5. To Give Hope
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Of Elladan and Elrohir: "they rode often far afield with the Rangers of the North, forgetting never their mother's torment in the dens of the orcs." Many Meetings, Lord of the rings: Fellowship of the ring.
Gilraen closed the heavy door firmly and fled down the hall, though she was unsure of the way back to her rooms. The house seemed massive to her, and each hallway was identical to the next, a maze of ornamentation and finery. Those grand ornate halls all seemed to mock her as she stumbled blindly down them, Lord Elrond's words echoing through her mind: duty, sacrifice, hope...
How could he ask this of her? How could he dare? To lie to her son, to deny him all memory of his father, even to conceal from Aragorn his very name, the name that his father gave to him. It was all too much to ask.
Finally, she found her way to her suite, and as she closed the door behind her, she sagged against it, breathing heavily. In truth she did not wish to be here either, for the room felt as a gilded cage to her, but she needed desperately to be alone, and in this grand house that was so utterly foreign she knew not where else to go.
Seeking fresh air, she walked to the open balcony despite the greyness of the day, and as she stood there overlooking beautiful gardens in which she could find no beauty, a sound reached her ears. She could swear that she heard childish laughter on the breeze, and the sound brought to her a clear memory. So vivid were the images she saw in her mind that she felt as though she were there again, back in her village less than one month ago, on the last day that she would ever spend with her husband...
Autumn had come fully, but the sun had lately gifted them with a final spell of light and warmth before the long dull greyness of late fall and winter set in. The crops, which were blessedly bountiful this year, would soon need harvesting; however, that time had not yet come, and they were enjoying a rare moment of relative ease before their labour began anew.
Gilraen smiled as she heard the laughter of children and paused briefly from hanging the wet laundry to look in the direction of the joyous sound. There she saw her husband surrounded by a group of young children, included amongst them their own son. The children held in their little hands small, light wooden practice swords, and Arathorn was currently amusing them with a display of his fine swordsmanship. All, both boys and girls alike, watched with wide eyes, quite in awe of their chieftain's skill.
The smile froze on her face at the sight as her heart clenched with a sharp pang of grief. For now the swordplay seemed merely in fun, but there was behind it a greater purpose, as often there was in their lives. In too few years, training in weaponry would begin in earnest for these children, and far too many of them would meet their fate at the point of a sword.
She shook her head and returned to her task, annoyed at her useless sentiment. In the face of the ever-growing Shadow this was the reality of their lives, and to wish it otherwise was a waste of precious time. Every arm that was able to raise a sword was trained to wield one. Such was the way of the Dunedain. The women and children, too, perfected these skills, for while their men fought far afield in the protection of innocents from evil, those who remained behind increasingly had need to protect themselves as well.
Gilraen worked at a swift pace borne of much practice, an efficiency that was dearly needed considering the vast quantity of laundry created by an active two year old boy. She had nearly completed her task when she heard the excited murmurs of those who were working around her. Sensing that something was amiss, she looked up from her labour, her eyes searching the distance in the direction where the others were pointing. There she saw, low on the horizon, what appeared as two silver stars shining in broad daylight.
In that moment the call of the sentries rang out through the village: "Lords Elladan and Elrohir approach!"
Her blood ran cold.
The village buzzed with excitement at the news of the visitors. Children, shrieking with delight, ran to greet the approaching riders, and the women, both maids and matrons alike, suddenly took an inordinate interest in their appearance. They laughed and chattered nervously amongst themselves as they straightened their hair and attempted to brush the soil of their labours from their clothing, and Gilraen could not help but wonder at the mystic power of these elven lords to reduce hard-working, sensible women to giggling, flighty girls.
She would not, however, allow herself to succumb so easily to their charms, though truly the sons of Elrond were beautiful beyond her capacity to describe, or even to comprehend. They bore themselves always with the utmost gentility, and they were the most gracious of guests: playful and indulgent with the children, patient and forbearing of the overly enthusiastic attentions of the young maidens, and always willing to provide entertainment for their hosts when asked, as so often they were. And yet, while they would amuse all with their tales and elate all with their songs, to her it seemed as though they carried within them a profound sadness which, though carefully concealed, never waned.
