He stood at the beginning of the Way, the Youth and the Authority beside him, Olórin nearby, and he looked to the East, listened. "I must go to her soon," he said. "She is on her way north." The Maia nodded. "Frodo is very happy."
"Yes, I suppose he is. The one thing in all his life he wished to know again was the joy of family, a pleasure he could not truly know even in Tol Eressëa. Since his parents died he always believed he was borrowing other families’ members to construct one of his own, and it made him feel terribly guilty."
"Yes, I suppose he would have felt so. And there," he indicated the opposite side of the river, "all are equally Children of Ilúvatar."
Olórin smiled. "You have the right of it. Always children were safe with him."
"And Sam brought to him both the experience of family and his full life to help him be complete."
"And received in his turn Iorhael’s experience with Beauty, which he also needed."
Aragorn nodded. He looked at his companions. "Will you accompany me?"
They looked at one another, and Pippin smiled. "Why not?"
Merry asked, "And what do we do?"
Aragorn laughed. "Just stay by me."
Realizing the moment was come he focused his thoughts on her, on where she would be, and he cradled what he wore on his breast, rejoicing she’d entrusted him with something so precious. He leaned forward....
"That way?" asked Pippin, indicating the north.
"No," Aragorn said, and he indicated a peak that shone red in the light of a setting sun.
Merry looked at it with recognition. "Caradhras. So, she’s going to Lothlórien?"
"That is where she would go. She always felt her mother’s parents were more sympathetic than her father."
"Didn’t he tell you that you could not bind any woman to you until you were King? What if you’d died--would the line of Kings have ended with you, then?" Pippin was as curious as ever, Aragorn realized.
"Yes, it would have done so."
They sped forward, and as they started over the mountains, Pippin slowed, looked down, and the others found themselves doing the same. They looked at the blasted ruins of a tower standing on one of the three peaks, and below that a shattered slope where snow was blown into fantastic shapes. "Two of the Maiar fought there," Pippin said, and bowed with honor to the tower, then went on.
"Had we known ahead of time what we faced," Merry wondered, "do you think you would have gone anyway?"
"We knew it was going to be bad, and we’d already been pursued by Black Riders before we reached Buckland."
"You three had--I got my first real encounter with them in Bree, if you will remember.
"Would you have gone?"
"I’d already decided I wasn’t going to let Frodo go alone. I’d have still gone."
"And I’d still not have let the two of you go without my protection."
"And we needed it, Pippin."
And they approached the remains of Lothlórien....
Aragorn saw her arrive, unaccompanied. She was riding Elrond--and Elrond was descended from Olórin, son to Shadowfax, one of the Mearas, Lords of Horses. She wore a riding habit and his Lórien cloak. She had barely anything with her. All this he noted. She looked for him, but was looking too hard, and it was not yet quite time.
He lifted her Light from his breast, cradled it in his hand. But she was now distracted by what she saw about her. He saw her shock at the change in the place she had once loved, the fallen leaves no longer gold and silver but brown with decay; the ancient mallorns beginning to fall or go hollow; the hollow where Galadriel’s garden had grown and her Mirror had stood now crumbling from neglect; young, aggressive trees of the outer world crowding out the double ring of trees that had stood on Cerin Amroth. Some of the flets and the halls that had crowned the still-standing mallorns remained--but they were few. Shocked and disheartened, she traveled the length and breadth of what had once been the Heart of Elvendom in Middle Earth, and everywhere she saw signs of death and disease where no stain had touched land, people, or growing things in time out of memory.
Pippin and Merry mourned for her. "It is as it was for us when we arrived in the Shire and found that the will of the Enemy had come there in spite of all we had done to try to draw evil away from it. For this is home, and now it can no longer be as it was," Pippin whispered.
"Except that was the work of an evil will, where this--this is just the result of protections removed," his companion returned.
Aragorn watched her, sorrowing for her sorrow, grieving for her grief. He stood and watched and waited, seeking the chance to return her Light, awaiting the time for her to turn to him once more. But he realized she must do this, must mourn what was lost and what further would be lost. They’d spoken of it so many times--but now she saw with her own eyes the results of the fading of the Golden Wood, heard the mourning of the wind in the bare treetops, felt the softness of wood fallen to the elements, tasted the essence of fallen leaves in the water, smelled the odor of logs as they rotted into loam and the distant odor of smoke from the village of Men that had begun to grow on the edge of the Wood. She sang the loss of Lórien to the Stars, cradled a young tree that had been blown over by a wind which previously would not have blown there, and sang its dirge. Where she sat in the afternoons the elanor bloomed its last blooms; where she lay to sleep at night the niphredil did the same the next day.
