Madness


© 2001 Edwin A. Scribner. "Morgoth made me do it."

A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Silviren penna miriel
O menel aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-diriel
O galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
Nef aear, si nef aearon!
        - Eldarin Hymn to Varda

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.
        - Tennyson

I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.
        - Sam Gamgee at Cerin Amroth

*     *     *

The following document was sourced from the official records of the Reunited Kingdom, and was compiled by the King's Scribe, Findegil, about  year 172 of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.

Elessar died on 1 March of the year 120 of the fourth age of Middle-earth, when his only son, Eldarion, was 25 years old. At this time the Reunited Kingdom was politically quite stable, but it was undergoing considerable expansion to the east and south, as various fiefdoms asked to be joined with it. Administration had become a matter of some complexity, and it required all the young King's time and skills. As a result, other matters that did not need urgent attention were left unattended. After about fifteen years had passed, however, the expansion process had almost stopped and matters of state were becoming much more manageable. At last, Eldarion had time to turn his attention to some important issues of past history.

*     *     *

Introduction

Eldarion Telcontar, second Ruler of the Reunited Kingdom, paced anxiously around the Great Hall in the Citadel of Minas Tirith. He was awaiting his scribe, Darvegil, who had been commanded to retrieve several manuscripts from the collection of official records. The scribe was taking rather longer than expected.

The Great Hall had been magnificently refurbished and re-appointed during the early years of the reign of Elessar, and its upkeep had not been neglected since. The walls were hung with rich tapestries, exquisite sculptures and beautiful oil and water colour paintings that depicted important people and events in the history of both the Numenorian Kingdoms. In pride of place on the West wall was a large section devoted to the War of the Ring. Central to this section was a huge portrait showing all nine of the Company of the Ring. Thither now Eldarion's eyes roamed restlessly, while his mind was on other matters.

The scene depicted was just outside the city, and the company, as shown, was never actually all present there, but Boromir had been painted in, using his appearance in other paintings and drawings of the time. On the right hand end was the wizard known as Mithrandir or Gandalf. Next to him were the four hobbits: Frodo the Ringbearer, Samwise his servant, then Meriadoc and Peregrin whose bodies now lay in state in Rath Dinen, along with those of Elessar and other rulers of the past. Next came Elessar himself, then the elf Legolas and the dwarf Gimli. On the extreme left was Boromir, the battle horn of the Steward Kings' heritage slung across his shoulders.

Eldarion had, of course, often thought about this part of history, and he regarded it as an important attribute of his kingship to know as much as possible of the events that took place, then and since then. This was part of the reason for his current request that was being fulfilled by the scribe. There were several documents, peripheral to the history of the Reunited Kingdom, which involved persons who had been important in the War. Traditions had sprung up around them, but there were records that, to some extent at least, contradicted these traditions. He needed to know about them, particularly those that concerned his mother, Arwen.

Eldarion was, as his father had been, a "worker King", one who personally handled a lot of matters that had been traditionally delegated to advisors and other court minions. His throne remained where the ancient throne of the Southern Kingdom had always been, but it was used only for ceremonial occasions. At the base of the steps leading to the throne was a large table surrounded by comfortable seats. The seat at the head of the table was used by Eldarion as his own working area, for reading and writing and also for chairing meetings. Pens and paper were placed nearby, and the area was kept tidy and functional by court staff who were responsible for storage of all records.

Outside the citadel, a bell announced the twelfth hour, at which time Eldarion was wont to take lunch with anyone whose counsel he might need, or occasionally just as a friendly gesture to loyal servants. Lunches with the King were, as they had been with Elessar, highly informal occasions where even the lowliest of the realm might be put at ease. The Kingdom was run along the lines of mutual trust and cooperation wherever possible. At this time, however, Eldarion did not feel hungry and he waved his servant away.

"I'll ring the bell when I want you, Carmor. However, you could perhaps look in on the records room and see what's delaying Darvegil."

"Certainly sir," the servant responded and departed. "Sir" was the usual form of address used for the King, "your majesty" being reserved for formal occasions or when diplomacy demanded it. While authority sat well on his shoulders, Eldarion was not one for undue pomp.

A considerable time elapsed before Carmor reappeared.

"What news, Carmor?"

"Darvegil sends his apologies, sir. Apparently the records have been accessed by unauthorised persons, or so he thinks, and they are in disarray."

The records were properly the precinct of the scribe only, but others were sent there from time to time to retrieve documents, and some of the court advisors had been known to be less than punctilious about returning them to their proper places.

Eldarion grinned. "That probably means that several are slightly out of the places which he ordained. Still I'd rather have a perfectionist than a slob in that position. I suppose we'll have to reinstate the 'scribe only' rule rigorously again," he sighed.

"That was indeed what he requested."

"Well tell him I'll do that. He can enforce it and use my authority where necessary to do so. However, please also tell him that I do have other duties and I really need those records as soon as possible."

"Very good sir," replied the minion and departed again.

It was still about half an hour before the rather flustered Darvegil made his appearance, carrying a sheaf of folded pages.

"Sorry sir. That place was really a mess. I needed to reorganise some of the records immediately or they would have been impossible to find later. I got your message re denying access to others. Thank you. That will make future recovery much faster."

"Any idea which of my trusted advisors has been rummaging around in there?"

"Any one of about six. None of them respect the catalogue system, and all of them are always in a hurry."

"They need to learn to slow down a bit. I, however, do on occasions need access at maximum speed. You may tell all my advisors to see me if they want to get something urgently. If it's really that important I'll see to it that you get it as a matter of priority. Now, you have the document from the Fairbairns, the report on the search for my mother and the account of the departure of Legolas and Gimli?"

"All three sir."

"Thank you, Darvegil. That will be all. You may return to your transcribing."

Darvegil went off to his own well lit and comfortable quarters where he was in the process of making a fair copy of the Red Book with all its addenda from the Thain's copy which Peregrin had given Elessar. Eldarion seated himself comfortably and proceeded to read from the first of the three manuscripts.

*     *     *

1. Sam Gamgee

...the tradition is handed down from Elanor that Samwise passed the Towers and went to the Grey Havens, and passed over sea, last of the Ring-bearers.

- from "The Tale of Years", the Red Book of Westmarch.

*     *     *

The following document is an account, written by Elfstan Fairbairn, some time after SR 1482, concerning Samwise Gamgee. It was marked "For the King's Eyes Only" and was sealed in an envelope with the Seal of the Fairbairns.

(The seal had been broken, under Eldarion's scrutiny, several years previously but no one had yet read the document)

Sam Gamgee was elected Mayor of the Shire for the seventh time in  SR1469, there being as usual no other candidates for the position. However, even then some hobbits accepted this appointment with misgivings as Sam had already begun to exhibit those eccentricities known among hobbits as "wandering madness". He had begun taking long walks alone and returning late at night, a habit that caused Rose considerable anxiety on occasions. He had also been heard talking to himself, and the things he said were nonsense but of a dark and fearful nature. As the years wore on these habits increased. By the end of his term as Mayor, there was enough dissent that, had he nominated yet again, he may well have been asked to withdraw. As it transpired, he did not.

The death of Rose, on Mid-years Day 1482, became almost at once the focus of ugly rumours. The facts are, as far as I can tell, that she died of heart failure or something similar, and her death was quite natural. The main cause of concern was that Sam appeared to be very little affected. His children, naturally quite saddened at their mother's death, were distressed at their father's apparent indifference. By now, though, Sam had been displaying an indifference to almost everything. He could still be induced to partake of a pint at a local inn, but he never wanted to engage in the usual jovial banter, and the beer tended to enhance his already remote and antisocial moods. Soon people began neglecting to ask him and he for his part failed to turn up without being asked as he had been wont to do for most of his life. After Rose's death he became a virtual recluse and even his children could not bring him out of it.

As chronicled in the "Tale of Years", Sam saddled his pony, a descendant of the famous "Bill" and much beloved of him, and rode out of Bag End with a few personal possessions and the original "Red Book". He arrived at the Tower Hills and gave the book to my mother for safe keeping (it has been kept there ever since), but would not stay, mumbling about the sea and the West. We were concerned for his welfare and my mother attempted to talk him into staying with us for a while, but he would have none of it. When it became clear that we would need to use physical force in order to restrain him we let him go, but my father at once went around the neighbourhood with a view to assembling a party of riders to follow him at a respectable distance and, if necessary, rescue him.

We gave him an hour's start and  then six of us set out after him. His tracks were easy to follow as the road west was seldom used these days. The elves had all long ago left the Grey Havens and either sailed into the West or else faded into the woodlands (we never found out what became of elves who did not travel West over sea, but they all disappeared*). We moved along slowly, attempting to keep up with him but not to come within his sight. Fortunately the weather was kind to us and the ride would have been pleasant had it not been for our anxiety over Sam.

For two days we rode thus. Late on the second day we reached the outskirts of the Havens. Unlike the tree houses of Lorien and the large halls of Rivendell (much of which I'd heard of in tales from Sam, though I'd naturally never seen them) the elves of the Havens had built modest dwellings of wood and stone. Many of these were scattered, apparently randomly, over a wide area. We were now very much on the lookout as we did not wish to suddenly confront Sam. Still his pony's tracks went westward towards the quays in the Gulf of Lhun, whence the elven ships once set sail along the "Straight Path" to Valinor.

We arrived within sight of the water where the tracks showed that the pony had stopped, and then started again. There was a small area where a confused jumble of hoof-prints appeared to indicate that it had moved erratically before starting off with a purposed tread. Across the road from this point was a large wooden building that looked as if it had been a warehouse. We looked to the left, however, and could see in the distance the pony walking slowly, completely unburdened and unharnessed, towards a patch of long grass just beyond the buildings.

Then we heard a sound coming from the nearest building. A strange, high-pitched keening sound which may or may not have been a human voice or may not have been. I listened for a while. I would never have recognised it but for the fact that Sam had occasionally sung to us, and this was one of the songs - except that now it was flat and quavering and had a horribly demented quality about it. It was, he said, a hymn to Elbereth, the Valie of the Stars. There could be little doubt that the singer was Sam.

Bidding the others wait here, my father beckoned me forward with him to the place where once a door to the building had presumably been, but it had long since been torn from its hinges by marauding intruders or the forces of nature. We looked into a dim, dusty floored but completely empty space, where once produce was probably stacked for collection and transport. In the middle of the floor stood Sam, a backpack beside him, and he continued to sing in that peculiar demented way, oblivious of our presence.

He appeared to be staring at some distant object, though he was actually facing a blank wall, and he had a grotesque fixity of gaze that was disconcerting.

"What do we do?" I asked my father.

"We can't just leave him like this. We'll have to try to talk some sense into him, though from the way he's behaving I don't like our chances."

I thought it best to let my father make at least the first attempt.

"Sam!" he said gently. Sam gave no indication that he'd heard.

"Sam!!" This time it was louder and more urgent in tone.

Sam stopped his demented singing and slowly turned his head. He looked momentarily at us then turned away again, as if reality was not to be faced.

"They are coming for me." He said in a high quavering voice.

"Who is coming for you, Sam?"

"The elves. They will take me to Valinor. I will be with Frodo."

The word "Frodo" trailed off. He seemed to be far away from us again. Presently he commenced his high pitched singing. The words were barely to be distinguished but for one who had heard him on many a merry night they were clear enough, and also a heart wrenching sound, coming from a once brave and resourceful hobbit, now in the dark depths of dementia. I looked at my father, questioning but also pleading. My father, however, had no answer. I think we both knew that Sam was beyond any help we could bring to bear. However we couldn't just leave him here.

"Wait here, son. I'll get the others. We must stay with him until he sees sense or we come up with some means of controlling him."

I had little fear that Sam would go anywhere now if he was awaiting the return of the elves. However I watched carefully and said nothing as the strange wandering song continued. Every now and then I caught an elven word but for the most part a tuneless tune was all I heard. Soon my father returned with the others. Sam took scant notice but went on staring at the wall and keening. We all settled down as comfortably as the hard floor and dust would allow and awaited developments.

The sun set and the air became noticeably cooler, although not yet uncomfortably cold. We had brought jackets and stuffed the pockets with biscuits, and we each had a water bottle, so we would at least not go hungry or thirsty soon, but the waiting was interminable. Gradually the dusk turned to twilight, and the twilight to night. Sam finally gave up his song and sat down beside his backpack. We thought he probably had food and a protective jacket in the pack, but he made no move to get anything out.

"I think we need to take watches," my father said. "Sam might be waiting here for the elves but I wouldn't count on his not wandering away, the state that he's in."

"I agree," I said. "Do you want to allocate watches?"

"Might be a good idea. Who's tired?"

No one gave a sign, so he said, "I'll take the first watch then. When I'm tired I'll wake someone who's asleep and they can take over. They can do the same when they're tired. If you think that's fair enough."

There was no dissention so he made himself as comfortable as possible in a sitting position while the rest of us tried as best we could to stretch out and go to sleep. Sam was now making no noise at all, and pretty soon it was too dark to see him. Obviously we would need to be very quiet as the only evidence of his going would be sound.

