2. The Weight of Water
Buoyed by the warm spring sun, the larks in the trees above serenaded him with cheerful songs as Elrohir made his way along one of many stone paths that wound through the forests of Imladris. His spirits, too, were light, for his sister had just this past day returned to them and they were all together once more. Well, no, not all, but he would not dwell on that. Not now.
He would think instead of Arwen, and of his joy at seeing her again. She had not changed. And, oh, how she reminded him of their mother! The resemblance though lay not so much in her features, but rather in the strength of her will. For some reason beyond his understanding, their father had bid Arwen to delay her return home for another year, and yet, still she strode through those doors yesterday with a firmness of step and a look in her eye that brooked no argument. Always it had been like this, and if Arwen set her mind upon a course, he did believe there was no force upon Arda or Aman that could deter her from it.
As he recalled their conversation earlier that morn, he realized with a smile and a shake of his head that interrogation might be a more apt term. Knowing that Elladan did not wish to burden her with news of his injuries, Elrohir had been on his guard against her attempts to extract information -- though somehow in the end, he found himself revealing far more than he had intended. Little did he doubt, however, that this was for the best, for if anyone could find a way to aid their brother, Arwen would.
The trail of his thoughts led him inevitably back to Elladan. While there was for Elrohir no novelty in worrying over his brother's welfare, he had found himself spending far more time in this pursuit over the past month than ever before. Elladan had been gravely injured on that fateful patrol, it is true, but he had recovered quite well, at least from his bodily wounds. However, even as he pulled Elladan from the wreckage of that accursed rockfall, he had sensed that more than mere physical pains troubled his brother. He was different. Though Elladan had since tried to made light of it with him, still he would not speak freely of what really had happened in that cave. There existed now a distance between them that felt so very foreign; a distance, it seemed to Elrohir, that Elladan quite deliberately maintained.
Why did his brother push him, and everyone else, away? Why, after so many long absences from her home, did his sister feel such a compelling need to return now that she would defy their father's will? Why, at any rate, would their father be less than pleased with her arrival? And, why now, in this time of relative peace, did it seem to him that his family was in such turmoil?
Something had changed...
At that moment, a glint caught his eye, and he paused from his thoughts to take greater note of his surroundings. He stood on one of the many small bridges that spanned the largest of the creeks running through the valley of Imladris. Filtering through the trees, the sun's light illuminated the ripples on the water below, causing the creek to glitter in patches with what looked like a multitude of tiny gems dancing on its surface. Over the years, he had walked this path too many times to count, and rarely had he paid the creek much heed, but on this day, the glow of the water held him fast. On impulse, he leapt over the railing of the bridge to land with little effort on the moss-covered rocks below, and he knelt to bring himself closer to surface of the creek, the better to study it.
He was struck by the notion that something as seemingly simple and mundane as water could in fact be so very complex. In the light, the ripples on the surface did sparkle and shine, but in the shadows, the water was so crystal clear that he could see the fine details of the pebbles on the bottom of its depths. And yet, despite its clarity, the creek was always restless and in motion. As the water scurried around large rocks and other obstacles in its path, it frothed and bubbled, almost, it seemed, in protest over any attempt to impede it, but, regardless, nothing held it back for long. Indeed, bolstered by the spring thaw, the creek seemed lively and loud and in good spirits as it ran its ceaseless course, and, as he listened, he swore that in its boisterous babbling the water spoke to him.
Smiling at the absurdity of talking to a creek, he found himself unable to resist the desire to respond. "Tell me, my friend, why do you always hurry so? What need do you have of such haste?"
His only reply was the constant, bubbly chatter of running water which now seemed so very calming to him. He wished suddenly to hold it, to contain it, and he cupped his hands to scoop some water up, only to watch it trickle out from between his fingers.
With a laugh, he stood. "Well, be off with you then. Far be it from me to hinder your course." Turning his head to look up at the sky, he could tell by the position of the sun that morning would soon give way to noon. "I must apologize, but I dare not tarry here much longer. You see, if my brother were to find me talking to a creek, I am afraid that not in a hundred yén would he let me live it down. And besides, I am due at a meeting with a most dear friend, and the lady does not much care for tardiness."
