Standard Bearer, The
13. Most Precious Morning
"You are awake," he whispered, drawing the backs of his long fingers down her arm, and brushing her shoulder with his lips.
She stretched luxuriously, and rolled over to look up at him. His long hair fell like a dark curtain round his face and down over his matchless chest. His sculptured face, and radiant eyes smiled down at her. She drank in his beauty, the clear brow, the arch of eyebrows, the hard jawline, the ripe, sweet mouth, and felt her heart contract till the pain was almost physical.
He touched her face, smoothing away a few stray strands of hair. "You sleep so soundly. Where do you go to in your dreams?"
She smiled softly, "My dreams show me no better place than this."
He lowered his head and kissed her, softly, sweetly, and wrapping his strong, fine arms around her, sat up, drawing her with him. "This is our first morning, my love, no more precious day will ever dawn. I would it had been in a green and tranquil place, with the lull of running water, and the music of songbirds, instead of this dark land."
Gildinwen closed her eyes and leaned her head against his beautiful shoulder, "The birds sing for me, Elrond, and I hear the water."
Long did they sit, entwined, listening to that unsung song, their hearts and bodies speaking without the need for words. Her mind leapt and danced with the events of the night before, when he had opened his heart, and awakened her body. Within her a tangle of emotions wove themselves together. Her body thrilled with the echoes of remembered pleasure and her heart filled with feelings almost too great to be contained. She wanted to curl up here in his arms forever, safe and secure, and at the same time to wrap him in her love, strong and fierce, so that nothing would ever hurt him again. She looked at this love she felt within her, bright as a new- hewn gem, and saw that it was not a simple thing. Its facets blazed with many colours, both of light and darkness - friendship, tenderness, desire, joy, trust, comfort, shelter, passion, strength, pride, obsession, weakness and sacrifice.
Presently the morning sounds of the camp disturbed their idyll, and Gildinwen spoke softly, "I must rise, my lord, lest my presence here be fuel for mischievous tongues."
"Stay," he murmured, "I care not who knows it."
She smiled, "Foolish Elf. Idle gossip can penetrate where evil cannot, and the harm it does can be just as great."
Reluctantly, he released her, leaning back on the couch to watch her dress, before shrugging on his own tunic.
She attempted to use her fingers to bring some order to her passion-tumbled hair but it was useless.
"Let me," he smiled, picking up his comb and reseating himself on the bed. She nestled into the crook of his knee, admiring the smooth stretch of his limbs, the hard ankles and long feet. She felt him try to take the mithril band from her head, without success. "It truly does not come off," he marvelled.
She laughed lightly, "Certainly it does, else I should look like a scarecrow all the time." And she reached up her hands to remove it. Gently, he worked the knots and tangles from her hair, and as the comb wove its magic, she felt herself transformed under his hands as much as she had the night before. A tear of pure happiness escaped unnoticed, and made its way slowly over her radiant face. When he was finished, he carefully replaced the band, then lifted the soft mass of curls to gently run his lips along the back of her neck.
She sighed and stretched her body with pleasure. "Desist, my lord." she whispered with a smile, wriggling free, "Else I shall be here all day."
"Take this." He picked up his Elven cloak from its puddle on the floor and shook it out. "It was woven in Beleriand, and will enable you to come and go in secret, hidden from even Elven eyes."
She stroked the silky, shimmering fabric as he placed it round her shoulders. "It is beautiful."
He turned her towards him, and took her face between his flawless hands, "I expect you to use it often," His voice was grave, but his grey eyes danced with light, and a smile twitched his lips as he bent to kiss her. Then he folded her closely to him for a long moment, before releasing her and drawing the hood up over her head.
Walking back, Gildinwen was amazed how effective Elrond's cloak was. Providing she walked steadily and made no sudden movement, she just slid past notice, appearing as an unimportant shadow. Still, it was with relief that she reached the tent unremarked and slipped in through the doorway.
Galeria was tidying away the gowns from the night before, and looked up animatedly as she came in.
"There you are!" she exclaimed, "I wondered what had happened to you? You just disappeared after that dance." Her eyes sparkled with mischievousness.
'Dance?' thought Gildinwen, then with a tiny thrill of guilt she remembered Falcred.
