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Taking the Endless Way

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“In the year 1425, after the coronation of King Araphor, Queen Idhril of Arthedain and Arnor left the Norbury of the Kings and took up the rulership of Cardolan under the King of Arnor.”

(Elemmakil of Gondor, The History of Cardolan, Chapter III: A Brief Summary of the Royal Line)

 

“In the year T.A. 1434, the army of Cardolan under Queen Idhril, second general of Arnor, was scattered, for Rhudaur crept up through the wild lands of the South and fell unlooked-for upon the defenders of the Downs. And Queen Idhril, again, disappeared.”

(The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Arnor)

 


 

When Idhril woke, and blinked away the blinding light, there was a woman, a woman with sunflower-yellow hair, a woman Idhril knew, standing by the doorway.

 

“Goldberry.”

 

“Idhril. Come.” She beckoned to her, and with those two words, disappeared.

 

Idhril lay in bed awhile, soaking in the sunlight that streamed through the window, but Goldberry’s summons, too, was enticing, and reluctantly, she slipped the covers away. For some part of her knew what would happen, what should happen.

 

A soft white nightgown, and untangled hair, Idhril saw, when she looked into the mirror, her face thin and worn, again, and showing the marks of age, beside, decorated with scars from her many campaigns. And, when she turned, the blue dress with the scattered white gems. Echoes of that day, long ago, and Idhril smiled.

 

The brooch would be gone, too, she knew, and when she looked (a perfunctory search); it was missing. It did not weigh on her mind as she limped down the stairs (for that was one difference, the bandage around her ankle); she knew where it was.

 

And there was a feast, again: fresh bread and yellow butter, thick golden honey, milk, bright red strawberries, vegetables boiled to tenderness, slices of different cheeses and bottles of pickle. And Tom, too, was there, and they ate.

 

Afterwards, Tom left. The chairs by the fire were as Idhril remembered, and Goldberry—

 

Goldberry was fairer, even, than the memory had made her seem, her hair running in rich rivulets down her back, her eyes the color of a sparkling stream.

 

“Idhril, how do you fare?”

 

It was the voice, sounding like the cascade of a waterfall, which brought her out of her reverie, and she remembered the ache in her bones, the wounds that were not yet quite healed. “I would say, ‘I fare well’, but I live in the outside world, and war is outside. I do not wish to talk of that.”

 

“No,” Goldberry agreed. “It is not a fit topic. But of the ones you love, and the ones under your command?”

 

“I will not think of them.” But she did, of the death and disaster that had befallen, so many lying dead, now; she could only hope that they had come to safety. A search, now, would do nothing; after her wounds had healed properly, she would set out to gather as many of them as she could. Her son she carefully ignored; that worry would drive her wild. And these thoughts had no place, now; she pushed them away and listened to Goldberry.

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

“If we do not speak of war,” Idhril said quietly, and she watched Goldberry as she spoke,  “May we, instead, speak, as we did, that day long ago, of the past?”

 

Goldberry smiled her approval. “We may. And if we speak of the past...I would hear more about your friend Aiwen.”

 

“Aiwen...” Idhril sighed. The subject did not altogether surprise her. “Aiwen...we played at ‘Gondolin’, when we were younger. I, of course, was Idril, the princess—with my name, that was a foregone conclusion—and sometimes Glorfindel, or Ecthelion, and she was Tuor and Maeglin and everyone else beside. It was a lovely game, if a little bloody for children. But,” and here she shook her head, “What of you? All I know is that you are the River-daughter.”

 

“That I am,” Goldberry laughed, and her laughter was the bubbling of a brook. “I am the daughter of the River. I am her spirit. And I am, too, the earth and everything in it.”

 

“And...” Idhril paused to gather her thought. “And are there others...like you?”

 

“You have seen one; Iarwain Ben-adar the mortals call him, or Tom to some. There are others of our kind, too; they walk the land in the guises of the Children,” Goldberry murmured.

 

This was talk Idhril could not understand. “That is...I do not understand such things,” she said honestly. “I know that you are real, but beyond that, I cannot comprehend.”

 

“Ah, but am I real? Are you real? Or are we just a passing thought in another’s mind?” At Idhril’s uncomprehending look, Goldberry laughed, though it was not an unkind laugh. “Come, I have something for you.” She unfolded her palm, and there, lying on her palm was the old gift from Aiwen, the butterfly-brooch. “Here, I will pin this for you.”

 

That day again, indeed. The hand that brushed her breast sent prickles through her body, and she held perfectly still as the pin slipped into the fabric.

 

And there it changed. For the hand did not stop at her breast, or remove itself, but move upwards, and to her jaw. Slowly, slowly, Idhril found herself moving forward to meet Goldberry half-way, and their mouths met in a soft explosion of feeling.

 


 

When Idhril woke again, it was dawn, and a song wafted through the air.

 

It was a beautiful song, and at first, Idhril simply lay under the sheets, the melody wafting thorough her ears. Slowly, however, she grew aware of the words; they were in Quenya, the little-used language of studies, and she strained to understand the accent of a native speaker, harking back to the practice of the few years she had spent at Rivendell.

 

The song spoke of growth, and love, and beauty, of joy and light and soft rain on the grass, and, when Idhril opened her eyes, Goldberry stood in the dawn-light, a robe wrapped around her, and sung to a small flowering plant as it bloomed before her eyes.

 

The bud grew into a single spray of cornflowers; a flower Idhril had regarded as a weed, before, but now she saw the elegance of the flowers in their rayed patterns and the beauty of its blue shade as, under Goldberry’s song, it burst into full bloom, the petals spreading as if to caress the golden hair that streamed around the plant and mingled with the light of the rising sun.

 

At last the song ceased—and by this time the sun had moved beyond the horizon and taken her full place in the sky—and Goldberry plucked one tiny, delicate flower, and walked back to Idhril and the bed.

 

Idhril raised herself up to meet the other woman. The sheets fell off, and she was naked under them, but after the events of the previous day, it did not matter; the world narrowed down to Goldberry, and the flower in her hand.

 

Slowly, she kissed her lover of one fleeting moment, and their lips slid against each other, a soft song. There was a hand on her hair, and her black locks were moved about by fingers.

 

“Here,” and Goldberry broke the kiss, moving back, though her hand still cupped Idhril's jaw. “Now you have Idril’s flower, too. And Aiwen is not the only person who has crowned you princess of Gondolin.”