Break of day…
The fingers of grey dawn arrive much as they have done for days beyond my count. Pale streaks of light advance slowly across the stone floor toward the bed where I lie. I desperately try to shrink away from this light, from this day, to return to the blessed warmth and forgetfulness of sleep. But I am all too aware of the coolness of the new morning air on my face and the realization that he is no longer beside me. I lift my eyes to the window that looks out upon the West and see him silently standing there, silhouetted against the fragile, grey light as he gazes outward.
An ache of tenderness suddenly fills my heart to overflowing as I rise up, secure my dressing gown, and move soundlessly across the chill floor toward the window. In all our years of marriage, I have never been able to approach Estel unawares, even though I move with the effortless stealth and grace of an Elf. This morning is no exception as he turns toward me with a hint of a smile that never fails to melt my heart. With a cry barely audible, I fly into his outstretched arms and rest my head on his shoulder, still steady and strong after all these years. He strokes my hair, and together we watch as the growing light reveals first our sitting garden, then its encircling wall, and finally the farther buildings of the citadel.
Somewhere behind in the East, the sun at last breaks free of the horizon and the first red streaks of light strike the uppermost point of the citadel. It is then that I feel him draw in a deep, sharp breath as more of the city is bathed in the red glow of a new dawn. Through lowered lids I watch the range of emotions that pass unguardedly across his face as he absorbs every detail of his city, as if to imprint the memory of every pinnacle, every square, every home, paved street, and greensward permanently in his mind’s eye. His face is old now, not in the way of lesser men in whom the passing of years carves deep furrows and shadows, but in the gentle weathering of a visage that has witnessed, and helped to shape, the changing tides of Arda. His hair, falling in soft waves to his broad shoulders, once a deep brown, is now fully grey. But as I regard him, I see the nobility of his features reflected in the firm set of his jaw and the clear gaze of his grey eyes.
An involuntary shudder passes suddenly through me, and he tightens his arms about my waist. “My dearest love,” he whispers into my hair, “have you ever beheld such a beautiful dawn as it breaks over the city? The people will soon greet a new day…streets will come alive with shopkeepers selling their wares…men will be about the work of the day while their womenfolk oversee the home and tend the sick…the laughter of children will resonate through the circles of the city….” He pauses, and I look at him as his eyes move wistfully over the breadth of Minas Tirith at the break of day. His voice breaks as he continues, “It was not always thus…so much was sacrificed to bring these days of peace to full fruition. Friends, comrades-in-arms…all of them beloved…bearing together the days of peril and strife to usher in this new age. Now, but for a few, they have all passed on….beyond the grey curtain of this world…” He bows his head, eyes closed for a moment. Recovering, he looks at me then, and his eyes, glistening with unshed tears, pierce through to my very soul. Overcome with love for him, I lay my hand on his cheek and wait.
He is silent for a time, but his eyes continue to search the recesses of mine, and I feel keenly both the depth of his love and his inner resolve. Silence is broken by his choked whisper. “In my long years, I have known deprivation and despair, faced harrowing evil, and suffered untold loss, but …I …have …been …blessed nonetheless! Far beyond anything I could ever imagine….” He clasps my hands in his and holds my eyes in his steady gaze as a trace of a smile crosses his features. “Beloved, I am weary….. my time is come…well you have known it, as have I.”
Choked with a tide of emotion that constricts my throat, I can find no words. A voice inside my head makes itself heard above the throbbing of my heart, “But I am not yet weary of my days…You cannot leave me behind!” A small tear escapes the corner of my eye, rolls down my cheek, and is captured by my Estel…..
Day is done…
I stand quite alone in the middle of the room, willing my feet to feel the cold hardness of the stone floor beneath them. I force my eyes to survey this room, this most intimate chamber in all the private apartments of Elessar and Evenstar….once warm and inviting, filled with the light of love and laughter, our private space, a retreat from the rigors of governing and statecraft, the place where we were truly one, the chamber that bore witness to the first lusty cries of our children…..Now empty, cold, devoid of life, a mere shell of the sanctuary it once was.
The sun – for it had been a gloriously brilliant day – is fast sinking below the western rim of the world; I can see the orange disk beyond the edge of the city, its reflection giving a deep salmon cast to the wispy clouds in the sky. The last golden beam recedes across the stone floor toward the wide bay window, the same window from which I had watched the dawn while resting my head against his shoulder. A serving maid must have lit tapers some time earlier, for I am now aware of the pale flicker of candlelight against the stone walls of this chamber.
