10. Messages Part 1/3
She looked up from her wax tablets. "Yes, Erestor?"
The dark-haired Chief Counselor and librarian for Elrond approached, a slender packet of paper in hand. "Elrond received messages from the Dúnedain earlier this morning. Among them were these, addressed to you."
"For me?" Her hand froze in the process of reaching out for the papers.
Erestor's lips twitched. "Indeed. I believe I recognize Estel's hand on the one…" he said, taking the extra steps that would make it easier to hand over the messages. "The other is unfamiliar to me."
The stylus was placed carefully in the indentation in the frame of the wax tablet where it belonged, and then Gilraen was on her feet and heading to one of the window seats to enjoy her messages. "Thank you, my lord," she called out softly as an afterthought.
"Enjoy your news," Erestor chuckled at her. "Be sure to let me know how it goes with our Estel before you vanish for the day, though, please? I find of late that I miss the contest of wills and mind that he has provided for me these past years."
"I will." Already her voice was dropping away as her fingers unfolded the paper bearing her name in her son's clear hand.
To the lady Gilraen, Naneth, greetings.
Adar might have sent ahead word of my return, but I fear many did not believe him, I think. I was met by your lord father, Dírhael, and your lady mother Ivorwen, who gave me a warm welcome. I spent several days in the village, learning the names of some of my kin and meeting others, before Dírhael and two other Rangers took three of us to the training camp.
I am glad that I trained beneath Glorfindel and my brothers for as long as I did, for I have been tested and challenged every step of the way since then. The Els stayed with the camp for a week, giving advanced lessons in swordplay to some of the older recruits before leaving with a small company to take care of a den of yrch found in the hills to the north. I miss them more than I thought I would, for I am feeling very much different and alone here.
The others distrust me because of many, trivial reasons. They did not expect me to be still alive, much less capable of defending myself. I keep many of my ways from back home still: I prefer my face shaven, I keep my clothing cleaner, and I care for my weapons the way Glorfindel taught me. Nana, growing a beard itches, and makes my face feel as if it has insects crawling on it sometimes, and Glorfindel is a past master of the sword and knows better than any the best way to care for weapons! And because my ways are different from theirs, I am ridiculed. And even though I have since cut my hair to a length more appropriate for a member of the Dúnedain Rangers, and no longer wear the braids which I worked so hard to earn, I am still called "Elfling" or worse.
My cousin, Halbarad, is among the worst of them. I would ask him questions, so that I could know of things that are outside my understanding, but he will have none of me. When we are set to spar together, I find I have a real fight on my hands, and he is most wroth with me for no reason at all that I can see. We keep getting sent out on small tasks together, and sometimes it is the best I can do not to get into a brawl with him.
I do not know how to fit in here, but I know that Adar would not send me forth to train with these men if he did not see benefit in it. I therefore do not complain often, nor do I do more than defend myself if attacked. But I am unhappy here, I will admit. They are a rough group, very loyal to each other and suspicious of those they do not know.
The commander of the training camp tells me I may be here for a full year, re-learning things that the Els taught me long ago. He wishes that I would abandon my Elven habits and allow less subtle habits become mine own. I swear I still dream of being on the outer fences, doing useful duty, and then returning to the Hall of Fire for music and stories. I feel Imladhren, not Dúnadan. I am Imladhren, not Dúnadan. But Adar thinks otherwise, and so I will keep trying.
But, so that you do not think that I spend all my time comparing this life unfavorably to that at home, I should admit that I have found use for Erestor's dreaded diplomacy lessons already. Thanks to him, I have talked my way out of several confrontations that easily could have gone very badly. Please pass along my thanks to him for undertaking the thankless job of teaching me how to hold and honey my tongue. I have also grown very fond of the meat pasties that your lady mother sends along to me from time to time. She is a most excellent cook.
I am looking forward to being allowed to travel home at the end of my training. I miss you and Adar and the Els. Give my greetings to Glorfindel, Erestor and Lindir as well.
