Dark is the Shadow, and yet my heart rejoices; for you, Estel, shall be among the great whose valour will destroy it.
Bold her words had been when she and Estel had stood on Cerin Amroth to pledge their troth, and spoken as much from the hope in her heart as from any foresight. Yet saying it didn't make it so, and troubling as the news from outside Rivendell was at times, what was on her mind now were the words her father had spoken to Estel, "She shall not be the bride of any Man less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor."
That she would gladly be the wife of the wandering Ranger she did not say, for Estel would not go against her father's wishes in this, and it would bring only grief to her father if she did speak – though likely enough he knew anyway.
And what could bring that kingship about? She almost wished she could look for a vision in Galadriel's Mirror, for though she watched over Estel when he was away, that mostly only gave her a sense of his well-being – or lack thereof at times. It did not let her see him, nor was there foresight in her watching. Of course, foresight itself could be curse as much as blessing, for what one might wish to avoid could be brought about as easily as what one might want to be.
And equally of course, the Mirror had shown her things that she still didn't know what they meant hundreds of years after seeing them. As memory took her far into the past, to when her younger – much younger – self had looked into the Mirror for the first time, she thought that now perhaps she could attach a new meaning to one particular vision.
She smiled as the recalled how excited she had been to finally be allowed to consult the Mirror by her grandmother; much of what she had seen that first time had been straightforward, easy to understand, even if sometimes only after it had happened – there had been many images of war, and of the driving out of the Witchking from the North, also images of herself travelling between Rivendell and Lothlórien as she had done so often since; images of the Last Alliance, and other sights from the past. Yet one sight now stood out in her mind's eye, and it was one that she had always taken as such an image of the past: the standard of the High King of Arnor and Gondor, the standard of Elendil – yet, if her and Estel's hope was ever to come about, also Estel's standard…
Now, what will I need for the making? Silk and wool for spinning and weaving, some small amount of mithril and gold to make metal thread for embroidery, gems for stars, and eventually also the staff that will bear the standard to be chosen and carved, canvas for a cover; oh, and more silk for the lining of the cover, and more wool for the back of the standard. And probably some things that I will only think of later, she concluded her list. It will take some time to gather everything, and the making of the standard will take the longest, for I deem that it should be made in secret.
She spun the thread she needed, even including strands of her own hair to help in holding the spells of protection she intended to weave into the making of the standard. She laboured to make gold and mithril thread, cut gems to size for the stars that would be on the banner, and at last she started on the weaving itself. The cloth grew apace, even though the time she could work on it undisturbed was small. Eventually, the cloth for both front and back of the standard was done, and she could start on the embroidery work.
The making of the standard was long, and the outside world had only grown darker in the years that she had worked on it, but eventually it was nearly done. And though the fulfilment of their goal seemed further away than ever, Estel laboured as tirelessly as ever. As Arwen journeyed to Lothlórien to visit there for a few years, she recalled his words from Cerin Amroth: Yet with your hope I will hope.
With her she brought the Elessar, for her grandmother to give to him when next he would come to Lothlórien, for she knew he would do so when the time was there. Our chance will yet come, she knew, and the stone will serve to renew his hope, his strength, when he is at his lowest.
The standard had lain nearly finished in a cupboard for years – for to finish it was to tie off the spells of protection she had worked into fabric and broideries, and that should only be done at the latest. Now though, the Fellowship had set out on the Quest some weeks past, and she knew it was time.
She took the standard out of the swathe of fabric in which she had kept it and for the next few days she worked on the final stitches, but more on renewing and strengthening the blessings she had already put into the cloth and its adornments. Finally, one cold and sunny morn in early February, she attached the standard to the staff she had prepared for it, and placed it in its cover. Done, she thought, as she heard the sound of riders entering the courtyard below. And just in time, it seems.
She rushed outside, where she saw a group of Rangers, clearly waiting for something or someone; and they were in a hurry, for only one had dismounted, and he quickly walked over to meet her as she came down the steps from the house.
"Well met, my lady," and he gave her a swift bow.
"Well met, Halbarad, old friend," she replied. "What brings the Grey Company to Rivendell?"
"A summons came to me to ride south and seek Isildur's Heir," he said. "We came here for your brothers to join us."
"Then, if I may, I would ask you a further service."
"You only have to ask, my Queen," he said softly, and though his tone was light, his eyes on her were serious. She briefly lowered her head in acknowledgement of the address.
"Will you carry this" – she indicated the standard wrapped in black cloth – "to Aragorn for me?"
His eyes widened as he looked closely at what she bore. "It is indeed time then," he said softly.
"Indeed," she replied, "and I see that you already know what it is. Keep it secret until you find him. And when you do, bring him also my message. 'The days now are short. Either our hope cometh, or all hope's end. Therefore I send thee what I have made for thee. Fare well, Elfstone!'"
Halbarad only nodded, and reached out to take the standard as she held it out to him. A brief chill touched her as he took it, but it was gone so quickly that she could not determine its source or its meaning. He felt it too, though, she saw, and recalled that he, too, was foresighted.
She placed her hand over his. "Go now, my friend, and go with my gratitude."
As the Rangers prepared to ride off, she overheard one of them asking Halbarad, "What is it the Lady gave you?"
"Hope," he replied.