14. Holiday Visit - Pt. 2 of 2
"Aunt Míriel gave me the set of clothes she was going to give Halbarad for Mettarë, Nana. She said that you could give them to him in her stead." Estel held out a cloth-wrapped bundle.
Gilraen nodded. "Of course. I'm glad you've made a friend in Míriel."
"She watches over me almost as much as she tries to watch over Halbarad," Estel said with a wry grin. "She treats us both like half-grown boys most of the time too. She seems to forget that we're both Rangers."
"That I doubt," Gilraen said with a quick shake of the head. "But it does me good to know that someone tries to mother you there, when I am too far away to do so myself."
"She does well at that, Nana. Trust me!"
The tone of his voice made her laugh. "Tell me, though," she asked then, "have you enjoyed learning a few different Mettarë traditions?" she asked, setting the bundle aside and sitting back in her chair in front of her hearth.
"I miss the enninych," he replied with a small pout, but then brightened. "But I thought the idea of dying hard-boiled eggs and letting the children hunt for them great fun, especially when I found out that some of the eggs to be hidden were actually wooden and filled with sugared fruits."
She grinned. "I thought you might enjoy that, knowing your sweet tooth. When I found out you and Halbarad were coming here, I asked Master Aranor if he could carve and paint a few wooden eggs for our celebration this year." She giggled. "You should have seen the look on his face when I described what I wanted and why. I believe the dear man thought I had lost my wits; although he told me a few days later that it made for an interesting change of pace from working on furniture, and he was looking forward to the 'action', as he put it."
Estel's jaw dropped. "We're going to have an egg hunt? Here? With the Elves?"
"Your father asked me to try to bring as many of the Dúnedain traditions to Imladris as we could manage, so that we could make the holiday meaningful to edhil and edain alike this year," she told him seriously. "I have Erestor making special paper for us to burn our obstacles and regrets, and Glorfindel is in charge of finding tall tree to dance around and then outfitting it with ribbons supplied by Maeniel. Two days ago, I showed Aurin how to dye eggs, and she suggested we even do so to the enninych. Although, just to be safe…" Gilraen leaned forward as if sharing a secret, "the enninych will be the pink ones, while the simple hard-boiled eggs will be the greens and blues. Considering Halbarad's reaction to the gondlim the other evening, you may wish to tell him…"
"I will, although I was hoping to convince him to take at least a bite of one."
"Don't." Gilraen shuddered with the memory of Elladan being equally convincing with her during her first Mettarë in Imladris. "We want him to enjoy the day, not spend part of it bent over a bucket in your father's Healing Rooms." She straightened and sobered. "Now, tell me honestly. How are things in the Wild?"
Estel shrugged. "There are plenty of orcs and trolls," he offered off-handedly, "but Grandfather Dírhael says that their numbers don't seem to be that much greater now than when Ara… my father led us."
"And you? How are you getting along with the others now?"
"They accept me as one of them," he reassured her. "We share everything, Nana, and in many ways I feel I'm still learning about them. Life there is… so different from here."
Gilraen nodded. "I know. And what about the young ladies? Has anyone caught your eye that I should know about?"
"Nana!" Estel's face had gone pale, and he looked shocked.
"Now, now…" She shook her head and put up a finger to stop any more of his protest. "I'm certain that I'm not the only one who would tell you that one of your many duties as Chieftain will be to find yourself a nice young lady to take to wife, so that you can have a son to carry on after you as soon as possible. Your Grandfather Dírhael no doubt has said…"
His face looked positively disgusted. "Grandfather Dirhael has been pointing out one girl after another to me constantly, to the point that I think I have made the acquaintance of every last unwed maid in all the Dúnedain settlements between Imladris and Bree. Trust me, I have been introduced, asked to dinner, pushed into dancing, and had fathers quietly pressing their daughters forward for private evening walks – and I find the entire idea thoroughly absurd!"
"Your marriage is of great import to the Dúnedain, my son. Should something happen to you…" Gilraen's breath caught in her throat for a moment, and it took a bit to continue. "Should anything happen to you, there must be another who is of the bloodline to take your place as Chieftain. This is not a task that you can leave off for long."
"Father did." Estel said stubbornly, his eyes stormy.
"Your father eventually married, and it is good he did when he did." Her chin rose as she stubbornly put aside her own emotions at the memories. "We were married only three years, Estel – three little years. You were still practically a babe in arms when he died."
