16. The End of the Dream - Part 2 of 2
Frantic knocking on her suite door brought Gilraen out of a less than restful sleep when the sun had not yet topped the eastern cliffs. "Just a moment," she called, dragging her blanket around her thin sleeping gown for warmth and propriety's sake, and then hurried to the door. Outside, Glorfindel stood in his armor. "What is it?" she cried, shaken. "Why…?"
"Arwen has insisted that I accompany her back to Lothlórien immediately, and that we leave in but a few moments," he explained in hushed but hurried words. "I wanted to tell you that she sends warning to you that her father is in high dudgeon, and to avoid him until his temper has cooled."
"Elrond?" Still half-asleep, she was having trouble following his thoughts. "He's angry, I know, but…"
"She said that she has never seen him in such a state before," he continued, grasping Gilraen's upper arm gently yet firmly. "She worries about Estel's interview with him this morning, but cannot bring herself to remain in the house at this point. She and Estel spoke together late last night, and they decided that this would be the best way for them to act at this point: that she return to Lothlórien for a time, until Elrond has made peace with what has happened."
"What is… Why is…" Gilraen could hardly formulate her questions.
"He is not accepting that Arwen has made a choice of which he does not approve, Míreth. I do not know what he intends to tell Estel when he sees him later this morning, but Arwen worries."
That penetrated. "Elrond would never harm Estel," she exclaimed with conviction. "He sees him as a son."
"A son who has betrayed his trust," Glorfindel warned softly. "Walk carefully these halls until my return, meleth, please! Do nothing that would set him off again. Elrond's temper burns hotter than that of most Elves, and is nothing to toy with. Promise me!"
"I promise," she agreed easily, suddenly wishing that he were remaining close. "How long will you be gone?"
He sighed. "We are a small party, but the road is perilous. I should be no more than eight weeks gone."
"Hurry then, and hurry back." Gilraen slipped her arms around his neck and gave him a tight hug. "And tell Arwen…" She hesitated. What does one tell the betrothed of one's son when the betrothal itself was evidently causing so much pain and grief? "Tell her I wish her well." As distressed as this development was making her, she had seen that look in Estel's eye that had once resided in Arathorn's when thinking or speaking about her. And she'd seen a similar look in Arwen's.
Glorfindel's arms wrapped about her and squeezed her hard against the shell of his armor, and he dropped a kiss on her cheek before releasing her to step back. "Be well and be careful. Remember what I told you."
The pressure of that gathering doom surged in the back of her mind as she watched him stalk quickly down the corridor, heading she knew for the courtyard and Asfaloth. Too awake now to even attempt to lie down again, she retreated behind her door and made her way to her private bath to prepare for a day that held far too many questions and worries.
Entering the library, Gilraen paused in the doorway before approaching Erestor, who sat at their table, already with his first document sitting in front of him. He glanced up into her face and immediately put down his quill. "Is all well with you?"
"You've heard the news?"
The grey eyes that watched her were sad. "Indeed. I doubt there is a single person in Imladris who has not." He tipped his head to the side. "I have also heard that Arwen has already departed."
"Yes. She asked Glorfindel to take her home to Lothlórien."
Strangely enough, Erestor winced slightly at the mention of the far away woods being Arwen's "home." He sighed. "And Estel?"
Gilraen made her way to her seat and sank into it. "I don't know. From what Glorfindel said, Elrond is to speak to him this morning. Arwen worries…"
"She should." The two words were brittle and harsh, but the stern expression quickly faded to concern. "You are pale."
"I worry too."
"I think this would be an excellent moment to point out to you that you did not return to your report promptly," he pointed out with a quick glance at the wax tablet, inkwell, quill and household ledger all sitting exactly where she had left them.
Surprised that he would even remember such a thing at a time like this, Gilraen could only stare at him mutely, her mouth agape.
"Mind you, I am well aware that you had good reason for not returning, but reasons and excuses were not part of the wager we made," Erestor continued implacably. "Therefore, you owe me a day's worth of your time."
"Peace, child." His expression softened. "We will agree upon a day and time for you to make good on your debt, but not until your heart is better settled than it is this day. It may be that this debt to me will work for the good, for it will give you something else to think about instead of allowing your imagination to run completely amok."
