The Queen of the Rings : A Fellowship Broken
I wanted to tell you everything, the truth, for the love we once shared, for the future that yet may be. When all of this is finished, and the world has changed, I hope that you will understand.
Mithrandir spoke to my father for a long time in his private chambers. I waited in a slant of moonlight painting silver the smooth white stones of the arcade. Waiting is easy for an elf, especially in the presence of beauty, and Rivendell is nothing if not beautiful. There is artistry here beyond the understanding of mortals, for with my own hand I have spent centuries coaxing arabesques of ash and elm, guiding their every shoot and bud in a vision of future perfection. Contemplating the work allows me to pass another hour. Strange, for an immortal I have an unusually precise sense of time. My father has often remarked on it.
Mithrandir stormed from the study, thrusting a wide grey hat atop his head and striking the stones of the path so forcefully with his walking staff that a thin shard popped up from an edge and I caught it in my hand. Despite nearly grazing me as he went by the old wizard gave no heed to me, so focused he was on his own incorrigible dreams. The insult passed, and I knelt to replace the sliver against the offended stone. Old wizard. Why did he choose to appear that way? My father had swum six thousand years into the endless river of life, and he did not look so old.
Humming, I coaxed the stone into welcoming the return of its wayward fragment, and the edge was smooth again.
My father's study was a sanctum of living wicker. Thousands of vines had been woven into walls and windows, desks and shelves for his scrolls, it smelled of resin and spring.
"Were you listening outside the door again?" Elrond said, he was tall even for our race. The blood of Earendil the Mariner, who carried a Silmaril into the sky, was in his veins and mine.
"I am not a child."
"You will always be my child," he gestured that I take a seat and I obliged him. He continued to stand.
"Mithrandir was troubled," I said.
"The world is troubled, or so he believes."
"He is hunting again?"
"Every few hundred years he takes it in mind that the Ring has been found. You need not worry yourself."
"I am not worried. There is no danger to us here."
"Certainly not." My father poured us both a little wine, it was a matter of etiquette. As he did so, I noticed the ring on his own hand, blue steel set with sapphire, with patterns of warp like the eddies in a stream. Something in me responded to it, a Ring of Power, the birthright of our people.
"What if he's right this time?" I asked, the was tasteless on my tongue.
"He isn't, those days are gone." Elrond emptied his own cup and savored it, as if divining the quirks of fate by its flavor. "There will be no final battle, only a slow fading into twilight."
He was holding something back. "There have been stirrings on the winds." I said. "Rivendell may be at peace, but there have been sightings of easterlings in the realms of men, and the sky above Mordor has been quiet for many years."
"And why should quiet disquiet, my star?"
"It is the quiet of a held breath, as if all the darkness in the world is waiting for its moment to scream."
"A grim picture. I have felt these things before, and they came to nothing. Let the darkness wait, like a hound for the master that will never return home from war."
"I feel that it is different now. I feel it when I look upon your ring."
Elrond shook his hand. "There is no shadow upon my finger, daughter. This is not about Mithrandir, it's about the boy.
"Aragorn is not a boy, as you well know."
"He is a child to us. Nothing good can come of you pining for the ranger."
"I am not pining." It was a sharp rebuke, because he knew my heart too well. Aragorn and I had exchanged words of love, but he was a mortal man, and our paths could only rarely intertwine. I did want to go to him, out in the world, and share in his adventures, but that was not our way. And if I stayed with him, among mortals, the cost would be great.
My father regarded me with a too knowing gaze.
"Alright," I said. "I do think of him and it makes me foolish. Why don't you tell me where Mithrandir was headed?"
"So you can chase him?"
"For what? He does not seek after Aragon."
"That is true." Lord Elrond did not visibly relax, but there were signs to his daughter of three thousand years that he was glad the subject had passed. "The Grey Wanderer seeks his doom in the Shire."
"The hobbits? Is Bilbo going to start another war?"
"No, but he found a magic ring half a century ago and Mithrandir has begun to wonder."
My heart gave two sudden beats, and then returned to its usual langour. "A ring?"
"Imagine a hobbit keeping the Ring for decades, never tempted to use it." My father scoffed. "Not only that, but imagine I had not sensed it either, with that very hobbit having once slept under my roof."
My excitement drained away. It was impossible that Bilbo could have kept the Ring for all this time and not been driven mad by it, or else been discovered by agents of the shadow. What was the madness in me that would look for fire on the horizon on a cool spring day? I would put Mithrandir from my mind, I'll fortune always followed in a wizards path. I needed to rededicate myself to the ways of elves, forgetting Aragorn if I could. No doubt he would return to me, small moments in long days, but I had no control over him or his path. The ranger wandered where he would, pretending he was not a king.
