Last Hope: 8. Part 2 - Chapter 2

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8. Part 2 - Chapter 2

***

She opened the bedroom door, startled when her son gave out a cry of delight. There on the threshold sat a wooden device, carved in a strange shape. Gilraen laughed as her son dashed to retrieve it greedily. "Another gift for you, Aragorn – how wonderful! We shall have no space left to keep them all, before long."

A bow of ribbon was tied at the top; this Aragorn urged her to remove as quickly as possible. That done, he beamed over the object, captivated. Gilraen guessed he did not understand its purpose -as neither did she- but the joy on his face was a gift in itself.

Aragorn insisted on bringing his present along, and they proceeded to the banquet hall where the morning fare would be set out. Elrohir alone sat at the dining table, and Aragorn raced to meet him, pausing briefly in expectation, then running again when the desired reaction was had.

"Hullo, Aragorn!" Elrohir called. "And good morning to you, lady." Aragorn was excited to show Elrohir his new plaything, and he explained all the uses he would put it to – with more movements of his hands than words, and the language he used was a mixture of Sindarin and Westron. Elrohir was patient, and he appeared to understand all that was gibberish and even unsaid. "I am glad that you shall enjoy it so," he told Aragorn.

Gilraen arranged a plate for her son, persuading him to put his gift aside and feed himself. Sitting down she said, "I am amazed that you could understand him. When he is very excited he forgets his words!"

"Not at all. I am amazed that he is learning two languages at once. Is this now the custom of your people?"

"Nay, it was his own doing." Gilraen was glad for the conversation. "We taught him Westron for his first year, but he loved people to sing for him, and elvish songs were his favourite. Sindarin delighted him so much to hear that we taught him some words to use and he ever gathered more from songs and casual talk."

"I see. But he has a clear mind also," said Elrohir. "It is not difficult to understand his meaning, no matter what language he speaks, or even if he is silent." Gilraen turned away, giving a meaningful glance to Aragorn, who obediently released his gift and resumed eating. Elrohir chuckled. "Well do I remember that look from my own mother."

"She must have been diligent," Gilraen said smiling, "for you are grown tall and strong from those uninterrupted meals."

In play Elrohir made a fist, tensing his arm. The resulting bulge seemed satisfactory to him. "Right you are, I deem." Aragorn was familiar with this custom of flexing one's muscles, and he strained his own biceps for show, growling with teeth bared as his relatives would do. "Ho!" Elrohir laughed, "And here sits a mighty babe in his own right. Peace to you, little one." He asked Gilraen, "How many are his years?"

"He will reach his third in March."

Further conversation was delayed by the entrance of another. To Gilraen's surprise, it was Elrond who passed the counter of assorted foodstuffs and came to the dining table. His son stood, and they embraced briefly, then Elrond turned to Gilraen.

"Greetings, mother and son. Does the morning meet you well, lady?"

Gilraen carefully did not glance at the portions of her plate, mostly untouched. "So well that I could desire nothing more."

He gestured to her son. "And, have you and your child plans for this day?"

Here she brightened, guessing that at last Elrond would talk with her of such matters that had been left unaddressed. "Not as you would regard it, I think. These past days I have wandered your home, lord, making it my hobby to learn the schedule of the household's staff. Yet I think I would not be missed."

"Then I will have an audience with you, if you wish it, and questions you have yet held in silence will be answered."

Elrohir prepared to leave. "And I will not likely see you again ere the evening, father. Good day, and to you also, Gilraen." He returned Aragorn's wave.

"Have a care," said Elrond pointedly. They exchanged an understanding glance -which Gilraen did not share in- then Elrohir departed as one with an agenda.

After breakfast they walked at leisure. Aragorn was content to skip ahead of his mother's watchful gaze, wooden toy in hand. "Your patience in these past weeks has been greatly appreciated," said Elrond. "I apologize for my absence during much of that time."

Gilraen was taken aback. "Weeks?" It was not truly a question, save that the passing of time had simply not occurred to her before.