With that, he was off again down the path, though at a slightly quicker pace. Earlier that morn, he had received word that Gilraen wished to see him, and he had arranged to meet with her around midday. In truth, he wanted to speak with her too, for a mere two days past, his father had revealed to her son the truth of his lineage, and he wondered at how she fared.
He knew just where to find her. She stood in silence upon the balcony outside her rooms, overlooking the mountains that cradled Imladris, her gaze fixed upon the largest and most magnificent of the many waterfalls that rushed to meet the river from the opposite side of the valley. Lost in her thoughts, she had not yet sensed his approach, and he paused for a moment to study her profile. Gilraen the Fair her people had called her in days past. Indeed, for a daughter of Men, she was most fair of face, and yet, it seemed to him she held a far greater claim to the title than that of mere beauty. Like the father of her son, she traced her lineage to the line of Elendil, and in the strength, nobility and grace of her spirit there could be no doubt that she too was a child of kings.
She was not nearly of an age that counted as old amongst her people. The Dúnedain, in particular those of royal descent, were blessed with longer life than that of lesser Men, and, lest their lives be cut short by unnatural causes, they could dwell in strength and vigor for many decades past their hundredth year. If he did recall correctly, this spring marked her forty-fourth, and amongst her people she would be considered in her prime still. To Elrohir though it seemed as if she aged before his very eyes. The traces of grey that streaked her dark hair and the small lines of care that etched her face were now painfully clear for him to see as she slumped wearily against the railing of the balcony. He frowned. It would seem that with the revelation to Aragorn of his lineage, she had been released from far more than her onerous promise to keep from her son all knowledge of his father. She was also now free to show how heavily the weight of eighteen years of secrecy and deception wore upon her.
Concealing his concern behind a soft smile, Elrohir then spoke: "You wished to see me, Gilraen?"
The genuine joy that lit her face as she turned to greet him warmed his heart. "Elrohir!" Without hesitation, she stepped forward, wrapping her arms around him in the comfortable gesture of an old, dear friend, and he readily returned the embrace. "I want to thank you for working your magic yet again on my son."
Unable to resist a slight chuckle at her choice of words, he replied: "And what, do tell, is this 'magic' of which you speak?"
She released her hold to study him for a moment and shook her head slightly before she responded: "I know not how you do it, but there is nary a time that I can recall when you have failed to lift my son's spirits. Yesterday morning, he was as surly as a bear awoken too early from its winter sleep, for he spoke naught but in grunts and growls, and stomped about these rooms with a ferocity that gave me cause to fear for the welfare of the floors. I know that you spoke to him last eve, but I can not fathom what you might have said to transform him this morn into a songbird in spring, for when he woke he seemed more to sing than to speak, and to my eyes it was as though he were walking on a cloud, so light were his steps."
"I am most glad to hear that I could help to ease his heart, but there was no 'magic' involved, I assure you. I merely spoke to him a little of his father."
Gilraen smiled and took his hand. "The magic, my friend, was in managing to speak to him at all!" Her smile faded as she continued: "Never have I seen him so angry as I did yesterday morn. He seemed little interested in hearing my justifications and the reasons for my actions, and, in truth, I found that I could not blame him. He felt deeply betrayed, by all of us, I think, but none more so than by his own mother."
Giving her hand a gentle squeeze, Elrohir reassured her: "He simply needed some time to consider all of these great tidings. It is a lot to put upon one who is still so young, but my father would not have done so, if he did not think Estel...Aragorn...ready to bear this burden. He is strong, and despite his youth, already quite wise. He seems to have a better understanding of the reasons for our deception now, and does not blame us—any of us. However, I think he has, in effect, just begun to mourn the loss of the father of whom he has no memory, and he needs to know more of Arathorn. I believe that Aragorn will have many questions for you."
"Aragorn." Closing her eyes, she repeated the name slowly, rolling it over her tongue as though she were savouring the finest wine.
Releasing his hand, she sat upon the balcony bench where Elrohir had seen her spend so much of her time of late, and motioned for him to join her, as she said: "I am afraid that I am all too familiar with memory, for I have found myself dwelling in mine far too often of late. Tell me, do you recall when you and your brother first brought my son and me to Imladris?"
