"My Lord King?"
The Warden of the Silent Street watched as the King raised his eyes from the papers on which he had been working. His face was composed, but there were still signs of pain and grief there to be seen. The King sighed and backed reluctantly from his desk and rose. "Yes, my lord Warden. You wished to see me?"
"Yes, my Lord. It is about your mother...." He stopped, uncertain how to continue. The King was not making it easy for him, simply stood, looking at him from those sea-grey eyes of his. Finally, he forced himself to go on. "She--she haunts your father’s tomb, my Lord."
A brief nod of acknowledgment was the only response. What was with the man? Did he not care for the well-being of his own mother?
"It--it is not healthy, my Lord," he finally said with more force than he’d intended.
"I am well aware of that, sir."
Taken aback, the Warden simply looked at his King with surprise for several long moments. He shook his head. "She must let go the grief, can she not see that?"
The King bowed his head and shook it, then raised it with a pitying look. "I don’t think you quite understand the matter, lord Warden. You cannot command grief to go even in a common mortal."
"But she will fade, my Lord." He felt desperate. He had himself been smitten by the Queen’s loveliness and the light she seemed to bear when he was little more than a boy, and he’d never truly recovered from that first fascination.
"Yes, there you have the right of it--in part, at least. Except there is no ‘will’--the fact of it is that she is fading, fading as we now speak."
"But it could be stopped--"
The King’s voice was harsh with his own grief: "How, my lord Warden? How are we to stop it? Do you not understand? This is the way with her people!"
The Warden’s mouth fell open with shock and perhaps the beginning of understanding. The King’s eyes bored into his relentlessly. "What was my mother, lord Warden?"
Surprised by the question, the man sought to frame an answer. "Your father’s wife for--" He stopped, not certain of the answer he’d thought to make.
"My father’s wife for one hundred twelve years? Is that what you were going to say?"
The man stood a little stunned. Had it been that long? Looking into the King’s eyes, he gave a small shrug.
"Do you know anyone who has approached seventy years of marriage?" the King asked.
The Warden shook his head. "No, my Lord King. Perhaps two who passed fifty years together."
The King sighed, as if he were teaching a difficult lesson to a bright student who still cannot see what is plainly before him. "Now, why was it my parents had so much more time together than the usual?"
"Your lord father was of the pure blood of the Dúnedain unmingled, it is said."
"He was the Dúnedan, lord Warden, as I am now. Now, think of the heritage of my mother."
"She was of the Northern Lands...."
The King looked shocked. "Of the Northern Lands, you say? Do you not know where she was born, sir?"
"It was said she was born in Imladris, my Lord."
"That is true."
The Warden was beginning to feel confused as to the King’s point. He looked long into the King’s eyes, saw the grey depths of memory.... At last he lowered his own eyes in defeat. He could not understand what the King plainly meant him to parse out for himself.
Finally the King asked, "What is my name?"
Startled still again, the man raised his head and answered, "Eldarion, my Lord."
"And what does that name mean?"
The Warden dropped his eyes to the desktop. "Son of the Elves...." He raised his eyes to the King’s, then stilled. "Are you speaking of the claims your mother was of Elf-kind, my Lord?"
The King slapped his hand upon the surface of his desk with sudden anger. "Claims? Have you not looked closely at my uncles, lord Warden? Have you not considered the fact that my father was accompanied to his death by Lord Glorfindel of Imladris? My mother was daughter to Elrond Peredhel, granddaughter to the Lady of the Golden Wood and her lord husband Celeborn. Do you question her Elvish heritage? Or that of myself and my sisters?"
"No, my Lord." He felt a bit faint, and wished he were anywhere but in the King’s study.