My eyes are unwillingly captured by the tapestry that hangs on the far wall above Estel’s writing table. Woven with great care over one hundred twenty years ago by the most skilled weavers in the realm and presented as a gift on our first anniversary, the scene depicted is that of Midsummer’s Day, TA 3019. A sob catches in my throat as my eyes take in the representation of our wedding day….bright sky…glorious flowers festooning doorways and windows… deliriously joyful people leaning from windows and filling the open spaces….the magnificent seedling of the White Tree…..But my eyes, not unlike the bride’s in the tapestry, are inexorably drawn to Estel, resplendent in his wedding clothes, clad in a white mantle, the Elfstone adorning his breast. In the detailed weaving, the strength and nobility of his features are clearly discernable, as is the love in his eyes. My own upturned face in the tapestry basks in the reflected glow of my bridegroom.
Unable to bear the scene any longer, I turn away and am overcome by the absolute silence that surrounds me. I have never before realized how deafening silence can be. I am confronted with the realization that I am utterly alone. I have spent the long years of my life until now as daughter, sister, friend, lover, wife, and mother. Yet my parents and kindred have sailed beyond the sea to a place I cannot, and would not, follow; my children are now grown with families of their own; and Estel…..my Estel…
I sink down on the side of the bed, desiring nothing for my grief, nothing to ease my pain. Then I see it. Lying on my pillow, meticulously folded, is the favorite cloak of Estel’s…one I recognize immediately as dating to his days as a ranger in the forests of Eriador. Mended by his hand and mine so many times through countless years, I am amazed it has survived. During the long years of his rule, whenever he sought the solitude of the wild to clear his thoughts and rejuvenate his spirit, this is the outer covering he wore over his rough clothes. Reaching for the dark green woolen fabric, softened and thinned with age, I press it to my face and breathe deeply of his scent which still permeates the garment.
From within the folds of the material, something falls. An envelope with a scripted “E” written in Estel’s fine hand stares up at me from the floor. I reach down to retrieve it, my heart in my throat. With shaking fingers I slide the folded parchment from the casing and, blinking back the tears that threaten my vision, I begin to read.
My Dearest Evenstar,
My light and my life. Ever since that evening when I first beheld you among the silver birches of Imladris some one hundred ninety years ago, you have held my heart and filled my dreams. Through the long, dark years of wandering in the wild, in those bleak days when the evil that spread from Mordor threatened to destroy our very lives, you were the shining hope of my heart. You were the chief treasure I sought as I strove with my brothers to free the peoples of Middle-earth from oppression.
The years I have shared with you in wedded bliss have brought unparalleled joy to my heart. You have fulfilled my every desire as wife, lover, queen, and mother to our precious children. I honor you with all that I am, for all that you are, and have been, to me.
I am but mortal and cannot change my fate in this world. By the grace of the Valar, I have been exceedingly blessed in my long life, and now the time has come for me to give back the gift. Yet, it is bitter at this parting, as I leave the circles of this world, to behold the sorrow in your heart, the tear on your cheek, the light fading from your eyes. I cannot delay my passing, but I can promise I will always bear your love in my heart. I will never forsake you.
So, Beloved, if you should happen to walk of an evening in our garden when night’s shadows gather, and you hear the rustling of leaves in the trees above, think that it is me walking beside you. If a breeze should gently touch your face, it is but my hand on your cheek. Should the wind call in the trees, it is I who whisper your name. Should your dreams ever be dark, think that I am there to comfort you. And if you should ride on a day across the fields or journey into distant Elvish lands, know that I ride beside you.
I am confident of one thing also…..more than memory awaits us both beyond the grey rim of this world. Arwen, vanimelda, namarie!
Weeping and shivering uncontrollably, I wrap the cloak about my shoulders and clutch the letter to my heart, overcome by these poignant reminders of Estel’s undying love and compassion for me. How I long to hold him.…to feel his cheek beneath my fingertips….to gaze into the limitless grey depths of his eyes.…but darkness has now fallen, blanketing the world in its shroud and enveloping my soul to its very depths. The flickering candles cast long shadows on the walls of stone; the fire burns low in the grate. At the far end of the room, the balcony beckons to me, and I step outside, leaning against the stone embrasure for support. The city is spread below me in ever-widening circles. A hymn of mourning is carried on the chill breeze as the people of Gondor sorrowfully mark the passing of their beloved king. Though their cries are heartfelt, I am strangely unmoved by this outpouring of grief. They have lost a monarch, but the Light of my life has gone out…indeed, their lives will resume much as before, while mine….Still clutching Estel’s letter and outwardly bathed in the warmth of his cloak, I gaze upward at the array of pale stars in the sky that seem in one night to have lost all their luster; now they are but heavenly pinpricks in the veil of darkness; and I wonder if somewhere, beyond the circles of the world, Estel is watching over me.