She might have desired to know them the better and to count them as friends, as Arathorn so readily did, but for her foreboding that the day would come when these glorious elven twins would lead her husband to his death.
Arathorn and Aragorn came to stand beside her as the sons of Elrond approached upon the finest steeds that she had ever beheld. They gracefully dismounted in unison, each landing soundlessly and lightly on their feet before her. One of the brothers rushed forward, enthusiastically embracing her husband in greeting. "Arathorn, my friend, it is so very good to see you!"
"And you too," her husband responded warmly, returning the embrace. "Gilraen, you remember, of course, Elladan and Elrohir."
As he said their names, he gave not the slightest indication of which brother was which. This was his own private jest with her, for he was well aware of her inability to distinguish between the two, and he was not about to ease her confusion.
The twin who had just greeted Arathorn now turned to her and took her hand, placing a light kiss upon it. "Lady Gilraen, it is always a great pleasure to see you and your son. Arathorn speaks to us often of you both."
He released her hand and knelt to address Aragorn with a smile and a wink: "And you, young Aragorn, have grown much since last we met. Any day now, I am quite sure, you will grow to be taller than all of us here!"
While Aragorn returned his smile, Gilraen's expression remained carefully neutral as she responded with a slight tip of her head: "I thank you, my Lord."
The other twin then stepped forward to greet her. So much more solemn was he than his brother, and his tone was formal as he spoke: "It is a pleasure to see you again, my Lady."
His eyes met hers briefly, and she felt a shiver of apprehension, for she could swear that she was able to read something in their endless depths. Was it guilt that she saw in those fathomless grey eyes?
The moment passed as the son of Elrond turned from her to speak in earnest to her husband. "Arathorn, I regret that we arrive bearing ill news. A large band of orcs has been plaguing the small settlements which lie but five days ride to the east. Their numbers are greater than we have seen in many years, and we have come to ask for the aid of your men."
Arathorn's response was quick and unwavering: "And you shall have our aid, of course, as always."
Her breath caught in her throat at his words. Many times before Arathorn and his men had ridden out with the sons of Elrond in the pursuit of orcs, and each time she feared that he might not return. This time was different, though, for this was no blind fear that she felt. She knew in her heart that if Arathorn rode out, he would not ride back.
Her husband then spoke to her about some matter, but suddenly his voice seemed hazy and distant to her ears and she could not quite make out his words...something about the preparation of a feast...
The tense, terse response of the elven lord drew her from her stupor: "There is not the time for that, Arathorn! We must speak with you in private."
With a shake of his head, Arathorn then turned to look again at the twin who had spoken. "Elladan, why does one with all eternity before him always need be in such a rush?"
Then her husband put his arm around Elladan's shoulders and began to lead him toward the cabin reserved for the sons of Elrond as he continued: "Worry not, my friend! First, we will hold our counsel together, and by the time we have everything settled, a feast will await you. We can not possibly leave before dawn, so on this night we might as well dine in your honour. Every good leader knows that no matter how dark the days may grow, we must, on occasion at least, find the time for celebration, if for no other reason than to remember what it is we fight for!"
As Arathorn and the sons of Elrond spoke in private, the women saw to the preparation of a grand meal befitting their guests. The weather had been fair throughout the summer and the crops had grown well, and in this time nearing the harvest, food was plentiful. All were in a merry mood as they worked; all that is, save Gilraen.
She kept her eyes fixed upon the cabin wherein Arathorn and the twins held counsel, anxiously awaiting her husband's return. The three spoke together for many minutes, and on occasion, Gilraen could hear raised, tense voices, though she could not make out their words, and she wondered at what they discussed. Finally, they emerged and all had been settled. A party of the finest Dunedain warriors, led by Arathorn himself, would leave with the sons of Elrond at dawn on the very next morning and, if all went well, they would be back within a fortnight, in time to aid the harvest.
Many of the men, women and children of the village now surrounded Elladan and Elrohir, for all were anxious to speak to them, and Gilraen pulled Arathorn to the side, that she too could have a private word with him. While she knew her words would not likely persuade her husband to change his course now, her heart compelled her to try.
Grasping his hands tightly in her own and holding them to her chest, she implored him: "Arathorn, I beg of you, do not ride out on the morrow with the sons of Elrond."