Your son, Estel
Gilraen wiped away the tears that had fallen. It had been a very long three months since he had ridden away with his brothers for the last time. She wasn't surprised that he was miserable, as only one who felt completely out of place could be. She remembered similar days when she had first come to Imladris, the feeling of abandonment and loneliness in utterly strange surroundings. She would have to write back, of course, and offer both sympathy and what advice she could summon. Making a place for herself in an alien environment had not been easy for her; she doubted it would be easier for him.
She folded Estel's letter and slipped it into the pocket of her skirt, and then unfolded the second paper. The moment she saw who it was from, she blinked in surprise. Her father?
To my daughter, greetings at last.
I was very pleased to see your son grown so tall and strong, Gilraen, so like Arathorn. He is soft-spoken, and thinks before he opens his mouth, something that some of the other younglings his age would do well to emulate. He demonstrated great respect for your mother, and tried his best to make the acquaintance of many in the village before moving on to the training camp.
Understandably, he behaves more like a son of Elrond than a Dúnadan, and looked more like a girl when he got here with his hair so long and his face scraped clean. I am in hopes that a few months of hard training with his cousin and others his age should knock that foolishness right out of him. Thankfully, the Elves decided to head out with one of our companies to go back to the business of keeping the land clear of the Enemy. We have missed their skills. But it is also well that they leave the boy with us now. We will make a man of him yet, and not leave him an Elf pretendling.
Your mother and I were, however, very disappointed that you did not feel moved to return to us at the same time. Many times over the years, I have wondered at your being trapped with the Elves. I would have thought that you would have welcomed an opportunity to return to the familiar patterns of your life here. You said little in your letter, and Aragorn was unable to relate to us exactly why you felt it necessary to remain behind, although he did say that you had assumed responsibilities within the Hall there.
I should not have to tell you of the responsibilities that await your return here, girl. Your mother grows older, and could use the help. You were ever an industrious woman, and I find it difficult to understand that you might have allowed yourself to become as a servant to the Firstborn. Taking care of Aragorn was and should have been your only priority, and your duty to your people should have brought you home at the first opportunity.
Therefore, you may expect my arrival when the roads clear enough to be passable. Be prepared to return home with me.
Your father, Dírhael
Gilraen sighed. How like her father to order her about, even from a distance.
She leaned back against the cold glass and looked out over the compound. It wasn't quite as bustling as it would be if there were not snow on the ground, but there was activity. The cold had just arrived in Imladris, and only one or two nights' worth of ice had formed where the Elves traditionally placed their play area this year.
She felt the paper returning to its folds, and her hand landed in her lap. Was she being selfish – or lazy – in remaining behind here in Imladris? It was an easier life, to be certain; she need not haul water from the stream, chop wood for her hearth, spend hours cooking and cleaning. She was active and productive here too, but in a more refined sense. She was the authority the cooks and laundresses and healers and seamstresses and maids turned to in the process of keeping the Last Homely House running smoothly and ready for whatever might come. Elrond trusted her to keep track of the household inventories and healing supplies that fell under her watch. She had never been made to feel as if she were but a servant, and yet knew her efforts contributed to the well-being of the whole community.
Elrond himself had asked her to consider waiting for a while before returning to her people and promised her she could now enjoy the visits of those who came for healing or instruction, or to pass news. After hearing his reasons, she had agreed to stay for a while. The letters in her lap showed her that the lines of communications between herself and her friends and family were once more open.
"You look upset, Míreth."
Gilraen blinked and shook herself from her musings to find Glorfindel sitting next to her on the window seat. "I'm sorry?"
"It is nearly the hour for midday meal. I came, thinking to save you from the wiles of your wax tablets, only to find you over here gathering cobwebs." His hand took hold of hers. "Is something amiss?"
She debated, remembering the number of times Glorfindel had muttered about her father, and then simply handed him the letter with a sigh. "Read it for yourself."
His crystal-blue eyes peered intently into hers, and then he unfolded the paper. It didn't take long for the eyebrows to slide together into a frown, or for his lips to thin to almost invisible, even as he reached for her again. A tick began in his left cheek, and Gilraen wasn't certain that his teeth weren't grinding together. When he finally looked back up at her, she flinched at the raw anger in his gaze.