He thought he knew Gilraen well by now, yet Elrohir did not expect this question. "Of course. It was a most difficult time. For all of us."
"I hated you." While she kept her expression hard as she spoke these words, after a brief pause, a slight smile crept to her lips. "Or, more truthfully, I strove to. You always did make it so difficult for me to dislike you."
Elrohir returned her smile, but remained silent as she continued: "When you first brought me here, I was grieving and angry, and I sought a place to lay the blame for Arathorn's death and for my fate. To my shame, I will admit that you and your brother made easy targets for my wrath. As soon as I allowed myself to see you truly, I saw my grief mirrored in your eyes. Never before nor since have I seen you look as weary, and yet, with little concern for your own suffering, you did everything within your power to console my son, and me."
"You seemed so very lost, Gilraen, that I only wished I could do more for you."
Her gaze was drawn towards the waterfalls once more. "So much water has past beneath the bridges of Imladris since then," she said quietly.
Looking back to him, she continued with sigh: "It would seem to me that time, and how we sense its passing, is that which divides ephemeral beings such as I from those who will endure until the ending of all Arda. To mortal men, time is like water, fluid and changing, and never truly ours, for no matter how much we may covet it, ever it slips away between our fingers. To the immortal elves, it is as though time is as solid as stone, unchanging and eternal, and theirs to keep always firmly within their grasp."
Then she lowered her eyes and said nothing, though Elrohir could sense that she wanted to say much more. She seemed burdened and weary, and so he took her hand to comfort her as he waited patiently for her to speak the words she clearly found so difficult to say.
After a while, she spoke again: "So very much has changed since then, at least for those of us who are not granted the blessing and the curse of endless time. Eighteen long years have passed since first I came to Imladris. I, born Dúnedain, sensible and practical, never afraid of the prospect of hard work, and never averse to getting my hands dirty. I, a stranger to this home, this haven of knowledge and wisdom, this sanctuary for contemplation and reflection. Well, in this place, I have most certainly found much time to think and much to think upon."
She laughed a little as she said this, and Elrohir thought he could hear the tint of bitterness in her laughter. Giving her hand a gentle squeeze, he pressed her: "And what is it you have thought upon, Gilraen?"
As she answered, he could see the sadness in her eyes. "I have found the differences between Men and Elves, those qualities that forever sunder the Second from the First Born, to be a subject foremost upon my mind."
Again, a response he was not expecting, and he wondered at what she was trying to tell him. She took a deep breath, as if steeling her courage. "And then, there is Elrond Peredhel, descended from the greatest houses of both the Edain and the Eldar, and from what I have seen, truly the epitome of the finest qualities of all the children of Ilúvatar."
He heard it in her voice as she spoke his father's name, a slight tremour that betrayed more than mere admiration, and then, finally, he understood. "You love him." The words were spoken neither in accusation nor judgement, but rather with wonder at the sudden revelation of a truth which had long remained unseen before his very eyes.
Gilraen looked at him directly, unwavering as she responded: "I am most weary of deception, and so I tell you quite freely that what you say is true. I have loved your father for many long years."
Elrohir remained silent as he pondered this. A myriad of memories returned to him of Elrond and Gilraen together, of her strained silences, her subtle looks and gestures. At the time, all seemed too insignificant to note, but upon recollection, suddenly, it all made sense. He wondered if his father knew of this, and if so, how had he dealt with it, if at all. He wondered that Gilraen, who had been, he thought, his good friend and confidant for years, had not told him of this long before. Most of all, he wondered at how he had not noticed sooner. The only unfortunate conclusion he could draw was that women, of all races, remained to him a mystery. "Why is it that you tell me this now, Gilraen?"
"I feel that the time for secrets is over, and you, Elrohir, have always been a dear friend and a great support, both to my son, and to myself."
She paused for a minute and sighed. "How do I explain to you my feelings? Over these past few days, I have been dwelling on thoughts of my long-dead husband far more than I have in years, and I find that my memories of him are distant and vague, clouded by the haze of time. I can no longer remember his smile, his smell, his touch..."
