"Idril, have you seen Naneth?"
Idril turned with surprise at the sound of her brother’s voice from across the hall. He had obviously dressed in haste, for his shirt’s ties were undone, and it was only partly tucked into his breeches, which was entirely unlike his usual care for his appearance. "No, I’ve not."
He closed his eyes with obvious distress. "I sent Lasgon to see if she had returned to Adar’s memorial, but she’d not been seen there since she left me there yesterday."
She crossed to him, certain he did not wish for the details of this interchange to be gossiped widely through the Keep. "She left you by Adar’s memorial?" she said as she came even with him.
"Yes. She will be leaving, Idril, probably today, but I cannot imagine her doing so without her bidding you and Melian farewell." He began walking back toward the stairs to the private quarters, his sister following.
"You haven’t sent her away, Eldarion?"
He looked at her distraught. "Of course not! But she must go soon, which she realized yesterday."
She stopped, her face pale with shock. "She will be accepting the Gift? Now?"
He shook his head. "She will do so soon, I think, but not here, Idril. She will go where he will know to come to guide her, to give her back her spirit’s Light. Neither would wish to do that here."
Idril’s eyes filled. "Oh, Eldarion, why cannot she stay with us? For at least a time? Perhaps heal...."
He looked at her with deep sadness in his eyes. "She cannot heal--you know that, my sister. He took her heart with him, and to get it back she must join him." Again his eyes closed in grief, and he hung his head. "Oh, Naneth." Then he straightened and looked into her eyes once more. "We said our good-byes yesterday, and she knows I love her past bearing. I do not think she will come to me again, but she will approach you and Melian, I am certain. Please tell her, when you see her, that her third grandchild will be born in the Spring, probably at the New Year."
"Oh! Loreth is certain?"
He nodded. "It quickened yesterday, and she finally told me. I see a daughter, a dark haired daughter this time."
"She will not say goodbye to our people?" He shook his head. She found her own eyes closing as she accepted what her heart already knew to be true, and she gave a brief nod, then looked back into his eyes, already more distant with responsibility since he’d accepted the Winged Crown. "I will tell her." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek, and she put her arms about him for comfort--for only a moment of time, then they pulled apart. For another moment they simply gazed into one another’s eyes--they, at least, were not alone now in their shared grief, not as she was. "Send word to the stables in the first circle that she may have her choice of horses."
He smiled ruefully. "I already did, last night. And I sent down Adar’s Ranger saddle and his cloak from Lothlórien, and her sword, and his dagger."
"Yes, but I doubt she will take those." She nodded. "Elladan and Elrohir will undoubtedly follow her. I sent down supplies for them, too. They may accept them."
"They’ve been across the River, wandering in Ithilien, most of the time since the internment." For a moment both were silent. "They have seen so many of our ancestors come and go, come and go, over the years. They know how short our lives are compared to those they know. Why is the grief so much greater this time, do you think?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps because the world has changed so, Idril. So few of our mother’s people remain in Middle Earth, and most who do will soon leave, for our father was the last tie most of them had to the world of Men. Our line will be the last vestiges of the glory of the Elves, and in time that, too, will dim." He shook his head with sadness for that which was passing--which had mostly passed by now. "Legolas and Gimli will go very soon."
She looked at him with surprise. "Where will Master Gimli go?"
He gave a small smile, and the pain around his eyes was relieved slightly. "He’s been granted the right to go to Elvenhome."
Her mouth fell open with astonishment, then she smiled. "How odd! How wonderful! Then the two races are no longer estranged!" She stood for a while, then said, "I will go to Melian, so she will hopefully find us more easily. We will go down through the city together. And I will tell her of the babe."
"Thank you, little sister." He turned back to the stair, tucking in his shirt as he went.
When she went out of the Citadel, she saw her sister near the Fountain of the White Tree, the small figure of Faramir Took beside her. Idril hurried to join them, calling out, "Melian!" as she and her escort went forward, and it was as she approached the Tree that she realized that their mother was there, also. Arwen’s face was as fair as ever, but the inner light that had always filled it was gone, and no longer was she able to draw eyes to her simply by being present. But there was more life to her eyes now than had been seen there since her husband’s death. "Naneth," Idril breathed. "I am so glad to find you here."
"Walk with me," her mother sighed, and together they walked toward the ramp down to the sixth level. "I came to bid you farewell, for I am going back north, north to find your father."
Faramir started to protest but was stayed by a gesture from Melian. "That is wise, Mother. He would not wish to return here for you. Will you go back to Imladris?"
"No, we plighted our troth in Lothlórien. I will go to Caras Galadhon and await him there."
Melian seemed surprised and concerned at this. "But that land is almost totally deserted, Naneth. Will you wait for our uncles?"
Their mother shook her head. "They will know where I go."
"Do you have supplies?"
Idril said, "Eldarion has sent some to the stables for you, Naneth."
"I knew he would. His father and he appear to have discussed how this would affect me. But I need but little."
"Winter will be here soon, Naneth."
After a moment of silence, they heard her whisper, "My winter is upon me."
They were in the fourth circle when Idril felt it was quiet enough and secluded enough to give her mother her brother’s message. "Eldarion asked me to tell you one thing more--a grandchild will be born to you in the spring, at the New Year."
