knees beside her, took her chin surprisingly gently in his fingers and turned her face into the moonlight. "No, I thought not – there are huge black shadows under your eyes! Rohiril, I know I drive you to distraction, and I play the fool far more often than I should – but you are my friend and very distantly kin too, and I know something is wrong. What is it?.."

"Ohh – Elrohir!" Rowanna gave one great, heaving sob, leant on his shoulder and burst into tears.

"I knew it. Tell me." Rowanna shook her head and wept harder.

"That does it. I'm fetching Elladan." Elrohir did not move; but his arms tightened a little around her shoulders, Rowanna felt a wave of something urgent flowing out from him, and very shortly afterwards Elladan arrived at a run. The sight of Rowanna weeping on Elrohir's shoulder brought him up short.

"What in Elbereth's name –"

"That's what I'm hoping she'll tell you; she won't say a word to me."

Elladan eased himself down on the other side of Rowanna and took her unresisting hand. "Rowanna, come; how can we help if we know not what ails you?"

"Y-you have – to swear – not a word – to Arwen."

"Not a word." The peredhil chimed in together. "So – tell us. What in all the stars is the matter?"

~~~

Author's Notes:

The song sung in the Silver Swan is John Masefield's poem Sea Fever, first published in SALT-WATER BALLADS, © 1902 – see http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/14195-John-Masefield-Sea-Fever

Sam's rhyme about the Elves comes from LoTR Book I Chapter 2, The Shadow of the Past.

Varda's Cloak is my own choice of M-e name for the Milky Way, since I couldn't find one attested in JRRT anywhere.

Gwanur nin – My [twin] brothers.

Henion – I understand.

14 Lótësse: Miranna's letter is dated in Steward's Reckoning, equating to 15th May in Shire-Reckoning (thanks to the Encyclopedia of Arda for the calendar conversion!), i.e. a week after Rowanna and the Rohirrim left Minas Tirith for Rohan.


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