Night sounds could be heard from outside: crickets, rustling of trees and grass in the wind, occasional restless stamping from the ponies who were tethered on long leads to allow them access to feed. However, the continued absence of any activity had a gradually soporific effect and soon heavy breathing announced that some at least of the company had fallen asleep. The silhouette of my father sitting was blurred but just discernible before I too succumbed to sleep.

I awoke suddenly. Someone had shouted something but I didn't catch what it was. More than one of the company was up and running to the door. I shouted "Father!" but got no answer, from which I gathered that the runners included him. I too got to my feet and pursued them. All of us ran outside, from which I presumed that Sam had left and probably left before arousing anyone's attention. Hobbits can be very quiet at need, and it seemed that Sam, despite his apparent dementia, had succeeded in getting some distance before his movement had been realised.

My father had apparently been first. Out here under the starlit sky I could see him, pointing to the quay and shouting "He's over there!" We ran after him.

The quays had been built for large ships and they protruded like several fingers into the waters of the gulf. Sam could now be seen, heading towards one of them. He reached the wharf well ahead of my father but kept going out towards the end.

"The ship! The ship!" shouted Sam. "The ship has come for me!"

There was, of course, no ship there. Nevertheless, Sam ran to the end of the wharf. He paused a moment. My father ran as fast as he could but it was no use. Sam stepped forward off the wooden planks and disappeared into the cold dark water. It took us but a few seconds to run to the end of the wharf, but that was quite long enough for Sam to disappear from sight. It was a dark night with no moon and even the stars were partly obscured by thin clouds hurrying across the sky.

My father clenched his hands and uttered a muffled curse.

"Anyone know how to swim?" he asked uselessly. Hobbits never go willingly near water, certainly never learn to swim except at great need, and in any case they sink, a strange and little known attribute that works very much against their survival if one is thrown into deep water at any time.

Clearly, to rescue Sam not only would one need to swim, one would need to dive down to him  (and that may be quite deep), fix a rope around him and get the rope to the top again. Then he would have to be hauled up. We didn't even have any rope handy and the task would probably be beyond most hobbits even in broad daylight. In this uncertain light it appeared to be out of the question. How long would he live anyway? Probably not more than a minute or two. He would be close to death already. No, let's face it, we couldn't save him.

Anger at impotence in my father soon gave way to self recrimination. He sat on the end of the wharf with his head in his hands and cried shamelessly. I tried to comfort him, but I was obviously not going to succeed and so was forced to consider the bleak situation alone. Who would tell Elanor? How would she react? I was sure that his companions would support my father's story and would all agree that he was unable to save Sam, but Sam had been Elanor's father and she may see it differently. She may have thought that Sam perished needlessly through the negligence of my father and myself among others.

The fact remained that, as far as I was aware, none of us had thought that Sam might step off the wharf at night. It's easy to be wise after the event. Of course, all the ships that took the "Straight Path" to Valinor departed at night (the reason wasn't altogether clear but the fact was known). Sam probably knew that; he'd seen Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and the elves off from here once. He was suffering from delusions. He expected an elven ship to come for him. Damn! Why weren't we more vigilant? Nevertheless, Sam had been very quiet and that seemed to imply a certain cunning behind the dementia. What was he thinking? Did he really have delusions about a ship, and did he think we might try to get aboard it, so ruining his chance of reaching the undying West? Or was his whole plan a carefully contrived plot to drown himself. Had we not pursued him there would have been at least circumstantial evidence that he had taken ship for the West.

We eventually became composed enough to discuss these points, especially the last. The reasoning was this. There was no need to besmirch the wonderful public image of Samwise Gamgee, gardener, hero and statesman, by a tale that he died in ignominy and dementia by stepping off a wharf and drowning. The world could be told that, at the last, a ship did come to the Havens for him and he then proceeded to a final reward of who knows how long a life in the home of the gods. The last of the Ring-bearers. Yes, that was it, and the secret need go no further than this little group.

Why did I let it go further? That's not an easy question to answer. For a start it's hard to keep a secret of that sort. Secondly, I suppose that I felt a moral obligation to tell the Ruler of the New Reunited Kingdom, since he is in charge of that which Sam's heroism and self-sacrificing devotion helped bring to pass. He will, if anyone, hold the memory of Samwise Gamgee sacred and will not reveal to the masses that which the masses may misconstrue. I must also say that these matters, firstly of documentation and then of passing the document to the King, were discussed by all who were privy to the secret.

Elanor was naturally very upset at first, but we told her the whole truth in hope that she would understand our role, and particularly our helplessness, in the situation we found ourselves in. Soon she came to see our viewpoints and she supported the dissemination of a tale of taking ship into the West. No one else ever found out. As far as we are aware the secret resides with just seven hobbits plus the King and those whom he chooses to take into his confidence.

*     *     *

Eldarion sighed and put the manuscript down. He had already been taught to regard suspiciously the words "legend" and "tradition". This was indeed just the kind of alteration that tended to happen, and by inference it brought the veracity of many other legends into question. How many were there? More importantly, what inferences followed from the discounting of  certain legends? Well, this was his business. He didn't want to be in the thrall of elderly sages with their hands in the royal coffers. In policy decisions at the highest level, he wanted to be at least as well informed as, and preferably better informed than, his advisors.

He would need to meet Efstan Fairbairn in the near future if that were possible. Perhaps he should plan a trip to the Shire soon. It could be politic for other reasons anyway. He made a mental note to discuss that matter with those who were responsible for royal tours.

Then he rang his bell to summon Carmor.

The servant delivered the small amount of food and water requested by the King, and then left to give the entrusted message to Darvegil. The scribe was quick to leave his fair copying and report to the King.

"I'd like to know where and how this document was kept. I want to be sure than no one has read it."

"After you broke the seal on the envelope, I put it in a strongbox, sealed with the King's Seal. As you know, no one but the King and the royal scribe has access to that seal. I broke the seal on the box just before bringing the document to you."

"Thank you, Darvegil. Please return it to the box and re-seal it. The 'King's eyes only' restriction still applies."

"Very good, sir."

"Now, are you aware of any other documents from the Shire, besides those in the Red Book?"

"None at all, sir. That was the only one."

"Good. You may continue your copying. However, I'd like to tighten up security on the Red Book too, until I've had a chance to go through the addenda more closely. Do you currently lock it away at the end of each day's copying?"

"No sir, but the room is locked and only the City Guard have copies of the key."

"I'd like you to keep the original and the copy in a locked fireproof metal box. I guess the Guard should have a key to that as well, but I want to know if it's ever touched by anyone but you."

"Of course, sir."

The scribe left, and Eldarion picked up the second document he'd had retrieved from the records.

*     *     *

2. Arwen

... Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Then she said farewell to Eldarion, and to her daughters, and to all whom she had loved; and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lorien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent.

There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave until the world is changed...

- from "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"

*     *     *

The following document was a report written by Dolren, a lieutenant of the King's special assignment troops, following their tracking of Arwen to Lothlorien and subsequent events.

(Eldarion had not before now read this report, and his knowledge of the events of the several months of tracking and watching Arwen was limited to an  interview with Dolren which he had held on the latter's return. If this seems callous and not solicitous of his mother's feelings, it is thought that it can be explained by Arwen's departing words to him which none but he know.)

To Eldarion Telcontar, Ruler of the Reunited Kingdom, from his lieutenant (special assignments), Dolren. For the King's eyes only.

As instructed by you, I took a detachment of 24 men from the Special Assignments corps. We gave Arwen several hours' head start then we followed her horse's tracks from the city. She first took the main north-south road which of course carries a lot of traffic, so our scouts flanked us watching carefully for signs that Arwen had departed from this road.

For several days we pursued her thus. She was still on the road at the Mering Ford, and for most of the next day, but then we found unmistakable signs that she had turned off to the north and was heading towards the Entwash. Now the Entwash is not fordable at many places, but she seemed sure of herself as her tracks headed straight towards one of the better known fords in the lower part of the river, just above the delta.

Tracking her through Rohan was not difficult and of course the Rohirrim knew who we were and treated us with courtesy and deference. Moreover the spring weather was kind to us and the trip was on the whole quite pleasant. We only hoped that it was not too unpleasant for Arwen.

Next day we found her horse's tracks beyond the Entwash ford and so continued north. For the next six days we continued across the gently undulating,  well watered plains of Rohan. Our scouts had by now moved far enough towards her to be sure that she was still riding and not in any obvious distress. As far as they could tell, she was unaware that she was being followed.

She certainly seemed to know the country, as she headed unerringly towards one of the fords over the Limlight and into the Field of the Celebrant, where her path swung around to the north west, roughly parallel with the course of the Anduin. Three days later she reached the eaves of Lothlorien. She then headed, with apparent surefootedness,  for a track that led into the Golden Wood, and followed that track until it reached the Celebrant.

The Celebrant can usually not be forded in spring, and the elves used to cross it by rope bridges, but it so happened that the previous winter had been unusually dry and there was not nearly as much snow melt a this time as is common. Our scouts carefully stationed themselves in the wood where they had a view of the track she must needs take to cross the river. They saw her arrive, lead her horse into the water, then continue across without the water rising above the horse's flanks. She emerged and rode into the far forest.

Several hours later we crossed by the same route with no incidents.

The trail we were on showed clear signs of her horse's recent passing. It had once been a well made track, but had obviously been used little if at all over the past fifty or more years, and some undergrowth had encroached upon it although there was little undergrowth in Lothlorien. I suspected that it led to the site of a former settlement, perhaps even to Caras Galadhon itself. What remained of the flets after all this time would be interesting to see. We rode for the remainder of the day, and the sun was low as we rode into a clearing.

The nature of this clearing was at once apparent to me, familiar as I was with the description of Cerin Amroth by Frodo the Ring-Bearer. Straight ahead was the mound, carpeted in grass and circled by two rows of trees. I looked for evidence of the flet that had been mentioned. It was still there, after all these years, though its condition was not to be guessed from our distance. There was, moreover, no obvious way of reaching it. Presumably in days of habitation there had been ladders but there was no sign of them now.

Our advance scouts indicated to me that she had passed through this clearing and continued, probably towards Caras Galadhon. We proceeded in that direction. However, we had not gone far before the scouts again reported to us, this time with the news that Arwen's horse seemed to have left the track and its trail could not be found. There was a number of intersecting tracks in the vicinity of the ancient City of the Trees, and the day was almost over, so rather than attempt to pick up the trail again I resolved to cover the short distance to whatever remained of the City and stay there overnight. Next day we could attempt to relocate the trail.

Darkness was falling as we approached a wide clearing. I presumed that this was at least a part of the city as, even after all these years of lying deserted, the ground was smooth and covered with short, smooth grass. The trees were for the most part mallorn and many were of very great girth and height. No doubt there were still some flets in those trees, some of which might be reckoned as palatial, but we were glad of the smooth ground on which we could make a comfortable encampment.

"Better double the watch," I told the men. That meant four per watch. "Keep particularly vigilant for any sign of movement. Arwen may be near here, and I want her spotted before she spots us, if that is at all possible."

"Arwen is an elf. I would be very surprised if she couldn't sneak up on us," one of the scouts ventured.

"That thought had occurred to me, and no doubt the King had it in mind when he sent us out, but we expect to meet her at some stage. It may as well be soon."

I elected to take the last watch, which is usually the least favoured one. It was not hard to ordain the others to watches and, after a meal, we settled down at once. The weather was quite pleasant and those not assigned to watch, including myself, were soon asleep.

I awoke suddenly, but I couldn't tell what had awakened me. I looked around. The stars were clearly visible, and their positions proclaimed the time to be well into the third watch. I must have been tired to sleep soundly for that length of time. Then I looked about, Nobody else was awake. The four men assigned to this watch were, however, not stretched out, but lying awkwardly on their sides and without their bivouac blankets in place over them. It appeared that they had been awake for some time, perhaps two hours or more. I had a suspicion of what was happening.

Sitting up, I kept very still and listened to the sounds of the forest. A few cricket chirps and the gentle sighing of the wind in the trees were the only sounds.

"Dolren!"

The voice was faint but clear and unmistakable, although I couldn't tell the distance or direction.

"Lady," I said quietly.

"You can speak louder. They will not awaken."

"Sleep spell?"

"Yes."

"How long..."

"Almost since you left Minas Tirith. My son should have known better than to think men could trail me undetected."

"Perhaps he did know. My orders were clear: trail you and try to avoid detection. He did not insist that we succeed. I suspected that, at the very least, you would find us here, but we had lost your trail and could do nothing useful until dawn."

"I understand. I'm sure that he was only concerned with my welfare. What will you do now?"

"That depends on your plans. We may not touch you but we would like to persuade you to return with us."

"That is what I thought."

"And your decision?"

"I cannot go back, at least not for a while."

"Do you intend to remain here?"

"Yes. It is the land of my mother and her mother. It is still fair, and food is plentiful. Some of the flets are still quite habitable."

"We must stay too, then. If we do not return in six months, another special duties unit will come looking for us."

"It will be hard following such an old trail."

