15. The End of the Dream - Part 1 of 2
The music Lindir and his student were weaving from the musician's corner of the Hall of Fire was spectacular, as usual, but it no longer was as entrancing or stimulating as it once had been. Gilraen lay aside her mending – one of the silken undershirts that would be given to an Imladrin warrior heading for the outer fences sometime soon – and, pulling her shawl a little tighter about her shoulders, rose and let her feet carry her out into the garden.
The moon above shone down with a bright, silver glow on the newly awakened trees and shrubs, the pale light kissing the delicate fresh stalks of grass just barely raising their heads from the ground. It was the evening of Estel's birthday, a day which for years now had been one of quiet worry and grieving. Never again would Gilraen wonder how Elrond had born the long years and decades of silence from his sons, for her own had been gone for over twenty years without a single word.
Only once, nearly a decade earlier, had she heard anything at all concerning him: the Lady Galadriel had sent a message to her unexpectedly, detailing a vision that she had received in her infamous mirror, and telling of Estel being cheered on as a victorious general… somewhere. She had been grateful to the Lady of Lothlórien, whom she had never met, for having sent word that Estel was indeed alive and evidently well. But still, she had grieved that Estel hadn't thought to send his own greeting.
"He is well," Elrond's deep voice spoke quietly from the shadows near the door, not quite startling her. "I would know it if he were not."
She should have known that he would be waiting for her out here. As the years had passed since Estel's strange disappearance, Glorfindel had slowly relinquished her company on those evenings when her mood would spiral into despair to Elrond, who understood all too well what she was going through. He was no fool; he was well aware that watching yet another birthday pass with no word was certain to cause her grief. "I know," she replied without turning all the way to look at him. "I hope you will forgive me if I tell you that it doesn't help much, my lord."
"You need not apologize or beg forgiveness. Knowing that my sons still lived never helped make their continued absence that much easier for me to bear either," he admitted, moving from the shadows to come to stand next to her. "But I offer my knowledge to you nonetheless, as it is the only comfort I have to give you; that, a shoulder to lean on if you wish, and an assurance that Estel loves you dearly. He will eventually return to us as long as his health and luck hold."
Gilraen looked up into the night sky, her eyes fixing on the bright star that was, if legend were true, the ship piloted by Elrond's father. Such things, accepted as simple facts by those who surrounded her, still seemed utterly fantastic. "But what is he doing in far-off lands, and why for so long?" she asked, her voice almost quarrelsome in asking a question she had posed to him hundreds of times already, a question for which she knew all too well he had no real answer. "Doesn't he have enough to do watching over his own people that he should seek out adventures beneath strange stars?"
"I am convinced that he has a purpose to what he does, even if we cannot penetrate his reasons from this distance. Estel is far too level-headed and practical to run off to see distant lands for no good reason other than simply adventuring. For one thing, he knows well that the Enemy still seeks…"
"Please don't." She turned and put a hand on an upper arm that stopped Elrond's spoken thoughts immediately. "I don't want to think of how close he may or may not be to the power that has ever bent its will on his destruction."
Elrond's hand covered hers. "And yet he survives despite this, Gilraen, and, if Galadriel's mirror is to be trusted, even thrives. I know I have told you this many times, but repetition does not make it any less true: we must trust to the training he received and to his native intelligence to keep him safe until he deems the time right to turn his steps homeward once more."
Finally she gave into the temptation to lean ever so slightly into his upper arm, to take whatever comfort she could from his physical proximity and constant strength. But this year, she had promised herself upon arising from her bed that morning, she would not weep; and although it was difficult, she restrained the urge to sniffle and bury her face and let the tears roll. The prolonged absence was no easier on Elrond than it was on her; it wasn't fair that he had to buoy her flagging spirits as well as his own on days such as his.