"He believes that we would make you…" The hand he held in his was suddenly clenched tightly. "And he thinks that he can just ride in here and…" His cheek was still working, and his countenance was positively stormy. "Is the man really that dense? The Heirs of Isildur have been sent here for generations to learn what he would just as soon beat out of… How dare he!"
"It's his way," Gilraen struggled to keep from squeaking at the way her fingers were being pinched together. "Glorfindel, please. My hand…"
Glorfindel glanced down at their joined hands, and he released the pressure on her fingers immediately. "Oh, Míreth! I am so sorry!" As tightly as he had held her before, now he tenderly nursed her crumpled fingers after returning the letter to her. "It is just that…" The frown was back, as was the tick in his cheek. And suddenly the anger in his gaze was restrained by something else. "Surely you are not going to go with him until you are ready?"
She sighed and let herself hold his hand back a little. "He's my father. I must…"
"He has no authority over you here," was the quiet and vehement declaration, and the glow in his eyes flared dangerously. "You are a free woman, and a full citizen of Imladris. No one has the right to command you in this manner, no one – not even Elrond!"
"But he is right," she protested. "My mother grows older, and it is the place of the daughter to care for her parents when they are…"
"You are Dúnadaneth, Gilraen, as is your mother. The blood of the Firstborn flows within you and adds decades of vigor to your life, as it does to all of your kin. Unless your mother is incapacitated, your father has no business demanding you return to slave for him this way. And would your father not tell you if something had happened to your mother?"
Would he? In her experience, it would be like him to just assume that she would know that her mother was ailing without actually saying anything. "I don't know," she sighed. "So much could have happened in the time that has passed since last I had word. He doesn't mention her except in passing…" She pointed to the letter. "…although Estel speaks of the meat pasties that she sends along to him from time to time, so she can't be too badly disabled…"
"I also do not like what I hear about the way they view Estel, either. True, we could have insisted that he cut his hair before he left and then not shave during the journey, so as to look more like a Dúnadan when he arrived, but the thought that he is being mistreated because of the way he was raised…" He breathed out forcefully through his nose, much like his stallion would when forced to do things that he didn't like.
"Estel's letter is more understanding, Glorfindel," she tried to calm him and found it more difficult than she could have imagined. "He mentions that the Dúnedain are very loyal to each other and suspicious of those they don't know well. And right now, that is Estel. He will have to learn their ways, and learn to be less like the Elves, in order to gain their trust and their loyalty. We knew this."
Glorfindel kissed her throbbing fingers and then loosed her entirely to rise and begin pacing back and forth. "What I find most unpleasant is that they sent to us their precious Heirs to train, and then disparage the training when the Heirs return? I must ask myself if Elrond is aware of this, or if this is just the prejudice of a single man."
"No! What was said in that letter is unconscionable in too many ways." His strides were getting longer, his gestures more pointed, and Gilraen was very glad that the temper that was flaring again was not aimed in her direction. "I have often thought that I would like to have words with your father, and now I find myself almost relishing the opportunity to at last tell him exactly what I think of him and the way he treats you."
Gilraen's eyes widened. It had been years since she had heard him last grumble his ire at some of her father's attitudes, but evidently the long Elven memory of her warrior friend still harbored many of those grievances on her behalf. She stuffed the second letter in the pocket with the other and rose to snare his arm on one of his agitated passes. "I don't want you arguing with him, Glorfindel. With all due respect, I'm not certain whose temper would carry the day." He looked down at her in surprise. "What I need from you, or Elrond, or someone, is to help me think of some way to respond to him that isn't…"
"Blunt?" He was still glowering, but she could tell he was forcing himself to calm down.
"Disrespectful," she countered with a wry grin. "He's very used to my doing exactly what he wishes the moment he utters his desire. The only time I actually stood up to him was when Arathorn asked for my hand, and he was going to deny us because he thought me too young."
Golden brows rose high on the forehead. "Did you indeed? And what was his response?"