Out in into the wood I went on light feet and found my peace.
The famous Bilbo Baggins was a permanent guest in the house of Lord Elrond. The hobbit had grown older under our eaves, an unusual circumstance, as my father's power ensured that little withered in his garden, and even beasts outlived their years. I pitied the hobbit, because he seemed to me a favored pet more than an honored personage. Glorfindel, and my brothers when they were not roving in the north, all but petted him. They listened to his songs and memories, always with smiles, and brought him whatever he asked to make him comfortable. It was hard not to like Bilbo, but his advanced age was nothing to us who had lived ten or twenty of his lifetimes and were still considered young. He was a simple creature, and I had been guilty of treating him simply, when in fact he might carry within him truths that could crack the foundations of Rivendell.
"Arwen, so good to see you again." I found him on a certain balcony he was known to frequent. It was early, and mists still clung to the woods. He'd wrapped himself in blankets against the chill and seemed genuinely pleased at my company.
"Bilbo," I bowed to him, "might I sit with you a while?"
"Of course, of course." He motioned grandly to another chair and immediately embarked upon a tale about the weather and similar mornings he'd known in the Shire spent with friends. Listening to him was like listening to the birds, and I could do that for many hours as a form of meditation. After some time without word from me he fell silent.
"You have something on your mind, my dear?"
"I do." He leaned in with genuine concern when I paused. "I understand it may not be a happy memory, but I wondered if you would tell me again of your ring, the one you found in the dark, and won with your riddles."
"Oh!" His eyebrows raised in surprise. "I thought there was something of great weight over your heart. But I'm always happy to speak of my adventure. I'm writing a book you know, There and Back Again. Have I told you?"
"Are you?" He had. He told everyone. "I would love to read it." This comment was more than enough to set him on his tale.
"I'd been separated from my companions in tunnels filled with orcs. It was terrifying, and I groped blindly down an alley toward the scent of water. That's where I met Gollum, poor creature. He wasn't an orc but he had squatted there for many years, eating raw fish in the dark." Bilbo shuddered. "He and I played a game of riddles, would you like to hear them?"
There was no stopping him then. It was likely he filled in details with his imagination, for hardly could he have been expected to memorize all those riddles while fearing for his life in an orcish den. He claimed the ring had been his prize for victory, a false note, mortals are terrible liars, but that particular was of no interest to me.
"Funny," he said, "Gandalf was asking me about all this not long ago."
"And it turned you invisible?"
He smiled, almost shyly. "I was quite the burglar."
"Such an unusual enchantment, and that was all it did?"
"All? You mean invisibility isn't enough, the skill to move unseen in a dragon's nest of gold?"
"Was there anything strange about your ring, anything that worried you?"
His face closed off as if I had asked him to speak ill of a loved one. "Not strange, no. It was my companion for many years, and I owe it my fortune. Smaug would have snapped me up in a moment if not for that ring."
"And yet you left it behind."
"I didn't need it anymore," he scratched at the hand that had born it. "Frodo will take care of my ring. It will look after him, and he will look after it." There was something furtive in his manner, something secret, something precious, and I had heard enough.
Every elf knew of the rings of power: forged in Eregion by Celebrimbor at the behest of Sauron in the Second Age, who in those days wore the guise of a radiant, generous figure. The rings of men and dwarves had been corrupted, but those belonging to the elves were untainted. When the Dark Lord forged his One Ring our three were hidden away to keep them safe from him. Little was remembered of Sauron's grand artifice, he was its only bearer until he was defeated at the Black Gates and Isildur took the Ring as weregild for the blood spilled there. Isildur fell soon after, and the Ring was lost. Of course, those famous bands were not the only wonders in existence. In his bright guise Sauron had taught elves the art of ring making, and there had been numerous experiments and trials before the great rings were cast. When Bilbo stumbled upon his prize, Mithrandir had naturally assumed it was one of those lesser artifacts which had been scattered across Middle Earth in former days. The Istari had much to occupy their minds, and like those in Rivendell, perhaps he was biased in the matter of hobbits, that whatever they did or dreamed they were still not of significance. The idea that Bilbo could have not only have found but worn the One Ring without harm to himself had not occured to Mithrandir for many years. Now that dark things were stirring in the South he was scrambling for lore to confirm his suspicions.
The ring had extended Bilbo's life, which meant it was a Ring of Power. All the rings had the effect of taking their bearer's outside of normal time. The rings of the elves are all that keep our realms from fading into the transience of the rest of creation. That was why I had to go to the Shire, I had my own uses for such a ring if it was not Sauron's own. And if it did belong to the Dark Lord, then it should never have been left in the Shire at the mercy of hobbits. It belonged in Rivendell.
