‘Is it true there are hot springs at Imladris?’ he asked Elladan, who rode beside him.
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Elladan. ‘Hot springs and cold, for healing, for washing and of course for pleasure.’ He dropped the reins on his horse’s neck and stretched his arms above his head until the muscles behind his shoulders cracked. ‘And I am mightily looking forward to immersing myself in the hottest one,’ he said before yawning hugely. ‘I enjoy the life of the wild, but coming home is even better.’
Out of the corner of his eye, Gwirith saw Aragorn’s head dip down at his words, but Elladan did not notice his foster-brother’s reaction.
‘I don’t know why you’re so keen to get home, Elladan,’ said Elrohir. ‘Father wants you to help him with those new parchments that came in from Gondor. You know there will be no revelry while you are occupied with that.’
‘Of course, I had forgotten,’ said Elladan, sitting up in the saddle. ‘But father will be so pleased to see Estel safe and well that he will have no time for us.’
This time Aragorn’s silence was too obvious to ignore.
‘What is it, brother? Are you not pleased to be coming home?’ said Elrohir. But before he could answer, Elladan said,
‘This is where we camped last time. Let’s stop for the night and go home tomorrow.’
So they dismounted and collected wood for a fire and soon were sitting at rest around it, their horses cropping the grass nearby.
‘Gwirith, you have never told us why you decided to come to Imladris,’ said Elrohir. ‘Was it just for the hot springs?’
‘Elrohir, must you always be so curious?’ said Aragorn, irritably. ‘Leave him be.’
Both Elladan and Elrohir looked at him then, their lighthearted humour forgotten.
‘What is it, little brother?’ said Elrohir, putting his arm round Aragorn’s shoulders. ‘Does your wound still pain you?’
Aragorn stroked his shoulder. ‘My shoulder aches a little, yes, but that is not what ails me.’
‘Then what, Estel? ’ said Elladan gently.
Gwirith began to get up. ‘I will leave you alone to talk,’ he said, but Aragorn seized his arm and pulled him back down.
‘Stay,’ he said. ‘I have no secrets you may not hear.’ Gwirith sat down again. Aragorn gave a deep sigh.
‘This is the first time I have been back to Imladris since…since Lord Elrond told me about my true name. I am afraid it will not feel like home any more, now I know where I come from.’
‘Estel, tithen muindor, it will always be your home,’ said Elrohir gently. ‘When you came to us you had scarce spoken your first word, and when you did it was to say ‘ada’. Elrond is all the father you have known, and he loves you dearly.’
‘But I am not of your blood,’ whispered Aragorn, his voice tight in his throat. ‘And I do not belong to the elves.’
‘You do not belong because you are more than that,’ said Elladan. ‘If your destiny is fulfilled, all Arda will rejoice.’
‘And it will be the end of the time of the elves!’ said Aragorn in a shaking voice. ‘If my destiny is fulfilled, I must lose you all to the Undying Lands!’
Elladan and Elrohir glanced at each other. ‘It is not said that we should all leave,’ said Elrohir quietly. ‘Ada has told us that the choice will be left to us to make when the time comes.’
‘That comforts my heart,’ said Aragorn. ‘But it is still much to bear. I do not know if I can fulfil this task. I am a man, I have the weaknesses of men. If I did not, then maybe Gwirith would not be here now, but back in Lorien with Celinn.’ There was a long silence. Aragorn looked into the fire, the flames bright in the gathering dusk. At last Gwirith spoke.
‘Do you think elves have no weaknesses?’ he said. ‘Surely you have heard the tales of the dark happenings, even in Valinor itself!’
‘Yes,’ whispered Aragorn. ‘I know the tales.’
‘In war there is always suffering and death,’ said Gwirith, ‘no matter how skilled the generals. Do not waste your strength on self-hatred, Aragorn. It will gain you nothing.’
Aragorn looked away from him, unconvinced. His mouth was tightly closed and his brothers glanced at each other as though they knew this mood well. The fire crackled and hissed as a sappy branch burnt through.
‘So you came with us because of Celinn?’ said Elrohir carefully to Gwirith.
‘Yes,’ said Gwirith, caught off guard.
‘Will you tell us about him?’ said Elladan gently. Gwirith had meant to refuse him, but there was such kindness in Elladan’s face that his resistance broke and he covered his face with his hands for a moment.
‘He…he believes he can never love anyone again. His hroa is healed, but his fea…he could not bear to have me near him, even though I asked nothing of him. So I have left, as he asked me to do.’
Elladan laid a hand gently on his arm. ‘We know your pain,’ he said softly. ‘Our mother departed over Sea after she was taken and tormented by Orcs. Even our father who is skilled in healing could not help her.’
‘I am sorry for your loss,’ said Gwirith. ‘I do not think Celinn would go over Sea. He was born in the forest, as were all his kin. But I do not know what he will do with his sorrow.’
‘Do you think ada could not help him, then?’ said Aragorn suddenly.
‘I do not know, Estel,’ said Elrohir. ‘Even he cannot mend all hurts.’
In the firelight Aragorn’s face was deeply shadowed. After a few moments he stood up.
‘I will fetch some more wood,’ he said gruffly, and began to walk off.
‘Take your sword,’ called Elrohir, and he came back sheepishly and strapped it on before disappearing into the darkness.
‘He is so young, Gwirith. We scarcely understand how he can be a man grown already,’ said Elladan. ‘He carries a burden much too heavy for his shoulders. He must find the strength to carry it, or it will break him.’
‘He will not carry it alone,’ said Gwirith. ‘All those in Arda who hate the Shadow will stand with him.’