The Elf came over to her as she divested herself of the cloak, and laid it, folded, on her cot. "Wait a minute! I recognise this," Galeria crowed, fingering the fine material, her eyes dancing, "Unless I'm very much mistaken, it belongs to my serious cousin." She looked over at her friend, an impish grin spreading over her face. "Well, that explains why your bed was not slept in!"
Gildinwen could not deny with her tongue what her face readily admitted, blushing furiously she covered her face with her hands. As she peered out between her fingers, however, something struck her as odd, and she lowered them.
Slowly a knowing smile spread over her own face, and she turned to the Elf, "Ah, but I see I'm not the only one whose bed is not slept in."
It was Galeria's turn to colour, "I could have made it up before you came in." she replied defensively.
"But I left the dresses on your bed, and you're only just putting them away now." Gildinwen laughed, "and besides, your face is just like mine was a moment ago."
"Alright, alright!" Galeria bounced down onto her cot. "I admit I did not pass the night here either."
"So, is the rest of the noble Glorfindel as lovely as his face?" teased Gildinwen, receiving only a pillow as answer.
Laughing, she hurried to wash, change her clothes and braid her hair, duty calling.
"Are you coming to get something to eat?" she asked Galeria.
"Oh, no," her friend groaned, "I am too tired to face all the banter." She flung herself back on her pallet, kicking off her shoes, "You go on, I shall stay here and get some rest."
As Gildinwen made her way through the camp, everything seemed somehow different. Underfoot the same dead black ground crunched and shifted, the air remained tainted with Orodruin's dark smoke, and the brooding citadel of Barad-dÃ»r still blotted out half the sky, but the feeling of oppression had gone and it seemed to her that light now shone even in this forsaken and blighted land. The slightest excuse would have sent her singing and dancing along the path.
Gil-galad's camp was a-bustle with noise and chatter, many folk sat and stood around the tables, talking and eating. Sailing gaily through the crowds, Gildinwen made her way over to where Galeria's brothers were seated.
"Morning!," she chirped, helping herself to some food.
"Galeria not with you?" asked Galdor, innocently.
"Um, no." Gildinwen hedged, "she's a bit tired this morning."
This provoked much laughter from the two elves, as well as others sitting at the table. "Strange that our friend Glorfindel is missing as well," grinned the other brother. Gildinwen had to smile, but inside she was annoyed, were there no secrets in this place?
"Good morning." Elrond's deep voice sounded at her elbow, provoking a smattering of reciprocation from around the table.
"Good morning, my lord." She struggled to keep her voice even.
"I trust you slept well?"
"Yes, thank you. Very well indeed." Her face was straight but her eyes shone.
He looked round at the others as he seated himself. "Where is Glorfindel?" The outburst of hilarity that followed this query caused him to raise his eyebrows in question.
Gildinwen coughed, "There has been some speculation on that subject already." She lowered her voice, "Particularly since your cousin is not present either."
"Ah." He slid her a sideways glance from under lowered lids, then turned to speak to Gildor, while under the table he spanned her knee with his long fingers. As they finished eating Luinil appeared and summoned Gildinwen to Lord Gil-galad.
The Elf-Lord was standing at the far end of his pavilion, reading from a sheaf of papers when Gildinwen entered.
"Good morning, my lord." She bowed.
He looked up and nodded "Ah. Gildinwen." His manner was perfunctory, but not unkind. "I heard that you were injured last night. I trust it was not serious."
"No, my lord. Thank you. Were the intruders caught?"
"No." he shook his head. "Nor did we discover upon what purpose they were bent." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then his face cleared. "I have had a request from Lord Isildur for a healer to see his wife. She has stated a preference for a woman, would you attend her?"
"I should be happy to, my lord."
He threw the documents down on the table, and fixed his gaze on her, his deep blue eyes serious. "Lord Elrond has spoken to me about you this morning." His voice was stern.
Gildinwen started, guarding herself quickly.
"What if I told you that I disapproved of this liaison, and that it has no place on this battlefield?"
She felt a great, empty pit open at her feet, and she faltered on the brink. A cold wind blew up, driving away all her earlier happiness.
She lifted her stricken eyes to meet his.
'No.' she pleaded silently, 'Don't ask this of me. Please, anything but this.'
His look remained implacable, boring into her very soul.