"Remind me to scold the Els the next time I see them for doing this to you many, many times," she stated vehemently, deliberately tossing her head in a show of spirit that was only halfway believable, even to her. "Leaving family behind for unreasonably long stretches of time, during which it is certain that they encounter dangers beyond imagination, is simply not acceptable behavior from well-behaved sons, even for those who completed their majority centuries ago."
Elrond chuckled softly and slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "I should like to see you chastise them for that, and watch their faces as they recognize why you chide them. Perhaps they would take such criticism better from you than from me."
"Criticism? Whom do you seek to put in their places, Gilraen?" Elladan had approached from the direction of the open door to the Hall of Fire.
She turned in the circle of Elrond's embrace. "You," she answered with a glower, "you and your brother both."
In the pale light of the moon, it was easy to see how Elladan's brows rose sharply at her statement. "Me? What did I do?"
Gazing into those ancient eyes, Gilraen understood why her fervid statement had made Elrond laugh. There was no way in all of Arda for a relative infant, as she was, to tell an immortal being thirty times her age about something they had done for centuries before she was even born. "Maybe not criticism," she hedged, and smiled inwardly to feel Elrond's hold on her tighten slightly, "but I would ask you to promise me something."
"What is that?" The brows had come back into a more safe zone, and his gaze was concerned yet amused.
"Promise me that you will not leave your father for decades at a stretch without sending him word from time to time to know you are well." A rebellious tear escaped her and slid onto her cheek. "Until you are a parent, you will have no idea how hard it is to bear the years of silence from one you love…"
Elladan's brow rose again, and his gaze rose with it immediately, no doubt to catch and hold that of his father. In the space of a little moment, the expression in his eyes had gone from amused to tragic and then to remorseful. By the time he looked down at her again, he was moving toward her. Unexpectedly, he reached out and claimed her from his father's arms and drew her into a tight embrace of his own.
"Gilraen, I cannot promise that either El or I will not once more end up in circumstances that make it very difficult to get word back to my adar, but I can promise you that I will try; that I will remember your pain this day and that too-long silences are… difficult... for those left behind" He rocked her to and fro a few times, making it all that much harder for her to keep a tight rein on her tears. "I am so sorry you must go through this, little Naneth." Then she felt him look up, and knew he was looking at Elrond again. "I am sorry that we gave you such pain, Adar. We were blinded by our own pain, and disregarded yours…"
"You have long since been forgiven, my son," Elrond replied softly, although Gilraen could hear just how much emotion he was holding back. "I am just grateful that your blindness has finally lifted."
"Never forget that I saw your father's face the first time he heard you laughing after you brought Estel and me here," she said, turning her face so that she wasn't speaking into his chest. Elrond was too quick to forgive, and she was feeling protective. "And I saw his tears, when you didn't. If you love your father at all, El, you won't do that to him again. Ever."
"You are right, I will not – at least, not deliberately or out of madness." She felt him brush his face against the hair at the top of her head. "If there is a way to do so, I will send word home on a far more regular basis. Will this satisfy?"
She nodded against the soft velvet of his doublet and then pushed herself away from him so she could look at him again. "It will do."
"Come." Elrond slid his arm around her waist. "It grows cold, and you do not weather the chills as you once did."
"And Lindir is truly doing some of his best music tonight," Gilraen added, rubbing a finger under her nose in a physical effort to rein in the emotions. "He deserves a more attentive audience, not one wandering about in the cold night air."
"Do you feel a little better?" Elrond asked her in a quiet voice.
She shook her head. "No, but I have found comfort in the kind people around me that will help me bear things again for a while without breaking." She nudged him gently with her shoulder. "Thank you."
"You are very welcome." He bent to whisper in her ear, "And thank you for defending me to my son. May the Belain grant that he actually heard you this night and keeps his promise to you."
She whispered back, "My pleasure, my lord."
The Midsummer festival passed again, celebrated with the feast of seasoned venison and fresh summer vegetables that was tradition for that time, as well as the spirited dances that brought the entire valley together around a bonfire in the middle of the courtyard. The late summer days grew long, hot and sticky, as they generally did as the season sizzled to a close and the long days of harvest drew nigh.