‘But he will still be alone,’ said Elladan. ‘You know it is so for those who lead.’ Gwirith nodded in silence.
Aragorn appeared suddenly out of the darkness. ‘You may not be an elf but you do not have the step of a man,’ said Elladan.
Aragorn half smiled at that. ‘After the years that you two forced me to track you through Imladris, I would hope not!’ he said.
‘Do you remember the time we told him we would meet him at the waterfall but that he would have to find our hiding place before we would come out?’ said Elladan.
‘Yes, but we weren’t by the waterfall at all, we were in the grove with…’
‘No names, Elrohir!’
‘What, after all these years? I thought everybody knew!’
‘Hush, brother,’ said Elladan, covering his brother’s mouth with his hand. Elrohir bit him, and Elladan gave a muffled squawk and leapt on top of him, straddling him and holding his wrists tightly above his head.
‘Now, brother, I know that I am not the one you would choose to have restraining you like this, but you will have to wait for him until tomorrow. I’m surprised you agreed to pass another night away from him. Are you worried he will be too busy to see you?’
Elrohir struggled free and cuffed Elladan round the head, and then they began to roll around in front of the fire, wrestling with each other, laughing all the time. Finally they stopped and lay exhausted on the grass.
‘Well, Elrohir, you must get your rest,’ said Elladan, ‘or you will be fit for nothing tomorrow night, and he will blame me for it.’
Elrohir kicked him lightly, then stood up and went to fetch the bedding from their horses and they stretched out close to the fire.
‘I will take the first watch,’ said Aragorn, fetching his water bottle from his pack and sitting down cross-legged on top of his bedding.
Gwirith watched him as he looked intently into the dark woods around them, his face deep in shadow. After a while he started to wonder what Luinil was doing, and then his face softened when he thought of the Lady and her kindness to him. He stretched out on his side and looked into the flames, and all at once tiredness overcame him like a wave. He sighed deeply and began to drift into sleep.
But as he slept the strong defences he had set around his mind melted away, and the memory of Celinn, which he could shut out while waking, came back to him. He stirred restlessly in his sleep, and from his place by the fire, Aragorn heard him muttering painfully to himself, and thought whether to rouse him; but he knew he had no comfort to offer him, so he let him be, and continued to look out into the darkness, his hand tight on his sword.
‘Elrond, they are here,’ said Glorfindel’s voice at his elbow, making him jump. The Lord of Imladris stared up at him, then realising who he meant, pushed his chair back and ran out of his study without a word. Glorfindel considered taking Elrond’s velvet cloak to him, but knew he would not be thanked for it, so he put the lid on the ink bottle and followed Elrond into the courtyard.
Elrond watched his tall sons stride across the courtyard towards him with an identical swinging gait. Even now they were so alike that he still mistook them for each other, but just then all that mattered was that they were here.
‘Hello, ada, we’re back,’ said Elladan, smiling lopsidedly.
‘Yes,’ said Elrohir, standing a little behind his brother as usual.
Elrond held out his arms and they both came into them together. The three of them were of a height, and there was something fitting and complete about the way they stood, arms wrapped around each other, long dark hair flowing down their backs.
At last they stood back from one another.
‘Let me look at you,’ said Elrond, stepping back to see them better. They stood relaxed and unabashed at his scrutiny, gazing back at him with pleasure.
‘You are well, my sons,’ he said proudly. ‘But where is Estel? Did he not return with you?’
Both his sons looked away from him. ‘He has taken his horse to the stables, ada,’ said Elrohir.
‘What, without coming to see me first?’ said Elrond. ‘Elrohir, look at me.’ Elrohir did as he was bid. Elrond scanned his face.
‘Something is amiss. I thought there was. Have his wounds not mended?’
‘It is not the wounds, ada, although his shoulder pains him sometimes still,’ said Elladan. Elrond waited, but his son had no more to say.
‘I will go and find him,’ he said. ‘I believe I have more right to his presence than his horse after all this time.’
‘Ada, go gently with him,’ said Elladan. It was clear there was more he could have said, but he was as reticent as his brother.
Elrond looked at them both. ‘It is good to have you home again, my dears,’ he said, then he turned and walked off towards the stables.
Aragorn was alone in the stables since all the grooms had gone for their midday meal. He had one hand one his horse’s neck while he pulled the comb in long firm strokes across the beast’s back. Elrond stood at the entrance to the stables and saw the dejection in every line of his foster son’s body.
‘Estel,’ he said gently. ‘You are home at last. I have missed you.’
Aragorn’s hand stopped moving, but he did not turn at once. When he did, Elrond saw both sorrow and anger in his face.
‘Do not call me that,’ he said, his voice tight in his throat. ‘I no longer have the right to that name.’
Elrond drew in his breath sharply, suddenly aware of the chasm that had opened up between them. He longed to cross the space that separated them and comfort his foster son, but he knew he could not.
‘To me you will always be Estel,’ he said quietly. ‘Now that you know your forefathers, it does not mean that you must lose what you have had here in Imladris, with me and your brothers.’
‘They are not my brothers,’ said Aragorn bitterly. ‘You are none of you of my blood.’
‘We are of your blood, Estel, through my brother Elros.’
‘But not the blood that made me,’ whispered Aragorn.
‘No,’ said Elrond quietly. ‘Not the blood that made you. But you knew this when I last spoke to you, Estel, and you accepted it without rancour. I will always be your father, though you are not made from my seed; and Elladan and Elrohir will always be your brothers. You know this.’
‘Yes,’ whispered Aragorn.
‘Then what has happened to make you change so?’