While she could see the tenderness in his eyes, she could also hear the resolve in his voice as he responded: "You ask this of me as if I have a choice, though you of all people should know that I do not. Do you believe that I want to fight? I would wish for nothing more than to remain here always with you and our son and to raise him in peace and prosperity. But as you so often remind me, wishing is foolish."
Not willing to let the subject drop so easily, she continued to entreat him: "I ask only that you do not ride out this time. If you must, go with the sons of Elrond when next they return, for return they will."
Arathorn shook his head emphatically. "Elladan and Elrohir, eternal friends and allies to our people, have called now upon our aid, for the band of orcs is too great in number for them to fight on their own. I will not turn my back on them, nor will I send my men into danger without their chieftain at the front, for it is my duty to lead them."
He placed his hands on her shoulders as he looked at her directly. "Gilraen, no matter what is to come, no matter how dark the days may turn, remember my words and follow them always: to be Dunedain is to be bound by our duty. Without duty there is no honour, and without honour there is nothing, for we are nothing. We are no longer Dunedain."
She knew he would not back down, but in one last desperate attempt to convince him, Gilraen then spoke quietly the words that pained her most grievously to say: "There is a warning in my heart. I fear greatly for your life if you ride out tomorrow."
Arathorn, however, did not quail at these words, and his resolve seemed only to grow stronger as he responded: "Do you not see, my wife, that fear is at the very heart of it? Fear is the weapon of the Shadow, and it is a fear which threatens to overtake our land and consume us all. When we ride out against the Enemy, we battle not only Its evil spawn, but also this fear, which is by far the greater foe."
"So I say, if I am soon to meet my fate, then so be it, for I will not cower in fear in the face of the Enemy, and no one, not even you my beloved, can ask this of me. If we forsake our duty on account of our fears then we have already lost, and not only the battle, but also the war."
When he finished speaking , he drew her into a tight embrace, and she buried her face in his hair, inhaling deeply his scent as if trying to burn a memory of him into her mind. Releasing her, he then exclaimed in a suddenly jovial tone: "We will speak no more of this now, for this is a night to make merry and be glad, whatever the new day might bring!"
Worn down as he was by care, Arathorn had grown to be a stern man, for his father's untimely death three years before and the burden of leadership in these dark times weighed heavily upon him. But this night, he was far happier than Gilraen had seen in many a day, and she was most glad for it, and, despite her apprehensions, she could no longer resist the good humour of all those around her.
Truly the Dunedain and the sons of Elrond together did have a joyous feast. While the sentries kept their constant and ever vigilant watch, the rest told merry tales, and sang and danced as a fire burned brightly well into the night.
And they did remember what they were fighting for.
The hour was late, and many had finally returned to their homes to sleep when Arathorn approached her with a certain glint in his eye. "It is time that we, too, find our bed, my love."
He again drew her close, tracing soft kisses along the length of her neck. She shivered slightly at the pleasant sensation, though she could not help but ask: "What of Aragorn?"
Arathorn's kisses became more insistent as he began to nip lightly at the lobe of her ear. "Your mother would be most pleased to keep Aragorn with her this night. She would like nothing more than for her grandson to become an older brother."
Gilraen, trembling now with anticipation, could not resist the opportunity to tease: "Arathorn! Little do your men know what a rascal you are, or they would never dare to follow you into battle!"
Arathorn pulled away from her, and though he was smiling brightly, he responded with a low, throaty growl: "You dare to call me a rascal? Then let me show you what a rascal I can be!"
Laughing with the pure joy of life, he swept her off her feet and carried her toward their small home, and the last words he spoke as he closed the door behind them were said steadfastly and without fear: "If, as you believe, this is to be our last night together, then let it be one to remember!"
A loud knock upon the door pulled Gilraen abruptly from her reverie. She blinked and looked around her at the strange room, unsure for a moment as to where she was and where her husband had gone.
Then all came back to her with clarity: Arathorn was dead, and she was now dependent upon the beneficence of an elf lord who wished to deny her son all memory of his father. Never would Aragorn know of his father; never could she speak of his bravery, of his valour, and of his honour.