"Yes. I will probably have to dispatch several men back to Minas Tirith before then. In any case, six months is a long time away from home. We are, of course, obliged to carry out the King's orders, but it will be an ordeal for us. Could we not talk further about this?"

"There is nothing for me to discuss."

"Then release my men from the sleep spell."

"Very well. I trust you, Dolren. Will your men always follow your orders?"

"I take full responsibility for them, Lady."

"That is good enough."

The four men who were scheduled to be on watch suddenly stirred and sat up. Realising their position, one of them said, with some alarm, "What happened?"

"A sleep spell. The Lady Arwen is aware of us and is even now within earshot. I have just been talking with her."

"Oh. What do we do?"

"We wait."

The others, fortunately, probably didn't realise the full importance of those two words, imagining perhaps that the wait would be no more than a couple of weeks. For me, however, a big question hung over Arwen's resolve. Was she an elf still, or had she become mortal? She was about two and a half thousand years old, yet she still looked to be a woman of perhaps thirty summers. But her husband was now dead, and she had made "the choice of Luthien" which, as far as I knew, was to become mortal. In any case, there was nothing that any of us could do immediately, so I settled down to await the dawn.

Next day we explored the ancient City of the Trees. We established a respectable base camp on the ground, preferring it to the abandoned flets and talans, most of which were still in good condition, and one of which had become Arwen's home. Scouting further afield, we found many trees that bore edible fruit. Most of these were fruiting even now in the early spring, and there was promise of abundant food until well into summer, although what could be done for food after this ... well, we would concern ourselves with that if and when it became necessary.

Arwen spent most of her time alone but, as she got to know my men better, she would occasionally come to our camp and talk. She mainly wanted to talk about families and, as most of my men had families back in Minas Tirith, she found plenty of stories to share. She talked to us of the friends that she and the King Elessar had made, but mostly of her son and three daughters. It saddened her that she was expected to deliver a son and that, even though he was their youngest child, he inherited the sceptre.

"Lady, you married a mortal man, but do you like men in general or do you miss your own kind?" I once asked her.

"Yes and yes," she answered me. "The men of the Kingdom are for the most part gentle, artistic and fond of nature. They would make good elves. But of course I do miss the timelessness of my own people and their communities. We were dedicated to preservation; too dedicated as it now seems, while the world of men is so ephemeral that heritage is not held in such high esteem."

"But the traditions of a great race, such as the race of Numenor, and the Edain before that, are valued greatly. The Ring of Felagund and the Sword Anduril, re-forged from Narsil, will be kept and treasured as long as there are men to remember the greatness of the race and the great deeds of the past. Rituals and ceremonies are kept too."

"Yes," she sighed, "but it is long vanished into your remote history what we can still remember in our lifetimes. In a way, I never thought ...", she stopped suddenly as if overcome by that thought.

I had an idea she was thinking of the death of her husband, and resisted reminding her of it. Soon she continued, in the same vein but on a different subject.

"In such a little time the brief summer will be over. I must needs think of stowing away some food for myself over the winter, " she paused as if in mid sentence, thought for a while, then continued, "unless ...".

A very sad look came over her face. She must have had something weighing on her mind but she declined to share it with us at that moment. I thought that perhaps she might later, but I was to be disappointed. She never again referred to whatever it was that troubled her.

I knew that at the end of summer I could not simply wait any longer and I would at least need to dispatch several of my men back to Minas Tirith to report on the situation and arrange for a replacement unit to take our place. Also, some of the men were getting restless, although all were resolute to carry out the King's orders as far as they were capable. Nevertheless, I considered making plans.

But Lothlorien had managed to draw us under its old spell to some extent. The legendary Galadriel was long gone, but now that her grand-daughter was in residence, maybe some of the magic of old had been revived. We found that just sitting or lying about here was pleasant to the point of addiction, and we knew that our families would be well looked after. As a result, the days of September drew on yet I made no move, and even the grumbling of the men died away. But Arwen was becoming noticeably more remote as the weather became cooler, and I wondered if she was responding to changes within or outside of her.

By the beginning of  Novemeber, I knew that I could wait no longer. A group would need to be dispatched southward before snow came. I asked for volunteers. To no particular surprise there was at first no one but, after some minutes' thought, five men stepped forward. I made a selection of three more, based on the level my perceived desire that they either had or should have had to return home. The eight set out on the next morning.

The rest of us rode with them as far as Cerin Amroth and we had resolved, for a change of scenery, to remain here for several days. Accordingly we took camping materials and set them up near the base of the hallowed mound. Even this long after we did not like to camp on the mound itself, a sacred spot to the elves in their days of glory. Arwen had not accompanied us as she had her permanent dwelling in a flet at Caras Galadhon, but we had no fears about her movement, since she confided most things in us by now.

We spent an idyllic week here and were contemplating a return to Caras Galadhon. We did not expect any word from Minas Tirith for several weeks and we needed to take precautions against the coming cold, although it had so far been remarkably mild for late autumn. However, because of our abundant free time, the gear had been well maintained and its condition was good. That evening we had a modest feast composed of stores we had brought here out of our now more than adequate reserves at Caras Galadhon. We were relaxed and comfortable and I felt that one man per watch was adequate as we had so far seen nothing that presented any sort of danger to us.

I was awakened by my last watch guard. The sky was a beautiful rose pink colour with the fast approaching sunrise and there was a dawn chorus of larks and other birds coming to us faintly from the forest. However, it was not this for which I had been awakened. A single clear voice could be heard from the mound.

"That must be Arwen. It's hauntingly beautiful. I wonder what it is," said the guard.

"I think it's an old elf hymn. They used to sing such things in memory of their land away in the uttermost West, and of the gods who lived there." I didn't know at the time, but I discovered later that this particular hymn was the one most beloved of the Eldar, the hymn to Elbereth, or Varda, the Star-Queen who was also known to men as "The Goddess". She was revered like a goddess, although even the elves did not seem to know what, if anything, she did for those living in Middle-earth.

I stood entranced and, although I had misgivings about it, I determined to walk up onto the mound and come near her while she was thus in song. Bidding the guard to awaken the others, I proceeded to the top of Cerin Amroth, and through the two groves of trees.

There almost at the centre of the hallowed space stood Arwen, clad in a plain russet gown, her bare feet just protruding from under the hem. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders as she lifted he head in song. She was altogether beautiful. I stood there, mesmerised.

Too mesmerised. I failed at first to notice one aspect of her face. It was white, not the soft pinkish white of female beauty but almost alabaster white, drained of all blood. She sang several verses then began another. Suddenly she uttered a short gasp and stopped. She clutched her breast with her hands and looked around. Then she saw me.

"Oh, Dolren!" she gasped. I ran to her and managed to support her just as she began to slump forward. Even with my help she could not stand. She dropped to her knees and looked up at me. It was then I realised just how unnaturally white her face was.

"Lady, what is wrong with you?"

She didn't answer immediately, yet she seemed at first to be recovering. She breathed slowly and carefully, as if trying to recover from some awful terror that had recently beset her. She appeared to gain control of herself, but the colour of her face did not improve and her breathing became shallower. Finally she managed to say in a very faint, thin voice:

"I'm dying, Dolren. Choice of Luthien. I've become a mortal woman and my time is up."

"But Lady, you were so young and alive ..."

"I know. I thought I might have escaped. But it is not so. Singing a hymn of the Eldar was probably not a good idea. It was tempting fate. I am reminded in the most profound way possible that I am no longer an elf."

"But what is happening to you? Is there anything we can do?"

"Mourn me not, Dolren. It was my own choice and I must die with it. Help me to lie down here."

I eased her body down, with her back to the grass, until she was lying prone with her face upward.

"Elessar vanimelda, namarië. Give my love to my son and daughters when you return, please Dolren."

"Of course, Lady, but is there something I can yet do for you?"

"Bury my body here. A shallow grave, unmarked. Put all the turf back, Try and find some Elanor to plant there."

"Of course, Lady. But is there nothing we can do to prolong your life?"

"Nothing at all. Now please, say no more. Let me die peacefully."

I did as she said. Several men appeared at the edge of the mound. I waved them away and they left. After a few minutes she shut her eyes. Her breathing became shallower and shallower, then finally it stopped altogether. I waited several more minutes. Her body was cold and her arms and legs were quite limp. Life had left her.

I wept for some time. Eventually I mastered my emotions and went to our encampment to give the news to my men. They too could not contain their grief. It was quite a few hours before we could address the task of burying her. We managed to find a few wooden planks at Caras Galadhon and these we used as spades to dig the soft soil of Cerin Amroth. Carefully so as not to disturb the grass and small flowers, we removed squares of the turf, then scraped away the soil beneath. Soon we had a sufficiently large hole.

We lowered the body, with the russet gown as a shroud, and gently covered it with soft brown soil. Lastly we replaced the turves. Several of them had small clumps of Elanor in them, although very few were presently blooming. When we were finished, the grave looked like a part of the mound, with very little to show that it had been disturbed. By next summer, I thought, her grave will be indistinguishable from the rest of the mound. Then' with scarcely a backward glance, we walked away.

Just before leaving the mound, though, I had the oddest feeling. Those who know me consider me a down to earth, phlegmatic type of person, not given to fantasising, but I swear that for a moment I felt the presence of two people there on that mound. One, I thought, was the Lady, and the other was a Man, stern and proud, yet in some way connected with the Lady. I could neither see nor hear anything, but I felt their presence. They seemed to touch each other, there on Cerin Amroth, for the space of a few moments then, as suddenly as they had come, both vanished. I seemed to know without understanding why I knew, that the Man was Elessar.

Soon afterwards we packed our gear and began the homeward trek. We reached Minas Tirith before any replacements for us had been sent out, so we obviated unnecessary travel by others. I spent a considerable time with Eldarion, explaining our actions and experiences. He was naturally very saddened, but it appeared that he may have expected something like the death of Arwen as we described it. Then we were able to go home to our families and resume normal life in the city.

This report is respectfully submitted for the King, and for those whom the King may deem should read it.

Dolren

*     *     *

Eldarion scratched his chin. He had heard the story but had not given it much thought. It seemed strange, to think of an immortal elf, remaining an immortal elf while united in marriage to a mortal man, yet dying within a year of his death. It was as if the change to mortality occurred only at the time of the man's death, and mortality itself then proceeding apace while her body remained young in appearance. However, the matter was now academic fifteen years after the event, especially considering that Arwen had been the last elda, and possibly the second last elf, left in Middle-earth.

Then there was that strange experience that Dolren had. It could, of course, be interpreted as Elessar's feä detained for sufficient time to accompany Arwen's feä on their journey into the unknown, or it might have been a self-induced illusion, borne of Dolren thinking about the fate of the two feär. This spiritual stuff was beyond him, and the only agents of advice in such matters were gone, presumably for ever. It could not be helped. He tried to block out the lovely images of his mother, knowing that they too would never return except in some unguessed and unimagined future when the Second Music was played before Eru. But in that time, he thought, the Two Kindreds would be reunited after the end of Arda. Presumably a long way off if indeed he had understood its prophesy correctly.

He had picked up these two documents, with the third, as they told of the ends of the lives of people who were important to the recent history of the Reunited Kingdom in particular, and to Middle-earth in general. Already there was an unexpected theme linking the two. Both Sam and Arwen looked, and hoped against Hope, for access to the Uttermost West. Both had died, and both had been, in their own ways, singing a hymn to Elbereth just before death. But Sam had died in a haze of delusion and dementia, whereas Arwen had died on the hard horns of Reality, confronting her death as she had probably never really believed she would.

There were lessons to be learned there, he was sure. He felt that it was his right and his duty, if possible, to learn those lessons first in the Kingdom. He therefore decided not to change the classification of either document, although he conceded to himself that the report on the last journey of Arwen was probably quite harmless.

He then picked up the third document.

*     *     *

3. Legolas and Gimli

...[in the year 120, after the death of Elessar and the departure of Arwen,] Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf. And when that ship passed an end was come in Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring...

- from "The Tale of Years"

We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli, Gloin's son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed; that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel; and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.

- from "Additional Notes to the Red Book of Westmarch"

*     *     *

The following document was compiled by the King's Scribe, Darvegil, in the year 127 of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.

(Eldarion had discussed this matter in detail with Darvegil, but had not read his report.)

To Eldarion Telcontar, Ruler of the Reunited Kingdom, from the King's Scribe, Darvegil. For the King's eyes only.

After the funeral of Elessar there was, as can be imagined, some confusion. Eldarion was rather young for the duties of King, although he had been well tutored in the skills needed. Nevertheless, as the youngest in the family he was not quite so familiar as he might have been with the burdens he now must shoulder. Moreover, there were no advisors who personally remembered the days when Gandalf could be sought for counsel, although many valuable documents containing the wizard's advice were available to the King.

Arrangements were required for a formal coronation, but meanwhile the work of running the Kingdom rolled on. Round after round of briefing sessions with advisors and other important public servants must needs be held, visitors from neighboring countries had to be received and entertained, plans were needed for a series of royal visits to far flung centres of the realm, and numerous other pieces of business called for attention.