‘I don’t know,’ Aragorn burst out, irritably. A tremor passed down his horse’s back and it shifted its feet restlessly. Aragorn dropped the curry comb in the straw and absentmindedly began to stroke its neck. ‘I always knew I was different,’ he said, more calmly. ‘Not just because of how I looked but of what I couldn’t do. When you told me…whose son I truly was; what I had to do; at first it was like a magnificent quest.’ He turned suddenly to Elrond, and his face was radiant. ‘I felt Narsil tremble when you placed him in my hand. I longed to go into the Wild, to find the Dunedain, my unknown kin, to learn more of the land of Arda, to try myself alone against the dangers I might find.’ He paused. ‘Ada, I wanted to make you proud of me,’ he said, his voice shaking a little.
Elrond moved a step closer to him, ruthlessly pushing down the desire to pull his son into his arms.
‘I have always been proud of you, my dear,’ he said gently.
‘But you will not be proud any more when you know what I have done,’ said Aragorn, sullenly.
‘Tell me what you have done, then,’ said Elrond, and he sat down on the wide windowsill and watched him closely.
‘I…I…by Elbereth, I can scarce even tell you,’ said Aragorn. Elrond said nothing. Aragorn flung himself round and buried his face in his horse’s neck, and was rewarded by a soft nip on his head. Without looking up he stretched out his hand and tangled his fingers in his horse’s mane, gripping on so tightly that the skin over his knuckles glowed white. At last he gave a deep shuddering sigh and turned back to Elrond.
‘You probably know the whole story already from Elladan and Elrohir.’
‘Tell me anyway, if you wish to,’ said Elrond gently. There was a long silence. Elrond began to count his foster-son’s shallow breaths. He had nearly reached thirty when Aragorn said suddenly,
‘I was leading a raid against a band of outlaw men. We had tracked them for months but kept losing them, so I disguised myself and joined them so that we could apprehend them and take them to Rohan for justice. With me were two companies of the pellarim and seven Dunedain. Degil told me it was unwise to infiltrate the outlaw band, but I would not listen to him. I was overcome with the pride of my calling. Then I was discovered by the outlaw leader. A company of the pellarim came after me, but they were captured. Their captain was…was…’ He could not say the words, but his agonised expression spoke for him.
Elrond gasped. Aragorn looked at him, his face suddenly very young.
‘Ada,’ he said, ‘It was my fault. He nearly died. And though he lives, he has been broken by it. Ada, it was all my fault.’
Elrond stood up and crossed the space between them in an instant and took his youngest son into his arms, feeling his body shuddering against him.
‘Ada, I cannot do this. I am too weak,’ he stammered brokenly. ‘I do not have the continence of the elves. I am only a Man. Everything you have taught me has been in vain. My blood is tainted.’ He pulled back suddenly out of Elrond’s arms.
‘How many times have you looked at me over the years and known this? How many times have you asked yourself why you took me in, when you knew it would all come to nothing? I suppose you had to do your duty; who else would have helped my mother else?’
He turned away and covered his face with his hands.
‘It would have been better if I had died then, before you could foster me. Or if I had died of my wounds in Lorien.’
‘Estel,’ cried Elrond, reaching out to touch him, but Aragorn flinched away from him.
‘I will go, ada, and you will not have to see me again. I will do my duty, but now you know it will not be much. I am sorry. I am sorry, ada.’
‘Come here, you foolish boy,’ said Elrond, halfway between tears and laughter, and when he took hold of his shoulders and pulled him down to sit next to him amid the straw, Aragorn did not resist. Elrond drew Aragorn’s head down against his shoulder and wrapped his arms around him.
‘Now listen to me, my lad,’ he said. ‘What happened was a terrible tragedy. Evil has touched you and those who followed you. Very great harm has been done, not least to you. You too nearly died, from what Galadriel has told me.’
‘I deserved it. I should have suffered more,’ said Aragorn in a muffled voice against his chest.
‘Estel,’ said Elrond patiently. ‘How would it be if every general shut himself up in his tent and waited to die every time he made an error of judgment in battle? You have tasted evil, and it is very bitter, as bitter as gall. But that is why we fight it; because we must hold it back. Do you think you are the only one to make a mistake?’
‘Gil-galad would never have done it,’ said Aragorn miserably.
Elrond burst out laughing. ‘Would he not?’ he said. ‘Believe me, there you are wrong, Estel. Gil-galad made plenty of mistakes, as have we all. Do you think Elves cannot err, just as men can? Have you forgotten all the lore I have ever taught you?’
‘But that was different!’ insisted Aragorn. ‘This was not a great battle, it was just a little thing, so little, and I thought it was time to be what I was supposed to be: a leader. Ada, it was terrible. Adanwath, that was the leader of the band of men, he hurt Celinn before my eyes on purpose to force me to tell him who I was and why I was there, and to punish me for being with the elves. It was because I am a man that Celinn suffered.’
‘And as a warrior he would have known the risk he was taking in facing an enemy, and how to deal with it.’
‘Yes, he would. He was very brave, ada, but Adanwath…abused his body. In a way that elves cannot tolerate.’
‘Do you mean that he raped him?’ whispered Elrond, and his face was suddenly so terrible that Aragorn drew away from him.
‘Yes, ada. And then he cut his hair.’
‘And yet he still lives?’ said Elrond, and there were tears in his eyes.
‘He lives, but he is changed. Ada,’ said Aragorn, in a voice full of desperation, ‘You will be able to help him, won’t you? I told him he could come to you.’
Elrond sighed. ‘I do not know, Estel. These matters are deep, and even though he is still in life, something which is astounding in itself, it does not mean my craft could heal him fully. And in any case he would have to seek his own healing. It is not enough for you to wish for it on his behalf.’