With a sidelong glance he smiled, appearing very much like each of his sons in that moment, politic and playful. "Aye, threefold." He went on unexpectedly, "How much is recorded and taught among your folk concerning the former Chieftains of the Dúnedain?"

Twice baffled, Gilraen struggled over an answer, not wishing to seem as ignorant as she felt. Whether she was eloquent or inarticulate it could not be determined by Elrond's response, for he was gracious regardless. She could not fathom the purpose of their conversation once it took on the semblance of a casual lesson in history – but Gilraen listened carefully, glad to learn of some things unknown to her and pleased that she could answer Elrond's questions with some degree of certainty.

After a moment of silence Elrond sighed, and fell pensive. They were now amid a garden with many stone benches and statues; a place of quiet reflection, it seemed.

Gilraen tried to keep from interrupting, seeing that Elrond gazed beyond the garden, seemingly lost in thought. Aragorn found a bench good to play on, and Gilraen watched him at his game. Then from a distance, strange sounds echoed like a beating of wood against wood, and occasionally a voice arose. Wondering if Elrond would comment upon these noises, she turned. It appeared that he had been waiting for her attention.

"Well," he said, and clapped his hands once, "now you shall have a pleasant surprise, I think. Come, it is but a short way." He began to walk at once.

Gathering Aragorn she followed quickly. Elrond was waiting beside a trellis and gestured farther, but gave no indication that he would lead or follow. Gilraen passed him to see around the lattice… "Artanal!" To her own surprise, she ran to meet her kinsman, giddy with unexpected joy.

Artanal had stood examining a sundial, but turned to accept her embrace readily. In his mother's arms, Aragorn was nearly smothered between them. "Gilraen, 'tis good to see you, cousin. You look well!" He ruffled the child's hair, eliciting a squeal from him. "And Aragorn lad, have you grown already? Let me see… ah, maybe I could tell by feeling your bones, yes?" He took the boy to spare Gilraen his kicking feet, and tickled him. She laughed along with her son despite a pang of guilt. He has not laughed like that since coming here.

They spoke only briefly together before Gilraen was faced with another surprise. Behind Artanal she saw Valcirion approaching; his expression at first was doubtful, but once closer he nodded in recognition, and called, "Hail Gilraen!"

Gilraen had not seen the grizzled commander since Aragorn was newly born, but he was unchanged: still somber and a little tired, yet hardened and unbending. As he stood before her she bowed her head respectfully. "Valcirion, well met."

He looked closely upon her, then Aragorn, and showed a rare smile. "It has been long since our last meeting. I see your son has grown well, and the years have not touched you. Pray forgive my lateness for this tryst," he gestured whence he came; "I tarried. Have you waited long?"

"Not at all. Nor had I expected your arrival this soon, though it seems I've not been marking the time lately." Gilraen glanced at the sundial, noting that it was noon already. "When did you arrive?"

"Yestereve, shortly after dusk." Valcirion glanced around discreetly. "We were told you were unwell, and had retired early."

"Aye, I was unwell, if by that the Elf who spoke to you meant that I was tired," she said smiling.

Artanal relaxed, knowing that Elves at times had their own ideas about the affairs of mortals. But Valcirion said, "It was no Elf, but Elrond himself."

"Nonetheless, I am quite fine. Now tell me how the Angle fares!"

They spoke then of many things. Valcirion explained how the ranks were newly organized, and of how those promoted were adjusting to the new order of command. It was a bitter reminder to Gilraen of what had caused that change, but she was glad for the tidings, to hear of her kinsmen even if they struggled some. A more cheerful tale was that Gilbarad's child had been born healthy and without complications.

"A boy pleased both parents greatly, but I think little Ambeth could have been happier." Artanal grinned. "A baby sister she had in mind, so I heard, and one who cries less during the night."

Gilraen smiled, imagining the young girl's nose wrinkled in disapproval. "What is the boy's name?"

