“You still hang back from calling me Arwen,” she said, and I lowered my eyes.

“Please forgive me, my royal Lady, but it comes hard for such as me. You are so high… and I am so low.”

“Hm! I can think of dozens lower.”

Since I would not raise my eyes to meet hers fully, she sighed. Exasperation was in that sigh, and frustration, and what else I dared not think. Leaning her dimpled chin upon her graceful wrist, she said, “Master Morfindel, for instance. He found no difficulty at all in addressing me as plain ‘Arwen’. Even unbidden and in the hearing of others. Aragorn was deaf to my plaints, as well as blind to the aspirations of that young scamp. The presumption! To see how he minced around and lorded it over the household, you would have thought it was he who was King and not my Lord. There was even tattle to the effect that Aragorn was thinking of adopting him as his heir—having failed to get one by me.”

She buried her face in her hands. I was sure that tears were about to fall. But she lowered her hands again and set her jaw grimly.

“Even before the murder the atmosphere in the White Tower was asphyxiating. It has since become doubly so. I think I may retire to the glades of Lothlórien for a few months. A few years…”

Queen Arwen suddenly began to stare fixedly at my hands. “I see rings of Power,” she declared, with voice pitched low. “I was about to ask: how came you by them? But I recall that you, of all people, might well have as good a title to them as anyone.”

“Yes, I suppose I might.” I said it without pride. I extended my fingers and looked at the white ring on my left hand and the red ring on my right. “People never seen to remark on them, but they don’t go out of their way to conceal themselves. Not these days. Even if they did, you of all people would still be able to see them. Of course, ever since the unmaking of the Ruling Ring, they do damn-all. They don’t make me invisible. But I still wear them, as keepsakes.”

“What if they did make you invisible? What if you were someone loved and trusted by the King, not to say those closest to him? (As indeed you are, did you but know it)…”

I laughed a dry laugh. “Since we are talking about the impossible, my Lady, it is no shame to admit that I have never spent a moment dwelling upon it.”

“That’s strange, for a lore-master,” she said. “Ever since the Rings were forged, tales have been told about what might happen if one fell into the wrong hands. Have you never heard tell of the courtier of old, who found a ring of Power and used it to spy unseen upon the Queen—naked in her very bedchamber? He so lusted after her that he plotted to ravish her, then kill the King and marry her, and so become by right of marriage King himself. This he did—and no-one was able to prevent him, because he could make himself invisible and pass through the strongest guard and under the most watchful eyes…”

“Please, my Queen, I find this sort of talk distressing. In the company of one so lovely, to hear it told of ravishings and treasons and sorcery and killing…”

She laughed. “If I could only believe that for a moment. Am I able to shock you? You, of all the loyal subjects of the Realm, who have stumbled upon the darkest secrets—which none dare speak of?”

I too laughed, but hesitantly. “Least of all me, my Lady.”

To my relief she diverted the topic, saying gently. “Tell me then about your rings.”

“This,” I said, holding up the ruby ring, “is Narya the Great. My father gave it to me before he sailed away into the West.”

Arwen nodded and a smile, secret and beautiful, played on her lips. “And this,” I said, holding up my left hand…

“… is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant.” Arwen took the words out of my mouth.

I stared at her for a moment and then I too smiled. “Of course. You would know it well.”

On a sudden impulse I took it from my finger and placed it in her soft palm. “Please accept it,” I said, “with my deepest devotion. It was given to me by my mother…”

Realising what I had just revealed, my jaw dropped and I stared at her. She returned my gaze, searching deeply into my eyes. Softly she said, “It is true then, what my people say. You are indeed of the kin of Lórien.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “You are indeed my half-brother!”

My brain reeled. One grows up with these things, giving them so little thought as a child, that even in adulthood one misses the most glaring facts. Which any fool can see, if he happens to be an outsider. A voice started crying in my head: no—No—NO!

With an enigmatic smile Arwen took my hand and replaced the ring on its finger. I saw then that she was wearing the third of the elf-rings on her own hand. The ring Vilya, the Protector, which her father Elrond would have given her, before he too sailed away into the West.

“How did it come about?” I whispered in my turn.

“When Gandalf, your father, was brought back nine parts dead by Gwaihir the Windlord from the crag of Zirakzigil where he found him, having thrown down his enemy the Balrog in ruin, he was cared-for in the land of Lothlórien by my grandmother’s own hand. By her he received many fair things to aid him in his battle against the darkness. A cloak of purest white, which he concealed beneath his grey rags. A new-wrought staff, befitting his advancement to Leader of the White Council. The ring Narya. And, as I’ve now come to realise… you. You were conceived, as was I, by the light of the full moon among pale niphredil in the greensward of Parth Galen.”

“I marvel that you can bring yourself to accept me, a bastard, as your kinsman. I suppose it makes me your… uncle?” I couldn’t restrain a gasp as I said the word.

“My people simply say: half-brother. Elves live for such a long time that everyone has gone to bed with just about everyone else by now. It is not unknown to discover you’re your own step-grandfather. We accept these things as elven nature. We don’t go blabbing about them. But nor are we ashamed of them.”

She laughed at the expression on my face. “But I, at least, rejoice in my heart. All unlooked-for I’ve discovered one of my own close kin. One I never for a moment suspected.”

I hung my head. Tears started in my eyes. Softly she said “Hold on tight to your mother’s ring …ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen! Though it wears but a vestige of its former power, may it aid you in your quest for what is right. Under the Ancient Law of Gondor… and under the will of the King.”

I could not stay there or else I’d be totally compromised. I rose to my feet and made as if to go. She too arose, surprised at my leaving, but I didn’t look back. At the door I felt her hand laid on my forearm. Her lips brushed my cheek. “I’ve always wondered why you were so… beautiful,” she said.

I spoke as one asleep. “Geese would be beautiful—if one had never seen a swan.”

“You know what else they say? Half-brother—half-lover.”

“Half-sister,” I murmured. “My Queen! You are… you are…” My voice choked into silence. I thrust myself out through the scarcely-open door, down the stairs and into the night, continuing under my breath “…my chief suspect!”

…to be continued.