Aragorn looked down at his hands, and Elrond saw him struggling with the tears that had come into his eyes. ‘He does not blame me for what happened to him,’ he said softly. ‘I have tried to help him myself but I could not. So I gave him a hound.’
‘You gave him a hound?’ said Elrond, astonished.
‘I did not know what else to do. He seems so lonely now, and I thought a hound might give him comfort. I asked him to care for it until I go back to Lorien.’
‘Where did you find a hound, Estel?’
‘One of the Dunedain had a bitch who had just whelped. I asked him to give me one.’
‘Well, that is something an elf would not have thought of. There, you see, men have ways of which elves know nothing, Estel!’
‘Choosing dogs: that will help me win a kingdom, ada,’ said Aragorn. ‘Gil-galad would never have thought of it.’
‘Do you know what Gil-galad would have done? What he did, Estel, when things went badly wrong?’
‘First he finished all his other tasks. Then he went to practice ground and had a bout of swordplay; then he went for a long ride on his horse. And after he went back to his tent or his chamber and wept. And when he had finished weeping, he called for food and drink, and then he slept.’
‘Truly, Estel. And when he woke, and he had forgiven himself, he made what amends he could, and then he went on to the next battle, or the next decision, not forgetting what he had done or neglecting to learn its lesson, but not so full of self-loathing that he could not lead his people any more. And that is a lesson you must learn also.’
‘I have made amends, as far as I was able,’ said Aragorn. ‘I found Adanwath, with Haldir and Degil’s help. I meant to send him to Rohan for justice, but I am Chieftain, and I gave justice myself. He is dead.’
‘You gave justice?’ said Elrond quietly, with a new respect in his voice.
‘Yes,’ said Aragorn firmly. ‘It is my right, and I owed it to Celinn. I did not need Edoras to do my work for me. I would have killed him myself, but he chose the bow, and I could not draw it with my injured shoulder. So Haldir dispensed justice in my name.’
Elrond watched him in silence. His foster-son had not yet learnt to dissimulate, and he saw the doubt and fear and pride ripple across his face like water.
At last Estel sighed and relaxed. ‘So even Gil-galad did foolish things; things that hurt people badly, even though he meant only to do good.’
‘Of course. How could anyone wield power without making mistakes? Only by doing nothing at all, and that is a mistake in itself.’
‘I have done all the things you said Gilgalad did.’
‘You have wept, Estel? Do not think it is more manly not to weep, for it is a lie that men tell out of fear.’
‘I have wept, ada,’ said Aragorn quietly.
‘Then all that remains is food, drink and sleep, and that is fortunate because I know the table is being spread even now.’
They both stood up, and Aragorn discovered that he was famished. He picked up the curry comb.
‘I will finish with my horse first,’ he said, and at last he smiled.
‘My dear Estel, how glad I am to have you home again,’ said Elrond, and he kissed him on both cheeks. ‘Do not be long. I will see you at table.’
Gwirith stood waiting outside the door to Elrond’s study, tracing the intricate carvings of stars and moons on the oak with the tip of one finger.
‘Enter,’ called a deep voice from within. Gwirith went into the room and went down on one knee before the Lord of Imladris, taking in his strong, slightly cynical features and deep watchful eyes and his dark hair with its intricate braids swept back from a high domed forehead.
‘Master Elrond , I am Gwirith, the envoy of Lorien. You sent for me,’ he said.
Elrond Halfelven got up slowly from his chair and walked across the room, then stood looking down at him. Gwirith waited for him to speak, and when he did not, he glanced up and saw the expression of hastily concealed surprise on his face. Absentmindedly Elrond placed his hand on Gwirith’s dark head.
‘Forgive me, I have never seen this style among the Eldar.,’ he said, ‘Is there a special reason for it?’
Gwirith’s face became wary and Elrond saw that he was struggling for an answer. Hastily he put his hand under Gwirith’s elbow and raised him to his feet.
‘Please do not trouble to reply,’ he said. ‘It is unpardonable curiosity on my part. Let me welcome you to Imladris. Be seated, Gwirith.’ He indicated a pair of chairs by the hearth.
Elrond picked up a long open robe of deep blue and silver and put it on, then went over to stoke the fire. Gwirith looked round at the big light room, one side of which was open to the air and led to a stone terrace looking out on to the valley. On tall oak shelves all around the room there were rolls of parchment tied up with thongs of brown leather or blue linen ties, and there were books of every size and binding from red leather decorated in letters of golden tengwar to black paper with frayed edges. On a table by the window there were many implements of healing: small bottles containing liquids or powders of russet, ochre and green; a half open scrip full of instruments of surgery, and various stones and crystals of many hues. There were also several metal bowls of different sizes, and in a large cherrywood box, a set of strange forks with only two tines.
‘I’m sorry, I am rather untidy,’ said Elrond. ‘Glorfindel never stops complaining about it.’
‘I was not thinking that, my Lord. I was looking at your instruments. What are they?’
‘What, these?’ said Elrond, going over to the table and picking up the scrip. ‘These are for when I am called on as a surgeon.’ He unrolled the scrip fully and took out a small sharp edged knife. ‘They were made for me a very long time ago, by someone who had learnt his craft in Eregion from Celebrimbor. But they are still bright and fine.’
‘But what are these?’ said Gwirith, coming over to the table and tapping one of the metal bowls with his fingernail. It rang a sweet note, soft and clear, and neither of them spoke until the resonance had died away.
‘They are yulmalinde; singing bowls. The Noldor smiths discovered the skill of making them many ages ago.’