The sound of the welcoming song greeting someone making their way down the narrow trail into the valley floated in through the open library window and slowly sank into Gilraen's awareness. Distracted from transferring totals from her wax tablet to the formal report of the previous month's household business, she looked up and over at Erestor, who continued carefully reading and underlining parts of the document in front of him, apparently without giving the implications of the song the slightest thought. "Were we expecting visitors?"
"Not to my knowledge," he replied without shifting in the slightest except to continue to run his finger down to the next line of writing, "but then, it is nearly Laer. This is the season when we would get the greatest number of visitors, you know."
She glanced at her housekeeping ledger and wax tablet, then rose. "I'll be back shortly, as soon as I've satisfied my curiosity as to who approaches."
"I am certain Elrond would summon you if he knew you would either know or be interested in the visitor," the Chief Counselor stated dryly, finally raising his head and looking across the table at her with serious grey eyes. "You look to be nearly finished with your monthly report; why not spend the few minutes finalizing it before you dash off?"
Gilraen's face broke into an indulgent smile. "You really are a task-master, aren't you?"
"I merely understand how interruptions can make it extremely difficult to finish important tasks left pending," he replied with an arched brow. "Should these visitors be of interest to you, it will take hours, if not days, for you to return to your duties."
"Have I ever neglected my duties to Elrond or the House?" Gilraen demanded, deliberately putting her stylus in its slot and closing the top of the ink bottle.
Erestor slowly and deliberately placed his pen aside and turned his attention more fully to her. "To my knowledge, I have never heard Elrond complain of your being derelict in fulfilling your obligations," he answered with a sigh. "But you have been distractible of late. Knowing this, it would be better to set aside your curiosity – which you know very well will be satisfied soon enough one way or the other – and get that report ready to turn in."
"I will return as soon as I…"
"Are you willing to make a wager on that?" Erestor asked with a dry tone.
She blinked in surprise at the very idea. "And what would I have to wager that you would want?"
He gazed at her with narrowed eyes. "A day of your time helping me organize some of the more recent documents that we have received."
"But…" Gilraen stared at him with wide eyes. "What about Menester? Isn't he your assistant?"
"He is," Erestor said with a shallow and regal bow of the head. "But his time is occupied in other matters of late, leaving this task undone far longer than I would wish. So…" He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Do we have a wager?"
"That I will return directly and finish my report?"
"Yes. The moment you know the identity of our visitor, you return and finish your work."
"And if I don't, I owe you a day of my time sorting through papers."
"And what if I do return promptly? What do I win from you?"
A very small smile formed at the corners of his mouth. "Think, child. Have you nothing you would wish from me? A service? Perhaps finding a volume you have wanted to read…"
"The Lays of Beleriand?" Gilraen's mood lifted immediately. Glorfindel had been telling her of the beauty of the poetry in that volume for years, but she'd never been able to locate the book when searching the stacks on her own.
Erestor's eyes widened. "I would have thought you would have read that one already, perhaps not long after I had Estel read it and write a lay of his own in the same style."
"I read Estel's assignment, but by then you had already put the book back. Glorfindel, however, has been telling me tales…"
As she had expected, Erestor snorted softly at the very mention of the Battle Master's name, and Gilraen smiled. Perhaps someday she would be made privy to the reason behind their constant battle of wits and endless exchange of barbs. "He would tell tales…"
"Tales of the stories told in that book that I wasn't aware of," she continued as if he'd said nothing. "Since we seem to be wagering things of some value, perhaps you could find a copy of it…"
"Very well. A day's worth of your time organizing documents against an hour's worth of my time locating a copy of the Lays of Beleriand which can be taken outside the bounds of the library." He eyed her sternly. "Are we agreed?"
"We are." She stacked the wax tablets on top of the now closed household ledger, placed neatly at her place at the table, and rose. "I will see you in just a few moments then."
