4. A Garden of Sorrows
Elrond stood from his place at the table and moved towards her, and though he could see that she attempted to conceal her feelings, he read with little effort the emotion written upon her face. Gilraen was afraid.
He knew that she was strong, yet she was still so very young, and her grief so fresh and raw, and he understood that she was frightened of many things. She was haunted by the fear of losing her son as she had lost his father. She feared that she might live out her days in isolation in a strange land, alone amongst beings who were to her so utterly foreign. Above all, she was terrified of what he might ask of her.
To his most sincere regret, in that regard he found he could not fault her.
With a gentle smile, he offered her his arm, speaking to her as one might to a lost child: "Please, Gilraen, allow me to show you around our home, that you may become more familiar with it."
Like a doe startled in the forest, she turned her face fully toward him with wide open eyes, and reluctantly consented with a small tip of her head. She slowly looped her arm in his, and as he led her from the room her confusion and sorrow brought an ache to his heart.
For a time, he engaged her in light talk in an attempt to put her more at ease as they ambled through the halls of the main house. He limited their tour to the wing were she and her son would be living in close proximity to his own family. There would be time enough to show her the grander public rooms and halls later; for now, he wished to familiarize her with the family's quarters in the hope that she might know that she and Aragorn were truly welcomed there.
They arrived at his private study where he had first met her the previous night, and despite his efforts to make her more comfortable, he could feel her tension as he closed the large door firmly and led her to the sofa. "Please have a seat, Gilraen, for we have much to discuss. Though I wish that this conversation could wait for another day, there are some pressing issues which require our immediate attention."
Gilraen sat stiffly, her hands clenched in her lap as if she were steeling herself against what was to come. "If you believe what you have to say to be so urgent, then do please continue."
Elrond sat beside her, bowing his head briefly to gather his thoughts before he looked at her directly. Though he felt her pain deeply, he would not conceal from her his foreboding nor would he measure his words, for the need to convince her of the necessity of his proposal outweighed all other considerations. "Gilraen, your son is in grave danger. The minions of the Enemy search tirelessly for the descendants of Isildur with the intention of eliminating his line. Now, two chieftains of the Dunedain have fallen at their hands in the span of a mere three years. If Aragorn were to return to his people before he has reached maturity and attained the full measure of his strength, I foresee that his life could well be forfeit."
Though her shock at the unadorned directness of his words was clear upon her face, she did not speak, and he continued in a tone that brooked no argument: "For his safety as well as your own, you and your son must be concealed in Imladris until he has grown fully to manhood."
Her eyes grew wide with disbelief. "You wish us to remain here for a score of years or more?"
Laying his hand atop hers to offer some small measure of comfort, he gave her the only answer he could in honesty, and the one he knew she least wished to hear: "It must be so, Gilraen, lest hope be lost for all."
She looked down at his hand, and as she took in a slow, deep breath he could feel the slight tremor in her body. She was struggling to control her emotions, and he paused for a moment to give her the chance to master herself.
Unfortunately, however, there was much more to be said, and after allowing her this brief respite, he then pressed on: "We can not risk turning the ever-searching eye of the Enemy toward Imladris, and thus I regret that our contact with the Dunedain during this time must be severely limited. None of your people may come to see you here, though I will send messages on occasion with my scouts. In protecting your son, secrecy is our greatest ally."
At these words, Gilraen's eyes snapped up and he could hear the resistance in her voice as she questioned him: "Certainly you are not proposing that we be wholly isolated from our own people? Aragorn could not possibly be raised here as a lone human boy amongst ageless and eternal elves!"
As if suddenly remembering her place, she lowered her gaze and adopted a subdued tone as she continued to press her case: "There would be no men for him to imitate and to learn from, no boys for him to play and to grow with, none of his own kind with whom to form vital bonds of friendship and brotherhood. With no connection to his own people save for me, how would Aragorn learn what it means to be Dunedain? How could he be expected to one day lead a people he could not possibly know nor understand?"
"Though we have not had one so young as Aragorn living amongst us for many generations of men, we have tutored and trained the sons of your chieftains for centuries. Well we know the ways of your people. We will raise Aragorn in strength, nobility and wisdom, and teach him to understand and respect the history and customs of the Dunedain. He will be more than adequately prepared for his role as their leader."
Gilraen lifted her eyes to him again, and he could there the tears she was fighting so desperately to suppress. "But he would be...so very... alone."