‘The sound is beautiful,’ said Gwirith, striking a smaller one and listening to the high clear note that rang out. ‘But…it sounds more than one note,’ he said, surprised. ‘How can that be?’
‘So you are not a musician,’ said Elrond, smiling.
‘No, I am a bowyer and fletcher, when I am not fighting.’
‘Then you will be surprised to hear that all things sound more than one note, but you cannot always hear them doing so. These bowls are cunningly made so that the different sounds in the metal may be heard.’
‘So it is a musical instrument,’ said Gwirith.
‘In a way. But I use it for healing also.’
‘How can a bowl be used to heal?’ said Gwirith, astonished. ‘I use my hands for healing, but they do not ring.’
‘So you are a healer as well as a bowyer. There we have something in common.’
‘Oh, no, Master Elrond. Your skill is known far and wide. I have only now come to know my gift, and I would never have looked for it otherwise.’
‘But you use it nevertheless. How did you come to know it?’
Gwirith fell silent suddenly. Elrond watched him intently for a while, but all he said was,
‘No matter, you can tell me another time. Come and sit down and we will talk about Lorien.’
Gwirith obeyed, glad to be near the fire. On this spring morning, the hidden valley of Imladris still held the chill airs of the night and the sun had not yet burnt off the white mist that rose from the Bruinen. Gwirith listened to the soft thunder of its waterfalls, feeling their voice deep inside his body.
Elrond looked frankly into his face. ‘You are Noldor,’ he said without preamble.
‘Yes, my Lord. From Eregion. After the Fall, we went through Moria and came at last to Lorien, where I have dwelt ever since.’
Elrond’s brows came together. ‘You did not seek the Sea with the rest of your kin, or come here to Imladris.’
‘The Sindar were welcoming to us. They were gentle and simple and they loved the trees. Even though they did not have the craft and knowledge of the Noldor, Lorien was a balm to my heart. In Eregion there was much that was fair, but the shadow of evil touched us all, though for a long time we did not know it dwelt in our midst. After that the forest was a place of peace. And Celeborn and Galadriel came often, and then at last were the Lord and the Lady after Amroth was lost. So I have stayed in Lorien, and after these many years the Sindar have taken some of our ways, and we have taken some of theirs.’
Elrond glanced at his hair.
‘Not this,’ said Gwirith, and Elrond saw a shadow of grief pass across his face.
‘How goes it in Lorien, Gwirith, since the darkness has returned to Dol Guldur?’
Gwirith shrugged his shoulders. ‘Much the same, but more so. We have strengthened our defences and doubled our patrols. We watch ceaselessly, as we have for long ages. We do all we can to keep the Golden Wood free from shadow.’
‘And do you succeed?’
‘For the most part, yes. But evil is in the weave of things, and we cannot always avoid being caught in it.’ Gwirith gave Elrond a detailed report about the defences of Lorien and its relations with Mirkwood.
‘Thranduil has never been easy to work with,’ said Elrond. ‘He has lived with the Shadow for too long to let down his guard, even with his own.’
‘I sometimes think he does not consider us as his own,’ said Gwirith.
Elrond looked at the blue-grey eyes under their dark brows, and he said suddenly,
‘Is it possible we have met before, Gwirith?’ he said. ‘You seem familiar to me, and yet before today I had never heard your name.’
Gwirith shifted a little in his chair. ‘I have never been to Imladris before, my Lord,’ he said, looking down at his hands.
‘Well, I must be mistaken. I thought for a moment that I recognised your face.’ Elrond sighed deeply. ‘And now the Shadow grows once more,’ he said, and for an instant the years showed on his face. ‘The Lady Galadriel has sent me news which I was loath to hear. I must ponder on it awhile before sending her my answer. I hope my sons are taking care of you: I would not make your time away from Lorien burdensome.’
‘Oh, no, my Lord. I asked to be sent away,’ said Gwirith before he could stop himself.
Elrond’s winged eyebrows flew upwards, but though he marked the words, he made no comment.
‘Very well, Gwirith. I will send for you if there is anything I need to ask you.’
Gwirith rose and bowed to Elrond then went to the door and opened it.
‘And beware of my sons, Gwirith. Maybe it is because they are twins that they behave as if they are half their age.’
Gwirith was sitting on a grassy bank with his bare feet in the waters of the Bruinen when Elrond found him.
‘You enjoy being near the water, Gwirith,’ he remarked, pushing him back down when he tried to stand up out of respect to him.
‘No, not really, my Lord,’ said Gwirith.
‘Then why are you always by the Bruinen and its falls?’ said Elrond. ‘You are there whenever I see you. You do not seek the forest or the stables or the library, but the river.’
Gwirith turned away a little and did not answer. Elrond looked down on his bowed head, noticing how his hair had grown since he came to Imladris and now nearly covered the nape of his neck.
‘I am sorry, Gwirith,’ he said, smiling. ‘You must think that all my conversation consists of asking awkward questions.’
Gwirith looked up at him. ‘And mine of being unable to answer,’ he said.
‘Maybe we should begin again,’ said Elrond. ‘May I sit with you?’
Gwirith moved up and Elrond sat down beside him and began to take off his shoes. He wore a long shirt of deep purple silk and a cloak of the same colour brocade with dark blue breeches.
‘I should have changed before coming out but I only have a little time today for a walk. Ah, that is good,’ he said, as his feet touched the cool water. His lips moved silently for a moment and Gwirith saw him shiver slightly.
‘Are you cold, my Lord? Would you like my cloak?’ he said.