Gilraen smiled in satisfied memory. "It surprised him so much that it rendered him speechless for a moment, and my mother was finally able to get her feelings in the matter heard. And he relented to her." At the inviting look of curiosity, she added, "My mother has the gift of foresight, and told my father that it was better that Arathorn wed sooner than wait." She wouldn't tell him that he had slapped her, and that his surprise was from the fact that she continued to defy him, regardless. Glorfindel was already angry; there was no need to add fuel to the fire.
"Ah." Glorfindel nodded slowly and then gathered Gilraen close to him and held her tightly. "Never fear, Míreth," he soothed at her into her hair. "I will not allow your father to bluster his way into Imladris and order your life to his liking. If you wish to remain here for a time, there is no way that he can compel you outside your capitulation. And you do wish to remain, do you not?"
She leaned into him, grateful for the embrace. "If I had wanted to leave, I would have gone with the Els and Estel," she told him softly. "I am happy here. The time will come for me to return home, I know, but I would rather be the one to choose it, not my father." She sighed. "I just don't relish the argument that is certain to come when I refuse to be pushed around like a child again."
"I am certain he will lay the blame for your reluctance to go home at the feet of the Firstborn as well," Glorfindel commented dryly. "And if so, that is one accusation I do not mind being leveled, or admitting with pride." He kissed her forehead and then let her go. "Come now. Do not let your father's words rob you of your appetite."
"Let me pack up my work," she bargained with him. "I don't think I'm going to want to concentrate on inventory figures very much for the rest of the day."
"Good. Perhaps the two of us can conspire to liberate Elrond from his office as well. I will want him to know of your concerns, and to get some guidance on directing my energies properly as well."
"You know as well as I do that you just want him to be as angry at my father as you are," she accused as she stacked her wax tablets on top of the household ledgers and carried the whole lot to a shelf in the reading room that Erestor had cleared to hold her things.
Glorfindel held out his sheltering arm to her again. "You know me too well," he admitted, drawing her against him again. "Shall we?"
Elrond's eyebrows could be the most expressive feature on his face, and when they first rose to be nearly hidden by his circlet and then descended rapidly into a furled frown, Gilraen sighed. His eyes, however, were calmer than she expected when he finally looked back up at her. "Be ready to return home?" he quoted as a question, handing the letter back to her.
"I am glad you find that as insulting as I did," Glorfindel muttered with his mouth half full of a bite of cheese. "How dare he treat her as if her entire life was to cater to his whims."
Erestor snorted. "And how interesting to find out exactly how we are considered by these…"
"Erestor…" Elrond raised a hand before his counselor could say another word. "Taking offense and getting angry will not resolve the dilemma presented by this missive."
"No, but it feels good at the moment," Glorfindel muttered again.
Elrond turned and glared at the Balrog Slayer. "You are not helping matters, for what it is worth."
"I do not wish to help matters at the moment," Glorfindel snapped back. "I am of a mind to undertake a master's class in swordsmanship this afternoon and make whoever is brave enough to step into the ring with me work very hard." He took a deep breath at the sight of Elrond's deepening scowl and visibly forced himself to a much calmer demeanor. "My apologies, Master Elrond. You are correct, I am not helping matters."
The Master of the House nodded regally, accepting the apology, and then turned back to Gilraen. "Much of the way in which we all…" He shot another quick glare at Glorfindel. "…are going to respond to this depends upon your wishes, lady."
"I know," she replied, feeling genuinely comforted by the way in which the three most dominant Elf-lords in Imladris had taken offense at her father's autocratic tone on her behalf. "It's just…" She sighed again, wondering exactly how to explain things. "This is part of being Dúnedain. The women are in the keeping of their men: when young, their fathers; once wed, their husbands; and if widowed, either their grown sons or close male kin."
"It is so with us too," Erestor put his goblet down carefully, "although I do not believe that any elleth would be expected to set aside her dearest wishes merely because a father or husband would she do otherwise. To act with so little respect for another's wishes, especially in a situation where he has no idea your reasons, is…" He cleared his throat. "…offensive."