The plea in her voice was clear and he understood that she was speaking of more than her son. He could not deny that as the only mortals in a world of elves they would both face many challenges. He feared that Gilraen might never find her place amongst them and he knew that Aragorn would be denied an important part of his childhood in the lack of playmates his own age.
"While I regret deeply that your son will lose the companionship of other children, it is an unfortunate necessity of these dark days. We will do our utmost to ensure that he is not alone, and that he wants for naught." He clasped her hands in a gentle yet firm hold as he tried to soothe her fears.
She turned to look through the open balcony, her gaze unseeing of the beauty there as she was clearly lost in her thoughts. Elrond could read the turmoil upon her face and he remained silent for a time, granting her again a short reprieve before he began anew his unwilling assault. How he wished he need not continue, for this conversation had already caused her much pain, but the most vital, and the most difficult, words had yet to be spoken.
Elrond gently turned her face back to him. "I have said, Gilraen, that secrecy is our greatest ally in protecting your son while he is still young and vulnerable. The fewer who know of Aragorn's lineage, the better our chances of preventing this information from reaching the Enemy. Aragorn is but an infant and can not understand the critical importance of our secrecy. Thus, in order to ensure his silence on this matter, the truth must also be concealed from him in his youth."
Her confusion was evident in her response: "I do not understand. What exactly are you proposing?"
He paused for a moment to study the young woman before him. The tale of her grief was written upon her face, and already she seemed aged beyond her years. She had endured so much, yet now he would ask of her so much more. He saw in her eyes, though, a rare strength and he knew that while it would take a tremendous toll upon her, she would bear it for the sake of her people.
He resolved then to give her the direct answer that she deserved, for he would not deceive her of the full implications of his request. "During his seclusion here we can not speak to your son of his lineage. While he will be taught the history of the Dunedain, he will not know of his place amongst them. While he will study the names and the deeds of Isildur's descendants, never will he be named in that line."
Taking in a deep breath, Elrond then spoke the words that he knew she would feel as a dagger to her heart: "We can not call your son by his given name, nor can we, any of us, speak to him of his father. From now until the time when I deem your son ready to receive this knowledge, the names of Arathorn and Aragorn will no longer be spoken in these halls."
At first, Gilraen remained silent, and he could see upon her face the course of her emotions, from confusion, to disbelief, then to sorrow, and finally to absolute fury. She seemed deceptively calm as she questioned him: "You wish to conceal from Aragorn not only the knowledge of his lineage, but also all knowledge of his very father? Would you truly propose to bury all recollection of my husband alongside his body? Arathorn's memory is all that is left of him to my son, and now you would take that from Aragorn as well?"
With these words, she pulled away from him and stood, moving behind the sofa as if it were a shield between them, her voice now reflecting her rage as she continued: "Has he not already lost enough in his short years? And you are not even content with that, for you wish to take from Aragorn also his very name! Whilst claiming to protect him for who he is, you will take from my son all that he is, to remake him anew for your own ends! Never did I imagine that this is the price you would demand of me for your protection, for it is dear indeed!"
Elrond stood as well, but he made no response to her accusations. Rather, he turned and walked toward the balcony, as much to grant himself the opportunity to master his emotions as her. He could not deny that in her words there was some measure of truth, and he found himself wondering if he was asking of her too much.
As he stepped out onto the balcony, though, all conscious thought left him, for suddenly he was struck by the all too familiar sensation of the coming of a vision. However, something was different this time. The disorientation he felt now was unlike anything he had ever before experienced, and he scarce had time to grab the railing in an effort to brace himself against the onslaught.
Existing as one, all in the same time, the past and the present and the future fused, and in what felt to him as an instant and an eternity, a myriad of images assailed him. He saw of the past memories of great loss and sorrow: of his mother, his father, his brother, his king, his wife; and of the present images of hardship and suffering: of his sons and of the Dunedain; and of the future visions of loneliness and despair: of ever-growing evil and the spread of the shadow, of a man great and noble in spirit enduring endless trials alone in the wilderness, and, most striking of all, of his beloved Arwen, her life's grace diminished, dying forlorn and in mourning.
The brutal assault of memories and visions threatened to overwhelm him and he gasped for breath as he grabbed desperately at the railing as though it were a lifeline. Just as he felt that he would surely drown in the violence and the pain of the maelstrom of images, the vision ceased. His mind stilled and one thought alone remained, one word brought clarity and unity to all that he had seen. Sacrifice...