"I have found nobody that… I like so well. They just aren't like…" His words stumbled to a halt and his cheeks reddened.
"Estel!" Gilraen peered closer. "You aren't still hanging onto that crush that you had on Elrond's daughter, are you?" At her son's even more guilty face and quick swivel of the head to avoid making eye contact, she grabbed his forearm. "She is Elven, and you know Elrond will not hear of it. Do not jeopardize your standing with your foster-father, or tempt his temper. The Dúnedain rely too much on his support and goodwill."
"I know. I know. But none of the Dúnedain women are even half as pretty, or…"
Her fingers tightened on his arm. "Stop. You are playing with fire, my son, and I don't want to see you get burned. Realize that your crush is nothing but a beautiful dream…"
"Like your friendship with Glorfindel is?" Estel asked pointedly, rounding on her.
Gilraen blinked in surprise. "Glorfindel?"
"Oh, come, Nana. I'm not blind. You and Glorfindel have been very close for a very long time. You two act married, more often than not – now that I have been around people who are married and can see how it is."
Since when do I have to defend my actions to my own son? That must be Father's influence speaking… "You are quite mistaken. I have no illusions about marrying him, much less any intention of pretending such," she replied pointedly. "For one thing, both of us are already married."
"But you would if you could." The challenge was clear.
"No, I wouldn't," she replied proudly. "Glorfindel is a dear friend, but I am married to…"
"I will see Arathorn again, and I will step beyond the world with him when my time comes," she insisted stiffly. "And in the meanwhile, Glorfindel's wife awaits him on the other side of the sea with their children, all of whom died in the fall of Gondolin, so you know. My relationship with him is very different from the relationship you would like to have with Arwen. We are close, yes, but it stops at friendship and will never go further." She loosened her grip, but patted his arm when she'd been holding him. "Please. Find another lady more suitable, before you regret it."
At his stubborn expression, all she could do was sigh as she rose to her feet. Estel was on his feet almost immediately in the instinctual Elven courtesy drilled into him from an early age by all concerned in Imladris. It was a shame they had to end one of their rare moments alone together on a note of dissention, but it couldn't be helped. "You really should go and rescue Halbarad, now, before Erestor and Glorfindel discover him alone and corner him about the difficulties you had with him at first."
"I knew Glorfindel hadn't forgotten, from his remarks at dinner last evening." Estel blinked in surprise, "But Erestor too?"
She nodded. "I'm certain they'll forgive him presently, but he may need your defending him a few more times before that."
Estel shook his head. "Elves!" he muttered as he turned to head back to his room – and to his cousin.
Gilraen blinked a few times in surprise. That was the kind of comment often heard in the Dúnedain settlements when out of the earshot of the sons of Elrond, when something the Elven warrior twins did or said drew attention to their alien natures or mannerisms. Is he becoming less Elvish and more Dúnedain?
"Ah! Gilraen! I am glad I found you!" Elrond called to her from the other side of the Hall of Fire as she was heading towards the kitchen to help with more of the Mettarë arrangements and beckoned her to join him. He was standing with a most peculiar man, dressed all in gray, and with a long, gray beard. "I would like you to meet an unexpected guest for our Mettarë this year."
"My lord?" She asked as she approached. The stranger had a blue hat in his hands that looked to be made of felt. Considering the point on it, Gilraen figured that the aged man would seem all that much taller were he wearing it.
"This is Mithrandir, a good friend to the free folk of Middle-earth," Elrond said, with a graceful gesture at his companion. "Mithrandir, this is Gilraen, daughter of Dírhael of the Dúnedain, and the Lady of my House."
Gilraen found herself the object of study of a pair of startlingly blue eyes that peered out with keen intelligence from beneath eyebrows the like of which she'd never seen before. "Ah! It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady! Elrond only now has told me of the treasure he has been guarding in his valley for so long; I take it you are young Arathornion's mother?"
"I am. It's very nice to meet you as well." Gilraen tendered her hand into the care of a worn and work-hardened hand. "You knew my husband?"
"Only very distantly, and more by reputation than genuine acquaintance. Tell me," he turned to Elrond, "will I also be given the opportunity to meet the latest Dúnedain Chieftain?"
"Indeed you may, for he is visiting here with a cousin for Mettarë." Elrond sounded very pleased by this. "I think you will find him a very capable young man, even if I do say so. He grew up well here, and now has had the benefit of both Elven and Dúnedain training."