‘What? No, Gwirith, I am not cold. It is the river: it speaks to me. Ever since I came to this valley, I have been aware of it, waking or sleeping. It is the source and defence of the land. I can hear its voice, and when Imladris is in danger, it will listen to mine and do my bidding.’
‘Is it the voice of Ulmo?’ asked Gwirith.
‘Sometimes I hear his voice. But the Bruinen has its own voice.’ He leaned over and tilted his head. ‘It has a voice of music.’ He turned to Gwirith and saw the sudden longing in his face, and his healer’s hands tingled.
‘This means something to you, Gwirith, does it not?’ he said quietly. There was a long silence, and Elrond was beginning to think that once again Gwirith would not reply when he said,
‘There is…someone I know who loved water and music.’
‘But he loves them no longer?’ said Elrond.
‘He has forgotten how, and he will not let himself learn again.’
‘He is afraid to learn?’
‘Yes. He has suffered, and he fears more pain.’
‘Is there no-one who can help him?’
‘He will not be helped. He has chosen to live without joy.’
There was a long painful silence. ‘He sent you away,’ said Elrond gently. ‘That is why you left Lorien.’
Gwirith nodded mutely. He turned away from Elrond, trying hard to compose himself.
‘Will you go back?’ asked Elrond at last.
‘I must take your answer to the Lady,’ said Gwirith.
‘That is not what I meant,’ said Elrond.
‘I do not know, my Lord. Maybe I would be better off here in Imladris, among the Noldor.’
‘We are not only Noldor here, Gwirith,’ said Elrond. ‘But you are welcome to stay with us if it is what you choose.’
Gwirith turned and looked at him, and all at once Elrond knew where he had seen him before.
‘It was you,’ he said softly, and his face paled so that his grey eyes stood out very clear against his fair skin. ‘You were at Dagorlad. And after, at Barad-Dur. It was you who helped me, after Gil-galad…you took me to the healers and they tended my wounds, and then Glorfindel came for me and brought me back to Imladris.’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ said Gwirith, unable to meet his eyes.
For a long time Elrond did not speak, and Gwirith saw that he was remembering that terrible time. Then he looked up, and Gwirith saw in his fathomless eyes the echo of the long ages that he had passed in Arda, and the things that had shaped him, both joy and sorrow.
‘I miss him still,’ Elrond said simply, and then he smiled at the memory of the High King and the ages fell away, and for a moment he appeared very young, as he would have been when he was first Gil-galad’s herald in Lindon.
‘Why did you not tell me when I asked?’ said Elrond.
‘I could not face the grief,’ said Gwirith. ‘Neither yours nor mine.’
‘But…was there not another with you, Gwirith? I remember two…’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
Elrond looked at him questioningly.
‘He is dead now,’ said Gwirith steadily, though his hands tightened a little. ‘He was slain, long after Dagorlad.’
Elrond heard the words he had not spoken, just as Gwirith had known why Elrond had been so broken by Gil-galad’s death. They looked at each other, and for a moment rank and years were as nothing between them before the knowledge of their shared grief.
‘And now another love has come to you,’ said Elrond. ‘When you thought you could never feel such a thing again, but it has been refused you.’
Gwirith nodded, gazing out at the water.
‘My love was not refused, but I lost it all the same,’ said Elrond. Gwirith turned towards him slightly. ‘And I may lose more before the end,’ he went on, almost to himself.
‘Your sons spoke to me of their mother…’ said Gwirith hesitantly. ‘To comfort me in my own trouble.’
‘Ah, my sons.’ His face softened. ‘There I have found joy.’
Gwirith hesitated, then said, ‘Aragorn carries a heavy burden.’
‘He has told you?’ said Elrond, sharply.
‘After he was wounded, he spoke in a fever. Very few heard him, and none of us will speak of it. But we knew in any case. All the pellarim do.’
‘I know his true name is safe with you,’ said Elrond. ‘I would not have told him so young, but when we knew that Sauron had declared himself again, I could not leave it any longer.’
‘He doubts himself. He blames himself for the trouble that happened to my company.’
‘And was he to blame?’
‘He was maybe a little overzealous, but that is natural in one so young. He has courage and intelligence. He will be a leader of Men.’
Elrond gave a sigh of relief. ‘It warms my heart to hear you say it. Much rests on his shoulders, but I think he is fit to bear it.’
‘I believe he is, my Lord.’
‘Enough: after this conversation you must call me Elrond.’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ said Gwirith, and they both laughed.
Elrond stood up then, smiling. ‘I must go back, Gwirith. We have made progress, I think? I will see you at dinner,’ and he walked away, swinging his shoes in his hand.
Gwirith sat near the end of the long table in the dining room at Imladris, clad in grey velvet loaned to him by Elrohir for the feast in honour of Aragorn’s birthday. It had taken some time for Aragorn to explain to him why a man’s begetting day and birthday took place on different dates, but at last Gwirith understood that it was because it took less time to grow a man than it did an elf.
A great deal of food had been served and eaten, and Gwirith had tasted several wines and cordials native to Imladris. It was late now and the party had grown very merry, and Gwirith found himself wishing he were alone outside in the cool spring evening where he could listen to the voice of the falls of the Bruinen.
Instead he occupied himself by looking at the other guests seated around Elrond’s table. The elf-lord himself was magnificent in deep blue and gold, his grey eyes full of joy as he gazed round the table as if scarcely able to believe all four of his children were for once gathered in the same place. On his left hand, Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower wore silk of the same blue as the midsummer sky, and on his right Elrond’s daughter Arwen was in dove-grey, with a little white cap embroidered with tiny jewels on her dark hair. Elladan and Elrohir were dazzling in emerald green and cobalt blue, and the guest of honour, Aragorn himself, sat opposite his foster-father, inconspicuous in earthy brown. The other guests, members of Elrond’s household and visitors to Imladris were also colourfully attired.