He did not know that he spoke the word out loud until he felt the movement of his tongue and the breath upon his lips. As his awareness of the surroundings returned he could sense Gilraen's gaze upon him, and at first he could not bring himself to meet her eyes, for he felt as if he were stripped bare and he stood there naked before her. Leaning heavily on the railing, he fought to calm his rapid breathing and still the tremours that racked his body. Only one other mortal had ever seen him so vulnerable, and that was his own brother Elros as he lay on his deathbed.
No words were spoken, though soon he had regained his composure enough to cast a glance in her direction. Her wide eyes were transfixed upon him as if she were viewing a spectre, and he knew that she could not begin to fathom what she had just witnessed. She too looked so frightened and vulnerable that he was moved by compassion for her, and putting aside his own distress, he turned to face her fully, seeking to offer her what comfort he could.
The vivid imagery of his vision had receded, leaving in its wake an ache in his heart and one word still fixed firmly in his mind, and while at that moment little else seemed clear to him, as he looked upon her, he knew with clarity what he need say.
"Sacrifice is a word that you understand all too well. As do I."
With a weary sigh he continued: "And I fear it is a word that shall seem all the more familiar to us in the years to come."
The expression on her face softened a little and in her eyes he saw reflected a profound sadness that he too felt deeply: "You and I are not so different as you may believe, Gilraen. We have both lived lives bound by duty and devotion to a cause that is greater than ourselves."
"We each have paid dearly for it. Well do we know the pain of grief, the agony of having that which we hold near to our heart ripped from us by the machinations of the Enemy. And yet, though it feels as if our heart has been cleaved in twain, for the sake of love, and of duty, and of all that is still good, we endure."
Pausing briefly to take in a shaky breath, he continued in earnest: "I foresee that the days will grow darker still, and that the course of our duty is not yet fully served. I fear that you and I may soon be called upon once more to surrender, for the good of all, that which is most dear to us."
Again a vision of Arwen, aged and grey, alone and grieving, came unbidden to his mind and Elrond could not suppress the shiver that coursed through his body.
He closed his eyes for a moment, willing the image away, before he looked back to Gilraen: "Perhaps, though, it is destined that by our loss, so much more may be gained. For, while the shadow spreads and casts a widening net of terror over the people of Arda, we may yet have in our hands the means to bring forth a beacon of light and hope in this darkness. Is the price of our sacrifice too dear, to rekindle hope in the hearts of so very many?"
Elrond then fell silent, and, at first, Gilraen did nothing at all. She neither moved, save for the slight tremble of her clasped hands, nor she did speak. Heedless of the tears that now ran freely down her face, she stared at him for a long moment, as if studying some sign that she could not decipher.
Then she spoke, her voice hoarse: "I…I need some time to think upon your words before I can give you an answer," and with that, she turned and placed her hand upon the door, ready to flee from his sight.
"Do you wish for me to escort you to your room?" Concerned for her welfare, Elrond took a step toward her.
Gilraen paused, finally thinking to hastily wipe the tears from her face. With a firm shake of her head, she spoke again with more resolve: "Nay, I thank you; I will find my way."
Then she was gone, closing the door behind her, and the room again fell silent. Elrond took another step forward and steadied himself on the sofa. This vision had been the most powerful yet, and it had taken a heavy toll upon him, leaving him utterly spent. Never before had he sensed so strong a portent. Events will soon be set in motion from which there will be no turning back...
Suddenly, he was filled by an almost overwhelming desire to have his entire family close around him. It seemed a simple enough wish, and yet one so impossible to achieve. When gentle Celebrian, driven from Middle Earth by unspeakable acts of violence at the hands of the Enemy, had set sail for an unknown land, never did he allow himself to doubt that they would all be reunited at a better time and in a better place. Now, he could not escape his growing sense of foreboding that his family would never be whole again.
The empty room felt stifling and he fled from it, his feet taking on a will of their own, carrying him without conscious thought down the stairs and out the door. He found himself at the entrance of Celebrian's own garden. How she had loved this place! With her own hands, she had lovingly nurtured every herb and shrub and tree from a tiny seedling to the fullness of its bloom, straight and strong and laden with flowers and fruit. So many happy memories were tied to this place, of his family, together, of his children playing, of he and Celebrian alone under the stars.