Feeling a little out of her element while Elrond and the stranger discussed her son in such terms, Gilraen put her hand to her heart and bowed. "If you will excuse me, I will make arrangements for a suitable suite for your guest, Master Elrond."
"Speak to Erestor about it," the Master said, his attention called to her again. "We have a set of rooms set aside that Mithrandir is accustomed to using during his visits."
"If you will excuse me…" She bowed to Elrond and again to Mithrandir and then turned to head back to the kitchen. She would make a point of having Tadiel speak to Erestor on her behalf, setting the head of housekeeping the task of readying the suite for their unexpected guest. The stranger must not be mortal, then; for Elrond spoke as if he were accustomed to having this Mithrandir visit on occasion, and she'd been in residence for enough years that such familiarity would have brought him to her attention long since. But… he was no Elf either. What is he?
"I am surprised she didn't return to her people with her son, Elrond." Mithrandir's voice carried easily across the hall.
"I asked her not to," Elrond confessed. "It has been quite pleasant to have a woman's touch running my household again, and frankly, she is delightful company for all here."
"And her family permits this? As I understand it, the Dúnedain are very protective of their women."
"They were not pleased with the idea, but they have come to accept that this was her choice to make," Elrond answered regally. "Not that I would have allowed them to force her to return anyway. She carries out her duties here with grace and diligence, and is an asset to my House. As far as I am concerned, she may stay for as long as she wishes and be most welcome."
Gilraen smiled as she turned the corner and moved out of earshot, setting the mystery of their new guest aside for the time being. It was ever encouraging to hear the approval of the Master of the House of her continuing tenure. It made her remaining here in Imladris just that much more meaningful for her.
"Ah, Tadiel!" At least she wouldn't have to go looking for the woman, for the housekeeper was coming towards her down the little hallway. "Will you please speak to Erestor for me about assigning Mithrandir what I understand is his regular suite of rooms?"
Tadiel smiled. "I am familiar with the suite in question, Lady, and will see to having it ready as soon as possible. We need not disturb Erestor during his paper-making adventure."
"Is he still working on that? I didn't ask for that much paper…" Gilraen frowned. Had she misrepresented the need to the Chief Counsellor?
Tadiel chuckled. "Fear not. I think he has discovered that he enjoys the creation process, frankly, and has decided to experiment on his own. He has been pestering the weavers and the laundry workers for lint and snippets of colored thread to add to his wood pulp mess. And, from the sounds of things, Aranor will be pleased when he isn't in the woodshop every morning, begging sawdust."
Gilraen rolled her eyes indulgently. She should have known that Erestor would take a simple chore and make it into something… more. "I'll go speak to him. Elrond needs his mind on his other tasks more than on this."
"Do not be too certain," the housekeeper shook her head. "The word has been given to all of us that this will be a most special Metarrë, and that no effort is too great to make it the best it can be."
"I shall have to be thankful that it is day after tomorrow, then," Gilraen said at last, relenting in this retelling of Elrond's intent toward the celebration. "I don't know if Middle-earth can survive Imladris being idle for much longer than that."
Tadiel's musical laughter rang in the little hallway leading to the kitchen as the two of them parted, each going in different directions. "The Dagor Dagorath will not be hastened by our indulging ourselves just a little bit at Mettarë, you know…"
Gilraen chuckled to herself and shook her head. Erestor, normally such a proper and staid Elf, had a playful streak that peeked its head out very seldom; but when it did, most enjoyed the results. Something told her that he had forgotten that these papers were to be burned, and that she might be well-served stopping by and reminding him of the fact and talking him into making a few, very plain pieces for Mettarë use. The papers with the snippets of colored thread, on the other hand, could be saved and used for other, less fleeting purposes, as they sounded delightfully cheery.
Unless he insisted, in which case she would never dream of arguing with him.
"What in all of Arda do you think you are doing up this late?"
Gilraen's head whipped around to see the Master of the House coming toward her with a look that combined curiosity with frustration. Actually, he looked as if he had just arisen from his bed for some reason, and thrown a warm robe over his sleeping clothes. "You need your rest, Lady, for you shall have all of your preparations come to fruition in just a few hours…"
She shrugged at him and lifted the basket in her hand, in which sat three green and pink eggs. More of the colored eggs from the kitchens sat in two large bowls on one of the side tables, but she had a fair number already hidden from the one bowl that was now empty. "I have to hide these first, and then I can rest. I promise."