"But this explains much I had not understood when first you came to us," Elrond said thoughtfully. "When you came to speak with me that first time, you were terrified nearly to the point of collapse that you would not be allowed to stay with your son, and all because of the instructions your father gave you before sending you off into the night before your husband was even..."
Glorfindel's arm surrounded her waist almost the moment she let go of a sigh. "You never told me of that…" he murmured softly and then raised his head to growl. "And I thought this was bad enough."
She could feel Elrond's gaze on her. "While it is hard for us to accept that a father would treat a daughter so, at least I understand your upset then better now." She looked up to see understanding and compassion in his gaze, along with a subtle hint of something more akin to Glorfindel's response. He might be more controlled at the moment, but she was aware that Elrond's temper was nothing to be crossed. Her father's welcome in Imladris had just cooled significantly, before he had even crossed the stone bridge over the Bruinen.
Glorfindel snorted disagreement and disgust, and Gilraen reached for his hand beneath the table. "And now that my use as caretaker of Aragorn – Estel – is concluded, he is expecting me to be the good Dúnedain widow and come back into his keeping."
"Is this what you wish to do, child?" Elrond asked, his voice gentle.
She shook her head. "As I told Glorfindel earlier, if I had wanted to go home, I would have left with the Els and Estel."
"Then you are welcome to remain here as long as you wish," Elrond said firmly, "whether it is Dúnedain tradition for him to reclaim you or not. You are a full citizen of Imladris, my blood kin, and the appointed Lady of my House. As such, you have privileges and protections that another Dúnadaneth perhaps might not. Your father will be welcomed, as all Dúnedain always have been, but he will not be allowed to take you against your will for as long as you wish sanctuary here."
"I will be glad to let him know the folly of attempting it," Glorfindel nodded with more enthusiasm than normal. "Perhaps the acting Chieftain would like to sharpen his sword skills…"
"I believe that will not be necessary," Elrond glowered at him again. "After all, we do not wish to throw our alliance with the Rangers of the North to the winds over this. But make no mistake: Dírhael will understand, by the time he departs, the limits of his authority over Gilraen while she is here in Imladris. Are we agreed?"
All three Elves nodded firmly. Elrond nudged her with his shoulder. "And yet your face is long and sad."
"I don't look forward to the confrontation," she said softly.
"That is understandable," Erestor agreed, and poured her a little more wine.
"I think I shall send word to my sons to return home sooner rather than later, or at least to provide escort to Dírhael when he comes to Imladris," Elrond mused, toying with his slice of nut bread. "Their understanding and familiarity with the ways of your people and of your father in particular might prove invaluable, not to mention their support for your intentions to remain."
"Not to mention that we miss them," Gilraen said with a sad smile, understanding him all too well.
Elrond returned the sad smile. "Yes, there is that, too."
"You cannot be serious!" Gilraen looked down into the box on Elrond's desk with a combination of pleasure and horror. The mithril sparkled back at her in the sunshine.
"Quite the contrary: I am very serious," Elrond replied, his long fingers lifting the delicate circlet and its attached chains from the box. "Our scouts have the party with the Els and your father coming down the path to the bridge as we speak, and I will have him know from his first glimpse of you that you are anything but a servant here."
"But…" She twisted to see what he was going to do.
"Hold still," he chided her with a smile. "I watched Celebrían put this thing on often enough that I should be able to do the honors for you this time. No one has worn it since she left." He moved behind her and let the circlet slowly descend onto her head. "It would look better were your hair worn loose, of course, but I think…" He tinkered with something behind her. "There now. Turn and let me see."
Gilraen did as he asked, and was rewarded with a wide grin. "A most interesting combination of Dúnadaneth propriety and Elven decoration. I knew this was a good idea."
"He's probably going to think that I'm just putting on airs for him," she complained, putting a hand up and tracing the slowly warming metal from the back of an ear to her temple. What she wouldn't give for her mirror in that moment!
"You are," Elrond replied calmly. "The only person allowed to wear this particular piece is the Lady of Imladris, and that, at the moment and for all intents and purposes, is you. As Dírhael is still currently the acting Chieftain of the Dúnedain, it is only proper that both you and I appear in our most formal attire to greet him. Which reminds me…" As she watched, he went back behind his desk, pulled open a drawer, and extracted his circlet, which he set upon his own brow with the ease of long practice. "There."
