Arwen is called the Evenstar: the last light of day. The fading glory; beauty surrounded by the void. She is her father’s only daughter, youngest child in Rivendell, and even when she is very young she can see the sorrow in his love of her. Even her mother looks at her with some faint sadness in her eyes.
She is a placid child, even for an elf, and keeps her growing hatred for her byname hidden behind slight smiles and watchful eyes. But when she reaches her majority and spends a night alone beneath the stars to hear their music, she swears an oath for no one but the gods to hear:
She will not be the last light of the elves. She will make her own path, forge her own destiny, and someday she will be the guiding star which leads her people, steadfast through the night, to a new day dawning.
When Celebrian goes West, heart-wounded and unhealing, Arwen watches her father bow down with grief, sees her brothers grow manic in their attempts to distract him, and knows that this, this ceaseless mourning, is what destroys her people even now.
She goes willingly enough to Lorien, glad to be free of the weight of her father’s sorrow, but Galadriel sees her lost daughter in Arwen’s eyes. Arwen leaves the palace whenever she can find an excuse, and wanders the woods looking – for what she cannot say.
She finds it by accident. A healer, her garden as well-tended as the trees, who does not care who Arwen is so long as she is willing to learn. Arwen spends many years beside her teacher, learning of injury and illness and poison, poultices and decoctions and healing draughts, until there is nothing more to learn (or so she thinks then; someday a hobbit will prove otherwise).
It is the master-healer who sends Arwen next to the warriors of Lorien, masters of bow and sword, for healers do not always stay safe in their halls, but must sometimes go even onto the battlefield to find their patients in time. So Arwen apprentices herself to the warriors, learns bow and sword and dagger, how to repair armor and care for a steed and run long days without sleeping. It is not easy, but nothing worth learning is.
She makes few friends, cool-headed Arwen with her dark eyes hiding secrets, but those she makes are hers forever: Haldir who watches the borders, the bard who teaches her songs of Men as well as elves, the healers who watch her grow in knowledge. Arwen treasures their friendship, cherishes the freedom to sit beside someone and merely be Arwen, not the Evenstar.
She takes lovers, now and then, as those who have not found their true mates will: a tall fair warrior with a voice like a nightingale’s; a seamstress whose fingers are more dexterous than Arwen had imagined possible; a youngling just past his majority who begs her for lessons and learns quickly indeed. Arwen likes them all, but she meets no one in Lorien who stirs her heart to love.
When she cannot avoid her grandmother, Galadriel tries to teach her the magics which are Galadriel’s gift; but Arwen has little talent for the scrying pool, and guards her mind too fiercely to speak across miles and mountains as Galadriel does. Finally, to Arwen’s great relief, Galadriel abandons teaching magic and turns instead to lessons on a topic Arwen likes well: the art of ruling.
Here, at last, it seems that Galadriel sees Arwen, not lost Celebrian; for Arwen’s mother never cared to rule. Arwen drinks in her grandmother’s wisdom eagerly, and Galadriel, for her part, at last begins to understand her dark-eyed, solemn granddaughter. Arwen has a queen’s heart, Galadriel tells her: cool-headed and clear-eyed and calm, she is born to rule. Arwen smiles, and does not say what she so wonders: if she is born to be a queen, then who is she to rule?
Arwen has met Men before, of course – there is always a Ranger or two in Rivendell, and of course her father has fostered so many of the heirs of Isildur that Arwen has begun to lose count. But she never spent much time with them; Men are short-lived, simple creatures, after all, capable of great heroism but not really suitable companions for Elrond’s daughter. She has seen dwarves at a distance, when now and then they came to speak with her father, but never spoken to them herself. And she has never even seen a hobbit before – hobbits do not travel much, after all, and elves do not go to the Shire, for why should they? What is there in the Shire which could interest an elf?
The Fellowship is therefore an interesting experience for Arwen. Lady Dis is a little like Arwen has always assumed dwarves to be: gruff, bearded, prone to anger and prejudiced against the elven folk. But she is also wise, and kind, and cares so deeply for the Ring-bearer that it almost hurts to see. Dis’ son, light-hearted Kili with his eternal joy in life, is even more surprising; and young Gimli, whose loyalty is absolute and whose courage is overwhelming…well. Arwen is astonished by all of them.
The hobbits, too, are fascinating. Primrose is such a sweet and innocent creature, and yet here she is on the Quest which will likely kill them all – and her spirit is not dimmed by that knowledge in the slightest. And Bilbo…Arwen is deeply honored to have met Bilbo. That there should be such strength and courage in one so small and short-lived, that he should love another so completely, that he should be so pure of spirit that even the Ring of Sauron himself cannot touch him...it is a marvelous thing to meet such a marvelous person.
