"Grey " by Straw

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There was nothing more beautiful than spring in Lothlorien. Elves, over the course of their lifetimes, could see all of Middle Earth in their wanderings, but could any disagree that the heavily flowered boughs of the forest were not overshadowed by any other dwelling, elf or no? Though you could not speak for each elf, the answer for you had to be no. Even then, with the air only just warming enough that you could no longer see your breath and with but a few stars twinkling in the sky above, you could think of nowhere else you would rather be.

…Admittedly, it might have been nice if the plate would quit being so stubborn about remaining covered in food, but at least you were in Lothlorien. You would clean one thousand plates with the Dark Lord sieging the very kingdom if it would mean you were able to remain there for many years to come. The moment you had arrived, you knew you wanted to put an end to your wanderings and remain.

From somewhere near the river, you could hear strains of music. It did not take long to identify the specific song. You made another loop across the silvery plate with your towel as you sighed. It seemed as if all your kind could sing of were the Grey Lands as of late. All of the business with the halfling’s ring seemed to have been weighing heavily on many hearts.

“I guess no one can see the beauty of this forest anymore,” you murmured to yourself as the song came to its slow and mournful end. You wondered who it was that had been singing and if you would see them tomorrow. There was no rule saying that elves could not set out on their own. Indeed, many of them already had.

“Winter has come to Lothlorien.”

You stiffened momentarily at the soft words and the rustle of undergrowth. When you spun around, Lady Galadriel was standing in the tiny clearing. Her perfect features softened as your eyes met.

“What—What do you mean, my lady?” You straightened, but you could feel your heart pounding in your throat. If she meant what you thought she meant…“Spring has only just arrived! It shall be many months before winter and the golden leaves visit us once more.”

The ends of Galadriel’s lips twitched upward as she stepped further toward you. The skirts of her dressed swished quietly, though the sound seemed to echo across the suddenly quiet woods. Your pulse only continued to climb, at least until she stood directly before you.

“Oh, [Name],” Her pale hand brushed briefly against your shoulder before the woman settled gracefully upon the large stone behind her. “Though you have only just become one of us—”

“It has been near sixty years, my lady,” you said. Upon realizing you had interrupted her, the blood rushed to your face. “I—I’m sorry, my lady,” you stammered through a hasty curtsy, but Galadriel only smiled.

“That is not long for elves, you will learn. [Name], you are barely two-hundred yourself-- hardly old enough to understand how ephemeral our lands are.”

“Of—Of course.” You ducked your head to hide your still flaming cheeks. “You are very wise, Lady.”

Galadriel sighed. “[Name], tomorrow the elves of Lothlorien depart for the Grey Lands. I shall go as well. You are welcome to stay, but keep in mind that with our departure will come the eventual death of your beloved wood.”

Your eyes opened as you whipped your head back up to stare her. If you were a human, you would have been gaping. “But what of the Fellowship?” you demanded in a rush. “Lady,” you added in an attempt to sound more polite.

Galadriel laughed softly, stood, and grasped one of your hands in both of her own. “You are hasty for our kind, [Name]. But even should you choose to remain here, you cannot go with them.”

“I know.”

“I will await news of your decision. Now, however, it might be best if you went to bid your goodbyes. I would not leave without seeing them off. We ourselves leave only hours after they.”

“But—” you began, thinking of the trouble you would be in if you didn’t have the dishes done in time for the inevitable feast.

Galadriel released your hand. “Go.”

You took a step back, nodding, then spun around and sprinted into the trees. The night air stung your bare shoulders, enough that you could not feel the tree boughs that nipped them as you tore past. Night had truly set in, but through the flowered limbs above, enough moonlight sifted that you could see your way.

A million thoughts beset your mind as you ran. Why were they leaving? Why would your lady allow them onward through such danger? And how could you be expected to leave such beauty behind? After all, it was not just the Golden Woods you would miss.

“[Name].” You would have stopped even if you hadn’t hurtled into a very sturdy, very male object, but it certainly helped. You froze upon contact, unsure of what to do other than stare at the body part closest to you—the collar bone, you would guess, thought it was hard to tell through the cloak. The person shifted you away. “Good evening.”

“Good evening!” You clasped your hands behind your back and looked up into Aragorn’s face. As usual, he looked grim, but then Aragorn always looked grim. That was why you had been so intimidated by him when he and the others had first arrived. The time spent with him since, however, had shown you, though, that even the true king of Minas Tirth could relax, if only on occasion. “What are you doing out here?”

Aragorn raised his dark eyebrows, looking as if he would rather have asked that question himself. Instead, he stepped past you, head cocked toward the star strewn sky. “I was just going to see you.”

