30 July 2011 | 4132 words
Series: Desperate Hours AU
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Disclaimer: All characters and everything else belong to Tolkien, this is just written for fun.
Beta: None, written quickly so there are likely errors.
Summary: A short story of Undomiel and her Knights Errant, and what they were up to, in the nearly a century between when Arthedain fell, and when Gandalf drove Sauron from Dol Guldur in 2063, starting the Watchful Peace. Also a story about loss, and love, and moving on, after the Ring War.
A/N: That the twin sons of Elrond often fought with the Dunedain of Arnor, and are described as often having been about “on knight errantry,” is canon. All of the rest of this, really, is my own idea of what Arwen might have been up to, in those days. It was rare for elven women to take up soldiery, but my understanding is that there was no gender bar against it, per se.
Year 1974 of the Third Age, Imladris
“You’ve never shown much interest in joining the guard proper, guren.” Captain the Lord Glorfindel told his Lord’s youngest daughter bluntly, “But you’ve trained diligently o’er the years, and fought in real engagements often enough that you’ve gained some experience. I’ll take you, but you’ll have to listen. And that’s not always your best skill.”
“I’ll listen.” Arwen replied, numb inside. “Belemir is dead, but I owe this to him.”
“We do not know that he is, muinthel-laes.” Elrohir said gently.
“I know. You would know, if it were Elladan. I know.” Arwen replied, Belemir’s last letter, smuggled through by a brave scout, tucked inside her tunic, against her breast. “We will hold out as long as we can, we of Arthedain.” He had written her. And somehow, she knew, keeping that promise had been the death of the brother she had called her “twin.”
Approximately year 2053 of the Third Age, somewhere in what was once Arnor
Thrust, cut, parry, slash, and cut again. The orc fell, his head severed from its body. Arwen did not pause, she dropped to her knees beside the young boy the orc had held captive.
“Shh, sweetling.” Lord Elrond’s daughter murmured, “Tell me where you are hurt.”
The boy was too terrified and hurt to voice anything but a thin, traumatized cry. Where he was hurt was obvious enough, though, and tragically, there was little Arwen could do. When the orc had realized that he would not escape with his prey, he had dealt the boy what was meant to be a death blow. But it was a wound the child could have survived, if Arwen had been quicker. Or if her companions had kept up.
“Muinthel-nin, would it have killed you to have waited?” Elladan huffed, swinging himself down from his saddle. Elrohir, beside him, was evidently too angry to talk.
Arwen didn’t care. She didn’t even look up at them. She was too busy cradling the child, crooning to him, “I know it hurts, my love, but soon enough, you will be warm, and safe, and there will be no more pain.” Arwen did not think she was lying; she had always been told the Halls of Mandos were a good place, where mortal hurts were felt no more. Where Lord Namo cradled the dead to his breast, before returning them to the arms of their loving family members who had preceded the newly deceased to his halls. So Lord Glorfindel, her honorary great-grandfather, had told her and her siblings, and so she believed. It was very important that she believed, as Belemir was there now, with his beautiful young wife and their unborn child, and Arwen had to believe that they were all happy and peaceful, together.
Elladan’s hands gently double-checked the boy’s wounds, and her second eldest brother..now her youngest living brother, hissed angrily.
“Never mind Elladan, my darling.” Arwen whispered reassuringly to the child in her arms. “He is not wroth with you. Be at peace, best beloved. Soon you will be well again.” She did not look at Elladan. All of her focus was on the boy. Her brothers were here now; they could worry about things like making sure the other orcs were all truly dead, or that wolves or trolls did not sneak up on them, or whatever it was that Glor would worry over, were he here.
“Nana?” The child said questioningly, his eyes still pained, but no longer terrified, and then, “I love you.” In these last moments, grievously wounded and delirious, the poor boy had mistaken Elrond’s maiden daughter for his own mother.