"My mother accepted mortality when she bound herself, against her father’s will, to my father. But she is still of Elvish nature. Perhaps to you to remain fair, youthful in appearance, and without a silver hair on her head after a century of marriage to the King, who in the same time turned totally white of hair and beard, may seem normal, but I assure you that it is not. And I will remind you I am approaching a hundred years of age myself, and am beginning to gather grey hairs. My mother, on the other hand, counts her age not in years or centuries, but in millennia, my lord Warden. She lived through all of the Third Age. And she loved my father not as mortals do, but as Elves do. My father died the death granted to our Númenorean ancestors, as I hope one day to do also, if I do not fall in battle as so many of the Lords of Gondor and Arnor have done; but my mother will die of fading, as is the way of her kind. She cannot go over the Sea for healing as her mother did, for she gave up that right to cleave to the one she loved. And so she fades, and I can do nothing for her."
"But, how?" As he spoke the question, he realized how utterly without sense it appeared. He watched as the King turned to the window, walked to it, leaned with his hands on the stone sill.
"Elves love but once in their lives, lord Warden. Their love is intended to last to the end of Arda, so they give their hearts fully, fully to the ones they love. And when the ones they love are slain, usually those left behind will follow soon after." The King sighed and straightened, then turned to look at the Warden. "Even those of us with Dúnedain heritage cannot usually love more than once. And though we are mortal, all too often we, too, will fade at the loss of the ones who bear our hearts. My mother is fading, and all I can do is to pray to the Valar she does not suffer long, and that at the end my father finds his way to her to return her life’s spirit to her so that once she is finally released she may find her way where she must go."
"Your father find her way to her?"
"Adar and I spoke of this long ago when Loreth and I looked to marry, for this is part of the heritage we bear as the Children of Elros, part of our responsibility. When he died, our father bore with him her life’s spirit. He must return it at her death. He feared, however, that once he had passed into the Uttermost West he would find it hard to return long enough to do this, or to look for her coming to the Way."
The King did not answer, simply looked into the man’s eyes.
Finally he asked the hard question his profession demanded of him. "If she fails at the King’s tomb, what am I to do?"
The King gave a choking sound, half laugh, half sob. "At least she would not have far to go, would she?" And at this his eyes began to finally fill with the tears the Warden suddenly realized had been waiting to fall for the full length of the interview. He stood weeping silently for several moments, and finally shook his head once more. "I do not believe she will remain here much longer. And she has never had the desire to lie in that dead place, lord Warden, not even by the side of my father’s body. For no one knows more fully than she that he does not dwell there any longer. No, she will one day leave, and most like will go north, probably to the vale of her birth. I do not think you and your people will need to deal with her remains at all. Do you understand?"
The Warden stood quietly considering for several more moments, then said sadly, "She no longer shines."
"No, the Evenstar of her people and then ours no longer shines, for the Light of her spirit had been given into the keeping of my father, and his own Light has itself left Middle Earth, taking hers with it."
"I am sorry, my Lord."
"There is no need for apologies. You are only doing your duty--or trying to do so. If she were merely mortal, your concern could bear fruit, perhaps. But in this case...."
"Yes, my Lord Eldarion, in this case...." And he reached out his hand, and the King took it, and for a moment their grief was shared and eased for both.
She felt a familiar weight on her shoulder as he put his arm across it, smelled his scent, the crisp odor of the soap he preferred, a gentle hint of his sweat, a memory of a horse ridden yesterday in spite of having bathed since, and a gentle scent of the sea wind that always seemed to hang about him. There was no scent of pipeweed as there had been with his father, no memory of countless woodland hills walked, countless fresh streams and rivers crossed. The rhythm of his lifeblood, of his respiration, of his heartbeat, however, were very like that of his father, and had she gone only on that she might have convinced herself--or almost so--that it was her Estel who stood behind her, who embraced her. She turned and gave him the memory of a smile that was all she could now give.
"I love you so, Naneth," he murmured, burying his face in her hair.
"And I you, Eldarion." Even to her own ears her voice was but a ghost of itself.
"Why do you haunt this place? He is not here, and would not think to return in any case--not to this place of stone. For all of a century of dwelling here most of the time, his heart was always of the North."
"It was here he left me. It is hard to go from this place, in hopes his spirit will seek me out here."
"He will not, Naneth. He will seek you out to the North, I think. At least that is what he told me." He straightened and pulled away to look into her face.
