Elwing awoke to the aroma of baking bread and the sounds of their faithful servants bustling about, preparing for the morning meal. They made so much noise that it was a wonder that anyone got any sleep. She rose from her blankets and stretched, eyes still closed. She threw on a robe, the color of crimson, yawned, and dumped her face into the washbowl nearby. The water was cold, and she sputtered as she dried her face with a handkerchief. Then she awoke her brothers.
Elúrin had slept in the twins' bed across from her own chamber, but little Elúred had slept nestled beside her that night. Whenever one had a nightmare or the other was frightened by a storm, they came to her. Sometimes neither of them could sleep for whatever reason, and so they both slipped in with her to listen to her tell tales or listen to her lullabies. Her bed was large enough to fit half a dozen people. Besides, she rather liked the feel of little arms about her and the smell of her brothers, the clean smell of little boy.
It was queer that Elúrin would be frightened of storms and Elúred of dreams. They looked alike in every aspect, and yet they were so different. They each had tumbles of dark curls and gray eyes. At five years old, they still had their baby roundness and button noses. They were very active children, and so they were slim, but she knew that they would both grow tall and strong. They dressed alike too, so only Elwing could tell which was which. Elúred had lost his first tooth, while Elúrin had a tiny scar beneath his chin from a dribble of scalding hot soup. Elúred liked tales of swords and warriors, Elúrin liked tales of wizards and animals. Elúred was a good swimmer, but Elúrin preferred tree climbing. Elúred liked honey cakes while Elúrin enjoyed blueberry tarts. Both were completely and utterly hers.
The twins complained loudly at being woken so early, but as soon as they scented fresh bread, they sprang out of their beds and hurried for the pantries.
"Elúrin! Elúred! Stop! You are running much too fast! Wait for me! Please? Stop! I said stop!"
But the boys ran with unflagging vigor as Elwing struggled to prevent them from causing some mishap or disaster. As the boys were about to open the doors to the kitchens, however, a woman sprang before them with lightning speed.
"Grand mamil," the boys were apprehensive. They loved their grandmother and were in awe of her, but they feared a lecture. To stop it before it started, they quickly said, "Let us pass! We are so hungry!"
The woman hesitated, then said, "You two are always hungry. That is healthy for growing men, but it would be far more pleasant if the whole family could sit down to a meal. Besides, the servants are still working as speedily as they can to finish it. Wait until they are done, and then there shall be more food and a greater variety. Fetch the King and Queen instead. By the time you return with them, breakfast will be ready. I will save a honey cake and blueberry tart for you."
The boys were relieved and flattered. She had called them growing men and not boys, and she had been reasonable and did not reprimand them. She had almost spoken to them as though they were her equals! They each gave her a kiss and set off after their parents as Elwing laughed. They did not see the look of pain on their grandmother's face, but Elwing had noticed it.
"Thank you," she said to Lúthien. "They would have gobbled everything within sight before anyone else could get a mouthful in. And the servants work so hard! Those two are quite a handful."
"Yet you handle them well," she answered. "You shall make a very good mother someday."
"Perhaps so," Elwing was flattered and a little embarrassed by the praise. "I hope that I do not have to raise twins like them, though. I would rather have one child at a time, not in pairs."
Elwing smiled with amusement. She knew that she deeply loved her brothers and enjoyed nothing more than to make them laugh. Her mother seldom had time to spare to care for them, for she was a Queen and assumed her duties with all her vitality and dedication. Dior, their father, spent even less time with them. When he did he was teaching them such things as how royal children were to behave. They learned some kingcraft, but the people expected Elwing to become the next ruler, if it was even necessary. Dior had not chosen, as his mother did, to become a mortal. Elwing was the eldest child, and the Eldar did not require a leader to be a male. They had no preference. They knew maidens could just as easily rule in times of peace or war.
Elwing was the heir and learned kingcraft and often cared for the boys as though they were her sons and not her little brothers. She had changed their swaddling when they were infants and taught them much that they knew with the occasional help of nannies and the household servants. She was a little angry that her parents barely took charge of their own brood, but as she matured, she realized there could be no helping it. Her parents were busy. She was very proud of the twins, for they were growing so big already. Not very long ago they had been babes in her arms, one in each.