One visitor who certainly received VIP treatment was Legolas the elf. The last elf left in Minas Tirith or anywhere in the southern lands, possibly the last elf left in Middle-earth, and one of the two last survivors of the Company of the Ring, he was honoured above all others in the Kingdom.

"Your wish is my command, within reason, as I'm sure you appreciate, Legolas," began Eldarion in a manner of deference reserved for a very select few.

"My needs are not great by the standards of the King, sir. I greatly desire to build a ship."

"I'm sure we can easily accommodate that. You wish for materials and facilities?"

"Most importantly, I will need the tuition of a good shipwright. I have never sailed, much less built a ship."

"That should be easily managed. We have a large, well equipped shipyard, with many skilled shipwrights, in Ithilien. If you wish, I can arrange for one of them to be assigned to you, and for a slipway to be made available for as long as is necessary. Also you may have whatever materials you may need"

"Thank you, sir. That is most generous."

"May I presume to ask to what use you intend to put a ship?"

"Certainly. I wish to sail to the Uttermost West."

Eldarion's brow furrowed. He knew a little of the exodus of the Eldar, although it had taken place long ago by his perception of time. As he understood it, certain members only of the Three Kindreds, known collectively as the Eldar, were permitted by the Lords of the West to return to Eressea or Valinor by the so-called "Straight Path" that was inaccessible to all else in Middle-earth. As far as he was aware, the ships that took that path were all build at the Grey Havens, under the supervision of Cirdan, the last ship had departed a long time ago, and Cirdan had been on it. One beautiful poem in the margin of the Red Book dealt with that ship, though whether the narrative of that poem purported to relate real events he was not sure.

"That is a bold plan, Legolas. If I do not seem too presumptuous, what is the basis of your belief that you will be permitted to enter Valinor or Eressea?"

"I think that all the Company of the Ring have been given that grace. At least three hobbits made the journey, and they are mortals. I may not be one of the Calaquendi, but I am an elf, so I would naturally expect to be accepted. My ancestors may have refused the Great Journey, many millennia ago, but I can hardly be accounted responsible for that."

"As I understand it, Celeborn was not accepted, although for two ages of Middle-earth he implacably opposed the power of Sauron. The fact that Galadriel was his wife availed him not; indeed Galadriel herself, it was said, won her permission by refusing the One Ring when Frodo the Ring-Bearer offered it to her. Elladan and Elrohir, Elrond's two sons, also did not make the journey, although they fought hard for many generations of men against the powers of evil.

"I have always heard that Elladan and Elrohir remained in Middle-earth of their own free will, though they could have gone into the West. Of Celeborn I know nothing, beyond the fact that he did not go. I think it was something to do with Doriath and the Oath of Feanor, but I don't know the details."

"Well, Legolas, we can supply the materials and the expertise. We can even build the ship for you if you so choose, but we have no way of ensuring that it takes the Straight Path. That will be between you and the Valar."

"I understand that, sir. I will take responsibility for my final voyage. By the way, I intend taking just one other on the ship: Gimli the dwarf."

"I might have guessed that, judging by your inseparability, but surely that will be even more of a hindrance to your passage. Hobbits there may be in Valinor - they have the feär of men, or so it is understood, but dwarves are not even accounted Children of Eru."

"I understand the risk I am taking. I will accept responsibility for the outcome. Gimli played a valiant part in the War of the Ring, and he is surely as worthy as anyone else in the Company."

"While your logic makes eminent sense to me, in the world of men, I would not like to guess how the Lords of the West might feel."

"I trust that we will be accepted," replied Legolas with an air of finality. Eldarion rang the bell to summon his servant.

"Please ask the special liaison officer for the Ithilien shipbuilding works to see me as soon as he's free. Legolas, " he turned to the elf, "your request will be conveyed to the man in charge at Ithilien. He will arrange for your requirements. Please see me with Gimli before you depart. Preferably arrange to see me about 5 pm. I'd like to have a small farewell, and I do mean small. I'm sure you don't wish for a banquet, although we could do you one if you'd like."

"You are right. Neither Gimli nor I want wide publicity or celebration for our departure. A few quiet drinks with you would be very nice."

The elf left. Presently the special liaison officer appeared, a little flustered at being summoned by the King at short notice. Eldarion, however, soon put him at ease and explained Legolas's requirements. The minion went away to write up a list of instructions for the shipbuilding works chief.

The farewell to Legolas and Gimli was, as promised, a small function, held in the royal refectory with just a few close friends. The King made available a selection of his best wines and beers plus, as a very special tribute to the elf and dwarf, a small quantity of Arwen's last brew of mead. However, the occasion was not especially joyous, as this would presage the ultimate end to the Company of the Ring in Middle-earth.

"Don't worry," joked Legolas to Eldarion, "by the time I learn to build a ship you'll probably be glad to see the last of us."

"No doubt it could take years. The construction of an ocean-faring ship is not learned overnight, and it is a formidable task, even with substantial help."

"We're ready," chimed in Gimli," dwarves are not famous for patience but this is the Big One for me.

"We won't go over the risks again, but I want you to at least make sure that you understand all aspects of ship building and navigation before you commission your ship and leave in it."

"You have my word," replied Legolas, and Gimli nodded assent.

The next day they departed for Ithilien.

The shipbuilding yards were in the south of Ithilien, near Pelargir, about five days' ride from Minas Tirith. The journey for the pair was uneventful. Spring was in the air, and songbirds were in the trees, providing a happy backdrop for such a pair of nature lovers to make what they anticipated would be their last land journey before they reached the Blessed Realm.

They found that the King's orders had included a pleasant little cottage for their accommodation, and that their food requirements would also be supplied. After settling in, they met the chief of the shipbuilding works who introduced them to Melros, a young-seeming wright, yet he had served his apprenticeship and been deemed as good a shipbuilder as could be found. He had personally supervised the construction of six of the largest trading vessels that now plied the coastal run from Forochel to the ports of Harad.

"Did the King's orders include any indication of the ship we wish to build?" asked Legolas.

"Not beyond the fact that you wish to sail over the open ocean. Just the two of you?"

"Yes. We cannot take nay others. We will not be returning."

"Two is a rather small number to handle an ocean going ship. You will get very little rest."

"That's all right. Elves don't need rest, and dwarves are hardy."

"This will certainly test your hardiness."

"So be it. Now, where do we start?"

"You must take some of the seasoned logs from the pile you see over there," he pointed to a large pile, "and cut them to rectangular cross sections."

"That will take weeks."

"Indeed it will, but once you have sufficient pieces cut you can start laying the keel. You'll need to continue cutting, but you can vary your activity with tasks related to putting the boat together."

"This doesn't look like much fun."

"It isn't. It is, however, a great achievement to put a full size ocean faring ship together and see that it sails well."

"I can imagine, especially when we are going to do the sailing."

"Very well. I have other duties, but I will be available any time you need me. Aim at first to make the largest possible beams from the logs. You can always cut them smaller but you can't make the larger."

Thus the shipbuilding began with the simple seeming task of cutting logs to the size and shape of beams and spars. As the days and weeks went by, the supply of prepared beams steadily grew and their skills at cutting and planing them increased. Eventually they were ready to lay the keel.

"This is a time for thinking of a name," Melros told them. "It's not necessary to name it at this stage, but once the keel is laid the ship actually begins to exist, and it does give added incentive to know that it now has an identity."

"Then I'll take the cue from your name and call her 'Meldûn' - love of the West."

"I'm not aware of a ship with that name. It should be quite satisfactory," replied Melros with little emotion. Gimli smiled. They had discussed a name before this.

Now the work proceeded apace. First the keel then the basic outline of the hull took shape under the watchful eyes of Melros. Being adept with stone and metal, Gimli took quickly to working with wood. Legolas learned less quickly, but he made up in care for what he lacked in natural skill. The ship would have easily carried five or six people, but that was just a natural outcome of building her large enough to sail on the open seas without danger of swamping during rough weather. However, Melros was at pains to point out that the ship must be very well built, as no amount of care with design would hold the joints together in a storm.

All that year they worked. This far south the winters were sufficiently mild for them to continue right through December and January. By the end of February, the basic structure was complete. Now the masts and rudder must be fitted, then other fittings and finally sails. The mast stepping was a process accompanied by some celebration and festivities. After the masts and rudder were in place, the whole of the vessel was given a coat of protective paint. Legolas had selected grey as the colour he wanted, and a supply of this colour was arranged.

As the building neared an end, a feeling of rising anticipation pervaded the lives of the elf and dwarf. Neither seemed to doubt for one minute their prospects of reaching the Uttermost West, although both knew very little about the journey, such as how to tell whether they were on the Straight Path and how long it was likely to take. Nor was there anyone now available to help them. The shipbuilders and others of the shipyard community had no knowledge of anything but coastal sailing, and even the old navigation techniques of the Numenorians seemed to have become lost, as all the sea trade was coastal.

At last they were ready to launch her. After a thorough inspection by Melros it was pronounced seaworthy. The ceremony was carried out by the proud builders and, after it was secured at a nearby quay, they boarded it for celebratory drinks with Melros and a few others from the shipyard. Sails still had to be fitted, and more minor carpentry to the living quarters was required, but the ship was almost ready to leave. Spring should be a good time.

Finally, in mid April, the first sea trials were begun. Several experienced coastal sailors were on board with Legolas and Gimli to instruct them, and they soon set off down the Anduin. A pilot was needed to negotiate the tricky Anduin delta, and one was stationed for that purpose at the shipyard. On their way, the ship passed many trading vessels tied up, either loading or unloading their produce. The port area was a scene of bustling activity and it gave a festive flavour to this happy occasion.

They spent the whole day in the waters adjacent to the Belfalas, working the sails and steering, learning what to do in the event of a wind change, and other needful navigation skills. As night drew on they continued their tutored sailing, as they needed to know how to steer by the stars. Finally they drew up in a small boat harbour on the Belfalas coast.

Next day was time for more lessons and for consideration of just when to start the voyage. April was deemed a good time, and there were only two weeks of it left. It was tentatively decided to begin on 30 April. Happily they sailed back to the shipyard quays in south Ithilien.

Unbeknown to Legolas and Gimli, Eldarion had taken much more than a passing interest in the commencement of this voyage. He felt strongly that it was folly, but Legolas would not be dissuaded and in any case Eldarion was in no position to have sure knowledge of the elf's prospects of reaching the West. Under the King's orders, in the lower reach of the Anduin, another ship was lading and victualling for a voyage. The Gondil, a vessel maintained by the Special Purposes Corps mainly for rescue and reconnaissance work, was being readied for trailing the Meldûn.

*     *     *

Finduvil looked anxiously at the sky. Clouds streamed across from south-east to north-west. They were high clouds and looked harmless enough, but a mariner experienced in these coastal waters knew that they were a likely harbinger of a storm. Already the sun was well down in the west and Finduvil, who commanded the crew of the Gondil, expected to see the sails go up on the Meldûn soon after sunset. They were both anchored in a small bay adjacent to the Belfalas. Earlier that day, Finduvil had watched the Meldûn arrive after having presumably negotiated the Anduin delta that morning. There was no evidence of a pilot on board so Finduvil surmised that he had disembarked elsewhere.

Plainly visible on the deck, however, were Legolas and Gimli, moving about purposefully. They were apparently ignoring the Gondil, perhaps assuming that she was a trading vessel. In any case there was nothing sinister about their own plans, they had been well publicised throughout Gondor. They would certainly not suspect that the other ship was ready to follow them, much less to what purpose. Eldarion had one purpose only: to save their lives if possible. He believed that, despite the training, they were not sufficiently experienced to attempt a major sea voyage, and he was assuming the worst, ie that the ship would not convey them on the "Straight Path".

It was customary for ships to carry lamps on the tops of their mainmasts, and Finduvil was counting on this. It had been observed that vessels on the "Straight Path" appeared to stay on the horizon, rather than falling below it, as they moved away. Since none had returned, the reason was not known for sure, but it was believed that the "Straight Path" led upwards from the sea, through the air and thence they knew not, but it eventually brought them to that sea that faces Valinor, and in which is located Tol Eressea. The behaviour of the lamp on the Meldûn's mainmast would be the first indicator to Finduvil whether the Meldûn was following the Straight Path or not. If not he would set off after it at once, follow it for several hours (probably until dawn) then, if it still appeared to be following the "Round Path", ie confined to Middle-earth, he would attempt to overtake it.

Weather could throw his plans awry. If the storm were bad enough, their own position could become perilous, but it would be vastly more perilous for the under-crewed and possibly less safe Meldûn. Moreover, even if they could see the mast light through heavy rain and high wind, it would probably be impossible to sail on an accurate course, much less overtake them.

Sunset came, however, without any clearer indication of a storm, and Finduvil watched as the sails on the Meldûn were hoisted. As the last of the day's light slowly faded into grey dusk, Legolas climbed the mainmast and secured a lamp at its top. Then the elf and dwarf set about positioning the sails before finally reeling in the anchor. Promptly, Gimli took up a position at the stern, one hand on the tiller, while Legolas went forward.