The great mallorn on Cerin Amroth still shone bravely, and there, where they had first spoken together of love, where she had pledged her troth to him, where they had turned from both twilight and shadow, there she went, and at last he could draw near to her. On the grassy bench where they had once sat together and dreamed the sweet dreams that lovers always dream, she took to resting at night, lying on her side, looking off to the great hill on which Caras Galadhon had once stood. About that bench the elanor and niphredil grew as if she were their personal source of light, rejoicing to have again one there who knew the way of their growth, one last vestige of Elvish blood in an abandoned land. Seeing this, her grief for the land began to fade, as she sought to nurture the gentle plants that had been the symbol of the Golden Wood, speaking to them of her gladness she’d once known here, the songs she’d heard sung here, the stories told here, the beauty of the Ladies Nimrodel and Galadriel, the greatness of heart of the Lords Amroth and Celeborn, the industriousness and steadfastness of the Galadhrim.
Always there were a few berries on the bushes to feed her, always the water ran clear when she came to drink. And after a child, exploring deeper into the forest perhaps than was wise, saw her, he began to come daily and bring her bread, cheese, and sometimes meat, dried apples, pockets filled with nuts, pitying her loneliness and her obvious sorrow, gathering fallen wood for the comfort of a fire, weaving a bower about the bench for her to stay in when it was wet. The boy would often stay to listen to her, and took many of her stories away in his heart. As the winter passed she began to teach him the ways of the wood, to show him where the deer would come, where the squirrels played, where the foxes had their dens, where the badgers dug their sets, where the rabbits hid their warrens, how the trees had stood, where the snow would lie the deepest and the shallowest. She explained the flets and described the halls, pointed out what remained of the high ways of the trees on which her people had walked freely and fearlessly. And he smiled to realize he was now the caretaker of this great place, one of the few remaining in Middle Earth who had some understanding of what it had once been.
Aragorn was glad for this child, and saw the gentle pleasure that would show in her eyes when she heard his step in the woods.
But as the winter finally began to wane, she weakened, and often she lay on the bench enclosed within the bower the boy had woven for her, and looked out of the open door, and sighed, realizing the time was coming for her at last. One night there came a great storm, and the wind blew the bower away, leaving her lying exposed, and she rose and took refuge near the great mallorn, was sheltered by it through the night from wind and elements. When day came, all was suddenly still, and the skies were now clear, the sun shone over the land which was about to waken again. It seemed warm to her, so she changed into the dress her son had sent down to the stables for her, the embroidered dress of deep wine colors her husband had had made for a gift for her at the birth of their first child, the work of Miriel of Lebennin, and wrapping the Elven cloak back around her she crept back to the bench once more and laid herself on it in gladness for Anor’s warmth, and smiled up--and saw him, saw him waiting for her, holding the gift she’d given him and that now he sought to return, and she smiled up at him, lifted up a hand to receive back her Light....
He gave it to her gladly, helped her to rise up, embraced her with great gladness, and with a gentle joy kissed her, and they turned back to the West, accompanied by his shining retinue of two....
They had sought her long. She’d not stayed for them, had ridden out of the city and headed north. She’d not told Elrohir her destination, and he’d assumed she would go to her birthplace, and had not thought to consult with the King or his sisters. That was where the brothers went first. They went north but missed her trail, turned west in Anorien toward the Gap of Rohan. That they never quite caught up with her was not surprising, for she was riding the horse Elrond, who was descended from the Mearas of Rohan, whose strength, speed, and stamina was of the stuff of legends, even among Elves. That they heard no rumor of her passing did not bother them, for they knew their sister could pass through crowds now and raise no attention.
But when they heard no tales of her from the trees of Hollin they began to become distressed; and when their own trees in Rivendell denied having seen her they realized at last she’d taken a different way. But the winter on the western side of the Misty Mountains that year was harsh and heavy, and none could make it through the mountain passes, so they were forced to go south, back through the Gap of Rohan until they could turn back toward the Eastfold and the valley of the great River Anduin. Thus it was that they came to the remains of the Golden Wood just as winter was considering giving its sway to a gentle spring, and they found a boy entering the woods carrying food for the one he called the Sad Lady, and he agreed to show them where she sheltered.
They found her body, wrapped in the cloak their grandmother had given to their foster brother, lying on the grassy bench, a gentle smile of recognition on her face. All about her grew and bloomed elanor and niphredil.
Grieving, they dug for her a grave under the place of the bench, carefully lifting away the turf to cover it over after; and wrapping her in the cloak they laid her to rest there, the last inhabitant of the Golden Wood, one whose body would never leave it. They sang over her grave songs of loss and confusion and grief, and songs of the hope that she and her Estel were together again, beyond the uttermost West. And then they left that place, never to return.