Her mother stopped, turned to her, and she saw a bit more light in her eyes, a truer smile than she’d seen from her since her father’s announcement he was accepting the Gift. Then her eyes went distant as they often did, and then she smiled again. "A daughter this time, a dark haired daughter."
"So he said, also."
Arwen nodded, then turned and led the way onwards. They did not speak again till they were near the garden of the King’s Head in the second circle. Then she turned to her daughters and told them, "Let her be named Celebrían. And Idril, your first child will be a son. Please call him Estel." At her daughters’ nods of agreement she again gave her slight smile. "I would like to go on alone from here. This is your city. For all that I have dwelt here for over a century, my home is yet outside these walls, now that your father is no longer inside them. I love you more than I can tell, but I cannot stay longer." They nodded. "I love you both, am so proud of both of you, am glad to have seen you come to womanhood in honor and joy. Give my remembrances to the children and your husbands." And she embraced them, then turned away.
Faramir Took stepped forward. "I will see you to the stables, my Lady."
She looked down on him, and a hint of her gentleness could be seen in her face. "If you so desire." He turned and gave a bow to the two Princesses, and seeing Idril’s escort nod at him, he moved to the Queen’s side as she headed for the gate to the first level.
In the stables they found the Queen was indeed awaited. The stable master came forward to ask her if she would accept the King’s choice for her, and when she indicated she would look at it first to see if it suited, he led her to one of the stalls near the doors but out of the draft where a grey steed stood, looking over the gate of its enclosure at her. She looked at the horse for some moments. "He chose Elrond for me?"
"Yes, for the King said that he was wise and would watch out for you, and when you needed him no more would choose whether he would return here or to Rohan or find another master. Also, he will accept no rider here save our late Lord and the Lord King--or you, my Lady."
Arwen nodded, and signed for him to open the stall. She entered and approached the horse, who thrust his head into her shoulder in an accepting manner. "Will you bear me where I must go, Elrond, you who were named for my father?" The stallion raised his head and looked at her, then bowed it down to her. "So be it, then."
The stable master nodded toward a saddletree nearby. "The King sent down a saddle for you, and other items he wished you to have, if you will."
She came out and inspected the saddle, recognizing it readily; looked at the garments which had been sent down, then stopped as she found herself unrolling a familiar cloak. "I will take this back to its home, then," she said as she took it up and held it to her breast. There was a warm riding skirt and tunic, and beneath it a dress she recognized, and smiled at.
"I will not need the saddle, but will ride Elf fashion, for Elrond prefers that. But I will need a carrier of some kind for the few things I take with me."
He bowed and went back into the depths of the building, and she turned to the Hobbit who’d served as her escort. "I thank you," she said, "for your friendship to my husband and to myself, and to our children. You have the practical wisdom of your people, and the great heart of your people as well. I will bear your greetings to your father and those others you would have me greet in your name."
"Thank you, my Lady. And I pray he will find you soon."
"He knows where to look for me. Keep a watch on my son, and bid him rest when he would seek to push himself too far. And comfort my grandchildren for me."
"I will, my Lady."
She took the riding garments and headed for the stable privy, and came back out wearing them as the stable master returned. The widow’s weeds she left on a bale of hay. She took the dress Eldarion had sent down and the other items of clothing and carefully stowed them in the carrier bag that had been produced. She picked up a swordbelt which Faramir had not realized leaned against the saddle tree and fastened it around her waist, checked the seat of sword and dagger in their sheaths, then donned the grey-green cloak, fastened the loop over its knot, and then fastened the leaf brooch to hold it closed. She then spoke a word to the horse, who came out and approached the mounting block. She swiftly mounted, accepted the carrier bag, into which the stable master had been stowing packets of supplies, then accepted a water skin, and hung them over her shoulders.
"I thank you, Master, for the service you have given to King and land over the years."
"I bid you a good journey, my Lady. We already miss you."
"I know. But my way is north now."
He and the Hobbit stepped aside as the great horse turned himself to the doors, and both bowed to the Queen as she left the stables and headed for the gates, apparently unnoted by the rest of those who filled the first circle at this hour. Two horsemen had been headed for the stables, but turned their steeds as she approached, spoke to her, then one turned again to the stables and came riding rapidly toward the stable master.
Elladan of Rivendell asked quietly, "Did the King send down aught for my brother and myself?" and at the master’s nod he stayed still while the man disappeared back inside, bringing out two sets of saddlebags and two filled waterskins. The Elf nodded his thanks as they were handed up to him, and gave a surprisingly graceful bow from horseback. He spoke to Faramir. "Thank the King for us, please, and let him know we will follow our sister." With a second graceful bow he turned his horse, the bundles over his arms, and rode to where his brother waited. Neither the Queen nor the grey horse she rode was now in sight. The two Elves went back the way they’d come, and could be seen trotting swiftly toward the great gates of the city.
Although the citizens of Minas Anor did not appear to notice their former Queen riding through their midst, the gate guard did see her, apparently advised she would be passing, and they saluted as Arwen, daughter of Elrond and Celebrían of Rivendell, once Queen of Gondor and Arnor, left the city, looking for her release from the world of Men.