Rarely did he come here now. Since she had left, the gardeners had tried to maintain it, but it never was the same, and now it stood only as a shadow of what it once was, dark and fleeting. Today it seemed all the more so, for though the rain had finally ceased, the clouds still hung low and heavy, covering the sky in a grey veil and adding to his sense of utter desolation.
However, as he now stood at the edge of this garden full of memories both joyous and sorrowful, pondering why he had come, a sound reached his ears that he had not heard for many centuries. The merry sound of childish laughter rose up from behind a dense row of bushes, and for a brief moment he was taken back to a happier time as he half expected to see one of his own young sons come bounding out from behind the hedge, with the other in close pursuit.
Then, as he heard the din of what sounded to him as a herd of charging Mumakil, he was quickly reminded that the footsteps could only be those of an Adan child. Surely enough, as Elrond stood still in his place, a small human boy came charging around the corner and, not watching where he was going as young children are wont to do, the boy promptly collided with his legs. The force of the impact sent Aragorn tumbling back to land soundly on his bottom on the damp ground. Though the child now bore the telltale green stains of wet grass upon his pants, without seeming to be phased in the least he sprang again to his feet to resume his sprint just as Elrond leaned down to scoop him up in his arms.
The boy squirmed in protest at the indignity of being held as gasped between his giggles: "Lemmie go! He gonna get me!"
With those words, Elrond saw Elrohir approaching, a bright smile on his face as he feigned breathless exhaustion. Elrond found himself swept up in the child's good humor, and spoke lightly to the boy, ensuring, of course, that his son too would overhear: "Ah, young lad, now I understand the desperate need of your flight, for he is truly frightening, is he not?"
Elrohir came to stand beside them, an exaggerated expression of mock indignation upon his face: "Father, that was not nice!"
Aragorn quickly jumped to the defense of his new found friend: "Elhir not frightning! He fun!"
Elrond rubbed a hand down the boys back in a gesture of appeasement. "I was merely teasing, child." He paused for a moment to give closer scrutiny to the boy's rather disheveled appearance before turning to look at his son. "It appears that you two have indeed been having fun."
Elrohir had the good grace to look slightly apologetic. "Young Aragorn is rather ...energetic. We may have tossed a few handfuls of hay upon each other in the barn, and then there was the matter of the little tumble in the mud puddle during our race on the training fields, oh, yes, and..."
Elrond quickly forestalled any further disclosure of incriminating details with a slight wave of his hand. "I have heard enough." After a brief pause, he then posed the question which was foremost on his mind: "On your many exploits did you happen upon your brother?"
Though he could tell that Elrohir was trying to keep his voice light for Aragorn's sake, his son could not conceal from him the undertone of worry in his response: "Nay, I know not where he has gone."
Placing his free hand upon his son's shoulder, Elrond spoke to him in a voice too low for the boy in his arms to hear: "As much as we may wish to help him, Elladan must find his own way."
His attention was then drawn again to the boy squirming in his arm, and hosting Aragorn more securely on his hip, Elrond turned toward the house. "Let us get you cleaned up, child, before we return you again to your mother."
Before he had taken a step though, he paused and looked back at Elrohir with a sly smile. "You come too, son. Since you had a hand in creating this mess, you may as well have a hand in undoing it."
Though Elrohir returned the smile, Aragorn was not so pleased as he immediately began to protest: "No bath! I not messy!"
Elrond hoisted Aragorn above his head, giving him a playful toss in the air, and the boy giggled in response. "I believe I have somewhere a soap which will make a wonderful field of bubbles in the water. Would you like that?"
Aragorn's eyes lit up with delight. "Oh yes!"
As Elrond held him aloft in his arms, the dark grey clouds that had covered the sky for many days finally began to lighten and lift, and a single sunbeam fought its way through the gloom, casting Aragorn's unruly dark hair in a warm glow that looked to Elrond's eyes as a glorious crown upon his head, and, in that moment, the full valour and majesty of the man within the boy was revealed to him. Feeling suddenly a fierce love wash over him, he knew then that no matter the cost to himself, he would willingly pay it for the sake of this boy and for the sake of hope. Holding the boy close in a protective hold, he whispered words that only he could hear. "You are the hope of men, and you are my Estel."
One chapter left to come. Please take a moment to leave a review. I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions.
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.