"My husband shall likely want sons, but I want to have a little girl."
"Ah, every mother wishes that, I suppose," Lúthien smiled. "I had myself a boy child and could not bear another. I conceived not even once after he was born. I was very happy at the way your father Dior turned out, but it might have been nice to have a little girl. I often wonder how Beren might have taken it if I had only had a girl child instead, but I am sure he would have loved her just as much. I was an only girl-child, and my father spoiled me. I am sure Beren would have been just like him with our daughter. Nimloth is lucky to have all of you. In truth, I am a little envious of my daughter-in-law that she was blessed with both boys and a girl."
"I want a little girl so badly. She could carry on your line, grand mamil! Or would she, because the blood carries on through the father?"
"It matters not, Elwing," Lúthien explained. "For Dior carries both your father's and mine. The father starts life but the mother creates it and nurtures it. Whatever you have, boy or girl, you shall have, and you shall carry on my line. You are worthy of it, darling."
Elwing looked into her grandmother's face with all the love her heart was capable of. Lúthien was indeed the most beautiful maiden that was or that ever would be, and she was the sweetest, gentlest, wisest woman that the girl knew. She admired her, respected her, and even feared her a little. Her grandmother possessed an almost otherworldly aura about her, and Elwing was not ignorant of her lineage. Lúthien was nothing short of divine, and some of that same blood flowed in her veins.
It was no secret that the people spoke of Dior and Nimloth only as the Lord and Lady of Doriath. Lúthien was their true Queen, and they worshiped her as they had worshiped her mother Melian the Maia, even though Beren and Lúthien dwelt in Tol Galen and had come to Doriath for a rare visit. They loved her even more so, for Lúthien was also one of them. They had watched her grow up and faced their own hardships when she set out with Beren her mortal lover upon the Quest for the Silmaril.
The past few months, however, Lúthien's usual demeanor had changed. She was seldom seen in public. She spent less time with her grandchildren, who were her sun and sky. She was often shut away in her bower. The color drained from her face, and she was becoming more dispirited as the days passed by. She had even aged a little. Elwing was sure of it. She noticed that her hair was beginning to lose its luster, her eyes were duller, and dark circles had appeared beneath them. It was whispered that the Nauglamir caused her illness, for it was said to have been cursed many times over by the Dwarf-folk, by the Worm Glaurung and by Húrin. The people tried to guess what the malady was in concerned whispers. The family prayed for her. Even Beren was concerned for her health and flabbergasted that his wife was ailing. Lúthien would give no explanation for it. She seemed to be just as puzzled as everyone else.
"Is grand tatanya awake yet?" Elwing asked.
"No, not yet."
"You should wake him or he shall get nothing to eat!"
"We shall not take a breakfast this morning."
"Oh," Elwing was disappointed. She had been helping in the kitchens last night to prepare for the meal and had wanted her grandmother to partake. "Are you feeling ill?"
"Very," Lúthien struggled to get the word out.
"That is all right. I shall tell mother and father that you and grand tatanya are retiring for the day."
"Before you go, here are the treats I promised those little ruffians."
Elwing went to oversee the cooking. Lúthien returned to her bower where Beren lay still in bed. He had aged somewhat over the years. There were stray hairs of gray hue amongst the black, and there were several wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, but Lúthien was not repulsed by it. In fact, it made him seem all the more beautiful to her. Gray hair was not even a matter of ageing for her. Her father had had fine silver hair, and he was one of the Eldar and never aged. The wrinkles were barely noticeable, and made him seem wiser-looking. Even though he had aged, Beren was still the same man she loved. His looks alone were not what had moved her those many years ago.
As for Lúthien, she need not look into a mirror or a pool to know that she too had changed. She knew that she had aged and had no desire to watch her youth and vigor drain from her until she became at last a toothless old crone. She was far from that point yet, but the fact that she had aged at all was not lost on anyone, especially herself. She had felt that the past few years were like countless centuries, and she felt them as a mortal woman. She was disgusted by her ageing body and feared that Beren would be revolted by it. It was a natural thing to fear, but very foolish. Beren noticed but loved her no less. He had made his own sacrifice to prove his love for her.
