It was not quite the same sort of merriment that she would have found in the Shire, Elanor reflected, but it had been a cheerful sort of day. The Queen and King were very skilled hunters, refusing the use of horns and baying hounds. “We are not hunting boar or wolves, after all,” the King had said firmly. His tone had been dry, but Elanor thought that his eyes had been laughing. “Some rabbits or a doe will serve us all nicely. We are only a small party.”
This was true. Including the King and Queen and Elanor, she counted nine people: two of the King Elessar’s Dúnedain lords, whose fathers had known the Shire well, and three ladies of Gondor, who had followed the Queen north.
They had ridden through the woods quietly, and the party had been tense with the silence, all save for the King and Queen, who had not seemed uncomfortable at all. They had found a small herd of deer, and most had scattered, but the Queen had risen in her stirrups, bent back her bow, and loosed her arrow. There was a thudding sound as one of the deer fell to the forest floor, and the Queen had dismounted, as did her husband. The rest of the party had made suit to follow, but their Majesties had bade them stay mounted, and had gone to the fallen doe, murmuring blessings over it in Sindarin, before the King hoisted the doe up in his arms.
Elanor, still seated on her pony, had found her eyes filled with tears, at that. The deer had been beautiful in the sunlight, their coats shining russet, and the lines of their bodies gracefully angled and curved. The Queen’s eyes had met hers as they walked to King Elessar’s horse, and there had been a gentle understanding and compassion in them.
Elanor had suddenly understood, then, why their Majesties had gone to the deer themselves, and spoken the blessings over it.
Now they were riding back up to the city, and the party was singing, the Queen’s voice soaring over the others, Elven-fair, and Elanor thought that her heart might burst from so much wonder.
The Queen suddenly reined in her horse, her voice falling silent, her grey eyes far away, as though she were listening to something, before she smiled, radiant as a rising sun.
“Our family is visiting, my love,” she said to the King. “They approach from the East.”
The King’s smile was equally radiant, as he beckoned one of his lords closer. “Then let’s go to meet them! Halladan, please take word to the guards that we will be back late, and that guest quarters should be prepared for our kin.”
The lord gave a deep nod, and said that he would do so, before he turned his horse back to the city and began to ride north. At the same time, the Queen tapped her horse with a heel, and sent the mare leaping forward into a canter. King Elessar laughed and rode forward as well, his hand gesturing them to follow along, and so they rode eastwards, the sun shining down, the light nearly green through the canopy of the trees, and the birds chorusing along with them. The forest thinned as they rode, the Queen leading the way, until they came riding along the course of the Brandywine River.
The sunlight shone on a glint of gold: there was an Elven lady, running up the river towards them, as easily as though she were running over solid ground. Her hair was a rich, shining blond colour, pulled back from her brown face, and her feet were bare and the same colour as the river-water. Behind her, on horses that were fording through the river, came two riders, their faces so alike to the Queen’s that Elanor instantly knew them for the Queen’s brothers, the Lords Elladan and Elrohir, of Rivendell. The woman’s smile widened as she stepped on the southern bank, and the King and Queen both dismounted again as she jogged forward to greet them. Then, abruptly, the woman stopped, her smile fading a little, and despite wearing a dusty, faded tunic and leggings, she sank into a deep curtsey.
“Your Majesties,” she said, in the Sindarin of Gondor.
The King took her hand, and pulled her forward, up out of the curtsey and into a swift, strong hug. “Grandmother! I am so glad to see you.” The Queen embraced the woman as well, longer and tighter than the King had. At last, they broke apart and they looked at each other for a long moment, before the woman smiled again.
“Forgive an old woman her foolishness. I am very glad to see both of you, as well, and to see such new faces.” Her eyes travelled over the party, and her eyebrows rose as they met Elanor’s. “And faces which are not new, but that I have not seen in a long time! Little Elanor, you have grown so well!”
The Queen laughed, as her brothers came up onto the bank as well. “A merry meeting. Let us go back towards the city, and we may hear all the tales!”
Goldberry did not seem completely like the woman that Mr Frodo and her Da had met in the Red Book. She did not wear the blue brooch that Mr Frodo had described, and she did not wear silver shoes like fish-scales either. Although there was a gentleness and grace to her movements and speech that Elanor recognised from the tale, her merriment and her laughter seemed less bright than it had in the story.
The King and Queen and the Queen’s brothers did make her smile, and laugh, though. They obviously loved her very dearly. Proof of it was right in front of Elanor, in the way that the Queen leant into the touch of deft brown fingers. The Queen never looked worried, exactly, but Elanor was quite certain that she’d never seen her look this relaxed before, either. Elanor shut the door behind her, and sat down on the floor beside the Queen, since it was only the three of them. They were sitting in the Queen’s private parlour, with a fire crackling in the grate. Goldberry sat in a plush dark red arm-chair, and the Queen sat at her feet, like any daughter or granddaughter might. Elanor sat beside the Queen, her feet stretched out in front of her, just as the Queen’s were.
“Elanor has inherited her father’s love of stories, Grandmother,” the Queen said. “Would you tell us one?”