The niphredil withered, and the elanor failed, for there was after her none to remind them of how they should grow here, here in the mortal lands.
Every day the Lord Eldarion, King of Gondor and Arnor, walked out to the White Tree to give it greeting; and one day he came there just ere noon, and heard from the tree a great sigh, and realized that somewhere, afar off, a link in the chains of his loves had broken, and he knelt by the Tree and wept, knowing his mother was no more in the mortal lands. His sisters came seeking him out, troubled by the loss they’d felt in their hearts and seeking reassurance from him. He went into the high chamber where he’d placed the Palantir of Orthanc in place of the Anor Stone, and looked into it, and saw his uncles grieving over their sister’s body, come too late to give her their blessings. At dawn a bell in the citadel was rung, and the people gathered at the gates to hear the news, and it was told to them that their Lady Queen, the beautiful Arwen, wife to their late King, had died in the Northern Lands, and they grieved for her.
Eldarion raised his head from the book he was reading, looked his question at the guard who’d entered his private chamber. Loreth looked up from her woolen work, where she was crafting a garment for their daughter’s birth. The King nodded to indicate he was ready to hear the news brought to him. "The gardener’s lad is without, my King. His master asks if you will join him at the memorial for the Pheriannath."
"Tell him I will come. I will be there in about a quarter of an hour."
"Yes, my Lord." With a bow the guard went out to relay the message to the gardener’s lad.
The gardener was a Pherian of the Shire, a grandson to Samwise Gamgee, son to Frodo Gardner, who’d asked to be allowed to serve the realm by tending the gardens of the Citadel. He and his wife and children had come to Minas Anor in the train of King Elessar after the summer of the Dancing Stars, and they had built a house of Hobbit architecture in the First Circle of the city where one had never been rebuilt after the War of the Ring. Hamfast Gardner, as had been his grandfather and great grandfather, was a master of growing things, and he knew each plant in the Citadel’s gardens intimately. His lad was his nearly grown son Sam, who looked fair to being the next Master Gardener of the Citadel. There had been frequent messages from him to the Lord Elessar, who by tradition was always addressed by his Halfling gardener as "Lord Strider"; and now it amused King Eldarion to have inherited his father’s title. He walked with some anticipation to the designated bed, accompanied by Faramir Took, wondering what marvel of nature Ham had found to share with his Lord King this time, only this time the face that greeted them was saddened.
Alarmed at the gardener’s expression, the King asked, "What has troubled you, my friend?"
"It’s the niphredil and the elanor, sir," the Halfling whispered. "They’ve stopped growing, Lord Strider."
Surprised, the King knelt down to look. There were the spikes of the Elven lilies that grew here and the signs that the athelas plants were beginning to push out of the ground; but the low mounds that had always brought forth the golden elanor blooms had gone dry, and the leaves of the niphredil plants had folded together, and the plants were withering. The King felt one of the plants, and seemed to feel a lack of vitality to it, as if it had suddenly lost the will to live. He looked into the troubled eyes of the Hobbit and asked, "Do you have any idea what is wrong with them?"
"I don’t know, Lord Strider. It’s as though they were fading, sir."
The King and Faramir Took and Hamfast Gardner exchanged troubled looks.
In the Shire, Frodo Gardner was awakened by his son Tolman, who said to him, "Da, there’s something wrong with the niphredil by Mr. Frodo’s Window. The plants are folding up." Surprised, he drew on a dressing gown and followed his son out the back door. That bed was always known as the bed by Mr. Frodo’s Window, and niphredil, elanor, and elven lilies had always grown there with kingsfoil through three generations of Gamgee descendants, since the restoration of Bag End. Frodo knelt there and saw his son was right. But worse than that, the elanor plants for which his aunt had been named had gone brown and appeared to be dying. Alarmed, he turned and hurried around the back of the smial to the way to the top of the Hill, and he found the same was true there, the elanor and niphredil in Mr. Frodo’s Circle was also fading. He felt down into the soil, tried to touch the roots, tried to find what had troubled these plants, and felt there an echo of sorrow and loss.
Tolman was grief stricken. “Did I do something wrong for them, Da?"
His father shook his head, listening to the plants. “No, Tom, it’s nothing you’ve done. They’re grieving, and fading, like the Elves do." He looked up into his son’s weeping eyes. “They were Elven flowers, you know."
When the New Year started in Minas Anor, the stable master of the First Circle found a thin but hale grey horse standing before the doors one morning as he came to ready the stables for the business of the day. He bowed his head in grief, then greeted the steed. “Welcome back, Elrond. A stall is ready for you." And he sent word to the Citadel that the King’s horse had returned.