She had seen him wear the circlet that declared him the Master of the House many times, and always had she thought the circlet merely accentuated the nobility that he carried with him always. He looked no less impressive today. However, with an eyebrow cocked at her inquisitively, she could tell he was also inviting comment.
"None will mistake you for a servant, my lord," she stated with simply honesty.
"Good. I will have no questions as to the positions held in the household by any of those who will make up the greeting party." His smile turned almost sly. "I even invited Glorfindel and Erestor to dress more appropriately for the occasion than is their usual wont. I would imagine the Els will understand the meaning of our gesture long before your father does."
Gilraen smiled and yet sighed. It had taken years to get used to the subtle or oblique ways in which the Elves expressed so many of their intentions and inner feelings. The place assigned to a person at meals in the Great Hall, how far down the hallway one had to walk to a guest suite, and even the attire worn to a function – all were messages and clues for those sensitive to them. Elrond was going out of his way to be obvious, she knew; but it would all go over her father's head none the less. Still, it was fun for a change to be a part of the silent statement being made, and to understand subtext that her father would never even recognize as such.
"I do not believe I have had occasion to wear this since I came back. At least it still fits," Glorfindel's voice announced from the door, causing Gilraen to turn and then gape. His white robes sparkled with the heavy gold threads of embroidered flowers at the hems and the lazy outlines of silver leaves that traced the fabric otherwise. His golden hair was held at his forehead by a circlet that was almost as impressive as Elrond's, but he also wore his long warrior braids finished with golden beads. At his belt hung his sword in a gleaming scabbard.
"You look like a Fëanarean crystal, all glitter and no substance," Erestor commented dryly. Elrond's Chief Counselor had chosen a dark grey robe instead of his customary black, and for the first time in Gilraen's memory wore long warrior braids of his own, finished with mithril beads. The three together were awe-inspiring, and Gilraen knew immediately that the intent was to intimidate or at least give pause. "But you, lady," Erestor continued with a sudden smile, "look radiant." He shot Elrond a conspiratorial grin. "Celebrían would approve whole-heartedly, I think."
"I know." Elrond straightened the cuffs of his own wine-colored robes with an air of quiet satisfaction. "Shall we venture forth and give the acting Dúnadan a fitting greeting?" He extended his arm. "Lady?"
With every step she took, Gilraen could feel the brush of delicate mithril chains against her cheek and the back of her ears. She would have felt self-conscious, escorted so formally by a very regal-looking Elrond and followed by Erestor and Glorfindel in their finery, except that the servants and staff that had looked to her for so long as one of them all smiled brightly and gave her half-bows of greeting. Such expressions of deference were new, and no doubt brought on by her wearing of the circlet. By the morrow, she would be back to her regular reception by those she was responsible for – at least, she hoped so.
Gilraen had never been a part of the official greeting party when a delegation arrived in Imladris before. With a gentle touch at her elbow, Erestor indicated with a nod that she was to stand a little behind and to the right of Elrond. Beside her and just to the left of the Master of the House, Glorfindel took a battle-ready stance of feet apart and hands loose at his side. Beyond Glorfindel, Erestor folded his arms over his chest until the clattering horses had pulled to a halt in front of the portico and its steps.
Gilraen felt her heart leap into her throat when her father's gaze first fell on her and then widened in shock. Yes, she imagined this was not exactly what he had been expecting, to see her all done up with Elven jewelcraft. But the face that next captured her gaze and made her mouth fall slightly open was that of her mother, on a mount of her own, between the two other Rangers who had accompanied the group.
Elladan and Elrohir controlled their astonishment quickly without giving it away to their Dúnedain counterparts. They dismounted quickly, content to leave their mounts in the capable hands of the stablemen who had rushed forward, and moved in unison to give their father a warrior's salute. Then, still moving as if of one mind, they moved to each side of Elrond as the Master of the House spread out his arms. "Welcome to the Last Homely House, Dírhael of the Dúnedain," Elrond stated slowly and regally. "All of Imladris bids welcome to our allies from the North. I am Elrond, Master of this place, and may I present Glorfindel, my Battle Master, and Erestor, my Chief Counselor. If either of them may be of any assistance to you during your stay, please, feel free to call upon their services."