The knock was repeated and she moved blindly to answer, more out of habit than from any desire to know who stood on the other side. As she opened the door, she saw again before her a son of Elrond. However, something was amiss, for his clothes were disheveled and his face bore an expression of pure grief. Remembering that Aragorn was under Elrohir's care, she felt the panic well within her as she questioned him sharply: "Where is my son?"
Clearly he did not expect this query, for he shook his head and looked at her in confusion as he answered: "I know not. Is he not with you?"
Gilraen, now realizing her mistake, spoke again with a sigh of relief: "I apologize, Lord Elladan. I mistook you for your brother. He has taken Aragorn with him to the stables."
"Then I assure you, Lady Gilraen, that your son is well cared for and you need not worry." Elladan paused, casting his eyes to the floor briefly, and when he looked up at her again, she was stricken by the depth of the sorrow she saw upon his face as he asked her quietly: "May I please enter? I wish to speak with you, if you will allow it."
Only now did she realize that she had not bid him to enter, leaving this elf lord to stand in the hallway. Feeling her face flush slightly, she moved aside and gestured toward the sitting room. "Of course. I apologize, Lord Elladan."
As he entered the room and she closed the door behind him, he spoke again, his voice now strong and firm with conviction: "You have nothing for which to apologize, my Lady. It is I who has committed a most grievous offense against you and your son. I have come to beseech your forgiveness."
He paused again and turned his head away to look out the balcony at the oppressive grey clouds which hung low in the sky. His voice grew quiet and pensive. "Though, in truth, I know that I ask a great deal, and I would understand if you refuse to grant me pardon, for through my actions I have robbed you of your husband, and your son of his father."
Recalling again that fateful day, the last time that the sons of Elrond rode into her village and took her husband away, she remembered well her anger and her fear. Then, Arathorn's words to her returned with clarity: 'I will not cower in fear in the face of the Enemy, and no one can ask this of me. If we forsake our duty on account of our fears then we have already lost, and not only the battle, but also the war.'
Now she found there was no anger left within her, only deep remorse for the loss and suffering of all who stood bravely against the Shadow. Thus, when she answered him: "There is nothing to forgive," she did not merely speak these words, she truly meant them.
Elladan turned to look at her again, and she could see the glint of unshed tears in his eyes as he responded: "You are most gracious my lady, but in truth I have so very much to atone for, that I could not begin to make amends."
Unable to turn away from his gaze, she studied his face intently. Though he still looked as young to her as always he had, now those ageless eyes seemed as an open book in which she could read a history of ages. She saw written there a melancholy tale, showing glimpses and hints of past happiness and joy, but now telling only of loss and pain, grief and guilt. Even at her young age, she knew too well the weariness of care acquired in the span of one short mortal life. She could not begin to fathom the weight of the burdens he bore from his millennia on Arda.
She would try, at least, to ease the weight of this guilt from his mind. "You claim far too great a share of the blame for my husband's death, Lord Elladan. Arathorn was well aware of the risks, and none could dissuade him from following his conscience in what he thought to be his duty."
He smiled at her, but the smile was tempered by sadness. "I will tell you truly, Lady Gilraen, that when I came seeking Arathorn's aid, I asked only that he send some of his men under my command. I begged him to remain behind, for I did not wish him to come upon this fateful course."
Turning his eyes away from her again, he continued softly: "There was a strong warning in my mind and in my heart that his life was in danger."
A shiver coursed down her spine at his words. So he too had known that Arathorn would die. Her voice was more harsh than she intended as she responded: "Never would he have agreed to that! Had he remained behind, then others might have perished in his stead, and that is something that he could not have abided."
Without a glance in her direction, Elladan walked out to the balcony. "That I know too, my lady, and that is why I should not have come seeking his aid. Had I been honest with myself, I would have known that I could never persuade Arathorn to relinquish his duty to lead his men. Now, I believe, you understand my guilt. In effect, I knowingly led your husband to his death."
Gilraen followed him to the balcony and studied him as he stared blankly, apparently unseeing, into the distance. He seemed no longer to be speaking to her as he continued quietly: "Despite the warning in my heart, I could not stay away. I could not let those orcs go, even at the cost of a true ally and a dear friend. What force compels me to wreak vengeance against those fell beasts past the point of all thought and reason? I am driven relentlessly, never do I rest. How many more good men must die for my cause? Will it never cease?"
