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The house of Elrond was alight with gaiety and mirth. My father had been vexed by my duplicity in leaving Rivendell to seek the Shire, but so relieved was he by the result that his remonstrances fell away. Besides, his eyes were attuned to the veils of spirit, and he could see how I had suffered for my temerity. I spent several days recovering in my private rooms, taking no part in the festivities. The elves of Rivendell treated the hobbits like objects of celebration in themselves, mascots of a sort, little miracles. Though Elrond made certain that the Ring remained unspoken of, the tale of our flight from the Ring Wraiths was already being versified. Bilbo was foremost among the would-be poets, and he disturbed me in my convalescence on numerous occasions to elicit the story from my perspective. He had grown older, or seemed to, in the few weeks since my departure, and his gratitude at what I had done for Frodo was matched only by his sorrow at hearing what had been done to the Shire.

"All of them?" he asked. "Truly?"

"I have no idea," I said. "When we first arrived, all I sensed was death and poison, but we did not visit every corner and cottage. It is possible the Witch King only slew those he happened to come upon. The wraiths I fought numbered in the dozens, not the hundreds."

"There is hope then." Bilbo gripped one of my hands with both of his. The skin slid over his flesh like a paper covering.

"If he only wounded some," I said, "they would take days to die from corruption, not rising on that first night. Those lesser wraiths would haunt the Shire and whoever remained in it. Especially now, if there is no master to call them away."

The prospect of more wraiths loose in the already weakened Shire was too much for Bilbo, and he left me. I felt pity for him, but little more than that. Hobbits are barely longer lived than humans, and their passing is like the passing of autumn leaves. Without the Ring to extend his life, Bilbo didn't seem long for this world. I chided myself for these callous thoughts, but without feeling.

One of the Nine Rings of Men was in my possession. It fit neatly over the pommel of the broken wraith blade.

Upon my arrival, Elrond and others had insisted on examining the Nazgul weapon, but in the eyes of the Wise it had lost all power and therefore interest. The blade itself had rotted away to nothing so it could never be reforged, and the engravings on the hilt had lost all meaning. With the ring attached, I kept them hidden, and only examined them at night by means of reflected starlight. Not even my father knew that I had kept the ring, nor would he. It had not the weight or the domineering presence of the One, but the more I looked upon it the more I looked with admiration. It had been crafted by the hands of elves, by Celebrimor as well as lesser artisans, and yes, Annatar who was Sauron in disguise. The One Ring was alone in being unadorned, for the rings of Elves had been fashioned with Ruby, Sapphire, and Adamant. The dwarves’ were decorated after the tastes of their kind, with gaudy and glittering stones. The Rings of men had each been set with an opal, as opals are said to magnify that which is ethereal in the bearer, and mortals could not normally accept the power Sauron offered them without acclimation, or the curse of immortality as a shade.

Elves are already immortal and had no need of such an enchantment. But could our souls be made the brighter? What about one such as myself, whose soul was scarred. Would wearing one of the Nine make me whole again?

I did not place it upon my finger. In any case, the lore was clear that to do so would be to invite the will of Sauron into my very being. But neither could I rid myself of the artifact, or bring myself to speak of it to Elrond. Instead I kept it wrapped with the hilt in decorative strips of silk, and wore it under my sleeve like a charm. I couldn't leave it in my room. What if someone searched there, or the hobbits grew curious and took to snooping? I could not allow the chance. Better to keep it with me always.

Beren was becoming quite the popular figure in the court of Elrond. He had fought bravely against the Ring Wraiths, and I would not have survived the journey without him. I made sure that his role was well understood, for he did not advertise it himself, and doing so took some of the focus from me. In the mornings he would visit and talk of his travels, and I shared with him some of the scrolls and lore which I had found most engaging in my youth. His education was lacking due to his wandering upbringing, but I enjoyed sharing what I knew with him.

Near the end of the third day, Mithrandir arrived. A bluster of grey cloaks and bushy white hair, his staff rang against the flagstones as he approached my chambers, and I arranged my gown and my hair to be more presentable. I hadn't given much thought to that sort of thing since my return.

"Arwen, dear one," the wizard said, "what has happened to you?"

"You look fine as well."

"Don't mistake me, Evening Star. I am concerned for you. I see the hand of the Enemy upon you."

Instinctively, I touched the mark on my shoulder, invisible beneath my gown. It had pained me almost constantly since destroying the Witch King, and I half suspected it would pain me for the rest of my life.