On the following day, I told my father that I was going to meditate in the forest. Elves have a disturbing inability to register the passage of time, and such meditative pilgrimages are common. They can last hours or decades, and this is part of why our race had proved such a dilatory steward of Middle Earth. Even my father, who is a half-elf, once spent three years sitting in a chair being sad about a small bird he found dead in his study. He said it reminded him of my mother, and a lot of things did not get done in Rivendell. When I said I needed time to think over our last conversation, he took me at my word and agreed he would send for me if I was needed. There was nothing I would be needed for, I knew, and if Aragorn appeared while I was absent, all the better in Elrond's opinion. If he kept us apart for a few more centuries, perhaps I'd find a nice elf male to pair bond with. But I've never cared much for other elves. It would be like loving a statue.
Donning my travelling garb, I bid farewell to the trailing vines outside my window; the sparrows, the squirrels, and my scrolls, before shuttering everything. I packed a sheaf of elf bread, or as we call it, bread, for the journey, and went to collect my horse.
Carfax was grey with black spots like spilled ink over her luxurious coat. She snuffled my hand and licked up the salt I'd brought her. The grooms politely ignored me, I was Arwen Evenstar, daughter of the Lord of Rivendell, Echo of Luthien, and generally regarded as an unpredictable bitch who spent too much time with mortals. Bilbo would have everyone believe that elves are all creatures of song and solemnity, rather as an old hound assumes that all humans are kind and carry treats, but we have our share of undercover theatrics. Elven social dramas simply play out over a time scale that mortals fail to register because they die too quickly to notice we don't all like each other.
Carfax shook her head and snorted, chastising me for my distracted thoughts. Tac and bridle, blanket and bags; we were out of the stables and on the road from Rivendell by early afternoon. It wasn't an auspicious hour to begin a journey, and the grooms would doubtlessly gossip about me after I had gone, but many an elf had delayed a journey until it was too late waiting on all the signs of fortune to align. What Bilbo would never tell anyone about the battle of five armies, because he had no way of knowing, was that the elven force that arrived after his dwarven entourage claimed the fortune of Smaug for themselves had actually set out many years before on an unrelated errand, and they only claimed they were there on a mission to reclaim old jewelry to save face.
I would not make those same mistakes.
I led Carfax on foot for the remainder of the first day, wanting her to become accustomed to the road before she was ridden. There were many days and miles ahead of us, and before long we would fly, but in the beginning I thought it would be better we both had an opportunity to stretch our legs.
Travel became a reverie, one that I was drawn out of when I heard the melancholy strains of elven song from north of the road.
Once the fair folk sang their songs
beneath the boughs of Thanalee
before men came to burn the wood
before their axes cleft the trees
I saw them there, beneath the boughs
beneath the boughs of Thanalee
as starlight quickened in the eaves
beneath a rustling canopy
But should you sojourn there today
beneath the boughs of Thanalee
no more the music of that grove
and all the boughs cry silently
I had never heard this song before, which was impossible, because I had heard all the songs.
"Who is that?" I called.
The voice stopped, and a young elf stepped from a close thicket with a flourish.
"My Lady," he bowed, "I had not meant to disturb you." He was a boy of barely five hundred years.
"I am not disturbed," I said, "but that verse was unfamiliar to me."
He bowed again, but met my eyes. His were as golden as his hair, a gaze like a lion's. "I'm still developing the lyrics," he said. "It's going to be a ballad, but I haven't found it all yet."
No one writes new songs, not unless something new has happened worthy of recording.
"I've never heard of Thanalee."
"That's because it doesn't exist. It is a place I made, though it does bear a resemblance to others that have been before."
"You're writing...unthruths?" I had difficulty searching for the word for what he was describing. It would have been easier in the languages of mortals, who had less exacting standards regarding fidelity to history.
"Fiction," he said, an apology in his tone. "I know it is not common, Lady Evenstar, but please forgive my hobby. I meant no harm. That is why I come here to sing, there are so rarely any of our people travelling this way."
"You know who I am?"
He smiled, shy and faintly glorious. "My Lady, you are the luminous jewel of Rivendell. Yes, I know of you."
"But I don't know you?"
"There is no reason that you should. I'm no one of importance, my Lady."
"I know all the elves of Rivendell."
"I was not born here. My parents were diplomats, and I was born among mortals."
The story came together in my mind. "You are Beren the Abandoned."
Something shifted in his face, the glory fading from it, and I felt ashamed.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"No, Lady Evenstar, that is my name whether or not I am fond of it."