"Hide them?" He looked around, and Gilraen could see that his eyes were discerning a few of the more obvious spots in which she had deposited her treasures. "In here?" The eyebrows were flying high. "Whatever for?"
"Because that is how the Dúnedain begin celebrating Mettarë," she explained patiently. "Parents will have stayed up very late – after making certain their children are fast asleep – hiding the eggs. In the morning, it is a contest to see who can find the most eggs."
"It is unfortunate we have no children here…" he began.
Gilraen grinned at him. "Estel is here, is he not? So is Halbarad; so are the Els. I think you would agree with me that some of the time, the four of them act like nothing more than little children in very large bodies. And I would wager that more than one of your household will be intrigued enough to join in the fun, once they see what's going on…"
"Interesting," was the comment he made, but from the subtle quirk at the corner of his mouth, she could see that he was becoming more amused by the thought as each moment passed. Elrond's gaze moved to the table, and the many eggs that still awaited her efforts. "All of them?"
"Yes, but not all in here," she answered as she bent and slipped a pink egg carefully into the space between the leg of the credenza and the wall. "I thought, perhaps, in the courtyard – maybe even one of the larger gardens…"
Elrond quickly tied the sash of his robe and reached for one of the bowls. "If you do this by yourself, you will be at it until nearly dawn and spend the day either utterly exhausted or asleep and missing things. Besides, if you intend to entice the Elves to play with you, you will have to begin finding places that are less close to the ground." The bowl firmly held in one large hand, he pulled out a pink egg and slipped it carefully onto the flat metal that held one of the wall sconces to the wall at his own eye level. "Your hiding spots, while very clever, are appropriate for small children; but given the circumstances, I believe we need to be thinking of more adult places – with a little more altitude."
Gilraen's eyes widened. "I hadn't thought of that."
He moved to the massive hearth that dominated the room, his gaze fixed on the mantelpiece. Two more eggs found homes, one on either end of the mantle, a reach that Gilraen wouldn't have attempted. "I believe that if we work together, however, we should finish this task in enough time that you will at least get some sleep before morning. Do you not agree?"
"You shouldn't have to do this…" she began worriedly as she populated another sconce with a blue egg, having to go up on tiptoe to make certain it was securely balanced. "One of the benefits of being the Master of the House should be that you need not bother with…"
"Nonsense," he countered, moving to the carved stonework on one wall and placing another pink egg in an empty spot almost as the top. "I find the challenge of finding places to tuck these eggs that might stump some of our more competitive residents quite intriguing, and I would have you awake enough to enjoy your Mettarë. You have worked quite hard at making a number of unusual arrangements that I, for one, am interested to see carried out." He turned a wide grin on her. "I have heard tales of some of your traditions, for those you have asked assistance from have kept me well apprised. I am grateful you took my directions to you at heart so completely. This certainly will be a Mettarë to remember."
What could she say in answer to that? "Thank you," she said, smiling back at him, and then gestured at his bowl. "The only drawback to your assistance, however, is that you won't be able to participate in the hunt yourself."
Elrond snorted softly. "I think it is just as well that the Master of the House does not have to vie with his sons to find eggs. This will allow me to maintain my proper level of propriety, while granting me the opportunity to have my fun watching my sons and people walk past carefully hidden eggs."
"And seeing the Els and Estel behave like small children, no doubt," Gilraen added, chuckling at the thought.
"Oh, I have a hunch that you will end up with, at the very least, Glorfindel in the race with them. He is never one to back away from a chance to laugh, you know this." Gilraen nodded agreement; Glorfindel was at least as impish as the Els, and at least as often. Elrond continued, "And do not forget your young kinsman. He may be shy, but I get the feeling that he will join in wholeheartedly once he sees others far older than he participating. As a matter of fact," he added, his voice thinning as he stretched to place an egg in a very visible spot on the top of a portrait of Celebrían, "I should not be surprised if you could even have Mithrandir's participation as well."
"Mithrandir?" Gilraen turned to stare at Elrond, dumbfounded. "He looks…"
Elrond merely shook his head at her. "I have learned never to underestimate, or even attempt to anticipate, Mithrandir's reactions. He is constantly full of surprises, that one." He gazed about the room. "I think we have placed about as many in here as we can get away with. Let us decorate the garden beyond." He pointed at the glassed doors, beyond which was one of the House's larger and more popular gardens, and then extended his arm. "It should be large enough for us to use the rest of the supply out there."