 

"It will fade," I insisted.

"That is not what I mean." Not wishing to loom over me, Mithrandir sat heavily upon a wicker stool beside my bed. "The ways of the Enemy are many and multifarious," he said, "and I see that you have trod them."

I said nothing, but he read the answer in my face.

"You held it, and more than that, you wore the Ring. And yet you do not wear it still. None who have worn it have given it up before you."

"What of Bilbo?"

"What?" Mithrandir chuckled. "Yes, there was Bilbo. Hobbits are a special case. The Ring calls to us in measures equal to our greatness, and so for hobbits it is a murmur, nothing more. Their greatness lies in their littleness, if you can understand. For they are great, but not in the manner of those who sit on the Councils of the Wise. That is why Bilbo could keep the Ring for fifty years with so little harm to himself, though he was harmed, of course. Had he been a man, he would have worn it openly before their return from Erebor and been consumed by it, perhaps declaring himself King Under the Mountain or some such. In that case, the dwarves too would have fought over it, brother killing brother, till none remained but one and blood stained all the gold in that old fastness. The Battle of Five Armies would have taken a different turn. The Ring might have travelled from hand to hand until it found a bearer suitable to its purposes. Even I am not immune. But the Ring did not behave like the Ring, so I did not suspect it of being what it was. I did not understand the souls of hobbits as readily as I do now. And all that is why your case seems so impossible."

In this long speech I heard the chimes of truth, but also ignorance. Mithrandir had never born the Ring, and in its history there had only been two bearers worthy of the name. Sauron, who created it, and Isildur, who lost it. That was hardly evidence enough for these predictions. Then there was Gollum, who had been corrupted by it but done nothing but eat fish in a dank pit for five hundred years, and then Bilbo. It struck me as a mistake to assume we could know how the Ring would affect anyone.

"I think it is stranger than you suppose," I said.

Gandalf produced a pipe, lit its contents with a spark from his hands, and then drank deeply of the smoke. "How do you mean?"

"The Ring first touched my mind with violence, and I lost myself in an endless moment. But when I put it on my finger it came to me as a friend, and I healed Bilbo. It showed me bright visions of the world, but not with malice. Both times, Beren was able to break its grip on me."

"Then Beren is a true friend, and I suggest you keep him close."

"He is. But what I mean of strangeness is that the Ring has its own mind, and you cannot act as an oracle for its designs."

Mithrandir regarded me from beneath heavy brows. There was a sadness there that I had never seen before.

"I think I can," he said, sipping at the pipe, "in broad strokes at least."

"Where did you go after you left here?" I asked. "Why not directly to the Shire?"

"I wanted to confer with another of my order. The Ring had sat unmolested for fifty years among the little folk, and I thought it could rest a space longer. There are some secrets that by the very act of acting on them, we make them more likely to be discovered. I I did not want the Enemy to suspect what I suspected. It proved foolish, for the one I visited had already gone to his doom, and you chose rightly in seeking the Ring yourself, though in haste. It would be lost now except for you."

I nodded my acknowledgement, but was not interested in praise. "Whom did you visit?"

"Saruman," the old man cast his gaze to the floor. "So long I've spent among dusty tomes, or upon the dusty road, I could not see, or else believe, the change that had come upon the foremost member of my order. He took me in as a companion, but even then I knew he was transformed. No longer a coat of white upon his shoulders, but many colors, as if he would rule them all. In the land of Isingard there were men and dwarves of a benighted character, engaged in hidden works. But I passed them without thought on my way to Orthanc."

"He told me that he no longer saw matters as we had in the old days, or willed that we would work from the offices of kings as advisors any longer. Something small in him has always desired a kingdom, and he has it in Isingard, for there were none to gainsay him in this late age. He offered me a place at his side, not an advisor but a general of sorts, so together we might usher in a new and brighter era." Mithrandir met my eyes again.

"Such folly can he found even among the Wise, and you should not forget it, daughter of Elrond."

"What happened next?"

"I refused him, and he took me captive on the roof of his tower along with one other."

"Goldberry." The name, which had been so conspicuously absent in the home of Tom Bombadil, leapt from my tongue.

"Yes," Mithrandir nodded. "She was bound there by chains of iron frozen by the wind. He had sought to master her, and in some ways was successful, for though she was not his willing servant, she served his purposes unwilling."

"Why did he take her? And how? Isn't Bombadil the master of his home?"