Surrounded by such a rainbow, Gwirith thought longingly of Lorien and the soft hues of the forest, and of the Lady’s predilection for white.
At last Elrond rose from the table and led the party into the Hall of Fire. Gwirith found a seat in the shadows and closing his eyes, leaned his head back against the wooden panelling. After the long years which he had spent completely alone in the forest, he was still unusually sensitive to the presence of others, and was approaching the end of his endurance. He knew it would be discourteous to leave, so he concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply, and sought the strong foundation of the earth beneath his feet. After a while he felt calmer, and was able to open his eyes and look about him again.
One of Elrond’s household was singing to the accompaniment of a harp, and as Gwirith turned to look at the singer, he caught Elrond’s eye on him. The elf-lord looked away at once, beginning to talk to his daughter who was seated beside him, but Gwirith felt aggrieved, as if he might have been observed for some time without his knowledge.
The music and telling of verses continued and Gwirith listened with half an ear, letting his eyes go out of focus as he watched the pattern made on the ceiling by the flickering flames in the vast hearth for which the chamber was named. His mind drifted, and he wondered what his brother was doing far away at this moment, but then he began to think about Celinn, and he had to sit up and concentrate hard on the words of the song to keep him from his mind.
The empty chair beside him shook as someone rested against its back, then sat down suddenly in it.
‘I think these chairs are more fit for elves than men,’ said Aragorn, feeling one of the legs which seemed suddenly to be more flexible than a chair leg should be.
‘Maybe your foster-father should make you a chair of your own,’ suggested Gwirith.
‘I had one when I was a boy,’ said Aragorn. ‘One of the craftsmen made it for me. In fact, there it is in the corner! I was allowed to sit there in the evenings to listen to the music, but I remember I just used to stare at everyone, amazed at how beautiful they all were.’
He turned then, as if something had exerted an irresistible pull on him, and Gwirith saw that his gaze rested on Arwen, and that his eyes were full of equal measures of joy and sadness. Gwirith was filled with compassion as he saw that Aragorn too knew the pain of love unfulfilled.
‘Does she know what is in your heart?’ he said quietly.
Aragorn turned to him as if he had been struck, his cheeks blazing.
‘I…really don’t know what you mean,’ he stammered. Gwirith looked at him in silence, and Aragorn dropped his gaze and examined his hands with great interest.
‘She is very fair,’ said Gwirith, looking at Arwen’s dark hair and clear grey eyes, so like her father’s.
‘Yes,’ whispered Aragorn. ‘She is fairer than any other I have ever looked on. But to her I am nothing but a man, and her father’s foster-son.’
‘You are not unpleasant to look on, Aragorn,’ said Gwirith. ‘And you are brave and gallant and tender-hearted. Why should she not look on you with favour?’
‘She is Elrond’s daughter…and I am…a poor ranger of the North.’
‘And the son of kings,’ said Gwirith quietly.
‘Kings without a kingdom,’ said Aragorn bitterly.
‘Only because they do not know their king is ready to return,’ said Gwirith. ‘Eru made you both, of the same music of his thought. You are her equal, Aragorn.’
‘But she speaks to me as to a younger brother,’ said Aragorn, full of frustration. ‘She does not see me as a man who loves her.’
‘Then speak differently to her, and look at her as a man who loves her, and she will see it in your eyes.’
‘I have done so, but she sees nothing. It is impossible,’ said Aragorn. ‘How could she ever love me? Even if by some chance I should become all that it is in me to become, it would be too much to ask of her.’
‘Because…she would have to choose between me and her immortal life, and be parted forever from her kin. It is a choice no-one should have to make.’
‘And you are sure she would have to make this choice?’
‘Yes. My foster-father told me it is so. And also that unless I gained the crowns of Arnor and Gondor, in his eyes I would not be her equal, and could not wed her.’
Gwirith sighed. ‘My dear Aragorn, I have been sitting here feeling sorry for myself, but beside what you have told me my griefs are small indeed.’
‘But they are not,’ said Aragorn. ‘You suffer when you are with Celinn, and you suffer when you are away from him. This is not small, Gwirith.’
Gwirith sighed. ‘At least now he will not be troubled by my presence,’ he said quietly.
‘What will you do, Gwirith? When you have delivered my foster-father’s answer to Lorien?’
Suddenly Gwirith felt almost overwhelmed again. ‘I do not know,’ he whispered. ‘What can I do, if he does not want me?’
They looked at each other, the same unanswerable question reflected in both their eyes. The music came to an end then, and Elrond stood up and began to wish goodnight to his guests. Aragorn got to his feet, stretching and yawning hugely, but Elladan and Elrohir were beside him, insisting that there was further entertainment prepared, and he must come at once. They dragged him away, protesting, and when he had gone, Gwirith saw that Elrond was standing beside him.
‘You find the presence of so many others disturbing, Gwirith, do you not?’ he said gently.
Taken aback, Gwirith said, ‘I am not used to it. I lived alone for many years.’
‘Then walk with me outside awhile, and calm your spirit before you sleep,’ said Elrond. Gwirith bowed, less than pleased, but unwilling to be discourteous. Elrond led him out into the hallway and through a door on to a stone terrace, then down some steps carved out of the cliff face. As they descended the noise of many voices faded, and the night air enveloped them with refreshing coolness. At the bottom of the steps was a green path, and Elrond took off his shoes and walked barefoot on the grass.