Gilraen dodged his grasp to grab up the second bowl of eggs. "We'll need torches…"
"Allow me to see to that, while you get started." He pushed the one glassed door open. "After you…
Gilraen looked up at Elrond, and the two of them shared an amused moment of mutual satisfaction before turning to once more witness the spectacle of over twenty Elves and two Men scrabbling around the Hall of Fire and in the garden beyond, looking for the hidden treasure. "I would say that this is one of the more unexpected, but delightful, traditions I have seen," Elrond commented quietly. "Thank you for allowing me to help you last night, for I can now see…" He paused and chuckled at the sight of Elrohir and Elladan catching sight of the same egg at the same time and making it a race to see who would snatch it up first. "Small children in very large bodies indeed!"
"One would think we had gone back in time," Erestor drawled, coming up from behind them and then joining them in the garden doorway. "So much for the grace and grandeur of the Elves…"
"I saw it first!" Elladan pouted, eyeing the egg in his brother's hand.
Elrohir looked up at him and barked a laugh. "Did not. And even if you did, El, I got to it first. Go find another."
"Come along, elflings. Do not let an old man like me get ahead of you," Glorfindel called to both of the Els, brandishing his little basket triumphantly. "More time looking and less time arguing would be of great assistance to you."
"Leave them be, Master Glorfindel. It means a better chance for the rest of us!" Mithrandir replied with a hearty laugh. "One should not waste any advantage over the young and spry!"
"Oh no! Do not eat that one, Halbarad!" Gilraen called out suddenly, seeing her young kinsman leaning against the wall and eyeing a pink egg in his hand, then raising it to begin removing the shell. "As a matter of fact, you'll want to trade all of your pinks with Estel." She nodded as he looked up and over at her with wide, questioning eyes. "Remember the fish? These eggs are very like – at least the pink ones are."
Halbarad's eyes got even wider, and he settled the pink egg back into his basket carefully before making a sour face and shuddering.
"I thought I'd asked you to tell him," she accused Estel.
He shrugged at her with a guilty and sheepish look on his face. "I forgot. Sorry, Nana."
"Hmph!" She shook her head at him, understanding him all too well. "Likely story!"
"You mean the pink ones are…" Elladan asked, his smile widening.
"Enninych," Gilraen supplied with a grin and a nod.
The word passed among the Elves, and the general level of activity in searching was immediately increased, and competition for the pink eggs became keen. "Why did you not tell us this before?" Elrohir tossed at her as he darted for one of those very eggs hidden in between the roots of a tree and catching it up with small cry of victory just a few moments before a determined Tadiel did.
"Consider it as a pleasant surprise for the Imladhrim, my son," Elrond called back and then bent to Gilraen's ear. "You did have Aurin set a few enninych aside for those of us who do not wish to scramble, did you not?"
Gilraen considered withholding her answer when she saw the disparaging look on Erestor's face when he looked back out at those participating in the hunt. But her better nature won out, and she relented. "There are plenty that didn't get dyed or hidden, my Lord, considering the number of people here who enjoy them. But I must admit that I honestly had no idea how many Elves would want to..." She waved her hand at the scene before her.
"As I said, any hope of perpetuating the illusion that the Elves are beings of great wisdom and grandeur for our Estel's young cousin have just flown away," Erestor spouted with a shake of the head. "How easily your strange traditions corrupt us."
"Now, now, old friend. Considering everything, I think having an excuse to let go of some of our normal weight and propriety is a good thing from time to time, provided it happens only rarely," Elrond responded indulgently. "A single day with few cares and plenty of reasons to be light-hearted will do us all good."
Erestor merely shook his head again. "You will let me know when you need the papers that you asked me to make, will you not?" he asked Gilraen pointedly. "I believe I will retire to the kitchen and prepare for a day of reading."
"Oh no, you do not!" Glorfindel lunged forward and caught at the Chief Counselor's elbow with his free hand. "I could use help making certain I stay ahead of those two, and your eyes are just as sharp as…"
"Unhand me, you manic Vanya! I have no intentions whatsoever to…"
"Your reading can wait, old friend," Glorfindel insisted, his voice softer and lower and much less mocking. "We have our young ones home with us, can you not simply let yourself enjoy the holiday?"
"Yes! You hide yourself away in the library every year at Mettarë until suppertime, Erestor. It would be nice to have you with us enjoying the day for a change," Gilraen agreed with her friend. "Would you truly deny us the pleasure of your company?"