Suddenly a clear, high pitched voice came from the direction of the Meldûn. Finduvil could just make out Legolas, almost on the ship's bow, standing looking forward, to the West. He was singing something and Finduvil suspected that it was an old elvish song. Later, after hearing it sung, he confirmed that the song was indeed the hymn to Varda. This, however,  was his last view of the ship and crew before darkness covered it and only the mast lamp was visible.

He stood on the after deck of the Gondil, watching the light fade into the distance. He was watching especially for its appearing to sink below the horizon. He watched thus for at least an hour before he could be sure. There was no moon and, although many stars were visible despite scattered cloud, it was difficult to make out the horizon. By the time he was certain that the lamp was indeed appearing to drop towards the horizon, it was very nearly there.

"Anchor! Sails! Tiller!" he shouted to the crew who were by now at their stations. The anchor was raised and the sails set within several minutes, and the helmsman brought the Gondil around to head after the Meldûn. As the night deepened, the Meldûn's mast lamp could still be seen just above where sea met sky. It appeared that the Gondil was at least holding its position behind them. Probably they were catching up, as Finduvil expected the Gondil to be substantially faster than the Meldûn, especially given the inexperience and lack of numbers of the latter's crew.

The Gondil was sitting well in the water, and so far the winds were light and the waves small. Sailors not on watch disappeared below to catch what sleep they could before the time of their watch should arrive. The captain had taken first watch but with the usual proviso to "wake me if anything happens" later. If the "all hands on deck" order had to be given, he wanted to give it. At the end of the first watch, however, there was no indication of untoward happenings so Finduvil left the deck and retired to his cabin.

He awoke suddenly a couple of hours later. Plainly not all was well. The ship was pitching and the sound of wind could be heard. He pulled on his sea boots and ran out to the deck.

"I thought I told you to wake me if..."

"Just about to, skipper," the first mate shot back. "She's just sprung up this minute, but I'm afraid there's a lot worse where that's come from."

"Can you see the Meldûn's lamp?

"Just, but I think we'll lose it soon."

"Maintain heading," he replied, knowing that would be easier said than done even with this much wind and waves, and would soon become impossible if conditions deteriorated.

Conditions were not long in deteriorating either. A few minutes later, a gale was blowing and waves were breaking over the bow. Fortunately they were running into the waves, as it became almost impossible to maintain a ship on course when running across or with them and, in either of those circumstances, it might have been necessary to turn the ship around, thereby losing any chance of keeping track of the Meldûn. However, they had now lost sight of the Meldûn's mast lamp.

Then the rain came. A deluge, hitting almost horizontally. Lightning flashed. Thunder roared. Eerie green flame bled from the mast. All sails were now furled, and the man on the tiller could only maintain the heading into the waves. Fortunately, though, the Gondil's crew were good (not surprisingly so, as they had been hand picked for what could be the most hazardous conditions) and the ship was very well built and maintained. The storm raged about them, but the ship suffered very little hurt.

The storm blew itself out around the end of the third watch. As dawn broke the sea was again flat and calm and the wind a mere zephyr. Sails were unfurled and the ship was again pointed west by southwest, the direction in which they had last seen the Meldûn. They sailed thus for several hours, but without seeing a sign of their quarry. Then, floating by close enough to be clearly visible, was what sailors dread to see. Debris, comprising pieces of planking and spars. Some of them were painted grey.

"Bring her around!" yelled Finduvil. "Lookouts fore, aft and top!" The men concerned knew their places. One went to the bow, another to the stern while a third climbed the mast. The ship swung sluggishly around.

"Debris to port!" shouted the man on the mast. The man at the helm brought the ship around to port. Sure enough, there was a quantity of wood, planking and spars, with some smaller objects: drinking vessels and fragments of what could well have been barrels. The Gondil was riding too high in the water for the debris to be reached by a man leaning over the side, so one of the lifeboats was launched. With this, a quantity of the debris, some with the ominous grey paint, was brought on board.

They searched for several hours and retrieved more debris, yet this must have been but a small part of the total, and no bodies were found. As darkness fell, Finduvil decided to abandon the search. The Gondil turned and headed towards the Belfalas and mouths of the Anduin.

Nothing more was ever heard of Legolas or Gimli, and the King initially gave the matter into the hands of his scribe, who interviewed Melros and Finduvil in great detail. My final report was marked "for the King's eyes only" and will remain so marked until the King shall determine otherwise. It has, however, become widely accepted that Legolas and Gimli sailed into the Uttermost West, where they were reunited with other members of the Company.

Respectfully,

Darvegil.

*     *     *

Eldarion put down the final manuscript and sighed again. That tale was, in some respects, the saddest of the three, since they elf and dwarf went forth on a bold adventure, whereas Sam was in a state of delusion and dementia and Arwen went home to die. On the other hand Sam left more grieving friends and relatives than Legolas and Gimli, although some of Gimli's kin may be still alive in Erebor or Moria. What happened to the elves of Greenwood was an irresoluble mystery. Even Legolas hadn't known.

There again, he thought, was that reference to the hymn to Varda. Legolas was singing it as he went off to his death at sea, my mother sang it before lying down to die on Cerin Amroth, and even Sam Gamgee was singing it, however inarticulately, before stepping into the Gulf of Lhun. Then he thought perhaps it was just coincidence. Sam fervently believed that he would be taken to Valinor, my mother understood that she could never go to Valinor, while Legolas hoped he could get to Valinor and was prepared to give it a try.

He needed to consider those three accounts carefully before allowing them beyond the small group to whom they were privy. Possibly no one knew all three but himself, although Darvegil may have read Elfstan's letter and Dolren's report. However, he had adequate reason to believe that Darvegil was entirely discreet where his work was concerned. He was, in any case, not about to decide at once either to allow these documents out to a wider group or to discuss them with his advisors. They could and should wait.

The golden late afternoon sunlight was slanting through the windows on the western side of the Great Hall when Eldarion picked up the bell to summon Carmor. However, before he could ring it, the servant's door suddenly flew open and Carmor came in. He almost ran to the King, a very uncharacteristic gesture and one generally not approved. Eldarion, however, could see that the man was alarmed at something so he did not attempt to chide him for what seemed undue haste and lack of respect.

"Sir...", gasped the servant.

"What is it, Carmor?"

"Sir, there's a maia to see you!"

*     *     *

4. Eldarion

25 March 3019: The Host is surrounded on the Slag-hills. Frodo and Samwise reach the Sammath Naur. Gollum seizes the Ring and falls in the Cracks of Doom. Downfall of Barad-Dur and passing of Sauron.

- from "The Tale of Years".

For Frodo the Halfling, it is said, at the bidding of Mithrandir took on himself the burden, and alone with his servant he passed through peril and darkness and came at last in Sauron's despite even to Mount Doom; and there into the Fire where it was wrought he cast the Great Ring of Power, and so at last it was unmade and its evil consumed.

- from "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age".

*     *     *

Eldarion stared at Carmor incredulously.

"He said he was a maia? I presume it is a he."

"Yes, and he said you might know him. He also has a woman with him, or at least she looks like a woman."

"Does he seem friendly?"

"Quite friendly. However, he was also quite firm about wanting to see you now."

"If he isn't a maia he'll want a very good explanation for his behaviour. If he is I'd better see him at once. I wasn't aware that there were any maiar left in Middle-earth."

"Nor was I, sir. Shall I ask him to come in?"

"Yes, but bring up a few guards to the door after he's entered."

"Certainly, sir," Carmor seemed relieved at the King's order. He left at once.

"Now what in Udun ...?" thought Eldarion. His thought was interrupted by the arrival of the maia.

Looks can be deceptive, and the big brown-skinned "man" who walked into the Great Hall certainly did not appear to have any god-like attributes, less still did the pretty young-seeming woman, willowy and tallish, who followed him. Eldarion stared, not so much at the man himself as at the clothes. They certainly looked highly individual. Although not so different from many men's clothes, those differences were nevertheless striking. His bulky jacket, which looked as if it had seen many years of service, was bright blue. His baggy leather breeches were a fairly normal brown colour, but his huge knee-length boots were bright yellow. He carried a brown straw hat in his hands. The woman was wearing a leaf green gown that reached almost to her feet, but one could see that she was wearing brown leather sandals. Quite a couple!

Eldarion decided to play it straight. If this was a maia, he'd better behave with deference. Eldarion may be a King among men but a maia had a god level status by comparison. He stood at once and made a slight bowing gesture towards the visitor.

"Pleased to meet you. Thank you for visiting me, ..er .."

"What would you like to call me?" replied the visitor in a strangely deep, resonant voice. "Others have made up their own names. You may as well too, unless you'd like to use someone else's." He said this latter with a twinkle in his eyes and an air of lighthearted bonhomie, as if the name he was called by really didn't matter at all.

Eldarion, however, was just starting to recall some anecdotes about a man with a bright blue jacket and yellow boots.

"Old Tom Bombadil ..." he said, rather more to himself than to his guest.

"That's what the hobbits called me and I liked it well enough," said the visitor with a broad smile.

It all came back to Eldarion then. "Iarwain Ben-adar. Orald."

"Yes, and the dwarves called me Forn, but I haven't seen a dwarf for a long time. Nor an elf if it comes to that."

"No one that I know has seen an elf since Legolas left."

"Yes," replied Bombadil, musing. "He may have been the last. He never did make it to Valinor, did he?"

"You're asking me?" queried Eldarion, wondering just how much Bombadil knew of this.

"I don't want you to give up any state secrets, but I know that the tradition is that he and Gimli sailed off together to the West. I don't think that's likely."

"Since no one has returned, of course, we can't tell."

"I've been there, though not for a long time."

"Goldberry," said Eldarion addressing the woman. "My apologies. You are Goldberry, I presume."

"Yes sir, I am called Goldberry."

"You are Bombadil's Lady?"

"Haven't you read Gandalf's memoirs?" asked Bombadil incredulously. "She's my daughter. I assumed everyone knew that by now."

"Of course," Eldarion made a mock slap at the side of his head as if chastising himself for lack of memory. "Yes, I have read Gandalf's memoirs. I've read everything about Gandalf that I could lay my hands on."

"Then you know Goldberry's history?"

"Yes. She's your daughter and the daughter of Nenuriel, a woman of Cardolan whom you hid in your house when the forces of Angmar overran their land. That makes her about 1730 years old. I must say you don't look a day over 25," he added to Goldberry.

"Yes," she replied with a wry smile, "I've aged rather well."

"Are you immortal or just very long lived?"

"We honestly don't know," said Bombadil. "Personally I think she has the same attributes as an elf when it comes to mortality."

"Please, both of you, be seated." Eldarion rang his bell and Carmor responded at once.

"Please bring us some light refreshments."

"Certainly sir. Anything in particular?"

"Anything you'd like?" said Eldarion to Bombadil and his daughter.

"Whatever you've got, within reason. Though I will say that we're both quite partial to mead."

"Speak for yourself!" protested Goldberry, although the protest didn't sound too serious.

Eldarion looked as if he were weighing something up. Then he became resolute.

"Bring some of Arwen's last mead, Carmor."

The servant raised his eyebrows ever so slightly, but at once hastened off to do just that.

"This mead is important stuff. I want you to know that I consider you important people." This was no diplomatic nicety by Eldarion. He was genuinely in awe of Bombadil and highly flattered by his personal visit.

"We consider you important too, Eldarion," Bombadil felt that he could call the King by name if the King was going to pull out all stops to impress him. Besides which, he would have to face the King as at least equal in importance and much greater in wisdom in order to broach the main subject of his visit.

The mead arrived, along with bread, water, fruits and nuts. Eldarion ensured that his visitors' needs were satisfactorily catered for, then gently brought the talk around to matters that presumably were important.

"So what do I owe this visit to? I had heard that you never left the vicinity of your cottage, between the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs."

"This is my first journey in millennia. Certainly in the last two ages of Middle-earth I was virtually a fixture. Not that others didn't come to me."

"Of course. Well, it must have been a matter of great moment to bring you so far."

"It was. Now, before I proceed, let me just make sure that you read all of Gandalf's account of his conversation with me, and that you read it carefully."

"I'm sure I did." Eldarion had an almost eidetic memory, especially for matters that concerned his role as King. However he sometimes took a while to make the necessary recall. He was now thinking furiously through the text of Gandalf's talk.

"Let me refresh your memory. As you would probably realise, Goldberry has been single all her life, living under the pretext that she was my partner. That was all changed by Gandalf. I think I see his line of reasoning. It is probably for the best and I've been too selfish. Olo was always reckoned the wisest maia."

"So. You came out into the world to look for a husband for Goldberry?"

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

"Where do you ...?" Eldarion stopped abruptly as recognition hit him.

"I can see by the look on your face that the recollection of Gandalf's words has returned. Yes. I want you to marry Goldberry."

Eldarion recoiled as if physically hit. Goldberry continued to wait patiently and allow her father to complete the explanation.

"Do you have any more to say on the subject?" queried Eldarion.

"I may have quite a lot, depending on you. I didn't, of course, expect you to snap up the offer. However, some reasons for accepting may have occurred to you. I can probably make you aware of others. Firstly, has anyone else sought marriage with you, or have you sought marriage with anyone else? It goes without saying that any converse we have on this subject will be treated by us with the strictest confidence, and I think you do not now doubt that I am what I declare myself to be."