Erestor merely lifted his quill and began running his finger down the text of the document that still sat in front of him. "Perhaps. We have yet to see if that will come to pass."
"Only if my life experiences do not hold out my predictions as the most likely to occur." He looked up and finally smiled indulgently at her. "But then, I should not treat you as one of my students. Go on with you then, little one, before your curiosity makes you do things you know you should not do."
"Master Erestor." Gilraen did her best imitation of a proper Elven bow, her hand pressed to her heart, and then headed for the door with a light, quick step. It had been a good day, although quiet; having a little something out of the ordinary to break it up would be a good idea. And she would return quickly, because she really wanted to get a chance to read that book of poetry so she could discuss it knowledgeably with Glorfindel over lunch the next few days.
By the time she had arrived in the foyer, she could hear the answering song from whoever it was approaching the bridge over the Bruinen: a full-throated alto, accompanied with a rich baritone. Gilraen felt her heart turn over in shock and emotion when she recognized the latter voice, and she abandoned her dignity to gather up her skirts and run as fast as she could for the open door and the courtyard beyond.
Sliding to a halt on the portico, she could see that several others had been surprised into doing something very similar. Elrohir was coming around the corner of the stable at a trot, tossing leather traces onto a hook set into the building. From the training fields, she could see Glorfindel approaching at a dead run. And from behind her, she heard the whisper of robes and soft leather on the paving stones that told her that even Elrond himself had felt compelled to greet these newcomers.
"Estel!" she breathed as the hoof beats against the rocky trail beyond the walls came clear, and then two horses were trotting into the courtyard. In the front, in a silver-grey suede riding habit, was a radiant-looking Arwen, while following behind was Estel, looking very Elvish in a set of leather armor that gleamed as if newly-made. Gilraen ran past Arwen with her hands outstretched to her son. "Estel!" she cried as she threw herself at him the moment his feet hit the ground.
"Nana," he breathed, catching her up and holding her close. "I've missed you so!"
"No more than I've missed you! You were gone for so long…" Her throat choked as sobs of relief and frustration and pent-up anger all surged together.
His arms tightened. "I'm home, Nana, and I won't be going any further than our villages in The Angle and in Eriador. I'm ready to be Chieftain now. And I… we… have news…"
"Arwen, what in the name of the One have you done?" Elrond's voice exclaimed from behind her in a tone so stricken that Gilraen spun herself out of Estel's grasp to see what was wrong.
"Ada," Arwen had her hand out to her father, whose progress towards her had frozen at the bottom of the steps. "Please…"
Elrond's face had lost every last bit of color in it, and his expression was frantic. "What were you thinking? How could you…" As if suddenly aware that his daughter hadn't ridden into Imladris alone, he looked up and over at Estel, his face clouding over into something that resembled the rage that had filled her own father's face upon hearing of her intent to marry Arathorn. "You." The single word was in that hair-raising flat tone of voice that betrayed Elven fury.
"Ada…" Estel said and took a step towards his foster-father.
Elrond's hand whipped out, grasped Arwen's upper arm tightly and dragged her to him. "I will speak to you later," he said, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "Arwen, we will speak inside. Now." Not letting up on his grip on her arm, he virtually dragged Arwen with him back up the stairs and through the door of the House.
Gilraen turned to stare at her son and couldn't help but note the expression in his face as he watched Arwen and Elrond disappear into the House. She'd seen that kind of expression before, and it worried her even more. "What is going on?" she demanded.
"Nana…" he sighed, running a hand down his face in dismay. "Arwen and I…"
"What have you done?" Suddenly, the implications of the circumstances of his arrival in the company of Elrond's daughter came clear, and like Elrond, she took tight hold of his upper arm. "Estel, please don't tell me…"
"We're betrothed," he said in a tired voice, although the look in his eye as he looked back at her was anything but remorseful. If anything, it was defiant.
"What?" Gilraen was glad she was holding onto him, for her legs bent as if to dump her on the ground. "When? Where?"