Dírhael dismounted and waited until Ivorwen had been helped back to the ground and stepped forward to join him before walking forward to the first step. "Lord Elrond, it is an honor and a pleasure to know that Imladris is once more open to the Dúnedain. Allow me to introduce my men."
Gilraen sensed Glorfindel's sudden tension. Elrond had been very careful to maintain an open-door relationship with the Dúnedain all through her residency; the only thing that had been closed away had been her and Estel's presence there. Already her father sought supremacy through subtle digs that the Battle Master of Imladris was taking offense to, and Elrond was no fool. This didn't bode well.
"Finally, this is my lady-wife, Ivorwen." Dírhael finished his introductions and gazed at Gilraen steadily. "And I can see you know my daughter."
"Your daughter has very graciously agreed to serve as the Lady of the household for many years now, as my wife is no longer present here," Elrond announced archly, and reached out his hand in an invitation for Gilraen to step forward. "I was very grateful when she accepted the invitation to remain in that position after Aragorn's departure."
"Hello, Father," Gilraen said more calmly than she felt and dropped a graceful curtsey. She rose and smiled more warmly. "Mother, it's good to see you."
Ivorwen pulled her hand from her husband's keeping and rushed forward to gather Gilraen into a tight embrace. "You looked so regal, standing there. I could hardly recognize you!"
Gilraen struggled against a very real desire to simply burst into tears in her mother's arms. "It was Master Elrond's idea," she whispered conspiratorially after she regained her control, then pulling back and smiling widely. "I knew Father was coming, but I didn't expect to see you!"
"I dare say your father didn't expect to have me along either," Ivorwen answered in a conspiratorial whisper of her own. "I believe he thought that he was riding to your rescue, saving you from whatever drudgery the Elves had thrust upon you. But I insisted, and the sons of Elrond supported my request."
"I don't care how you managed it, you are more than welcome here!" Gilraen raised her head and included her father in her conversation. "Allow me to show you to your rooms, where you can freshen up and rest. There will be a small feast in celebration of your arrival this evening." She gave a quick gesture that directed some of the attendants, who had been waiting at the very fringes of the action, to swoop in and take charge of bundles.
"I will leave you in Gilraen's very capable hands, then," Elrond announced expansively. "Dírhael, once you have rested, perhaps you can come to my office. We can discuss any news that you might have before the feast."
Glorfindel stepped close as Ivorwen moved to rejoin her husband. "You will tell me if you have any trouble," he whispered with a very serious glint in his eye, and Gilraen knew it wasn't a request.
"I'll be fine. These are my parents…"
"Nevertheless." The flash in his eyes as he glanced back in Dírhael's direction was not a friendly one.
Gilraen returned the quick glare and then smiled at her parents and gestured for them to follow the Master into the House. "Allow me to show you to the suite assigned to you."
"Oh, this is lovely!" Ivorwen moved into the sitting room of the suite Gilraen had led them to. Elrond had insisted they be housed at the very end of the guest hall, a gesture which could be taken one of two ways: an honor to be away from the noise of the rest of the house, or a subtle snub by keeping them at a distance from the rest of the house. Gilraen wasn't entirely certain which was meant, but as the Master rarely made such specific requests of her, she had complied.
As it was, this suite offered a window in the sitting room in addition to the one in the bed chamber, and a door from the inner room led to a smaller walled outer gardens that was just beginning to bloom. Gilraen turned and gestured to the assistants to carry the bags and bundles into the inner chamber. "The baths are downstairs, if you wish to soak away your sore muscles from the journey. I can show you if you wish…"
Dírhael had waited until the last of the assistants had bowed and exited the suite before closing the door fast. "Sit down, Gilraen." he said, pointing.