Erestor turned a clearly beseeching look to Elrond, who merely threw up a defensive hand. "Oh no! Do not look to me," the Master declared with his own shake of the head. "I have already played my own small part in the celebration; and if I can let down and have some innocent fun in celebration of the coming of spring, so can you. It would do you good, frankly." He nodded at the remaining baskets piled on the credenza. "If you apply yourself, you know, you could outdo several here."
Gilraen had to cover her mouth to keep from snickering out loud as the very staid Chief Counselor to Master Elrond looked about the Hall of Fire with his almond-shaped eyes narrowed in concentration. "Very well," he said finally, "if that is the challenge…" Without ceding the least bit of his stately mien, he walked sedately to the pile of empty baskets, took one, and then immediately bent to retrieve an egg discretely nestled against the wall at the foot of the sideboard.
"The rest have no chance now," Elrond told her in a whisper, "but it will be good to see him unbend just a little for a change."
"You approve of this little tradition, even if it is more intended for the young?" she asked.
"I do indeed. It appeals to both the young and the young in heart, and calls to the innocence in all. I approve wholeheartedly. Our special Mettarë seems to have gotten off to a fine start, do you not agree?"
Watching Erestor move smoothly through the skittering participants, bending or reaching with great regularity, Gilraen had to agree. "Yes. This is even better than I had hoped."
Gilraen lifted her goblet of wine and took a sip, her foot tapping the floor in time with the lively tune Lindir and his musicians were playing in the corner. The dance floor in front of the great hearth teemed with dancing couples leaping and spinning, and the very air in the Hall of Fire seemed to sparkle with the energy of the New Year just begun and the many ways in which Elves and Men celebrated the turn of the year.
She turned and spotted Elrond in animated discussion with both the Els and Glorfindel. The Master of the House had found many opportunities to laugh and laugh heartily at the way the various customs and traditions were folded into each other. The Els had shed all pretence of solemnity and put on quite the show, competing against each other and bickering playfully for the entertainment of all.
She then turned a little further to see Erestor in his regular chair in the Hall of Fire, wine goblet in one hand while the other hand waved a forefinger back and forth to the music. Pried from his library for the entirety of the day, Erestor had eventually thrown himself into the festivities completely. He had taken one of the ribbons and danced around the pole until he was pressed tightly against all the other dancers, laughing with them.
Estel and Halbarad had been thoroughly pleased, although Estel had been more so due to his familiarity with both Elvish and Dúnedain traditions. Both had enjoyed their gifts, and had mimicked the Els in playfulness and lighthearted bickering. Estel, especially, had bloomed a happy grin that hadn't wavered in its intensity for the entire day. Every once in a while, Gilraen's heart would pause slightly at the expression on his face, seeing in the young man an echo of the happy child that had once lived here.
Halbarad, it seemed, had lost some of his shyness around the Elves, for he had not yet deserted the dance floor. At the moment, he was lifting one of the kitchen helpers into the air as gracefully as he could, and from his face, she could see that he was enjoying himself and not worrying about anything at all. His partner was clearly having a good time. This has been good for him, to see Estel at home with those he grew up with. It will help him understand him, and will be of great value later on.
At the very thought of her son, she turned again, and then again before she finally spotted him standing in a secluded corner speaking quietly and soberly with Mithrandir. The elderly man… Elf… oh, she still wasn't certain what he was… was speaking, and Estel had that look on his face that he got when he was hearing something that he found interesting, yet troubling.
Gilraen felt her blood suddenly run cold in her veins, and her mind filled with an image that she hadn't seen in years: an older, quite bedraggled Estel was slogging through what looked like a swamp alone. He seemed to be looking for something – hunting, she realized. His hand was at his dagger even as he worked to maintain his balance in the bog.
She started violently when Glorfindel's hand landed softly on her shoulder, and the vision seemed to implode. "What?" She stared at him dumbly for a moment, struggling to remember where she was. "Yes?"
"Are you all right? I called your name, thinking perhaps I could convince you to dance, but you had a very strange look on your face…" Glorfindel moved closer, as if protectively. "This has been a long day for you. Perhaps…"
"No." Gilraen shook her head. "It's just…" She closed her eyes and shook her head again. "I'm all right. My mind was just… wandering." She opened her eyes again and gazed fixedly at Estel and Mithrandir. "I don't know why, but I get very uneasy seeing those two together."