‘Please, do not stand on ceremony,’ said Elrond, and Gwirith also removed his shoes. The grass was damp with dew, and Gwirith could feel the deep thrum of the earth’s energy beneath his feet. Although he had been unwilling to attend Elrond, he found himself unexpectedly enjoying the sensation of the air on his skin and the darkness which soothed his eyes. At last he gave a deep sigh, feeling himself enveloped in the gentle vibration of the growing things around him.
‘It feels less oppressive out here,’ said Elrond quietly. ‘I like to walk in the gardens at night whenever I can.’
‘You find it oppressive? But this is your home,’ said Gwirith, surprised.
‘Yes, it is, and I have many guests, so the time I spend in solitude is very valuable to me.’
‘But you are not in solitude,’ said Gwirith. ‘I am here.’
Elrond turned a little towards him as they walked. ‘I sense in you something of the same solitariness that I find in myself. You are a very private person, Gwirith, and though it may be difficult to breach your defences, it makes you a very comfortable companion. I feel almost as if I am alone when I am with you. I hope my words do not offend you; I assure you that they are intended as praise, not censure.’
Gwirith thought for a while about what Elrond had said.
‘You are not the first to remark on my aloofness,’ he said at last. ‘But you are the first to speak of it as a virtue rather than an irritation.’
‘And that pleases you,’ said Elrond.
‘Naturally it does. You yourself are also a surprisingly pleasant companion.’
‘Surprisingly?’ said Elrond, dryly.
‘Forgive me,’ said Gwirith. ‘I meant that I had expected you to be more imposing and dignified.’
‘So you think I am undignified?’ said Elrond gently.
‘No, not at all,’ said Gwirith, disconcerted by his own clumsiness. ‘You are most dignified.’
‘But not imposing. More…insignificant, maybe?’
‘That is not what I meant! Do not heed me, I am not gifted with words, Elrond. I am a craftsman, and all my skill is in my hands.’
Elrond said nothing, and Gwirith turned to see him smiling at him.
‘You have been teasing me,’ he said, and his voice was suddenly cold.
‘Yes, I have,’ said Elrond. ‘But I did not intend to wound you. Do not be angry with me, Gwirith.’
Gwirith stopped walking, and for a moment seemed to bristle with affront, and with his healer’s sight Elrond saw a deep red glow surround him for a moment. He felt Gwirith struggle between the desire to leave him immediately, so sensitive was he to the possibility of mockery, and the desire to be with him, who had engaged him in a way he had not expected.
Elrond looked away, not wanting to influence Gwirith, but aware that he hoped very much that he would stay.
At last Gwirith sighed. ‘I am not angry with you,’ he said gruffly.
‘So we can continue?’ said Elrond. Gwirith nodded, and they began to walk again. They were near the water now, and the light wind blew spray from the waterfall into the air. Gwirith welcomed the coolness on his burning cheeks, and his agitation diminished until he felt almost calm again.
‘Normally I am far more dignified and imposing with my guests, Gwirith, as you would expect,’ said Elrond after a time in a light, amused voice, as though there had been no break in their conversation. ‘But it seems to me unnecessary and foolish for us to step around one another like swordsmen at drill. There is something very direct and forthright in you, and something in me answers it. And I have lived for too long to let the chance of friendship escape from me, particularly since it is so easy for solitude to become loneliness; and here among all these people, I assure you it is possible to be very lonely indeed.’
Gwirith turned to him sharply, and he saw that despite the gentle tone, Elrond was speaking from his heart.
‘Maybe it is because you are Noldor,’ said Elrond, half to himself. ‘And you were at Eregion, and at Dagorlad. You bring those times back to me, Gwirith, times I have not thought of for years uncounted.’
‘Nor have I,’ said Gwirith. ‘Remembering them brings back their pain as well as their joy; what joy there was left after we know that Sauron had dwelt among us for so long. We were corrupted by him, even had we never spoken one word to him. Maybe that is what you see: the darkness of the Noldor.’
‘No, that is not what I see in you, Gwirith,’ said Elrond, laying his hand on Gwirith’s arm. ‘It is your strength that touches me, and your single-mindedness and courage, the strength of one who has looked on darkness, but who has survived it and lives on with an open heart.’
‘For many years my heart was like stone,’ said Gwirith grimly.
‘But not now,’ said Elrond.
‘No, not now, although there are times when I no longer know how it has not turned to stone again.’
‘I know what it is to have a heart of stone. After Gil-galad perished, after Celebrian departed over Sea, my body lived on, but my heart had died within my breast. Each time it lived again at last, but it is easy to let it slumber, to keep others at arm’s length, to bury myself in my books. Your heart is wide awake, Gwirith, and I honour you for it. It is the greatest strength we have against the Dark Lord: to keep our hearts awake, to give truly of ourselves, and receive the same in return. It is something he could not even begin to understand.’
He held out his hand. ‘We have each walked a hard road, but we can walk together some of the way, and keep our hearts alive.’
Gwirith looked into Elrond’s grey eyes, and his kindness was like a balm. He reached out and took Elrond’s hand in his.
‘This is a most unexpected gift, Elrond,’ he whispered, able at last to use his name without difficulty.
‘For me also,’ said Elrond.
Tithen muindor = little brother
Yulmalinde = singing bowl: a composite word made up by me, of yulma – cup, and linde – singing. A singing bowl is a metal bowl which can be sounded by hitting or stroking it with a wooden stick and is used in meditation and healing.
I am assuming a close physical relationship between Elrond and Gil-galad in this chapter, even though he later falls in love with and marries Celebrian.
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.