She quailed inside, but remained on her feet without allowing any of her misgivings to show. "I'm afraid I cannot remain, Father. I am needed…"
"Sit down, Gilraen, and explain to me why it was necessary for me to come all this way to fetch you home." Her father had drawn himself to his full height, and his pointing finger was insistent.
"Dírhael," Ivorwen shook her head and went to pull her husband's arm down. "You are tired and sore; you were complaining to me as we made our way down that narrow path. I'm sure Gilraen will be glad to explain herself when you are rested and refreshed."
"I will, Father. But I really must go, because I am in charge of…"
"I don't want to hear about your responsibilities to the Elves!" Dírhael thundered and jerked his arm from his wife's hold. "Your responsibilities to them ended the moment I entered those gates."
"Husband! Stop your shouting this minute! You are a guest in this house, and you will lower your voice at once!" Ivorwen didn't often contradict her husband's growls, and Gilraen's eyes widened to see her diminutive mother put herself toe to toe with her looming – and fuming – father. "Gilraen has responsibilities to this house that you don't understand, whether you want to admit it or not; and she can not merely ignore those responsibilities because you are here. If one of your Rangers were to try such a thing with you, I can imagine the explosion!"
As much as she could see her father wanting to argue with her mother, he had to admit that she was correct. "Go on with you then," he said gruffly, waving toward the door. "We will discuss this later."
"I understand," Gilraen nodded, not certain if she would have preferred to just get the argument over and done with sooner rather than later. "Would you like me to show you the way to the baths?"
"We can do well enough with what we have here," Dírhael shook his head. "And it is good to see you, you know. You have been sorely missed all these years." He glanced at the door. "Lord Elrond wanted to speak to me before the feast. How do I find…"
"You have but to ask any servant for directions to his office, and you will be guided," she told him and finally walked over to claim a quick, tight hug. "It's good to see you too. You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear Dúnedain voices again."
Dírhael lifted his hands and very gently touched the mithril chains that hung about her ear. "Tell me the truth, girl. Is this just for show, or…"
"Master Elrond told me that the only one allowed to wear this at official occasions is the Lady of the House, and that no one has worn it since his lady-wife sailed West." Oddly, Gilraen was now very happy to be wearing this intricate Elven headpiece, for that part of the subtext that Elrond had striven for seemed to be making some impression, at least.
"You see?" Ivorwen wrapped her arm about her husband's waist. "Elves don't just give those circlets away to servants. And, lest my eye deceive me, that is mithril. She holds a position of honor here, Dírhael, and doesn't drudge for them at all." She smiled at her daughter. "Go on now, like your father said. Mayhaps by the time we do have the discussion he wishes, he will be more agreeable to whatever you have to say. You know how like a hungry bear he gets when he's been traveling for long stretches."
Gilraen nodded, both in agreement and memory. "Incidentally, you need not rush to meet with Master Elrond, Father. I'm certain he understands your fatigue, and if he doesn't, his sons surely do and will explain. And now I really must go and confer with the cooks regarding the feast." She turned with her hand at the latch of the door. "It really is good to see you both," she said fervently and then let herself out.
Gilraen blinked to find herself addressed the moment the door was shut. "Lothiel?"
"Is all well with you?" The slender maid's eyes were wide. "You were not harmed?"
"Of course I've not been harmed. Whatever…"
Lothiel blushed. "Lord Glorfindel asked me to make certain that nothing untoward or of a rash nature happened to you while alone with your lord father," she confessed slowly. "Please forgive me, for I do not wish to give offense, but… I heard the shouting…"
Gilraen now didn't know whether to be grateful that her friend had set watchers on her, or to be furious that he had set her own servants to spying on her. She would have to have this out with him later; she really was late to confer with Aurin. "I am well, thank you, Lothiel." She jerked her nose in the direction of the closed door. "In many ways, his bark is worse than his bite, and I've survived encounters with him all my life." She put a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder. "Go on about your business, and thanks to you on behalf of both Lord Glorfindel as well as myself."
"My lady." Lothiel sped down the corridor toward her more regular haunts of the family wing. Gilraen shook her head, both at her father as well as Glorfindel's caution, and followed in her tracks, heading for the kitchen.