Her diminishing beauty and rapid aging was one of the hardest ordeals that Lúthien had had to face because of her choice, and she had not yet even sprouted a gray hair. It was not the worst of her ordeals, but she still did not regret her choice.
She leaned over her husband and whispered his name. His eyes fluttered open.
"My lovely wife," he said with a smile.
Lúthien winced. She still found it difficult to believe sometimes that he still thought her beautiful. Beren sighed with exasperation and looked at her with love and pity.
"Are you feeling better?"
Her face darkened, and she sat beside him upon the bed. "I am afraid not, Beren. I have been feeling faint and weak. I could not sleep, and I sweated blood last night... I do not know what is happening to me."
He wrapped his arms about her and tried to soothe her, but she rose and began gathering her things.
"We must leave now."
"Is it that bad?"
She nodded and forced a smile, "I know that my time is coming, but I am glad of it. I do not want to live forever, and if we remain here, eventually, we shall become entangled in the woes of Men and Elves yet again. I am weary, Beren. I am weary of the world and weary of myself."
"Very well. I am growing weary also. Though my time upon this earth was short, I believe I have done it my share. We shall go home to Tol Galen, Land of the Dead that live."
"I have never heard you call it that."
"So it shall be soon. It shall be our resting place, where we built our home, and bore our son and reared him. It is a fitting place."
"It shall be so."
"And what of our children? What shall become of them? Do you still have the foresight you did in our youth?" Beren asked.
Her face became grim and she said, "Before she departed, my mother prophesized that our line should never fail, but I know now that it cannot be protected from sorrow. All my hopes now rest upon Elwing."
"What of the boys? I am quite fond of them, as are you, I know. Elúrin and Elúred are healthy and strong. They shall find wives of their own and bear children. At least one of them will. Won't they?"
Lúthien sighed and shook her head, "I have looked upon the stars and searched my heart, Beren, and of their fate, nothing has been revealed to me. Perhaps it is better that we never know."
"That is a shame."
Then Lúthien wept and cried, "I would that we could remain and save our children from all perils and grief. I would not have them suffer as we did! It is the wish of every mother. But now I know that it cannot be so. Even if we were immortal, we would never be invincible or could ever alter the fates of our children. We have no right to do so, and if they all live in misery, so be it. We can do nothing but give them life, a memory of happier days, and a hope for their own future. Say your farewells to the children, if you will. I could not bear to look upon them once I had made my decision, nor upon our son and his wife. We shall meet them soon enough, perhaps."
"No," Beren said. "It cannot be helped. "If we went to our son to tell him farewell, he would beg us to stay, and I would not have the heart to refuse him. As for our beloved grandchildren... It would be just too difficult. And how could we explain? I cannot do it."
"It is better than remaining here until we are ancient as Hirilorn and senseless as a dumb beast or dead. I wish no further distress to our family."
"But you speak of them all as though they have some horrible doom upon their heads."
Lúthien was silent.
"You still possess the foresight," Beren knew it for certain now. "You said that you had lost the ability! You lied to me!"
"I renounced it!" Lúthien defended herself and was hurt at the accusation. "I thought myself incapable of it, but it still comes upon me at unawares, in dreams or while I am in the proper state. I tried to force it to leave me, but it was too strong. My premonitions were about my loved ones. I could not block them out, especially when I am around them. Then it haunts me even as I am awake and looking upon my children. Such a thing can never abandon me. It is part of me, and I had forgotten it."
"And you know what is to become of our family and will not say, nor even tell me of it. It is this sickness of the heart, knowing and unable to do anything and not a disease or some curse that the Nauglamir has wrought upon you that has caused you to be ill! And you want to leave so soon because you do not want to witness it."
"Can you blame me!" she hissed, and Beren was surprised. They rarely spoke harshly to each other, even when domestic disputes plagued them. "Do you wish to remain here and see what fate has in store for our family? If you wish to do so, you may, and I shall go alone into the forests and die waiting for you."
"Never!" Beren clutched her fiercely. "I will never be parted from you again! But I must ask you, does the Silmaril have anything to do with our children's suffering? Should we not take it with us?"
"We cannot, Beren. Where would we take it? We cannot take it with us where we are going. Then the Silmaril would fall into the wrong hands. We must leave it here, Beren. When it is time, we shall give it to our son."