"Saruman has learned much in the quiet years since the banishing of the Necromancer from Mirkwood. It is my belief that our conflict there tipped the balance of his heart. I do not know, except that he has learned something of corruption from the ways of Mordor, and the mists of madness and ignorance that Sauron uses to ensnare weak minds. Sarumon took Goldberry because he wants her for his queen, and he covets her birthright, which is the water itself. It would give him legitimacy of a sort, to have her as a bride and declare himself a king. There are those who would choose to see him as a force for good, merely by his association with her. But Goldberry has not given in to his desires yet, and it was Goldberry who helped me escape Orthanc, which was warded against the use of my powers."

"What did she do?"

"She sang." A hint of wistful mirth travelled over his craggy features at the memory, like the sun flying before a cloud. "In the manner of her people she called to the small creatures of the air who in turn got word to the eagles, my friends of old, and they saved me." He gripped his staff, his hands as gnarled and grey as the wood pipe he emptied and put away. "I could not free her, for the strength of Saruman was in her chains and had I tarried I would have been lost."

"I am going to free her," I said.

"Perhaps you shall. I mean to warn you though, you must not take up the Ring again for any circumstance. It is too dangerous by far. It would be better not to travel with Frodo again.

"Travel? Where is he going?"

"We are calling a council of the Wise, though in truth it will not look much like the councils of old, to decide what is to be done with the Ring. The forces of the Enemy are in motion, and his Eye is ever searching. You will sit with the council, to give your accounting, and then we will decide."

"It will be my honor," I said. My father had always kept me somewhat apart from the doings of court, but in this I had irreparably inserted myself.

The council would not be convened for many days yet, as others had to arrive from farther climes. Thranduil was sending his son, Legolas, and others would come to represent the dwarves and human kingdoms. Of these, one made poor the others in importance.

Aragorn met me in a glen beyond the Homely House of my father, a place he knew that I would be. Birds called to each other in the branches above, but grew silent at his approach. Light fell down between us in a golden pool.

"I've been away to long," he said.

"Only a short time," I replied. It was at once truth and utter fantasy. For what were months or even years among immortal beings? And what were hours but torture when one has been parted from their beloved?

He looked worn, more worn than usual, for he had always been well travelled. Not one for the halls of princes and queens was Aragorn son of Arathorn, rather the rugged mountain path and densest wood beset by spiders. Nobility, though, bloomed along the harsh lines of his cheek and over his brow where a crown belonged.

"They tell me you have had some troubles." There was hesitance in his steps, so I moved forward to take his hands in mine.

"The world is full of troubles," I said.

We spent the afternoon among the trees discussing how it had been for both of us. My journey had been more traumatic, and his more winding but no less perilous. Mithrandir had set him on an errand some months past, looking for the previous bearer of the Ring, a creature known as Gollum or Smeagol. It was not the first time that I had heard that name since returning to Rivendell. Bilbo had spoken often of his riddles in the dark and the "winning" of the Ring as he would have it recalled.

After Bilbo left him behind, Gollum had abandoned his murky home to hunt for his "precious." Mithrandir had come to worry that the wretch, if indeed his ring had been the Ring, would be a link for the Dark Lord to find it again. As it happened, he had been captured and taken to Minis Morgul, or gone there willingly, it was not clear. Though it was impossible to say exactly what had transpired behind the iron curtain of the Morgul, Gollum was likely tortured and whatever he knew of Bilbo and the Ring extracted. That may have been why the Witch King went to the Shire himself, so he could discover the truth of the matter and own all glory should he succeed.

Afterward, Gollum had been released, we knew not why, and Aragorn had caught him at last. He took him to the realm of the Wood Elves and left him their prisoner. No one could bring themselves to end the life of that miserable creature, as his crimes were largely in the past.

Then we spoke of lesser matters, things that were of no moment, or only valuable when shared between ourselves, and spent a while on the mossy bed beneath an obliging elm. The hand upon my shoulder pained me little, and our time was a reverie that ended when he felt the object hidden beneath my sleeve.

"It is a trinket," I said, controlling my breathing. "Something to comfort me."

"You have never worn it before," he said. Not suspicious, he had no reason to be suspicious, Aragorn nevertheless had a sense that something was amiss. If I could not trust him, how could I trust anyone?

"Not here." There were spies among the trees, more than there had ever been, for my father trusted me less since my return. We absconded to a grotto hidden behind a fall of water, moving quickly enough to discourage pursuit. Aragorn asked no questions. His faith was in me, and he perceived the seriousness of our errand.