Bowing his head, he whispered broken words filled with despair: "I am lost...all is lost."
She could not begin to know what horrors his fair eyes had beheld in the thousands of years they had seen pass, but as she looked upon him now, she saw with a mother's eyes, and felt with a mother's heart. He seemed to her a lost child, so very vulnerable, alone, and in need of his mother's care. Where was she now? What had become of her?
She was almost overcome by a strong desire to wrap her arms around him in a comforting embrace, until she reminded herself sternly that he was an elf lord more than a score of centuries her senior. Instead, she spoke to him softly, with no trace of judgement in her voice: "Arathorn died as he would have wished to, in the service of his people, fulfilling his duty in the fight against the Shadow. He would not hold you accountable in the least for his death, and nor do I, Elladan."
Elladan drew in a deep breath, and he seemed almost to grow brighter before her, as if he were drawing strength from an inner source she could not possibly fathom. He stood straight, and turned to look at her again, his voice now strong with conviction: "I speak truly when I tell you that I counted Arathorn amongst my dearest friends, and never will I forget his courage and his valour. Though I can do nothing to bring him back, I can honour his memory in the service of those whom he held most dear. My words may justly seem empty and hollow to your ears, but I swear now an oath to you, Lady Gilraen, that I will do all in my power to protect your son from harm. As long as I draw breath, I will not allow Aragorn to fall."
For the second time that day, Gilraen nearly jumped from the sudden sound of a knock upon the door. Without speaking a word, she reluctantly turned away from Elladan and moved to answer.
This time the Lord of Imladris and Elrohir stood before her, but her eyes were drawn instantly to the little boy that that Elrond held securely in his arms. She could see that Aragorn's hair was still damp from washing and that now he donned different clothing than that which he wore when last she saw him. Knowing her son, she did not need to enquire as to the reason for it.
Upon seeing her, Aragorn smiled brightly as he exclaimed: "Mommy! I had such fun!"
She could not help but smile as well as she moved aside to allow them entry. "I am so happy to see you, my boy."
As Elrohir stepped into the room, she could clearly read the expression of utter relief upon his face as he saw Elladan, and all else seemed forgotten to the brothers as they rushed to greet each other. Their foreheads touched as they spoke quiet words together, and to Gilraen it seemed as though something that had been broken was now whole again, and she was most glad to see that Elladan could find some comfort from his twin.
She turned back to look at her own son. He was smiling brightly and sitting as comfortably in Lord Elrond's arms as if he had been born into them. She felt the sharp pang of jealousy and a fleeting sense of betrayal at the sight.
As if knowing her thoughts, Elrond spoke: "Gilraen, I will return your son to you now."
Though it seemed a simple statement, she could read the question in his words.
She was ready to snatch her son from the elf lord's arms when Aragorn spoke: "No, mommy. This house fun! Lor Elron want to show me big liberry with books and maps and pictures of dragons! Please, I go with him?"
With a sigh, Gilraen turned away to look out the open balcony. The grey clouds still hung heavily, but now as she searched the sky, she could see brighter patches where the light fought its way through the gloom. Just then, a sunbeam broke free and cast its light upon the gardens of Imladris, which were still damp from the heavy rains, causing all to glimmer and shine in its radiance.
In that moment, she could again hear Arathorn's voice as clearly as if he were standing beside her: "Gilraen, no matter what is to come, no matter how dark the days may turn, remember my words and follow them always: to be Dunedain is to be bound by our duty. Without duty there is no honour, and without honour there is nothing, for we are nothing. We are no longer Dunedain."
Then she knew what she must do. Though she would no longer be permitted to speak his name aloud to her son, she would honour her husband's memory in her heart, and she would follow his will and fulfill her duty to the Dunedain. She would offer hope now to this elven family, that hope might one day return again to her people.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back to look at her son, her voice steadfast and unwavering as she answered him: "If it would please you, then go with him, Estel."
And so ends this tale. You can read what comes after in "Answers and Questions" "Day and Night" and "I Will be Your Memory." Reviews really do motivate me to keep writing. I would love to hear any constructive criticism you have as well as praise.