The weight of her oath was heavy on her. Sworn in faith and fealty, for all the house of Amarnon. To serve and obey.
'But Elrond!' Her very soul cried out, 'How can Iâ€¦.?' She couldn't even find the words.
So here comes the test. Here is the choice that is laid out. Break her word, to follow her heart, or set her feet on the bleak path of duty.
The balance swayed.
I love him. I can't change that. Nothing can change that.
That's right. That's right! Nothing can change that. Even if you can't be together for a time. This war can't last forever. He serves Lord Gil-galad as well, he is bound by the same oath.
The scales tipped.
The choice was made.
Her voice bereft, she bowed her head, "I cannot stop my heart from loving, my lord, but in all else I am yours to command."
For a long while there was silence, then Gil-galad spoke. "Be at peace." His voice was warm, and she looked up to see a slight smile about his noble face. "In truth I see no harm in it, but I had to be sure that you would put duty first if required."
Gildinwen reeled inwardly, as she mentally tried the ground once more beneath her feet.
"He was given the same test," the Elf-Lord nodded wisely, "and he chose as you did."
She breathed deeply, collecting herself, relief flooding her.
Gil-galad looked more thoughtful, "Indeed, I have often wished that he might find someone to ease his loneliness." He frowned slightly, "You should be aware, however, that his is not an easy road, and you will require great strength if you are to accompany him on it, even though, as a mortal, you can go only a short way."
"He has spoken to me a little of his sorrows, my lord."
"That is good, I hope he will find them less of a burden through the sharing."
"Did his mother really try to kill herself in front of him?"
"Yes, indeed. He was little more than a child, and his brother but a babe in arms. Maglor pursued her for the Silmaril, but she would not surrender it to him, nor would she be parted from it - not even to save her children." He looked sorrowful. "She fixed it upon her breast, and abandoning her sons to the enemy, flung herself into the sea." He shook his proud head slowly, "It is a terrible thing, when the desire for a thing of beauty, even one as compelling as a Silmaril, becomes so all-consuming that it eclipses all else, blotting out love, honour and reason."
"But he found happiness with his step-father?"
"Yes, for a time. Maglor was so racked with guilt over Elwing's death that he took the boys to raise. He protected and cherished them, but his brother continually tormented him with the oath that he had sworn to recover the Silmarils. Finally he gave in, but the jewel brought him only pain and madness."
Walking down to the Men's camp, Gildinwen found her earlier high spirits return with vigour. The happiness briefly snatched away was now hers again, and the renewed buoyancy of her heart lightened her feet, lifted her chin and lit her face.
The proximity of Isildur's tent proved to be a very busy place indeed. Tables had been set up outside and they were jammed with soldiers and servants, eating and talking. She noticed Brith sitting near the entrance, his hawk-like eyes missing nothing, and as she was shown inside, she overheard him joke to his companions. "That wallflower's positively blooming, I think someone must have been watering it!" and the soldiers' laughter that followed made her growl with annoyance.
The interior of Isildur's pavilion was divided into two parts by a heavy curtain. In the first, rough matting covered the floor, and chairs were set around a table covered with lists and reports. In one corner, beside a low pallet for his squire, a wooden tree held the Lord's armour, and his weapons were laid, clean and ready. Isildur himself sat at the table, his hair was tousled, his wrinkled linen shirt unbuttoned. He looked tired and his face was drawn, the powerful body, marked by many silver scars, slumped dejectedly in the chair.
"My Lord," the squire's voice was diffident, "The Lady Gildinwen has arrived."
Isildur ran a slow hand through his wayward hair, "Thank you, Ohtar. You may go."
Gildinwen took a seat opposite him. "You look tired, my lord. Would you like me to make you up a tonic."
He looked up at her, a wry smile on his sensual lips. "Oh, there's no medicine for what ails me." He sighed.
"It is your wife?"
"It is not unusual for a woman to not be herself for a time, following the birth of a child."
"I know that!" he snapped, "This is my fourth son." He sighed again, "But before she has always come out of it quickly. This time," he made a gesture of helplessness, "I have tried everything. Nothing I do or say pleases her. Even the birth gifts I have given her, brought no light to her eye."
"I will do what I can to help, my lord."
"My thanks to you."