But it is Gilraen who truly astonishes Arwen. Level-headed Gilraen, who speaks so wisely of life and death for all her few years; Gilraen with a sorrow in her eyes which is nearly elven, and yet with such purely human vitality in her. If a Man can mourn so, and yet be strong and wise and vital, still fight and dream and love, should not an elf?
Arwen is more than two millennia old, and this woman who has not a fraction of her years can make her feel young and naïve, can make her wish to sit at her feet and learn from her. Is that not worth exploring?
When Gilraen’s son goes south to Gondor, Arwen joins him. It is perhaps unfair – the lad is clearly infatuated with her, and Arwen is taking advantage of that, a little – but she wants to see Gondor as a Man would, and the only way to do that is with a human companion.
Thankfully, Aragorn does seem to get over his infatuation – at least enough to start talking to her instead of staring mutely. He turns out to be clever and kind and friendly and stubborn, and Arwen can see his mother in him very clearly. Aragorn is young yet, even by human standards, but there is such potential in him. He has his mother’s fire, her willingness to do the right thing even when it is harder and more painful than dying; and, too, there are marks of Bilbo’s teachings in him, Bilbo’s heart and courage. And then again he is his own person, Aragorn, who loves his people and will give his life for them, willingly and joyfully.
He has a king’s heart, Arwen realizes, one a match for her queen’s heart; he is her balance and her counterpoint, her match and equal – or will be when he is a man grown.
And in ten years of traveling beside him she learns to love him, not only for his king’s heart but for himself, his quiet humor and his glorious voice and his endless patience and his dreams of justice. He is a good man, and she loves him; and she returns to Rivendell and knows that if she is to be a queen, it will be at his side.
Therefore she must know how to rule Men.
The men of Gondor call her sorceress, and witch, and worse names, and fear her because she is not meek and submissive and sweet as their own wives and daughters take care to be. The women of Gondor…well, when there are only women in the room, Arwen finds them to be not nearly so submissive and meek as they act when men are around. There is a whole culture which the men never see, and Arwen takes care, once she has become a part of it, never to reveal it to any man – not even dear Aragorn, who would not take it amiss that women have minds of their own. It is good to have friends, Arwen finds; and for all that she is older than all of the women who wait upon her put together, they are friends: stubborn, fierce Mardi who wants nothing more than to prove herself; calm, dexterous Elia who has nothing more to prove; brave, taciturn Boromir who loves Aragorn as an uncle or a brother, and cares for him as much as Arwen does; and many others.
There is much to love in Gondor, and much not to love; and it will be a lifetime’s work to change what needs to be changed. But Aragorn is clever and compassionate and driven, and Arwen was born to be a queen, and between the two of them, Arwen is quite sure that they will make Gondor into the marvel that it ought to be, and bring its people into peace and prosperity from the poorest to the richest, male and female, young and old.
It is a good dream, and a good goal, and she will work hard to see it done. But there is something in her which still feels there is something yet to do, some goal unrealized: she is still the Evenstar, still the symbol of the dying of the elves.
The birth of her daughter is painful and bloody and messy and altogether unpleasant, as Arwen is given to understand that births tend to be, and she does not enjoy it at all. But when her child is laid in her arms, tiny and perfect and wonderful, Arwen is filled with joy. First, because she has a daughter, a child of her blood and Aragorn’s line, a little piece of the future to be cherished and nurtured and loved.
And second, because in Silmarien she sees the rebirth of her race. For if the hobbit herbs worked for Arwen, who is to say they will not give the same boon to other elves? Silmarien was born scarcely a year and a half after marriage. It took Arwen’s mother twenty years before she first grew great with child, and then another hundred after that for Arwen’s own birth. A mere eight months of waiting? That is nothing at all to an elf.
Arwen writes to her father, sending him the good news, and nurses her child, and smiles and smiles and smiles.
When her second child is born, young Elendil with his mother’s dark eyes, she writes again, to her father and to her grandmother, to the healer who taught her the craft and the friends she made in Lorien, to Legolas in the Greenwood and Cirdan in the Grey Havens, and most especially to Bilbo Baggins, whose aid has brought her such blessings. Elves are slow to change, and slower still to hope; but as the years go by she hears back, now and again, from Rivendell and Lorien, of one elven woman or another who has a child in her arms and praises the hobbits and the Queen of Gondor for the gift she has been given.
The Men of Gondor call her Queen; the dwarves of Belegost call her Arwen of the Healing Hands. The elves of Middle-Earth call her Arwen Tindomiel, the morning star, the light before dawn, the guiding star which brings the ship safely to shore.
And Arwen is content.