"Halbarad."

She sighed, thinking of the playmate Aragorn would not grow up with. Then something else caught her attention, and the distraction was welcome. "Since we spoke of noise…"

"Have you not seen before? They are sparring in the field below with sticks for weapons." Valcirion moved to a short stone wall nearby. "It's fascinating to watch, if a strange practice." He beckoned for Gilraen to look, and Artanal was moving that direction – but he still held Aragorn, and she was quick to halt him.

"Nay, nay!" she said. "If someone sees such a thing, someone will demand a closer view, and then be in no mood for his midday nap."

Laughing Artanal nodded, and set Aragorn down. With his sight blocked by the stone, Gilraen walked forward and looked beyond. A smile came to her face, seeing who fought in the sparring ring. "Elrond's sons," Artanal said with admiration in his tone, then wistfully, "Well, if I had forever I might develop such prowess."

Valcirion said dryly, "Expert or not, I would keep my shirt on in winter."

"The sting of the cane is sharpened by the cold, and bare flesh is bit hardest. You will see them take little punishment, bearing that in mind." Elrond was smiling down at Aragorn as all turned to him startled: his approach had been utterly silent.

Gilraen spoke next, "Surprise indeed, Master Elrond, and certainly a pleasant one! Had you arranged for us all to meet here in secret?"

"I did, though your kinsmen might have guessed my intentions." Looking up from the boy, his smile remained. "I see that Aragorn has forgotten his puzzle box. Might I accompany him to fetch it?"

Gilraen recognized that he was offering privacy to his guests. "With my thanks. But should he ask for me…" He nodded in understanding, no doubt as used to children as their vigilant mothers. Nonetheless Gilraen watched as he guided Aragorn back towards the garden.

When she turned, Valcirion lifted his chin. "I meant to ask how you have been faring in this dwelling, and with its residents."

Gilraen wondered which was stranger, the place or the people. "Well enough, and better with time," she said. "It is difficult to guess an Elf's mood, and I am ever at a loss trying to determine what would seem to them appropriate or objectionable. But everyone is courteous, and many welcome company. Even those who keep themselves busy or solitary are still pleasant and content in their way."

She gestured to Elrond's sons, smiling again. "Aragorn has taken a liking to Elrohir in particular, I think to the delight of them both. And though Elladan is quieter, he expresses genuine interest in his brother's affairs. Though they have their own concerns for certain, it's my hope that Aragorn might come to look to them as... well, as knowledgeable in ways his mother is not."

Valcirion was frowning and tense in the shoulders; beside him, Artanal chewed on his beard. Both were signs of discomfort she had seen in these men before. "What is it?"

The older man shifted. "Elrond's sons intend to depart no later than Artanal and I do. They ride again to the north, so they said."

"To the north…" she trailed off, wondering if Elrond knew that his sons would likely pass Arathorn's grave on their errand, and how he could bear the thought. She pulled her shawl tighter against a sudden chill. "I see. Well, that is a shame."

Valcirion continued, "But I know naught of their plans in detail. Mayhap they intend to return soon."

Artanal added, "In any event, you will be seeing more of us mortals from the Angle." He paused to hear questions that were not asked. "That is, frequent trading shall be reinitiated."

Gilraen had not moved, trying her hardest not to feel upset as she watched the twins, knowing now that they did not care to stay. Aragorn has begun to ask for Elrohir by name... he will learn to love no one before long!

She did not notice the men share a glance before Valcirion said, "Elrond taught us a lesson, you could say. A strange feeling it was to have my own peoples' history clarified for me by one with a face younger-looking than my own. But I am glad to learn from one so wise. Did you hear, Gilraen… about Aravorn?"

She stirred. Aravorn whom Elrond had reared from childhood, and Aravorn's son whom Elrond was too politic to name proud. "Yes, he told me, just this morning."

"Well, I was aware of some of those tales, and knew of Arassuil's effort to reestablish closer relations twixt—" Valcirion went on at length about former Chieftains and their trials and endeavors and untimely ends.