Goldberry laughed. “You could just ask, Arwen!”
The Queen flashed a smile at her. "I just did."
“Without the explanation, I meant. Of course I will tell you one. Although I should warn you, Elanor, I tell the stories very differently from how you might be used to hearing them,” Goldberry said, as she added another strand of dark hair to the braid.
“Oh, that’s alright,” Elanor said. “I like hearing different stories.”
“And what would you hear?”
The Queen made a thoughtful sound, not unlike the sounds that Elanor’s Ma made, sometimes, when considering which onions would be best to purchase. Elanor smiled at the thought. “I would like a story of your mother the river-woman, in the years long passed. It has been a long time since I was last here, and heard these stories.”
“So it has been,” Goldberry agreed. “Alright. Arwen, my child, called the Evenstar and Queen of Gondor and Arnor. Elanor, little Sunstar, child of the gardens and woods and earth. Sit by my feet, and hear my words. Come and hear. Come hear the story of the Brandywine, the Brown River, her courses and how they were made.” Goldberry’s voice shimmered with life and with strength, and Elanor smelled and felt something like magic tingling in the air. The magic of the Elves that her Da had spoken of. “Long years ago, before the Moon rose to wander in the sky, the lady of the Brandywine played under the starlight. At first, she was contented, for there was water, and the starlight, the river, and the trees. The land looked different, then, underneath the starlight. Then discord spread through the waters, even as a rot may spread through soil and crops. Someone had been speaking to her brother, the Lord of the Waves, whispering of that he could become other than what he was, more than he was; that he could replace the Lord of Waters, the one he served, and that the Lord of Waves could seek to hold all of the Seas in his grasp.”
Elanor couldn’t help the shocked noise that escaped her at that, and opened her mouth to speak. But the Queen raised an eyebrow at her, and Elanor fell silent.
Goldberry laughed, and, holding the Queen’s braid together with one hand, reached over and patted Elanor on the shoulder. “No harm done. Arwen’s right, though. The story is best told in one go, and then you turn it over afterwards. So where was I?”
Elanor glanced at the Queen cautiously, who smiled gently at her, and then replied. “The Lord of the Waves had heard whispers.”
“Yes. The Waves are dangerous; that is their nature, and their lord is dangerous, too. But hunger turned to greed, and greed turned to cruelty, and the river-women, the Brandywine and all her sisters, all wept for their brother of the Waves. Then another of their family, the Lady of the Deeps, rose to restrain the Lord of the Waves, and call him back. She sang to him of their joy in the past, of the delight they had taken in their domains, and in knowing how their melody fit into the Song as the whole. And hearing her song, the Lord of the Waves was grieved, and he ceased his rebellion, no longer striving for mastery over the Seas. But the shape of the land had been changed by the river-women’s tears. And that is why, when my father’s people came west, they found themselves in tangled groves, and swampland, where the ground was soft and the water was deep, and the trees formed stepping points across the water under the starlight.”
Goldberry tied the braid off, and continued to speak. “Three times since then, has the course and shape of the river changed. When the Sun rose, and the soil awoke from the sleep. The river-women shouted for joy to hear the earth rejoicing, and when it meant their waters must be reshaped, they were not dismayed. Then again, at the end of the First Age, as Beleriand sunk into the Sea. The river-women lost many of their sisters, and they were changed beyond compare, and they wept for that. And last, when Númenor fell, at the end of the Second Age, they wept once more.”
Queen Arwen bowed her head at that, and her face was like a woman seeing an old scar. Goldberry’s tone was mournful, as her hand ran over Queen Arwen’s hair. “At the end of each Age, the river-woman wept. Yet the swamp-lands of the Brandywine have never re-formed. Some things, once they are re-shaped, are re-shaped forever.”
“But not for ill,” the Queen said, and there was steel in her tone. Elanor blinked.
There was a pause, before Goldberry's breath was let out. “Indeed. The grief has never vanquished the joy. Only shaped it differently.” She stroked the Queen’s hair again, one hand slipping over the finished braid, and the Queen’s shoulders relaxed minutely.
The fire crackled in the hearth in front of them, and there was silence for another moment. Then Goldberry gave a laugh, soft and low. “Do you have any questions, Elanor?”
“Is the story over?” Elanor asked, wishing to be sure.
“The story is never over. But that part of it is. Do you have a question?” Goldberry squeezed the Queen's shoulders, and the Queen smiled.
“Well, a few,” Elanor said. “How could the trees survive on starlight, but the other plants didn’t?”
There was silence for a moment, before Goldberry laughed, bright and merry. “I have absolutely no idea, Elanor. Are you much interested in trees?”
“Oh, yes,” Elanor said. “Da even planted a mallorn tree, where the old Party Tree used to be. A terrible thing that it was cut down, Da says, but then he always adds that he never thought he'd get to see an Elven mallorn blooming there, either.”
“Your Da is a very wise man,” Goldberry said.
“I know,” Elanor said. She smiled, leaning back against the chair, enjoying the cosy sitting-room, the crackling of the hearth-fire, and the look on her Da’s face, when he would come to Annúminas next month, and see her standing beside the Queen and Lady Goldberry.