Her voice wavered a little, and she closed her eyes briefly before she continued: "I loved my husband dearly, I assure you, and I mourned his death for many months. But, with the passing of time, the edge of my memories began to dull. In time, I no longer called out for him at night and searched for him as I woke, I no longer heard his voice and saw his visage at every turn, I no longer remembered him always in my son's every word and action. I counted it as a blessing from Ilúvatar to his mortal children, for with the fading of his memory, my pain too began to diminish, and I found his death easier to bear."
"While Arathorn drew ever further from my mind, your father grew ever closer, for it was Elrond, not Arathorn, with whom I raised a son. We spent much time together in counsel over my—our—son, deciding what course was best for him. Together we taught him and played with him, nursed him through the injuries and illnesses of childhood, cared for and nurtured him."
"When Arathorn died and I was brought here, I was a young woman still, and so very much alone." Elrohir could detect a slight blush spreading on her cheeks now as she bowed her head to look at her lap as she spoke. "I feel no shame in admitting that I ached for my husband's touch, though I knew I would never feel him again. Elrond was so very beautiful, so vibrant and full of life, and so very near."
She looked up at him again suddenly and he could see the strength of her emotion on her face as she added earnestly: "Do not think, though, that the depth of my feelings for your father is limited to some base desire! My affections for him are most sincere, I assure you. I have never met another who is a match for his generosity, his gentility, his strength and his wisdom. I love everything about him, from the way he can govern all with a kind heart and a cool head; to the way that he can still, after thousands of years, find joy and pleasure in the simplest of things; to the small furrow that develops between his brows when he is attempting to act more seriously than he truly feels."
Though she smiled as she said this, Elrohir saw her barely restrained tears, and his heart ached for her. He took her hand again, and with a soft, sympathetic smile, said gently: "My father is most fond of you too and I know you are high in his esteem, but I tell you in earnest that he is unable to return your feelings. His wife dwells no longer on Arda, but Celebrían is alive still, and, Valar willing, now whole, and she awaits him in Aman across the Sea. No matter how long they both must need wait, my father will one day sail and they will be reunited. Though even if my mother were dead, and she did reside in the Halls of Mandos, his devotion to her would never waver. Once the marriage bond is formed between husband and wife, not even death can break it asunder. This is the way of the elves."
Gilraen turned her head away as she answered, her words so soft that he could barely hear her: "I could only wish that the human heart would remain so constant."
Then, after taking a breath, she looked at him directly as she spoke with firm resolve: "This I know, I assure you, for years of unrequited affection has driven the point deep into my heart. And yet, even now, I am unable to stop myself from yearning over that which I will never have."
"Often I have wondered at the magic of the elves, for truly they have the power to turn sensible women into utter fools." She laughed again as she said this, and this time the laughter betrayed her bitterness.
Giving her hand a gentle squeeze, Elrohir answered with conviction: "No matter the pain it may bring to us, love which we give freely is never foolish."
She looked away, and they were both silent for a while, each thinking over the words that had passed between them. Gilraen was the first to speak again and her tone was distant, as though her thoughts were far away: "As strange as it may sound, Elrohir, this life of ease has made me weary. I do not wish to seem ungrateful, for your father has shown me only kindness, but I was not born for this life, for I was born Dúnedain. Whilst I dwell here in luxury, spoilt beyond what any may reasonably expect, the Shadow yet grows, and the suffering of my people increases with the passing of each day."
Elrohir did not respond beyond a slight tip of his head, for he knew the truth of her words well enough. She continued: "My people need their leader, but, I fear, to give them that will mean my son will be forever lost to me." She paused for a moment and held his hand more tightly. "You have a kind heart, Elrohir, and I take comfort in knowing that you and your family will remain to offer my son aid and guidance even when I may not."
Her words sent a chill through him, and he answered quickly: "Why do you speak so Gilraen? You are young still, and surely you will live to see your son prosper and give you many grandchildren."
She smiled slightly in response, and he could see that she did not believe his words. "My duty is almost served. I have raised for my people a strong and noble leader. I am no longer needed, and I am weary, Elrohir. As the darkness of our time draws near, I fear I have not the strength left within me to face it."
He did not answer, for he found he did not know what to say, but he remained with Gilraen for many minutes more, as they both sat hand in hand and watched as the water of the falls rushed ever on. And though the sun still shone and the birds still sang, to Elrohir the day no longer seemed so bright.
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.