 

There was only a little space between us in the damp and the dim of a cave, and in it I produced the Nazgul hilt.

A sharp intake of breath. "What are you showing me?"

"This is what remains of the Witch King's blade." I turned it so he could see the ring set with an opal that I had secured around the pommel. "And this is how I know he will not return."

Aragorn held very still, his hands at his sides. "Does Elrond know of this?"

"He does not. Nor will he. Nor will you tell him."

"Why?"

"Because that is what I ask of you."

Principles warred across his noble features, but I knew from the beginning what would win out.

"For my love of you," he said, "I will do nothing. But I beg that you tell your father yourself. This is an evil relic, and I don't understand why you have kept it secret."

"Because it is mine," I said, too harshly, "because I won it and it cost me dearly."

"I know that it did, and it pains me to think on that cost." His face was angled down, so his dark hair partially covered it. "Still, I think that to keep this thing will only deepen your wounds, or else not allow them to heal."

"There is another reason I wanted to keep it." In saying this, I could no longer look at him, for I knew the danger of what I had imagined. "This is a Ring of Power, and all the rings have the quality of taking their bearer somewhat apart from time. How often have we debated my own immortality? What if we did not have to choose, and instead of Arwen becoming mortal you became like an Elf?"

I felt the warmth of his hand upon my cheek. "That ring would not make of me an Elf, but a wraith," Aragorn said.

"Not while Sauron is blind. As long as he does not possess the One, his power over the others is diluted. He controls the Nine out of long habit. Millennia of servitude means those old kings have no power to resist him. You are Dunedain, descendant of Numenor; Isildur and Elendil. You have a heart that is pure and a spirit unbroken. You would not even need to wear it, but bear it as I have done, and I believe it would still bend the weft of time for you, as the One did for Bilbo and Gollum before you."

Aragorn shook his head, and pressed the hilt back toward my body. "That is not something I can do. For it would tempt me, though it is not the Great Ring, it would tempt me in my hour of need. Or I would grow comfortable having it as a companion, and one day need no temptation, fearing the curse no longer. I will not betray your confidence, but nor will I do as you ask."

"Not even for the love of me?" I regretted the words as soon as I spoke them, for they were petty and cruel, but true to what I felt. Why was it the Elf who must make a choice for love? Why must we shed our brightest selves, asking nothing of our mortal partner?

His face closed off. "You know I will not ask you to live as I do, in a whirl of years that end too soon. My race is long lived among men, and we can share that time. I do not ask for more."

But I would ask. I was asking, and it shamed me. I replaced the hilt in the wrap on my arm and he wrapped me in his. So warm, his body surrounded mine. His smell was not like that of elves, for it was heavier, but not unpleasant. It reminded me of soil and salt.

"Forgive me," I said, still hoping that he might change. Not now, but maybe in a century, when he began to wear the years more honestly. After the One was disposed of in some way that would make it safe, and the Ring Wraiths were shut up in Minis Morgul once again. Then his mind might be changed. For all my headstrong impulses, I was still an Elf and I could think this way, putting aside my worries for the future.

We spent more time hidden together, no doubt to the consternation of my father's watchers, and soon after returned to the proper grounds of Rivendell. Aragorn had arrived a week after Beren and I brought the hobbits, and it was several more weeks before the Wise were assembled for Council. Those weeks were precious to me, for Aragorn had no ranging or hunting to do and could largely spend them at my side. He did not sing, but I found myself sometimes moved to song, as was common among our folk but rare for me. I put the rings out of my mind and spoke with the hobbits and the Wood Elves and my father of the coming days. There was much talk of the movements of the Enemy in the remote corners of Middle Earth, but most of the details were reserved for Council.

I saw Beren daily on some excuse or another. He held himself apart. This might have been due to the end of our adventure, the touch of Khamul and my attack on the Witch King. He had spent seven days under the care of our healers and there was a clean scar beneath his left eye and across his cheek. The eye itself had gone blind, and nothing could be done for it. This injury had not stopped his smiles or his laughter, and he covered the eye and the scar with a simple felt patch. Most of his time he spent with Bilbo and Frodo and Sam, being that he had no true family at Rivendell and he carried a grudge against the Wood Elves.

He watched me with Aragorn, and I pondered over what he thought of my entanglement with a Mortal. Beren had said that there were songs about us, and I wondered if he was the one who had written them.

After a month at Rivendell, the Council was convened.

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About the author

WilliamMyrl

Bio: 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.

Eat Fresh.

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