Arwen’s heart skipped a beat, but she did not hesitate to reply, “Nana loves you too, sweetling. Nana loves you always, will always be proud of you.” Then the light in the child’s eyes went out, and Arwen held naught but a corpse. Kneeling in the forest between her brothers, she bowed her dark head over yet another casualty of the Witch-King of Angmar’s recurrent attempts to claim what was left of Arnor. His attempts to kill all of what remained of Arnor by wearing down the populace through constant small-scale attacks, after he’d tried and failed to take and hold Imladris. Unfortunately for the Witch-King, the Dunedain of Arthedain, of what had been Arnor, had followed Belemir’s plan… they could no longer hold a city against Angmar or Mordor. So they didn’t give their enemy a city to concentrate his mighty armies upon. Instead, the survivors moved to isolated and well-hidden villages. To attack them, the orcs had to find them, which took time and effort. And the villages all had escape plans; survival, not holding ground, was their goal. And they were good at surviving, such that even attacking and razing every village in what had been Arnor would not have been enough to kill off her hardened survivors. Take that, Witch-King.
The Witch-King had taken it poorly. And so he sent his minions, the orcs and the men of the East, to plague Undomiel’s people in smaller numbers. And they always took children, or women, if they could.
Arwen tenderly placed the small boy on the ground. Before Arthedain fell, before Belemir died, even in the first decades afterward, she would have cried over this death, as she’d cried over so many others. Now her eyes were dry. Her grief was no less, but it had long ago turned somewhere else.
“They scattered to flee, not regroup.” She lectured her brothers, the anger that she felt for their late arrival real, but like the grief, turned somewhere else.
“I did not care to gamble our lives on that.” Elrohir retorted, his eyes fiery.
Arwen’s anger quickened, and she started to reply that it had not been Elrohir’s choice alone, curse it all. She had seen this attack coming, and they had given the command to her. She had said to pursue the orc fleeing with a child captive, not secure their own line of advance. But she only had time to formulate her thoughts and open her mouth.
“Leave it, muindor, muinthel.” Elladan’s voice cracked into the cold night air, and it was commanding, as Elladan almost never was.
“What? Why?” Elrohir whirled on his twin now, “She could have died, all for a child who was probably dead, anyway.”
“Shut up, Elrohir. Now is not the time.” Elladan replied quietly, undoubtedly saying other things too, over their twin bond, but Arwen did not hear him. Nor could she really bestir herself to care. She agreed, that it was not the time.
Arahael and two other rangers appeared then, their mounts lathered. “We saved the village, Undomiel.” The Chieftain’s son reported to Arwen.
Arwen nodded woodenly, and was glad, in truth. But she couldn’t move herself to feel anything but a kind of deadened relief. Still, saving the village was a victory, and it deserved praise. She reached inside herself, somewhere deep, and pulled out, “Well done, muindor-laes.” For her brother Belemir’s nephew, her own distant cousin and foster-brother, Arwen would keep going. The twins exchanged worried looks, but came to their sister’s side when she looked to them and beckoned. In an organized fashion, as they’d done this many times before, Arwen and the twins worked with the three Dunedain to organize the clean up and the safe re-location of the village.
Melpomaen met them with the survivors, and they used the bright moonlight to move them all to a cave that the twins remembered from a happier trip, in brighter times. Arahael would have stayed up with his elven kin, to keep watch. But Elladan looked him over, and said no, and Arahael listened, eventually. So it was just Undomiel and her Knights Errant, keeping watch over their uncle’s people, also their own brother’s people, by lost Belemir’s marriage to Arahael’s aunt.
“The worst possible timing.” The twins’ gwador Melpomaen murmured, “Winter’s set in, and they’ve lost their supplies.”
“And more.” Arwen added softly.
“Two hundred to twelve, muinthel-laes.” Elladan said softly. “We did the right thing.”
“It was you who saw that they were feinting, Arwen.” Elrohir added, and his voice was kind, now, too. It was Elrohir’s strategies that the elves and rangers had followed to save the village, his drills that had given the villagers the skills and the practice they needed to get to their safe hiding places in the genuine emergency. But if Arwen hadn’t looked at the orcs’ seemingly random attack pattern, and seen that they’d somehow learned the location of this village, then they might well have lost all two hundred and twelve Dunedain, rather than just the few villagers the orcs had taken from a party sent to gather mistletoe and pine branches for Yule.
“Ten more dead.” Arwen replied, her voice dull now that Arahael and the rangers were too far away to hear.