She looked up into his face as his arm slowly pushed across her shoulders and gathered her close. "I can tell you, in all honesty, that Mithrandir is probably one of the most trust-worthy people in all of Arda," he told her solemnly. "I will not say that he is not a dangerous person to know or deal with, but his motives and his reasons are without question as honest and forthright as can be. He serves the causes of Light and Life, Gilraen. Never forget that."
Somehow, in light of what her unpredictable gift of foresight had granted her, Glorfindel's vote of confidence wasn't convincing enough to settle the worry that had descended.
"I'm certain that you're all wondering why I had these pieces of paper handed out last night, or why I asked that you each write down the sorrows or worries that you have suffered in the year that just ended. It is Dúnedain tradition that we begin our Yestarë by throwing all of these things that weigh us down into the first fire of the New Year, in the hopes that we can move beyond them into a more joyful and peaceful year to come." Gilraen lifted her own piece of paper to show how she had folded it. "And so I invite you to cast your cares away, and let them dissipate like smoke in the morning air."
She turned to the main hearth of the Hall of Fire and, with a few whispered words consigning her cares to the Belain, she tossed her paper into the flames. Behind her, Elrond moved forward, his own paper similarly folded, and tossed it in as well. The two of them then stepped aside as, one by one, nearly every resident of Imladris – whether in the Last Homely House itself or any of the outlying cottages or settlements – stepped forward and solemnly cast their cares into the flames.
Once that was done, a nod from her to Lindir put the first strains of a happy day tune into motion from the harp and tambour players, while the rest moved in patient lines past the sideboards filled with Dúnedain and Elven delicacies to break the fast. Gilraen caught Estel's eye just in time to convince him to stay Halbarad's hand when reaching for a slice of the enninych and direct it to the hard-boiled eggs instead.
"That was a most mindful manner to begin the New Year," Elrond said over his shoulder as he carried his plate and hers to the raised dais on which his table had been placed. "I find it interesting that yesterday was a day for children and playful events, while today seems to be a day more for the adults."
"I had considered that it was a shame to burn those beautiful paper pieces; but now that I see the tradition in full and in practice, I must admit it was most appropriate to have special paper to carry those things into the air. Your experiments were most successful, my friend." Glorfindel settled himself next to Erestor on Elrond's left. "And are you not glad you did not spend the day reading yesterday?"
"I still bemoan the fact that young Halbarad has seen the Elves behaving more like adolescent Mortals," Erestor stated primly, and then let a small smile grace his lips, "but I must confess I enjoyed myself."
"Ada, we must remember these things and do them again!" Elladan exclaimed from beyond his father. "Surely Ardhon Meth must be upon us if Erestor is admitting to enjoying himself…"
"I can always take you to the sparring ring, youngling," Erestor growled threateningly.
"Oh, do…" Elrohir smiled and nodded happily. "He deserves it."
Elladan narrowed his eyes to glare at his twin. "You are no help."
"That depends upon who you think I should be trying to assist."
"Are they always like this at home?" Gilraen heard Halbarad whisper to Estel, who choked on a bite of enninoch and began coughing and laughing at the same time.
Elrond actually snickered as he turned to pound his foster-son on the back until the young man could breathe properly again. "You may be assured, Halbarad, that my sons are capable of being both very proper, and very improper, depending on the circumstances and their mood at the time."
"Was it Elladan or Elrohir who wrote that silly doggerel with all the 'Tra-la-la's in it?" Glorfindel asked with an impish grin on his face. "I fear I have forgotten…"
"That was Elladan," Elrohir stated dryly. "Have you honestly ever seen me running around singing 'Tra-la-la-lally'?"
"Yes," responded Elrond, Erestor, Elladan, Estel, Mithrandir, Glorfindel and Gilraen in unison, after which it was Halbarad's turn to choke on his food and need assistance to be able to breathe and laugh at the same time.
There they are again, Gilraen thought sourly, thick as thieves, they've become. Her gaze rested unhappily on the way that Estel and Mithrandir were slowly moving through the garden while deep in discussion. Estel was asking questions, and Mithrandir's answers were obviously causing him great concern.
Disheartened, she turned away, heading for the kitchens to finalize plans for the feast that evening. There's nothing for it. Estel is a man now, the Chieftain in training, if not in fact. I have no more say over what he does and who he spends his time with than Halbarad does. She sighed. I wonder what Halbarad thinks of Estel's new 'friend'.
"You look distressed."
Gilraen peered into one of the shadows of the now-empty Hall of Fire and found Elladan, moving to his feet from where he had been sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the family corner. He came close and bent slightly to take in her expression. "What is wrong?"