The interior chamber was softly lit with lamps, the walls heavy with embroidered hangings and rugs soft underfoot. The room was in disorder, and two waiting women were busy packing for the return journey. All around finely carved chests lay open, gorgeous clothing was draped over chairs, jewellery and ornaments piled haphazardly on the table. At the far end, the Lady Varadil languished on a curtained bed. She looked round dispiritedly as Gildinwen entered, and motioned peremptorily for the servants to leave.
"My lady." Gildinwen bowed formally, before taking a chair near the bed.
"So," the Lady Varadil's voice was softly sneering, "You're the healer that my husband wants me to see." She sat up with a tired sigh. "No doubt you'll tell me that this is all perfectly natural following a birth, and give me some vile-tasting tea to try and lighten my mood."
Gildinwen smiled a little ruefully, "That is more or less what I came here expecting to do, but it would seem that your trouble is deeper."
"Deeper, yes. And older." She rose from the bed and wandered aimlessly around the tent, idly picking up items and tossing them down. When she reached the table, she lifted her crown, heavy with diamonds and pearls, from among the glittering hoard. "Pretty isn't it?" she turned it idly in her hands so that it caught the light of the lamps. "Once it was all I wanted. To be a queen, the highest and most envied woman in the land. Can you imagine what it is like? To be loved and adored by a powerful prince, to have him bring you gold and jewels, anything your heart could desire?" She looked critically over Gildinwen's work-worn clothing, and hastily braided hair, the simple silver band her only ornament, "Well," she answered herself with a touch of scorn, "perhaps not. I thought it worth any price." She threw the jewelled chaplet back onto the table with a clatter, "What a foolish girl I was."
"But surely you have many things in your life to bring you joy, my lady. You have four healthy children, a husband who loves you dearly. There are always regrets when a choice is made, there are two sides to the balance, and one cannot help but wonder what lies down the unchosen path. But the turning is passed, and the steps cannot be retraced."
Lady Varadil sank into a nearby chair, and looked at Gildinwen, a reluctant acceptance in her eyes. "Yes, I know you are right." She gave a theatrical sigh, "Very well, I'll drink the tea, leave the herbs with my maids, they know well enough the preparing of it." She waved her hand crossly, "Now go, let me be in peace."
Isildur was more himself when Gildinwen emerged from seeing his wife, washed and dressed, he was seated at the table attending to the business of the day. On seeing her, he rose and drew her into a corner that they might speak without being overheard.
"Well?" his face was intense.
"She has a melancholy humour, my lord, I have prescribed some tea which should help."
He looked sceptical.
"I might also suggest a change of surroundings."
His face assumed a thoughtful look, "She is to return to Minas Ithil tomorrow with the other ladies, but AnÃ rion tells me that the city has suffered much damage."
"Perhaps somewhere else then?"
He pursed his lips, "She just recently left Rivendell as it was too quiet." His eyes lit up, "I shall send her to AnnÃºminas, to my father's city. Perhaps the air will lift her spirits."
"I am sure it will help her, my lord."
As she made her way back through the Men's camp she suddenly found herself confronted by Lord Brithiar. Remembering his earlier rudeness, she made to step past him without speaking.
"No, wait!" he caught at her arm. "Please." A slight uncertainty overshadowed his habitual arrogance. "I'm sorry about my remark earlier, it was rude and foolish."
She replied stiffly. "Very well, I accept your apology."
"You have been to see the Lady Varadil?"
Gildinwen looked at him suspiciously.
"What's wrong with her? Is she ill?" A tortured look shadowed his eyes, and his voice strangled in his throat, "Surely she cannot be with child again already?"
"Forgive me, my lord, I cannot discuss these matters with you."
"Please!" his grip on her arm increased, and his eyes bored into hers, "I beg you. At least tell me if she is alright."
Gildinwen felt a shaft of pity pierce her resolve. "It is my belief that she will be, my lord."
"Thank you." His composure returned, he released her arm, and melted away between the tents.
Author's deranged babble: Before any purists rush to email me, I know that some of what I've said here about Elrond's childhood may be different from that in Unfinished Tales, or the Professor's letters. I have used only Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion as the basis for the story.
This chapter took the longest to write so far. Not just because it is the longest, but because I found the scene with Gil-galad particularly difficult, but after many, many rewrites I'm finally satisfied with it.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.