Melpomaen shook his head at her, his almond eyes gently reproving, “We are not perfect, Arwen. We moved as fast as we could once we realized their true objective. Do not blame yourself, mellon muin nin.
“I’m not taking the blame.” Arwen retorted, and that was true. It went beyond blame, beyond… anything she could put into words. “Where is Angmar getting an inexhaustible supply of orcs from, anyway?” The youngest lady of Imladris wondered grumpily, putting her arms around her knees.
Elrohir shrugged. “No one knows. However, I do not have an inexhaustible supply of younger siblings, so you will be more careful, muinthel-laes, or I will send you home to Ada and Nana, and tell them and Glorfindel exactly what you have been doing.”
Arwen was ready to tell Elrohir exactly what he could do with his suggestion, save that Elladan put a hand on her knee, and said, again, “Shut up, Elrohir.”
Melpomaen and Elrohir both stared at the younger twin, as Elladan turned his attention to Arwen.
“There’s a line, between ‘good general’ and ‘complete and utter burn out,’ between ‘endurance’ and ‘depletion of a great heart and mind to the extent that the leader in question will make a terrible mistake, out of exhaustion and heartsickness.’” Elladan said softly. “Sending you home doesn’t intimidate you at all, at this point, and we don’t have the elves to force you to go if you don’t want to, anyway. Its an empty threat. But this one is real, my beloved sister. Step back and take a breath, and if you’re at the point where you can’t keep on, or you get there soon, for Eru’s sake let us know before you miss something, and get us all killed.”
That broke through Arwen’s reserve, and she started crying. Elladan pulled her into his arms, and Elrohir and Melpomaen patted her gently on the shoulder, and then went to guard elsewhere. Arwen sobbed for a long time, until she came to a point of peace. Not contentment, but… at least a catharsis. “I hate being away from baths.” She said at last, her voice so hoarse from weeping that she could barely recognize it as her own. “And I hate dirt. I never used to, and I would use that sometimes to bother Andreth when I was an elfling. But now I hate it. I hate not being clean, I hate blood, and death, and not… not being able to stop it. I hate it all.”
“Me too.” Elladan replied softly. “And I hate camp food. I also hate that you’re the best of us, at seeing what’s going to happen before it does. Elrohir hates that too, that’s part of why he’s acting like a bear with a toothache. Its not because he’s jealous, though. Its because he would’ve liked to have sent you home for a rest awhile ago, but he’s a good general as well as a good brother, and he knows that we are much more effective, with you. So how are you, really? There’s no shame in needing a rest. Its better than… well, its better than snapping, like Caradhon did during the siege, and getting yourself and others killed, and breaking Glor’s heart, again. And Ada’s and Nana’s. You’re our one and only baby sister, we’ve already lost our baby brother. We can’t lose you, too.”
And Arwen thought about that, thought about it very seriously. “I’m not… ok.” She replied at last, absolutely truthful. “But I don’t think I’m at the point where I’m going to snap, or even miss something. I’m close, but I’m not there. Not yet.”
Elladan nodded at her, his gray eyes serious and searching. Finally, he nodded again. “You’re not ok. But you’ll do. For now.”
And that was as much as any of them could ask. Arwen fell asleep then, cradled in Elladan’s protective embrace. When the dawn came, she searched out Elrohir.
“I should have consulted with you, or ‘Dan or Arahael, before going after the orc and the child he had captive. It was a mistake not to; I won’t do it again.” Arwen promised softly.
Elrohir’s stern gray eyes softened, and he pulled her into his arms. “You’d better not.” Elrohir murmured fiercely, pressing a kiss to his youngest sister’s dark head. They stood like that for awhile, until Melpomaen and one of the Dunedain arguing about how best to cook the porridge somehow resulted in a small fire, and they were both needed to help with that.
Then they were on their way, pulling rangers and militia from the nearest villages, and parceling out the survivors of the previous day’s attack into smaller groups, to spend the rest of the winter with some of the surrounding villages. And making sure that they had left absolutely no discernible tracks, in case that, too, had been part of the orcs’ plan. And, in Arwen’s case, pondering where the orcs were getting their numbers, and their increasingly dogged determination.