"No. Both my parents intended to leave the choice of my spouse to me. I have given it some thought but so far I've not felt it not to be a matter of pressing concern."

"You are, I believe, now forty. That is an age at which I would expect you to be considering children."

"Now that you mention it, I suppose you're right."

"Did you have any spousal qualities in mind? Nobility? Lineage? Skills? Manners? Looks?"

"All of those, but most importantly for me, a good nature. Patience, care, unselfishness. Most of all, I guess, someone who will love me and whom I can love."

"In your position as King you can, in a sense, have any woman in the realm, but in another sense you are screened from their natural behaviour, since they all know you to be the King. Unless of course you planned to go forth incognito."

"That sounds like an idea with some merits."

"It's been done before, or else a King has married a woman who for other reasons has not known the man to be King and has nevertheless impressed him one way or another."

"However my father found his bride under his very nose, so to speak. In the house where he was raised. An elf, moreover, and one not very likely to be attracted to him one would think."

"History probably,  and historic legend certainly, will judge that union, like that of Beren and Luthien, to have been a matter of fate. Your union could well be thought of in similar terms. But let me not suggest that there was coercion in either case. Nor would I want any suggestion of coercion with you."

"I will certainly rebel against coercion, but not against Fate."

"I'm glad to see you prepared to accept fate, in whatever guise it may come. In any case, my point is that you must act, your bride will not come to you unbidden."

"True. I must seek and I must choose. So far I have not done any seeking, or even given thought to seeking. As you say, time is growing short, and a lack of an heir would be a disaster to the Reunited Kingdom, so soon after the rightful royal line was restored."

"I'm glad that much is clearly apparent. From there I think you will at least be giving my request, or my offer whichever way you look at it, the right kind of consideration."

"I certainly hope to. Clearly the first consideration is Goldberry's own heart and head, probably in that order but I exempt neither from a part in my decision. Goldberry, are you in love with me?"

"Sir, I hardly know you."

"Fair enough. So from that I could perhaps conclude that you haven't ruled out the possibility that you might become in love with me."

Goldberry looked uncomfortably at the King, then at her father.

"Love is not, and cannot be, like this for me. This is cold, like negotiation of a contract. You are dealing with human souls."

"I'm sorry if it sounds that way, fair Goldberry," replied Eldarion trying to sooth her obviously troubled mind. "However, we must discuss it in words and with concepts with which we can come to terms in normal converse before aught else is done. I too have feelings, but I am a King and I owe a great duty to my Kingdom which, in the matters such as heirs, must be served before my own personal interests. Nevertheless, a queen whom I could not love would not be a suitable queen, no matter how well qualified she was to produce heirs to the throne."

"A very wise and mature way of putting it," added Bombadil. "I am singularly impressed with your skill in tact and diplomacy. I have heard nothing but good reports of your kingship and I see that my informants have spoken truly."

"A very courteous answer from you too, Bombadil. I'm sure you have good reasons for such diplomacy, but on the other hand you are a high and puissant being and might see my own level of understanding rather like that of a child. Indeed, with over 1,700 years in Middle-earth, so might Goldberry. My mother sometimes found the naïvete of men hard to take."

"May I then propose, since you certainly seem prepared to consider our offer further, and let us call it our offer since I do not wish to see myself as a father disposing of a daughter's hand in marriage without the daughter's full approval and consent, that you allow us to stay in the city for some time and that you get to know Goldberry as well as you think you will need to in order to make a firm decision.

"An excellent suggestion if you are content to do so. May I have the favour of your counsel for that period, on the understanding of course that you have the right not to discuss or advise on matters which men are obliged to determine unaided?"

"Well put, sir. Of course you may. I am at your service at any time you require it, subject only to the constraints I know are imposed on the Ainur in their interactions with the Children of Eru."

"This is, I regret, going to put the noses of certain of my senior counselors out of joint. However, that is their problem. I need the best advice I can get, and if that is not theirs, I cannot help it. Oh, one question, maybe impertinent but too important to allow impertinence to prevent my asking. Goldberry, can you bear children?"

"Since I haven't had any, sir, I cannot give you a quite unequivocal answer. However, everything points to my being able to bear children normally. I presume this situation applied to Arwen before her betrothal to Aragorn."

"That's satisfactory for me at this stage. I could get no better answer from any other woman, except perhaps from one who had already borne children, and such a woman would not make a good queen. Apart from morality aspect, the heritage complications would be formidable. Now, I have a mind to introduce you as soon as may be to some of my more important servants and advisors. I will arrange for a communal dinner in the refectory. I won't call it a feast, it's rather premature for that, but believe me Bombadil, I am most grateful to you for your presence here and to both of you for your offer. Making this decision will test my wisdom and other attributes more than did any other I've had to make, but I recognise that it is an offer beyond comparison."

Eldarion then rang the bell and conveyed his instructions to Carmor. Carmor then left to find suitable quarters for Bombadil and Goldberry, and to arrange for the dinner.

Dinner was a quiet affair, despite the buzz of tongues over the presence of Bombadil and Goldberry. Talk at the royal table was, however, kept small until the meal was over. Then Eldarion rose to make a brief introductory speech.

"My good servants, counselors and people: My two honoured guests here with me tonight are none less than that Ainu who still dwells in Middle-earth, and goes by various names, the best known one being Tom Bombadil ..."

The was a rapidly increased buzz of voices, followed by a spontaneous round of applause. Bombadil rose briefly and bowed before resuming his seat.

"... and his daughter, Goldberry."

Another buzz of conversation and a round of applause which Goldberry acknowledged by rising and bowing in a similar fashion to her father.

"Even for the Ruler of the Reunited Kingdom, their presence here is a great honour to me. However, this is not the greatest honour they have done me. Before telling you the nature of that honour, I want you all to know that what I have to tell you should be treated in confidence. However, I do not realistically expect confidence to be maintained, so I must make it clear that untrue rumours will not be tolerated. What you will hear from me tonight is all the truth there currently is concerning this matter, and anything else that is reported to me as rumour will be taken ill. If I can find the perpetrator of any such rumours they will not go unpunished, as the rumours could do grave harm to the welfare of the Kingdom. Do I make myself clear?"

There was a general buzz of assent. Eldarion continued.

"To put it simply: I have been offered Goldberry's hand in marriage. She is an immortal woman. Her father is a maia and her mother was a mortal woman, one Nenuriel of Cardolan. She is over 1700 years old. I am, as you know, the son of a noble elf who was over 2,500 years old when she bore me, so such huge seeming generation gaps are not difficult for me to comprehend. However, it is a decision that I must make whether to marry Goldberry and make her queen of the Reunited Kingdom. This I will try to do over the next few days. The next announcement that you shall hear me make will be yes or no to the question of my marriage to Goldberry."

Through this brief speech there had been a rising babble which, when Eldarion ceased to speak, quickly rose almost to pandemonium level. However, Eldarion held up his hand for silence and the audience, though agog, quieted down.

"I want to make two things clear. Firstly, I do not want any unsolicited advice. If I want your advice I will ask for it, otherwise you are to avoid the subject in any business you may have with me until I make an announcement. Secondly, you may approach either Bombadil or Goldberry if they are amenable to approach, and you may talk to them about matters other than my and Goldberry's troth, but if I hear of any instance of either of them being molested or of the subject of the marriage offer being brought up with them, the person concerned may expect to be dealt with harshly.

"Now I thank you all for attending. Good evening to you all."

Eldarion motioned to Bombadil and Goldberry to rise and leave, and he himself followed them out. They retired to a small adjacent room which was fitted with comfortable couches and a small but adequate fireplace in which a bright fire was maintained. Pleasantly subdued golden light emanated from strategically hung lamps.

"That will give them something to talk about for a while," remarked the King with a chuckle.

"Do you think that was wise?" enquired Goldberry rather anxiously.

"They may as well know now. Nothing more can be done until I make up my mind. Also I was never one for keeping unnecessary secrets, and they all know now that I must be left alone to make up my own mind in my own way."

"I approve," added Bombadil. "No need to keep secrets without reason, and your subjects will think the more of you for being as open as possible in your government."

"Now, are your quarters satisfactory?"

"Eminently so," replied Bombadil. Goldberry nodded. Eldarion would have been surprised had they indicated otherwise. The cottage they had been installed in was as good visitor accommodation as they had, and it perhaps also resembled a rural cottage as much as any in the city, so it may have had some semblance of the house that Bombadil and Goldberry called home.

"Now, tomorrow I would like to have counsel with both of you separately. The only unresolved part of my plan is with which of you I should begin."

"I think that should be me," replied Bombadil without hesitation. "I have some matters that I think you should hear first. They bear on general and wide ranging aspects of your government, not just the offer of marriage. I personally don't mind but you spoke of counsel and that is my counsel."

"I'm sure you speak with wisdom. Goldberry, do you have anything to add?"

"No. I concur with my father. Obtain his counsel first, then we, the two halves of the contract, should speak. After that your directions should be at least clearer, if not resolved."

"Hands then hearts. Fine. In that case, I will see you in the Great Hall about the ninth hour, Bombadil. Goldberry, would you like an escort to tour the city, or would you rather remain inside?"

"An escorted tour sounds very nice, thank you."

"I will arrange for it. Now I will wish you a good night and ask a couple of my praetorian guards to accompany you back to your lodgings."

"That will not be necessary, Eldarion," replied Bombadil. "As I think you can appreciate, I am in no danger. Indeed I doubt that the most defenseless person would now  be in danger in this city at night, and of course I am far from defenseless, though I don't wish to show forth my defenses." He said it with a smile, but Eldarion had the feeling that he could bring great power to bear if necessary. However, like Bombadil, he doubted that it would come to anything like that state of affairs where he needed to exhibit his power.

The couple left and Eldarion retired to bed.

*     *     *

"Prepare the Ringbearer's Gallery room for me, would you Carmor".

Adjacent to the Great Hall, were several modest sized rooms, kept both as galleries and as meeting rooms. All had low tables and comfortable seats, so that the King, or a senior counselor, could confer with or entertain one to three guests in comfort and elegance. Carmor had just been instructed to place refreshments and writing material on the table of the room in which memorabilia of the Ringbearer were displayed. Eldarion was aware that Bombadil and Goldberry had once had Frodo and his three companions as house guests at their cottage on the edge of the Old Forest, and he hoped that memories of Frodo would be pleasant to him.

At the ninth hour, Carmor entered with Bombadil. They moved to the Ringbearer's Gallery, where preparations had been made. Carmor left and the two got down to business.

"You spoke of matters which bear on general and wide ranging aspects of my government?"

"Yes. More importantly, I think, matters of basic wisdom, about Middle-earth and its people."

"You certainly have more knowledge of such matters than I do. What have you to tell me?"

"Where to start? As you have noticed, elves are gone. Dwarves are dwindling in numbers and are retreating into their own communities, so that they interact less and less with men. I'm afraid that the same thing will happen with hobbits. They are a dying race."

"But hobbits are basically men, aren't they?"

"True, but they are sufficiently different to be a part of Middle-earth that should, if possible, be preserved. If that is not possible, then hobbit traditions should be preserved. Your father did much toward this, but more is needed."

"I will do what I can, but what can I do for dwarves?"

"Probably nothing. They are, in any case, not of the Children of Eru. Much as they thought of themselves, I know that they do not have fëar. Eru gave free will to Aule's creations, but not souls. However, this knowledge does not constitute a license to wipe them out, and in any case I do not think you would entertain such a thought. My advice to you is to help where possible but do not feel that they must above all else be saved. They will, I think, simply die out from lack of breeding."

"I will bear that in mind. However, they have been steadfast allies of men in the past."

"True. They may be again. You should do as much as you think desirable to aid individual dwarves, but don't feel any responsibility for their race as a whole."

Eldarion pondered this for several minutes.

"We should learn all that they will teach us about stone and about working underground, then."

"Indeed. And about metals and working with them, especially mithril which will soon run out and which will, in ages to come, be extremely valuable, more so than gold."

"So the rest of the history of Middle-earth will be a history of men?"

"Exactly. Since this is now the only Kingdom of substantial size, and the only one with cities and buildings and many people skilled at trades, this is the basis for the rest of what will be called civilisation. Much of future history will spring from here. Your decisions will be critical, and minute changes now may result in massive alterations to the future. Have a care."

"That puts me in a position of great power, but also of great responsibility. Currently the Kingdom appears quite stable but if I take your assessment at its face value then it could be much closer to total breakdown than anyone is aware."

"It is as well to think along those lines. My advice is to always look beyond the confines of the Kingdom, to learn as much as possible about the past and to think as much as you have time for about the future. Consider options and their consequences. Especially, look for means of stability but be aware of sources of instability before it is too late."

"What can you tell me about evil? Gandalf warned about evil and its consequences."