"Yes, brother. When and where and how did you convince our sister to wed with you?" Elrohir's voice was tightly controlled, and he seemed to loom bigger and more threatening as he walked over to join them.
Estel eyed his foster-brother carefully, then turned to reply to Gilraen. "It was a few days before… It was in Lothlórien. I had stopped there on my way here, thinking only to purchase more supplies and rest in a talan where I wouldn't have to sleep with one eye open for orcs. The Lady Galadriel was generous, however; she sent me a fine set of clothing to wear to dinner and told me that the view of her realm was best from a hill named Cerin Amroth. When I got there, she… Arwen… was there… and we talked for a while… and…" He swallowed hard and gazed at her earnestly, clearly imploring her to understand. "The more we spoke, the more we realized… or the more she realized…"
"So you did not go there deliberately to seduce her, at least," Elrohir stated with a sad sigh. "But you still did nothing to prevent her from making her choice."
"I… I love her, brother," Estel said very quietly, "I have for years, ever since I saw her for the first time. And I was delighted that, for some reason, she seemed to suddenly see into me this time and find something she could love as well. I admit we spoke about what this would mean – that she would be giving up her immortality – but she told me that after all the centuries she'd spent lonely, a short time together with the one who spoke to her heart would be preferable to meeting the End of Days alone. She warned me, however, that you two and Ada wouldn't be happy at all, which is why we came together to tell you."
"What were you thinking? I told you to leave off your dreams of her years ago," Gilraen said in frustration, shaking her head at her son's obstinacy. "And Elrond himself told me he warned you to stay away from her long ago. And now…" Her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, Estel! What have you done?"
"I have found the person I want by my side for the rest of my life, Nana," he said simply. "And she feels the same way about me. I remember the stories you told me about you and my adar, and how Dírhael objected…"
"That's different! This is more than simple disapproval. Arwen is Elvenkind, Estel!!"
"Not anymore." Elrohir's voice was bleak. "Father saw it the moment he laid eyes on her, and so did I. Arwen has made her choice, and given up the life of the Firstborn. It is done and cannot now be undone."
Gilraen stared. "What?"
He gazed back at her in frustration. "You have forgotten that the blood that runs through you and Estel that make you family is the blood of my Uncle Elros – Ada's brother. He, like Lúthien before him and now Arwen, chose to set aside his Elven heritage to embrace the life of the Second-born. He died more than an Age ago."
"I hadn't forgotten…" she complained.
"Oh, Ada is not going to take this news well at all," Elrohir said thoughtfully, looking back over his shoulder at the House. "This will hit him at least as hard as Naneth's sailing did."
"But Arwen's not dying…"
"Yes, Gilraen, she is… now. Every moment she exists, every breath she takes, is one tiny step closer to her death – she who was born to endure to the very end." Elrohir turned a bleak eye to Estel. "Arwen is right: El is not going to be much happier about this than Ada either, so do not be surprised if you do not find much welcome in your return home this time, little brother, and little celebration from anyone here. Where you see a continuation of life in your future joining with my sister, the Elves can see only a life cut far too short. I would blame you entirely for this, but Arwen is no fool. She knew all too well what she did when she did it. You did not make the choice for her, nor did you force her hand. As much as he may rage and despair, Ada knows there is nothing he can do now."
Estel swallowed hard. Gilraen felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck at the thought of Estel having to face an Elrond in a full fury. She had seen the Master of Imladris angry only a few times before, and knew his temper was nothing to want aimed in one's own direction.
Dinner that evening was a quiet and somber affair, with neither Elrond nor Arwen in attendance and neither El in a particularly good mood. Nobody was surprised, therefore, when everyone eschewed filing into the Hall for Fire for music or storytelling in favor of seeking their own chambers. Estel followed Gilraen to her suite and finally began to tell her of what he had done for all those years – of the white city of stone in the far south, of the brutal Corsairs and their campaigns of terror against the sea-folk in those southern lands, of the horse-lords on the grasslands of Rohan, a land she'd never heard of before.