“There’s something… off.” Arwen said late that night, when she should have been sleeping. And Elrohir should have been sleeping too, but he listened instead. Then he woke Elladan and Melpomaen, who were sleeping in a real bed for once, and rather displeased to be roused. But they listened, too. Because Elrohir and Arwen didn’t agree often, but when they did, they were often right.
The five of them talked long into the night, despite having another long day of riding and relocating ahead of them. It wasn’t the first time, Arwen reflected, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. The Dunedain of Lost Arnor were their Lost Belemir’s people, and Uncle Elros’s. Elrond’s children and their gwador, Belemir’s family, would defend and protect these people until the last breath left their bodies. Arwen, herself, was so far beyond the end of her endurance, she couldn’t even see the forest for the trees. She couldn’t go on, but no more could she stop. And neither could her brothers, or Melpomaen. She was Undomiel, and they were her Knights Errant. Love and loss bound them, and love kept them going.
3019 of the Third Age, the King’s Garden in the Citadel of Minas Tirith
“We just held out as long as we could, we rangers of Ithilien.” Faramir murmured distantly, “I was willing to buy that time with my life. There are days when I am not really sure what to do with myself, having outlived so many.” He chuckled, though there was more pain than humor in the sound. “I never expected to live to this point, you see.”
Arwen’s eyes met Elrond’s, over the head of her father’s convalescing patient, their dear new friend. Both were struck by how similar Faramir’s words were to lost Belemir’s last letter. The line of Elros played tricks, over succeeding generations. Some descendants of the line, who had as much elven blood as any others, showed it little if at all. And then, sometimes, there was someone like Aragorn, or Faramir, who were throwbacks to Elendil’s generation, at least. Arwen had never known Elendil, whom her father and their elder family members told her that her beloved husband closely resembled. But Arwen had known Belemir better than anyone. And Faramir reminded her more of Belemir than anyone ever had, though Belemir had been blond, and Faramir’s hair was red-gold. Though Belemir had been more than half an elf, and Faramir was all but a small portion human.
“It is well that you did not have to, Faramir my friend.” Elrond said gently. “Be grateful that you lived, as we are grateful, as those you loved, and lost, would also be.”
Arwen thought about what she would have said to Belemir, if he had lived, and many of his loved ones had not. She could tell her father’s words had run over Faramir’s mind like water off of a duck’s feathers, penetrating little, if at all.
Arwen’s cat, a gift from Faramir, thumped ungracefully down from a nearby tree. Thumper, as Arwen had named her, was heavily with kitten, but that had not stopped her from bringing the recuperating Faramir a fine dead bird, which she laid on his lap before anyone could stop her.
Lord Elrond sighed, and picked up gift and cat, intending to take Thumper, at least, to the soft, warm nest of blankets Arwen had made in the bottom shelf of a linen closet. Arwen wasn’t sure what her father intended to do with the dead bird, but the whole scene, and Lord Elrond lecturing the cat about proper hygiene, was rather funny. Arwen and Faramir shared a smile.
“She’s going to kitten on your husband’s favorite dressing gown, or somewhere horribly inappropriate like that, I’m afraid.” Faramir confessed, his gray eyes alight with rueful good humor.
Arwen smiled back, amused by the thought, but more glad that her young friend was finding amusement in small things, again. Perhaps it would just take time, for Faramir to feel better, in mind and spirit. Time, and Éowyn, perhaps, would be enough. “I think Elladan may be coaching her to do so.” The Queen confessed, still pondering what she might say, to help Faramir. In the end, she had nothing to offer, but her own hard-won knowledge. She hoped it might be enough.
“Eru help him, if Aragorn learns of that.” Faramir murmured, lips quirking into another smile.
“Fara-nin.” Arwen said softly, sitting down beside Faramir on the garden bench, and cupping the side of his face gently in her hand, “I once survived a long struggle, past when I truly cared myself whether I lived or died. I had lost… the brother who was like my twin, Belemir, whom you have heard us speak of but rarely.”
“I… I did not know, my Lady.” Faramir replied, voice rich with sympathy and compassion. “I am sorry, for your loss.”
“I spent the better part of a century, after my war was over, lost in my grief.” Arwen continued. “It was a waste.”