Gilraen only grew restless, reminded of her son. When finally Valcirion ran out of words she had long been eager to return to the garden; Artanal followed her there, while Valcirion left with other business to tend to.

"He was surprised by his promotion," said Artanal, then lower, "and has not stopped talking since."

Gilraen frowned. "Beregost has been elderly for as long as I can remember. Who else did Valcirion suppose the people would look to?" She was silent for a deceptive second. "And what is to be traded with the Elves? They do not need things of mortal make, nor do they seem overly concerned for what goes on beyond their realm. You know, many here speak of leaving Middle-earth soon. I am sorry that things are not as they used to be, but that is a condition of this changing world, not only caused by a jealous son who as Chieftain encouraged his people to take care of themselves. If the Angle has become more independent over the years, mayhap it's for the best."

Artanal was momentarily speechless. He addressed the only question he felt able to answer, "Well, by the Elves' specifications we will bring leathers as soon as they are prepared."

"Ah, and will you bring wool next, in exchange for the boots they make?" She made a flourish with her hand. "Our people have little to offer, save the raw materials of products that we could finish ourselves."

"Yet the Elves are better craftsmen."

"But is the satisfaction of applying their superior abilities sufficient reimbursement for their efforts?"

Artanal stopped walking. "Does every man cook for himself in the Angle, or are such chores divided amongst the household for efficiency? Two realms willing to share essential duties of living is little different than that. Why are we arguing about this?"

At length Gilraen replied, "Because I do not know. Not of the needs or motivations of Elves, nor how you or Valcirion can presume to understand." She forced her eyes down, lest they find their way towards the twins. "I cannot read their hearts, and I'm weary of guessing wrongly."

Artanal looked upon her with understanding. "If any man claims to comprehend the minds and hearts of Elves, I would suspect that he is lying or not a man at all." He smiled with her at that, then said encouragingly, "But if history should teach us aught, 'tis that the Elves have never treated with our kind in hopes of great profit, nor have they toiled on our behalf at need expecting more than alliances in return. Besides, those here who speak of leaving soon know they will travel upon a safer road, thanks to our vigilance. That is no small recompense."

Gilraen gave him a reprimanding look. "Yet that is our duty whether we deal with the Elves or not."

He shrugged. "Aye. And as you say, we are as capable of making our own boots as they are of skinning their own furs. Now maybe the Elves would make better Rangers, as well – but I prefer to believe that it's better this way."

They came into the garden then, seeing across the way that Elrond sat beside Aragorn on a bench. They paused together, each placated by the area, whether they knew it or not. Artanal turned, looking about. Facing the direction they came he was reminded of Elrond's sons. "I know you were unhappy to hear of their plans. Valcirion and I did not know Aragorn had grown fond of them. I'm sorry." He shifted to look at Gilraen. "Is there no other that he might look to?"

She did not meet his eyes, her own gaze fixed upon her son. Aragorn was watching intensely as Elrond twisted the wooden toy a certain way, until the device came apart in two pieces. Her son gasped, startled but delighted, and Elrond laughed as the boy grabbed both pieces for careful examination. At a loss Aragorn offered the toy back, pleading with his eyes that the problem be solved. Smiling Elrond took the puzzle, and slowly slid the halves together again.

Now Aragorn was determined to master this mystery, and he seized the box once more. After a moment of fierce struggling, Elrond laid his hands over the child's, and gently guided his movements. The puzzle slid apart. Frustration forgotten, Aragorn kicked his feet and bounced in excitement, and with help the box was assembled once more. Laughing he forsook his place on the bench for a seat on Elrond's lap, happy and proud.

"There, you see? We may also bring wood for their toymaking crafts; I hear Elves prefer not to hew trees," Artanal said half-jokingly into Gilraen's ear.

But that was not why she smiled.

***


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.

Story Information

Author: AfterEver

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/08/04

Original Post: 07/28/03

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