Carfax snorted and tapped a hoof, eager to be on. Beren saw it, and prepared to withdraw, but curiosity got the better of him.
"May I ask where your journey takes you?"
"To the Shire," I said.
His eyebrows raised. "The little folk? What could be of interest there that Bilbo wouldn't share with you here?"
"That is my business," I said, signalling by my tone that the interview was over. The young elf took his leave, and I immediately regretted being curt. Carfax and I went on until we faced the looming fringe of night at the edge of Rivendell and decided to camp. He chomped happily at nearby tufts of grass while I strung my hammock in an oak whose broad and numerous limbs formed a sagging cage above the ground. I wasn't hungry, so I drank a little water and chewed mint that I had collected along the road. As night conquered in full I removed all of my mounts burdens and settled them at the base of the tree, including my bow, which I strung in a smooth motion and fired behind me into the gathering darkness.
Several long moments passed after the thud of a steel spike into wood, and Beren came into the clearing bearing my arrow along with several severed strands of his own hair.
"My lady," he said.
"You've been following me." It wasn't an accusation so much as a statement of fact.
"Apologies are owed," he didn't come close enough to hand me the arrow, but he held it out. "I am guilty of curiosity."
I made no move to retrieve the arrow. "I thought it was clear my business was my own."
"It was not my wish to offend you," he said. "I'm sorry for my forward nature, but I must ask of you a boon."
"That hardly seems appropriate now."
"I wish to accompany you to the Shire. There and back again."
"My father sent you?"
"I am not so honored that Lord Elrond would ask anything of me. But as you know, I am the child of diplomats. I could be useful if you have not spent much time outside of Rivendell."
"You haven't been to the Shire, have you?"
"But still, I know my way around the lesser folk who might be overawed by you."
"Fair words for a sneak."
"I apologize again, my Lady."
I would have sent him away if Carfax had not then decided to take his side. Her grey coat and black spots made her a kind of phantom in the starlight, and she slipped around behind him to give me an eye. It would not be so bad to have a companion, and Beren was clearly impetuous for an elf, a quality I appreciated.
"Fine," I said, "but you are not riding on my horse. You may keep pace on foot or not at all."
Beren smiled, surprisingly bright among the shadows, and set my arrow on the ground between us along with a few golden hairs before vanishing back among the trees.
"This will be trouble," I told Carfax, who had no response.
The following two weeks proved a relaxing bit of travel. It was hard to imagine how anyone could have difficulties crossing such peaceful lands as existed between Rivendell and the Shire. We followed the Great East Road to Weathertop, an abandoned outpost from the elder wars of men, and then through Chetwood, sometimes called the Old Wood, until it broke upon the shores of the Brandywine. It was in that wood that I felt my first unease of the journey.
The wood seemed cramped and rife with more than the usual vermin. There were a great many dead and dying trees under the influence of Black Moss, which was rare so far West. Beren was unconcerned, he had not spent so much time in the perfection of Rivendell as I, but it was more than the changes in flora and fauna that troubled me. This wood was called the Old Wood because of the presence of an ancient benignity known as Tom Bombadil, who lived with his wife in an enchanted cottage that plunged into the earth like the core of the wheel of this region. I had never met Bombadil, but I knew it was strange for an elf to pass through his demesne without hearing his songs echoing among the shafts of morning sunlight. It felt wrong, but as I had never been this way before, and Bombadil was irrelevant to my quest, I pressed on.
The Shire was all rolling farmland and gentle grasses, almost as idyllic in its own fashion as my homeland. We had travelled four hundred miles to reach it, but it did not seem so far. The Shire could have been anywhere in a particular time and place, a quiet shadow of an age that had never been on Middle Earth. Being an elf meant having a sense for these things, the patterns that stood behind the stolid plainness of the mortal realms where we all walked. There were ideas here more solid and unchangeable than simple steel and stone.
"A strange place, isn't it?" Beren said, he seemed fresh despite having had to jog behind a horse a half dozen leagues that morning.
"You sense it too?" I'd dismounted to lead Carfax, and we were standing on the bridge across the Brandywine.
"I'm not sure," Beren said. "This place strikes me as an image from childhood, a place of innocence that does nothing more than serve as a foil for the great darkness coming later in the story."
"Those are bleaker even than my thoughts," I said, though in truth I felt the rough essence of that coming conflict as well. "Do you think that of Rivendell as well?"
Beren's laughter was like a brass horn, pure and strong. "No, my Lady Evenstar. Rivendell is not innocent."
I considered this a while, listening to the sloshing murmur of the Brandywine below us as it carried away time.
"You may call me Arwen." We had traveled together, and it was only right.
It was soon after that we began to see the corpses.
Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.
I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.
While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.
I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.