He spoke with her late into the night, telling of battles he'd been part of, of the politics that had drawn him in and from which he then had to extricate himself. He spoke of lands even further to the south, where the skin of the citizens was burned dark, where the Dark Lord held a heavy sway over the rulers. He spoke of lands to the uttermost east, and the wildernesses that lay between the pockets of civilization. He spoke movingly, as if each place had come to hold some meaning, some worth, to him.
And when he was finished, all Gilraen could do was ask him, "Why?"
"Why what, Nana?"
"Why did you go – and why did you stay away for so long?"
Estel sighed heavily and ran his hand down his face in what she could see was becoming a habitual gesture of frustration and weariness. "It was brought to my attention that if I am ever to hope to rule over others, I need to become familiar with the many flavors and textures of the hearts of men; and what better way to learn these things than to travel widely."
"Mithrandir." Gilraen spat the name, having long since suspected the wizard's complicity in Estel's sudden decision to vanish. "He told you this."
"He spoke most convincingly of my having need to educate myself on a broader scale than even Master Erestor had managed," he allowed slowly.
"Do not the Dúnedain have such a plentiful variety of hearts to learn? Was it necessary to be gone for so long that even Halbarad begins to despair of ever seeing you again?"
Estel's look at her grew sharp and wary. "Halbarad? He has?"
"His mother wrote to me and told me of the mood of the Rangers. Halbarad's fear is a common one in The Angle, and the morale amongst the men there is flagging badly." She watched him for a long, silent moment. "You were gone over twenty years, my son."
"I know this…"
"But you are back now," she continued, deliberately using a more contented tone of voice. "My father will be more than grateful to turn over your duties back to you. He has written at least three times a year, complaining that he is too old to be leading patrols."
"I am back now, and I will be handling my duties properly from now on, I swear it," he promised.
It was her turn to give him a sharp look of skepticism. "No more adventures off in unnamed lands?"
"No," he shook his head. "That time is finished now." He yawned. "It is good to be home, Nana. I'm sorry I worried you so."
"I think it would not be so bad if you didn't come home having done exactly what your father and I both told you not to do." She frowned worriedly. "You have not seen him angry, Estel, not as I have. He has only been displeased with you before now, and I have reason to understand the difference, where you do not."
"I know how Dírhael gets…"
Gilraen shook her head. "My father's temper is a bad one, this is true, but there is nothing more frightening than an Elf who is truly, truly angry. I have seen such things only very rarely since I've lived here, and never were you around – for which I was grateful at the time."
"I will endure whatever he feels necessary to say to me, Nana," Estel answered with quiet patience, "because Arwen is worth whatever price I have to pay. Please understand: I don't regret having met her again and fallen in love with her all over again. I will never regret it. She is…" His eyes got soft for a moment, and seemed to see only an inner vision. "She completes me." He refocused on her. "And I think you understand that."
Whatever had happened to him in those far away lands had mellowed him like storage in an oaken barrel would age and refine good Dorwinion. His gaze had a depth to it now that it hadn't had before, and Gilraen found herself shaken to realize that the son in front of her was a mature, experienced, seasoned man now. Gone forever was the innocent child, or even the naïve youth. The Estel before her was a decorated war hero in some of those faraway places, a proven leader of men.
What was more, she knew exactly the emotions he was feeling. She'd felt them herself, years ago as a maiden suddenly being courted by the Chieftain's heir before she'd even achieved her majority. Arathorn had been the other half of her soul, and had completed her. How could she be angry or disappointed when Estel had been lucky enough to find his other half?
She could only hope that all this time away, all this patience and wisdom that had suddenly awoken in her son, would work to his advantage in the end; because in the back of her mind, she could feel the pressure of a gathering doom – and she wasn't certain that it emanated from any Dark Lord.
Adar – Father (fam. Form – Ada)
Belain – the Valar (the Powers – the Gods)
Laer - summer
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.