"As I understand it, Melkor corrupted the very essence of Middle-earth. Indeed he would have corrupted Valinor but for the combined might of the Valar and the fact that Melkor dissipated himself in his corrupting activity. The consequences are for you that evil will always be around. You can have major wins against it, as in the War of the Ring, but you can never defeat it utterly. It will always return. Your father kept it at bay for a long time. Even now, there is no evidence of evil in any tangible form emerging in Middle-earth, yet it undoubtedly will emerge, and the passage of time increases the probability that will happen soon. You are in an invidious position, inheriting such a stable Kingdom."

"My father always gave me a sense of responsibility that went with the power of my position. I believe that I can accept that. The question is: apart from heightened vigilance, especially when things all seem to be going well, what else can I do?"

"You need to examine history and as far as practicable structure your Kingdom so that the mistakes recorded in history do not occur again."

"I can't see that the big mistakes made in the past could be repeated. If I understand you correctly, the next battles will all be between men and men, and will be entirely started by men. The last two ages of Middle-earth were all concerned with an evil maia and his plans for domination. Is he perhaps not out of our reckoning forever?"

"Gandalf could not visualise his arising in power ever again. That makes it reasonably safe but not completely safe. Wise as he is, Gandalf cannot see all ends. Not even the Valar can do that. Then there is Saruman. He would probably like to take revenge on those responsible for his fall and he would, I'm sure, target the Reunited Kingdom if he had sufficient resources. He was, moreover, not so severely reduced in native power as was Sauron, because of the destruction of his Ring."

"What about the balrog?"

"The balrog that Gandalf killed could arise again. Other balrogs may still exist in tunnels deep under Middle-earth, but I think it unlikely that one or more balrogs by themselves would start a war. They would need someone to serve, great though their native power was. Melkor seems to have reduced them to roles of subservience. At worst, by themselves they could render places uninhabitable, as happened with Moria.

"However, and I admit that it's only intuition, but I don't think that the future troubles of Middle-earth will be otherwise than man-made. Have you seen any orcs lately?"

"I've never seen an orc, nor have I ever heard of one being seen in my lifetime. As I understand it, the camps of orcs that Sauron ran in Mordor, where breeding took place, were all destroyed. The few orcs that survived hid in remote places. Some may be there still but there seems no way in which they could again breed."

"I think that is the situation. Also, like balrogs, the orcs need a master to serve. One thing: the sighting of orcs in numbers of any more than a few would probably indicate the arising of another dark lord, that is an evil maia. In such a time, I think you may expect some intervention from the Lords of the West. Gandalf may even return," Bombadil added with a wink.

"Gandalf spoke of providing clean soil for future generations to till but not of ordaining the weather. We can but watch and wait for events such as another Dark Lord. We can take no action to prevent it."

"I agree. But you can take action to avoid the slaying of men by men. You can, and you should, even though I say to you now that such slaying in the future is inevitable. But the best way to ensure against a battle is to make it clear to any potential enemy that such a battle would surely be lost by them. You must not let your defenses down even though you see no one to defend your realm against."

"We have a big, stable Kingdom here now. How should I expect to spot the seeds of dissent?"

"The bigger and more stable it is, the more it will be envied for its resources. Look for potential enemies both without and within. However, rule with justice and compassion as you have been doing or you will sow the seeds of a rebellion yourself."

"Is a Kingdom the most stable form of government?"

"A very astute question! Would you give up your kingship if I were to tell you it was not?

"I would consider it very seriously if your case was strong enough."

"My answer, and this is by no means the last word on the subject, is that ultimately there are more stable forms of government. But at the present time you could not replace your Kingdom with a more stable one based on government by many people. The people are not yet ready for it. Moreover, I cannot tell you when they will be ready. It may take a revolution to show that the time is right. Therefore, continue as King, and continue to protect your blood line as the line of true Kings."

"Is this a case for my marrying Goldberry?"

"I believe that it is, but you may not see me as being unbiased in this belief."

"You have reason for bias."

"Yes, but I also have reason for supporting the welfare of the Reunited Kingdom. I recognised that the War of the Ring was won by others than me and in particular Gandalf played a prominent part. I was not so errant as Radagast and the Blue Wizards, but I was of very little help. It was not my best effort. I feel an obligation to atone for that."

"Yes I see the analogy between you with me and Elrond with my father. Yet Elrond made it quite clear to my father that Arwen was a priceless jewel and that he would have to succeed in a quest that appeared impossible in order to deserve her hand in marriage. You have come here and offered me the hand of your daughter on a platter, so to speak."

"That is true, but I have more the position with Goldberry that Melian had with Luthien. That is a parent, but of a quite different kind than the offspring. In the case of Melian, it was Thingol's right to pronounce on a suit for Luthien, and as you know he was so strongly against it that he thought it was absurd and he commanded what he presumed was an impossible precondition for it."

"Some have said that Elrond's precondition for the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen was similarly impossible. If that was his motive, one would think that he might have had a care for the past."

"Same type of situation, an elf judging a man. But Thingol's mind was distorted by his pride, whereas Elrond, having been "half-elven" himself, was much more impartial. Nevetheless, his condition was very hard and the price he set on Arwen's hand was very high. You, on the other hand, already have the Kingdom that Elrond demanded of Aragorn as a prerequisite for his daughter's hand in marriage. What more should I ask of you?"

"That Goldberry love me spontaneously and not because her father tells her to?"

"Precisely. And indeed that is all that I ask. For the rest, it is your decision."

"Marrying an immortal is a great responsibility, never mind the commitment to love each other. Moreover, Goldberry is a Child of Eru, or I presume she is, with the exalted status of just one other that has been  in Middle-earth. I don't think there will be any more.  Luthien's history was bound up with that ridiculous quest for a Silmaril. She finally became a mortal and died, like Beren, in what I presume was a normal lifetime for a mortal woman."

"Eldarion, there is, I think, a matter that I should raise with you. It may seem unimportant to you now but take my word that it is important. That is the difference between history and legend. Has it struck you that what are presumably accurate accounts of past events and myths or traditions that surround them are sometimes quite different?"

"Strange that you should bring this up now. I was reading three accounts yesterday which I believe to be historically accurate, but only one of them tallies with what I consider the legend or tradition."

"Would you elaborate? Ah! These are confidential documents. Well, it's your decision of course."

"As you say, but given that I regard them as confidential, I'm sure that you will treat them in confidence. They concerned the 'departure' of Samwise Gamgee, the death of my mother and the 'sailing into the West' of Legolas and Gimli."

"Oh, you have accurate accounts? May I ask their origins?"

"The account of what happened to Samwise was by his grandson, Elfstan Fairbairn, and was marked 'for the King's eyes only'." The other two were written by officers of the Kingdom, similarly in confidence to me but in their case of course they were under orders. It was the decision of a small group of hobbits that I alone outside their group should be privy to Sam's fate.

"Sam was demented. He never got over Rose's death, and about three months later he rode away to the Havens, having first left the original Red Book with the Fairbairns. He was followed by Fastred, Elfstan and four other hobbits. At the Havens he met them and insisted that he would be picked up by a ship that would convey him into the Uttermost West. The night after the meeting he walked out onto an old quay and stepped into deep water. The hobbits couldn't rescue him."

"Oh dear. That is sad. So the Fairbairns decided to tell the world he did actually sail to the West."

"That's right. It's now enshrined in the Red Book."

"And what became of Legolas and Gimli who, legend tells us, sailed into the West too?"

"Certainly they built a ship. They did it under the watchful eyes of a master shipbuilder in our own shipyards. She was followed away from the Belfalas one night as the pair attempted to sail her into the West. My mariners reported that it was clearly not taking the Straight Path. Then a violent storm blew up. After the storm some debris was sighted that undoubtedly derived from their ship. Nothing more was ever heard of them and I assume that they perished in the storm."

"And the tradition has been kept that they sailed into the West? Have you fostered that tradition?"

"Insofar as I haven't released any of the details I just told you, yes I have. I was considering the matter of whether I should write the correct records into history when you arrived."

"My advice to you at this stage is: do not set history right, but keep safe the correct version for later generations to set beside the legend. Perhaps they'll believe legend over history."

"I was of a mind to do just that, at least for the time being. By the way, you yourself surely perpetuated a myth. The myth that you and Goldberry were married."

"Yes. I didn't deny it although I did not ever start it. Hobbits saw us together and decided that we were married. They also assumed that I was just an old man, although a remarkably long lived old man. The poem that one of them wrote suggested that there had been a wedding. In fact that was true, only the identity of the bride was different. Once, when Nenuriel was pregnant, we had a fun wedding celebration on the bank of the river. She did indeed wear a silver-green robe as the verse tells."

" 'Around her slender middle' ?" queried Eldarion showing off. In fact he had read through that collection of hobbit poems not more than a week ago.

"She was not 'showing' at that stage, and her middle was indeed quite slender," shot back Bombadil with a wink. "Now tell me about the death of Arwen."

"As far as I can tell, the account I have of her death agrees in all respects with the words of the Tale of Years, except of course that there is a great deal more detail in the account I have."

"So what killed her?"

"Old age, I presume. She could not sustain her identity as an elf and she was over 2,500 years old. According to the report I had she died quickly one morning after showing no signs of ill health prior to that."

"Did she indeed? Then I think you have erred in your diagnosis of her cause of death. There are a few things about elves you should know. Did she tell you that she had made 'the choice of Luthien'?"

"That's exactly what she said. She always believed it. I know that she had a very traumatic parting from her father before Elrond returned to Valinor. They expected that their fëar would have totally different destinations. Is that not right?"

"No. In fact the only recorded instances of the 'choice of Luthien' were by Luthien herself and by Elrond and Elros. Each was permitted to choose whether to be an elf or a mortal. Luthien, as you know, chose mortality to be with Beren. So did Elros; the difference there being that Luthien was an elf while Elros was a man. Elrond chose to be an elf when he was originally a man. All other offsprings of elf-man unions have been mortal."

"I follow that. So you're saying that Arwen did not choose, she indeed remained an elf until she died. So what did she die from?"

"Ah! I wondered if you'd know that. Arwen undoubtedly died from wasting in grief. A well recognised cause of death in elves, more common in women and the only known cause of their death other than by being slain, that is having their bodies damaged beyond repair."

"You mean Arwen died of grief over the loss of her husband?"

"That's right. There are other cases of it known, but none of the other man-elf unions ended that way. Tuor and Idril sailed into the West. Dior and Nimloth were killed in the sack of Doriath. The only death from wasting in grief that was documented in the ancient elf legends was that of Finwe's first wife, Miriel. She appeared to have put too much of her essential self into Feanor and she could not sustain life in her body afterwards. Deaths from so-called 'wasting in grief' have all occurred either after childbirth or after the death of  a close member of the family. They have occurred mostly, though not exclusively, in female elves."

"So her fëa would have gone to the Halls of Mandos. Same place that Elrond's fëa was destined to go. Their grief at parting was entirely unnecessary. For that matter, could Arwen have died of grief at the sundering of her ways with her father?"

"No, or she would have died long before she did. Arwen almost certainly knew what she was dying from, but for some reason wanted to give the impression it was the mortality of mortal men. I can't at present see why she would have done that. Certainly it is at odds with the tradition."

"The tradition will do for the time being. However, it's another example of tradition at variance with history. One of the most glaring examples, by the way, is right here in this room." Eldarion indicated a large painting, on which was depicted a hobbit tossing a ring into a chasm from which a red glow emerged. "That is, of course, Frodo casting the Ring into the Fire. It's well known that it didn't happen that way, but in a piece of writing, now enshrined with accounts of the War of the Jewels and various other elven legends, it is described in exactly that way. Sam Gamgee's account of the actual events is also well known and over here," Eldarion indicated a painting on another wall, "we have Smeagol falling into the Fire. It seems that the truth and the legend can cohabit. However, perhaps only one will survive in time."

"Interesting." Bombadil now turned his attention more fully to the room. Other paintings depicted Frodo. One showed him as a boy, while in another was Frodo with Bilbo in what could perhaps have been a room of Bag End. "Gandalf would have appreciated this room."

"He would have. I wonder if he would have like our 'Gandalf Room'. I will show it to you later."

"You have, of course, given much space to the War of the Ring and its characters. Do I get a mention?"

Eldarion looked embarrassed and Bombadil continued, "Oh well, not to worry. Maybe I can still make a place as father of the Queen."

"I'm not ruling it out. Not as yet, anyway"

"Well you are the Ruler," Bombadil quipped. Eldarion smiled good naturedly.

"Have you anything more to tell me that you think I should know concerning my decision on Goldberry? Before I see her, I mean. There will still be plenty of time afterwards."

"Perhaps not. Perhaps I should leave any further remarks until you have had an opportunity to get to know each other better."

"You seem to have some particular thing in mind. However, I certainly will not press you."

"Yes, I think it's as well to wait. By now you must be well used to the idea of a mortal man married to an immortal woman. Does anything in particular about that sort of union disturb you?"

"One thing perhaps above all. What will become of her when I die? She will still be Queen. Could she not take the sceptre? Would she want to take the sceptre? How would any of my heirs feel about that? She might then rule until the End."

"She will not be Queen Regent and she will not have any succession rights. On your death, I expect that she will return to me. In any case she will play no further active part in the history of Middle-earth."

"Is that her idea?"