“You were?” you asked, and were thankful to find you were able to keep the impatient crack from your voice. “Why?”

Aragorn continued to stand with his back toward you. That was good. If he stood any closer, he might have been able to hear the blood rushing around your body like a hare with a hawk on its tail. At last, he turned back around.

“We leave tomorrow.”

“So I have heard. Lady Galadriel spoke to me this evening. I know it is not my place, but I must ask…why? Why leave? Why now?"

“We have to continue with our trek. The whole of Middle Earth relies on Frodo, whether they know it or not.”

"But Gandalf the Grey has departed from this world.” You shook your head slowly. “Where will you go? What will you do?”

“I know of where Gandalf was prepared to go. Though I had wished not to lead the Fellowship, I will in his absence. We can no longer stand here as evil approaches.”

“It is safe here,” you protested. “Even now, the Dark Lord gathers his forces for assault on the kingdoms of man. To go means death for your party. Sauron will gain the Ring, almost certainly.”

Aragorn gazed steadily into your eyes. “To stay would mean bringing all of Sarumon’s forces, and all of Sauron’s in the end, to the very gates of Lothlorien. The woods would not stand.”

“They would stand longer.”

He shook his head and you felt the tips of his calloused fingers run gently across the top of your hand. “I could not sacrifice it. I could not even ask you to.”

“What if I would sacrifice it?”

“It is not yours to give away.”

“Galadriel and the rest—they leave tomorrow. They wait now only for your passing. They will go and I will be the last left. The woods, for the time they remain, will belong to me.”

“And again…” Aragorn said gently, this time taking your hand. “I would not ask you to sacrifice it for us.”

“I would do it,” you said in a small voice, then smaller still, “for you.”

Instantly, his hand felt stiff around yours. You looked away, quickly. When he spoke, however, his voice was calm and held not a hint of anger. “[Name]…”

“I would," you said more forcefully.

“[Name],” he said again. “I cannot accept.”

“Why not?”

“You know of Arwen,” he answered. “Of how I love her. I will not turn my back upon her, for it is her I love beyond all others.”

“But…why?” You hated the impatient, angry little word, but could not keep it down. You left your hand firmly in his, as if daring him to let it go. “Her father will not even have you. I have no such qualms and after all this…”

You trailed off, afraid that if you continued, your impertinence might give way to tears. Aragorn remained silent, then, slowly, he lifted your hand. You turned your face toward him and saw his expression was as calm and serious as it ever was. With his eyes locked on your own, he brushed his lips across your knuckles.

“I will not stay in Lothlorien,” he said, not unkindly, as he moved your hand to your side and released it. “I thank you, [Name], but I belong to Arwen, and she to me. Yet I will never regret our time together. Good bye.”

With a swish of his cloak, Aragorn disappeared into the murky shadows of the night. Even with your elf eyes, it was as if he melted into and became one with them. Your chest felt tight—of course you had known, known everything. It was no great secret of the romance between he and Arwen. Less a secret still was how Elrond did not approve.

Yet you had thought, perhaps, with all of the nightly conversations, he felt the same way, or at least…

At least what? It would not do to say that you hoped he knew of your feelings and would go along to make you happy. Nor could you say that you expected him to stay while the rest went on to danger and death. He was a Ranger. Rangers were not known for sitting still.

“[Name]?” A light hand came to rest upon your head. Without even looking up, you knew who it was.

“…Winter has come, Lady,” you said in answer. The hand remained where it was.

“As it does to all, [Name].”

"I knew he was never mine. He never will be.” Galadriel’s hand moved, but only so far as to weave its fingers gently through your hair. “I assumed too much of myself. I should never have…”

But what you never should have done was beyond you. Spoke to him? Looked at him? For you could find it no more possible that you would not have fallen in love with him, even in watching from a distance.

Lady Galadriel’s fingers disappeared from your head and again you heard the swish of fabric. “Tomorrow, [Name], you may join us. Though you may lose your forest, you will never lose your dreams. For our waking dreams come to us even in the Grey Lands.”

You took a deep breath to loosen your chest. “But…”

“And even there, our dreams will never tell us to who they truly belong.”

Then Galadriel, too, disappeared, and as she did, again, the mournful wail of those waiting, still waiting, for the ocean and their own old world rose toward the stars. Slowly, you stood. Just as slowly, you held your head toward the sky and for the first time, the song spilled from your own lips.

A waking dream, you thought to yourself, a waking dream with both of your great loves, with Aragon stepping through the golden leaves. If that was what the Grey Lands offered, then, you would go. Go and be happy.

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