Gilraen didn't answer, she allowed her gaze to lead his to where the two meandered through the garden.
She nodded. "I suppose you're going to tell me now that he's completely trustworthy, and that I'm being foolish for…"
"Mithrandir is trustworthy insofar as his motives are concerned, but there is much about him that is hidden," Elladan admitted, his own gaze clearly caught by the interaction between the elderly-looking guest and his young foster-brother. "Do you remember that council meeting when Adar had to leave Imladris for a time?" Gilraen nodded. "Mithrandir serves on that council with him."
She turned and gazed at the older man with more interest. Elrond had been very closed about both the nature and the composition of the meeting that had drawn him away from Imladris for the better part of two months. So this Mithrandir shares some responsibilities with Elrond? Perhaps I have misjudged him, and Estel is well-served by a friendship.
"He is Istar, a wizard," Elladan continued softly. "He is powerful, although he does not brandish his power often or lightly. It is curious, however, the interest he is taking in Estel."
"That bothers you too, does it?"
The Elf nodded slowly. "Mithrandir does nothing without a purpose, and his comings and goings often mark changes to come."
"He would not harm Estel…" she began carefully.
"Nay." Elladan's hands took charge of hers and chafed it soothingly. "While I have a sense that he is anything but completely benign, he is definitely not malevolent. Trust me when I tell you that there is a great difference between being in his presence and that of one of the Enemy's minions. Estel is as safe with Mithrandir as he can be anywhere."
Gilraen sighed again. "At least you and Glorfindel tell me the same thing. I cannot explain, however, why your words do not ease my heart."
"I should begin to wonder if you did not worry, little Naneth," he told her with a pat to her hand. "The times do grow darker."
"I worry for you and El too, you know," she added, giving herself a mental shake and bringing her other hand to press his.
"For me more than El, I should hope…" Elladan's eyes began to sparkle playfully. "In light of that, then I can hope that one day, you will change your mind about my offer…"
"You forget that I saw you and Aranor's daughter dancing around the pole the other day," Gilraen grinned back at him. "Don't toy with my affections like that when it is obvious that your eye has already strayed elsewhere. I do believe I have lost my chance with you."
One of his hands escaped her grasp to press against his chest, and his words were spoken in a tone of blatantly contrived feeling. "You wound me deeply, seeming to offer what you denied me before now that I have conceded victory to my adar and Glorfindel."
"You are a scoundrel, Elladan Elronnion," Gilraen said, laughing, "and you have managed to pull me from my dark mood with your wicked words."
"Have I indeed?" Elladan's smirk was supremely satisfied. "Then I have accomplished my purpose this afternoon. Is there any other manner in which I can serve you, Lady?"
"Never change, my friend," she said, feeling the chill of foresight rising at the back of her mind yet thankfully not gifting her with a vision this time. "I would ever want to count you among the very best of my friends in this life."
Her sudden shift in mood caught the Elf by surprise, and his eyebrows rose sharply before he bent and deposited a delicate kiss on her cheek. "I will be ever true to you, Gilraen, as a friend or whatever else you need me to be. Never you worry your head about that."
As he walked away, Gilraen let loose a deep breath of some relief, gave a final, worried glance out the glass doors at Estel, still deep in discussion with someone she now understood was a wizard, whatever that is, and returned to her original path of heading to the kitchens. Immersing herself with Aurin and the plans for the upcoming feast would be a good way to fill the rest of her day, and give her something else to do besides brood.
Gilraen knocked carefully on Elrond's office door, and opened it only after hearing the Elf within mutter his normal, "Come." Elrond looked up from his work, his brows knitting together at the sight of her. She knew she looked shocked and frightened, for indeed, that was exactly what she felt. "Gilraen?" He was on his feet and moving towards her quickly. "What has happened?"
Numbly she held out to him the short letter that had just been delivered to her:
To my daughter Gilraen,
What happened during the furlough Aragorn and Halbarad spent in that palace of yours over Mettarë? And why has your son packed up his gear and left the Dúnedain? What are we supposed to do with our Chieftain gone and with no heir at all this time?
I await an answer, daughter.
She watched his face grow slack with the same kind of shock and concern as she herself had felt, and then waited until he raised his eyes from the letter to meet hers. "Where is our son, Elrond? Where is Estel?"
That he had no answer for her at all settled a weight of dread in her soul, one that would not lift for a very long time.
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.