“I… I’m sorry,” Faramir said, and Arwen saw other thoughts gathering in his eyes, something about time, and how elven relationships were long, and a century perhaps not too long to spend in mourning.
“It was too long.” Arwen said firmly, before he could speak. “And don’t be sorry; just realize, muin-nin, that your war is over. It is time, at last, for you to live, free of that care. Don’t waste the time, like I did.” Arwen didn’t say so, but both realized. It was now true that Arwen Undomiel, like her husband and their Steward, only had a finite amount of time left, for wasting or living.
“I… I don’t know how.” Faramir said, part explanation, part desperation, all true. At least he was really listening, and actually thinking.
“I know.” Arwen comforted, pulling him carefully into her arms. “I know, Faramir, muin-nin. We will help you, my family and I. So will Nessa, Dervorin, even unhygienic Thumper.”
Faramir, in her arms, huffed a laugh, through silent, healing tears, and Arwen smiled a little. “All will be well, Fara-nin. You will see. You just have to let your friends help you, until your lady arrives in the spring. Then she will help you too, and you will see, it will not be so hard.” Arwen held her young friend the Steward of Gondor until twilight came, with its gentle glow, and the fireflies twinkled in the garden. Faramir had fallen asleep, but he was not so heavy, and the temperature was pleasant. Almost as if the air itself caressed them, in joyful celebration of a Middle Earth free of the ring and its foul maker.
As the stars appeared, Arwen sensed the approach of her love, though he moved so softly, even in his new boots, that she did not hear him. “Is all well? Is Faramir ok?” Aragorn asked in concern, still dressed in his fine robes, the hated “King outfit,” from his long day. Arwen’s husband hated being King without his Steward’s capable assistance, but he hated more that Faramir had been exhausted enough, had neglected his own healing body enough, to need the rest.
“No, he’s not ok.” Arwen answered, honestly. “But he’ll do, for now. And I think he will be better than ok, given time.”
Aragorn looked at her, putting one small clue and another together in his active mind. “This is one of those “its an inside joke, but you can’t possibly understand, because you weren’t alive in Year 300 of the Third Age,” things, isn’t it?” He asked his wife.
Arwen chuckled lightly, surrendering their sleeping Steward to her husband’s strong, caring arms. “Close, meleth. The years 1974 to 2063, more precisely.”
“Ah.” Aragorn said, the expression in his gray eyes sympathetic and compassionate.
Arwen blinked. “For a moment, you looked just like Faramir did, when I told him of it.” She blurted out in surprise.
Aragorn chuckled. “Elrohir says that, too. That we favor one another, at times. We are both of Elros’s line, Faramir and I, cousins, however distantly. It happens like that, at times, that some of us whose most recent common ancestor walked on Númenor, will somehow look like brothers.” Aragorn cradled Faramir in his arms gently, and stood. “Time to get my young kinsman to his room, and ready for a late dinner.” He said fondly. “Will you come, meleth?”
“In a while.” Arwen said, standing and stretching. “I feel closest to Belemir under the stars, and I would spend a few moments, telling him of our distant cousins. The one I married, and the one who held Ithilien for us, these last long years.”
“Well enough, Undomiel,” Aragorn replied gently, his eyes shining lovingly at her. “But do not tarry too long. ‘Else I may send your troublesome brothers out to gather saltbush plant blossoms, and Legolas with them.”
Arwen blinked in surprise, again, and pointed out gently, “Meleth, that plant blooms only in the fall. You know so, and they will know so too.”
“Best you come soon, then,” Aragorn said with a grin, “‘Else who knows what desperate measures I will resort to.”
“I will not tarry long.” Arwen promised. As the beasts and insects of the garden sang their nightly chorus, she looked up at the stars. “I will do even better, this time, gwanur-nin.” Arwen promised Belemir softly, “No more lost time, for me or our kinsmen. Now that war is over, I will strive for joy, in part out of devotion to you. A better legacy, I think, then a lost century.” Getting up to go into the King’s House, Arwen smiled up at the velvety dark, star-studded sky one last time, and spoke again, “Farewell, beloved brother. Wherever you are. I will keep watch over our young kinsmen, until we meet again.”
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