"You spoke of this?"
"Yes, years ago when Loreth and I first bound ourselves to one another. He wished to tell me of our responsibilities to those who remain behind when we must accept the Gift of Ilúvatar."
She did not respond, merely looked into his face with almost empty eyes, but eyes into which perhaps a germ of hope had returned.
"It is a gift, Naneth, a gift he looked forward to receiving when the time was right. And he accepted it when his body began at last to fail him. He had been given the most blessed of lives, and the most blessed of loves, and he rejoiced at the idea of being able to face Ilúvatar and to thank Him for both."
She had begun to shake gently, and he reached out and drew her to him, seeking to will his own vitality into her. "He waits for you, Naneth, for you, the only woman he loved with his whole heart. He has seen his own naneth and has sought to give her back her hope, which long ago she gave to the Men of the West. Now he wishes to give you back the Light of your spirit, even if you choose not to go with him to Ilúvatar’s presence...."
"He could never think I would not go with him!"
This time it was Eldarion who did not answer, but who looked deep into her eyes with compassion and grief and love--and giving.
"I never abandoned him in life--am I to do so once we are both together again?"
She saw him smile involuntarily, then he buried his face again in her hair. "Oh, my mother, my Naneth, I must lose you that you may find the Light of your spirit again--but at least I know now you and he will be together again, as is right."
She reached up to stroke his hair.
Finally he looked up, wiping the tears from his eyes. "The Warden of this place is heartbroken for your grief, and has feared you would fail here."
She drew a shaky breath. "Here? In this dead place of dead shells? I think not, my son."
"I told him not, but still he worries. He loved you, adored you, when he was younger."
"I know, and I grieve I cause him grief. It is not a joyful position he holds."
"No, not joyful, but a necessary one, and one which gives him satisfaction, as you know. And it gives our people a feeling of continuity." At her shudder, he continued, "Which is why I have myself wondered why you continue here, Naneth. You know he will not wait for you in this place--it is as repugnant to him as it is to you. He will look for you where life is, as he found you. It will be there he will seek to return your Light."
"And you, my son, you who were born in this place--will your spirit find joy here?"
Now it was his turn to shudder. "I am your son, and his. And the love of my heart, who has the Light of my spirit in her keeping--she, too, is of the North. No, if we do any lingering at all, it will be there in Arnor, not in Gondor for all I love its people with all my soul. And I suspect that I will give the Crown early to Valandil so that we can spend what little time may be left to us there. They would never have allowed that of Adar, but I think they might of me."
She gave a ghost of a smile, and nodded. Together they turned and looked together one last time down into the stone face of the effigy of the King Elessar, Aragorn son of Arathorn, then down at the two tombs that lay beside it. Finally she whispered, "Thank you for confirming his order, for none of the three deserved to have their remains lie inside away from the light of Sun, Moon, and Stars, and away from the touch of the free wind." He pulled her tight to his side. "I will take my leave of your sisters tomorrow, and I will go."
She considered only a moment. "No," she said at last, "no, although that was where we met. No, he will look for me where we first pledged our troth, in Lothlórien."
"It is Lórien no longer, Naneth."
"Perhaps not, but it is where I will go."
She allowed him to stand by her, holding her close, accepting the unspoken love, the unspoken farewells. When at last she pulled from him and looked deeply into his eyes he allowed it, opening his heart to her as fully as he could. Finally she whispered, "I have given the keepers of my heart to the Men of the West. May they always be worthy of them." She leaned forward and kissed his brow, and quietly left him.
For another half hour he remained there, his heart full of so many emotions, and he found himself praying that Ilúvatar and the Valar lead her truly where she must go, and accept her life gently. At last he left that place, returning to his wife and son. As he turned to his wife that night in their bed, she looked on him with delight and barely suppressed excitement.
"I must tell you tonight, my Love and Lord--I am with child, and it has quickened this day!" He looked at her with astonishment, his grief starting to fall away. For Life and Death must always stand so, side by side, with pleasure and pain, birth and dying, always on the opposite sides of the same coin.