"Yes. It was my counsel, but it was her idea too."

"Do you know that her progeny will be mortal?"

"Not beyond the bounds of all doubt, but the evidence points to it."

"That will do. I should not take this discussion any further for the present."

"A wise move, I believe."

Eldarion and Bombadil talked of many other things, including specific matters currently before the King, and Bombadil gave more counsel. Finally they rose to leave, as they had arranged to meet with Goldberry in the refectory for lunch.

"Go on ahead of me would you, Bombadil. I need a few minutes alone."

Bombadil left and Eldarion sat and considered. A great deal had happened in the last 24 hours, much of which had come suddenly and unexpectedly. Elessar had given much thought to his son's training in expecting the unexpected, but there was a limit to preparation against the unknown. Now, quite suddenly, he must decide on matters that could radically change the course of history. From here forwards in time, it appeared, there would be no sapient races in Middle-earth but the human race. The gods and the fairies were gone. But one last immortal still remained and that one was a woman whose hand in marriage was his for the taking, or so it seemed.

Men, as the legends said, were able to go beyond what was fate to all other free peoples, most especially the elves. The gift of free choice was, however, a two edged sword, and men had to live with the consequences of wrong choices, both the perpetrators of those choices and the multitude of innocents who had no control over them. Here he was, poised at the crossroads. Was one way right and the other wrong? Were both ways degrees of right? Was there no right and wrong? No one could tell him. It was his choice to make and his responsibility for the consequences. History would judge.

He recognised that both heart and head would contribute to his decision, and that his tryst with Goldberry would be the watershed. What effect would she have on him, and he on her? Absently, as these thoughts ran through his head clamouring for attention, he glanced around at the many pictures of Frodo Baggins, an ordinary hobbit that fate had singled out for great deeds - or was it really fate? Over the entrance door was one painting, one of the smaller and one that tended not to be noticed as people leaving the room often had other things on their minds. It showed Frodo walking through the threshold of a house, a look of awe and delight on his face. Beneath was written the verses he was said to have uttered at that moment:

O slender as a willow-wand! O clearer than clear water!
O reed by the living pool! Fair River-daughter!
O spring-time and summer-time and spring again after!
O wind on the waterfall, and the leaves' laughter!

Outside it was early autumn, but suddenly Eldarion felt spring in his heart again. He tried to visualise the scene in the painting (which had in fact occurred in Autumn), but it was spring and the feel of new green growth that took hold of him in that minute. The endless cycles of renewal - life springing from death - that made the immortality of Arda itself. That was the vision of Goldberry for Frodo. Surely there was a lesson there for him.

He left feeling much better.

Lunch was brief and pleasant, with small talk about the city and Goldberry's impressions of it which were generally favourable. After the meal it was Bombadil's turn to play tourist, while Eldarion and Goldberry got to know each other better. For this Eldarion had chosen the Fountain Court, which was cleared of the townsfolk who often spent time here. It was a warm, sunny day and a gentle wind from the south west ruffled the flags and leaves of the bushes that surrounded the fountain and the Scion of Nimloth, now a tree over thirty feet tall and bearing a few late blossoms.

Eldarion and Goldberry sat together on a comfortable couch and watched the sparrows fluttering among the leaves of the White Tree. The King was trying to be as relaxed and spontaneous as possible, making no attempt to conceal his real self from his suitor. Goldberry always seemed at ease, although she had been very quiet and Eldarion was hoping that she would talk a bit more, and especially a bit more personally. Especially he had taken to heart her remarks about dislike of the approach to marriage as a business proposition. He though that, apart from other considerations, her life thus far had been idyllic and free of the normal stresses of those who had to deal daily with others of their own kind. Business was no doubt horribly alien to her.

"You saw the White Tree this morning?" he asked her.

"Yes. We also saw it as we arrived."

"Oh. Of course. This is a link with Numenor and indeed ultimately with the White Tree of Valinor. It is perhaps the most important object of our heritage, the more important for being alive."

"It is beautiful. But I am sad that there are not more plants in this city. The City of the Trees in Lothlorien must have been truly magnificent. Is that now within your Kingdom?"

"Yes, but none of the elves are left and men will not willingly live there."

"If we marry I would desire to have people live there again. Are you sure that no one would dwell in trees?"

She said it so gently and sincerely that Eldarion avoided a discourse on the drawbacks of treetop life.

"It is a wonderfully poetic notion, but perhaps not practical now."

"Do you love things that grow in the ground?"

"Not as you do, I think. Not as individuals each with a separate life. I can look at a garden, a grove of trees or a mossy glen with a stream flowing through it and I can get great enjoyment and peace of mind, but I do not find empathy with the individual growing plants that live there."

"Here you have a fountain, its water piped from high on Mindolluin. Where does the water run? It could run down through the city as a stream and it could be the centre of a set of terraced gardens."

"I must admit, Lady, that I do not know exactly where it runs to."

"It is more than I expected to find this lovely garden court, but there should be more, and there should be more natural places in the city. Do you agree?"

"I frankly admit that I have not given it much consideration. Ruling a Kingdom the size of this one does not leave much time over for such matters, when others demand first attention. You make a good case for a queen," he added smiling almost shyly at her.

"Have you many women among your advisors?"

That was an embarrassing one. He had two women, now in their 80's, who had been ladies in waiting to Arwen, and they advised him on matters especially relating to women, but in more general administration and planning there were none.

"Two, and those specialised on women's affairs," he answered simply.

Goldberry shook her head slowly and sadly. Eldarion was trying to weigh up her reactions. Did this mean that she saw for herself a place as queen, or did she see the Kingdom as a land of hard headed men with no personal feelings?

"Were I queen I would have more, and not just to look after women. I think that you need more care for the things that the elves valued, especially nature. I have lived close to nature all my life, and you know how long that is. I need to be with all kinds of plants and animals. As you know, I do not eat meat, although I'm happy with eggs and milk. I too brew mead and wine, and of course I make bread, from maize and from wheat. I like to use my hands, to sew and to weave. I make all my clothes and my father's clothes, from cotton which we harvest ourselves. All except the leather, which we have purchased from Bree with trade goods. That leather comes from old horses, too old to walk and usually in pain, that have had their lives painlessly ended. But perhaps you have read all this from Gandalf's writing."

"If so, I have paid insufficient attention to what you are now telling me. It makes a lot of sense. I like it. You obviously believe that you have brought much thought and skill to the suit of the office of queen. But you cannot be queen without our loving each other, with heart and mind."

"Oh, you are so right! That must come first! So how do we look into each other and find out if there is love?"

"I ... don't know," said Eldarion helplessly.

As if in answer, Goldberry looked at him. Her look was one of questing but not of desperate desire for knowledge. Eldarion bore the look passively and silently. He sat back and put his head against the couch's headrest. He cast about for a suitable new start to their converse, but one would not come. Despite this he felt at peace, with himself and with her. Yet the more he thought the more muddled his thoughts seemed to become.

He then began to think on what they were discussing - about nature, streams, plants, gardens ... Then suddenly he was drifting in consciousness, lost in time and space.

The water fell like a veil down the mossy rock and into a glassy pool at its feet. It trickled away from the pool, across an expanse of pebbles and into the bed of a stream. Eldarion and Goldberry stood side by side, their arms around each other. Now that was something he hadn't noticed - she was about the same height as he was, not exceptionally tall but nevertheless taller than most women. There was the sensation of spray on his face, softly blown by the wind, of Goldberry's living flesh beneath her green gown, of deep inner peace that such a beautiful, gentle place as this brings to the troubled mind. Strangely, he felt no surprise at being here, although his whereabouts, and his means of sudden transport there, were quite unknown to him.

Of how long he stood thus he had no idea. Eventually he turned to her to say words of love that seemed to come unbidden to his lips ...

And he was back in the fountain court. All else was as it had been, except that he was holding hands with Goldberry. He withdrew his hand in haste and embarrassment.

"Did you like that?"

"What did you do to me?" he asked anxiously.

"I just let you visualise your innermost thoughts. You do love nature and things that grow. You just haven't been allowed to express your love. I think you love me."

"Allowed to express? Perhaps you're right. I've had very little time to call truly my own. That's the price of power. I don't love power for its own sake but I do take pride in my ability to use it for the common good."

"I think you need to take more of your time for yourself. I think you need a personal life. You have an obligation to have a family, you should also have a family life. A family begins with loving a woman. Now I haven't had the opportunity to love a man, but I have had a great deal of time to consider it."

"But what makes you think I love you? Of course you are very desirable. You are also rather formidable, although perhaps less so to me than to others. At least my mother was an immortal - or should have been. For most men, immortality in a spouse would be truly daunting."

"You are utterly dedicated to your Kingdom. Being King is everything for you and you have never given a thought about personal love of a woman. But you do need that woman and that love. Why me? Because I am exceptional and you would want someone exceptional. You would never bring yourself to love a woman, however desirable she may be, unless you could see her as your queen. The title of queen would have to sit well on her, in your mind. You can see me as queen. And without wishing to over-praise myself I am rather comely."

That, thought Eldarion, was a gross understatement. The more one saw of Goldberry the prettier she seemed to become. He would have liked to have seen her beside his mother, but of course that could never now be. He said nothing.

"You have been sitting here with me, trying to find reasons why you do not love me, and you can find no reasons. You do not want to acknowledge your love for me or mine for you, because you fear it may not be, or it may be contrary to the interests of the Kingdom. But it is not contrary to those interests, although many people will look at us and wonder."

"Lady, you came here to marry the King, yet you did not know the King when you came. When did you decide that you had love in your heart for me?"

"Oh," she said airily, "about ten seconds after we met."

"Do not play with me."

"I do not. I looked into your heart and mind. You have now looked into my heart and mind, and you can see my love, yet still you resist believing."

There was a long silence. Finally Eldarion took both of Goldberry's hands in his.

"You are right. I felt that it was my duty to hold out against my will as long as possible, in the fear that I might be doing the wrong thing. I felt yesterday that I loved you, but then I felt that could not be right, that it was too quick."

"I came to you with skills and powers and wisdom of age and of divine lineage. Do not fear my powers when they are used in love only."

"That is indeed reassuring."

They sat then for some time, holding hands, watching the fountain play and the sparrows flitting among the boughs of the White Tree. Finally Eldarion said:

"I will announce our betrothal as soon as I may. I am, after all, the King and the responsibility for my actions is mine. I expect some tongues to wag but this I must also accept."

He stood up, took her hand and together they walked into the Great Hall.

The wedding was set for a week hence as matters of state, while not unduly delayed, could not be organised against the background of the King's business without a certain delay, and in any case a week seemed if anything rather too short a time from meeting to wedding, but the people would accept it and the advisors, at least those of them who were really wise, would appreciate that the love between such a couple as these was not likely to be understood by ordinary people.

Thus it was that, on 25 March, year 135 of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth, a date that that of course had great significance as the anniversary of the day that the Ring was destroyed and Sauron utterly defeated, Eldarion Telcontar, King of the Reunited Kingdom of Middle-earth, and Goldberry, the only immortal woman and the only child of an ainu and a mortal, were wedded by the White Tree in the Fountain Court of Minas Tirith. Then, by popular demand and in spite of the preference of the King (who nevertheless gave in good natuedly), Goldberry sang the elves' Hymn to Varda, in the most beautiful voice that anyone had ever heard, Arwen's voice included.

"I hope she has laid that particular ghost to rest," remarked Eldarion half to himself at the end of the hymn, "after the stories of madness and passion mixed up with it."

Others wouldn't have known what he was speaking about but Goldberry did.

"Not all madness and passion is bad", she said. "Not all history is better than myth and legend. Not all death is sad. This union that has been made today may begin one of the major themes of the Great Music that eventually brought all of Melkor's efforts at domination to become a part of the tribute to the glory of Eru."

Not really understanding the lady's words, the gathered throng nevertheless felt moved to give forth a rousing cheer.

*     *     *

Envoi

The following words were added personally by the King's Scribe, Findegil, in the year 172 of the Fourth Age.

After the wedding, Goldberry assumed her mother's given name and the surname of the royal house, and was known as Nenuriel Telcontar. She bore Eldarion a total of thirteen children, seven sons and six daughters. The last 37 years of the Kingdom have been characterised by peace, stability and the ordered expansion of the borders to include all the countries in the subcontinent that in past ages had been thought of as the whole of Middle-earth. It is now generally thought that there are other lands and some mariners have even brought back news of them, but as yet their nature is all unknown, including whether men live there.

Eldarion is now 77 years old, and his eldest son, Xenidil, is 35. It is Eldarion's wish that his eldest son should inherit the kingship, but that the Kingdom should be divided into twelve self-governing provinces, to be ruled each by one of the other children. Action is under way to bring this about. Along with that will go a lot of major reorganisation. The process will not be hurried and it is expected to take most of Eldarion's remaining kingship. He wants to abdicate his rule while he is still hale, and he does not expect to live anywhere near as long as his father lived.

With the completion of this document, the Red Book (King's Copy) is now complete.

Findegil.


 
 

Back to Tilkal, Issue 1, eJournal of Tol Harndor