"Glorfindel warned me to stay clear of Elrond." She put the statement out, and then waited for his reaction and response. "Arwen told him she'd never seen her father so angry."
She didn't have long to wait. The grey eyes grew wary, and then looked away. "Glorfindel is correct to be concerned and warn you. Elrond's temper fully displayed is enough to shake even the hearts of Kings." He folded his hands together and laid them atop his document before looking back at her again. His mien reminded her of when he had lectured Estel years ago. "You may not believe this, but while Elrond was the twin who found the most comfort in the habits and slower life of the Edhil, he was also the more… explosive… of the two brothers, temper-wise. Elros, for all his love of snap decisions and the speed at which the Second-born live their lives, had far more patience with the people around him. Elrond never failed to have expectations and then react badly when the others did not meet them – sometimes to the point that one group did not speak to the other for years, until time had all but removed the reasons for rancor and Elrond could at last forgive them for wishing to live their own lives."
Gilraen's eyes widened. "Really? In all the years I've known him…"
"Ah." Erestor raised a single forefinger and cut short her statement. "But you have known him but for a very short time, in our way of thinking, little one. What is more, you have never truly seen him fully angry, for he learned an Age ago to control that temper as much as possible. I have known him for the better part of two Ages, and I have seen him lose his temper completely. It is not something I would want to see again.
"Elrond's argument with Isildur over the fate of the Enemy's Ring when still reeling from the loss of his King and best friend – the consequences of that which we still face this day – proved to him once and for all that fully exercising his temper could be an extreme liability, one he could no longer afford. Then, with Gil-Galad gone to Bannoth, Elrond became the de-facto leader of the Golodhrim in Ennor, as Gil-Galad had named him his heir. He had made this place a refuge and stronghold, and in the centuries of this Age since that terrible day has been responsible for the welfare of many beyond his immediate reach.
"Do you never wonder that it is this library to which all information about the Enemy travels?" His grey gaze grew serious. "Here, with our policy of ever sheltering any who are in need, regardless of race or circumstance, we are the recipients of information that other, strictly Elven, realms would not be. It is our responsibility to then see that this information is received by those who would most benefit from it. To direct this task takes a level of patience and tolerance foreign to Elrond's nature, for people of all races – including our own – tend to be head-strong and stubborn, more often than not doing the exact thing that is the least wise for all concerned. And he must face this stubbornness and stupidity and still make these actions work for the good of all."
Erestor sighed. "For a very long time, his patience has been a deliberate practice, and one he must work at constantly to maintain, even now. If, as Arwen says, his ire is fully aroused by her unfortunate and sad choice of fate, then you would be best served delivering that…" he nodded at the stack of items that comprised her pending household report, "…at a moment when you know for certain that he is out of his office."
"Surely he wouldn't…" she began, only to interrupted again.
"Or, better still, give the report to one of the Els, who no doubt are the only ones who may approach him safely at the moment." In a rare gesture of comfort, Erestor reached out across the table to lay a hand over hers. "Please. Trust those of us who have known him the longest, and follow Glorfindel's advice. At least he had the good sense to warn you before leaving."
"What about Estel?" she asked again, now thoroughly frightened. Her first impression at meeting the Master of Imladris all those many years ago had been correct after all: Elrond was an intimidating man for good reason. The gwaedh-vellon who had helped her raise her son had another, darker side to his nature, and one to be feared – and it was this man who would be dealing with their son in but a little while!
Erestor shook his head. "I cannot predict his reactions, Gilraen. His temper is fickle and can take many forms. I suggest you finish that report quickly, so that you might be available to comfort Estel when his interview is concluded." He made a wry, resigned face. "He will most likely need you. In fact…" He set aside the document he had set for his morning reading and reached across the table for the ledger and all that was stacked on it. "Go on with you. I shall finish this for you, for you are far too distraught."
"Go, child." His face was genuinely kind. "You will not be able to concentrate until you know what transpires between Elrond and Estel, and you know it. Come back when you do, if you are in any shape to do so, and you may take back your obligation."
Not entirely certain that this was the best idea, Gilraen nodded and rose from her seat again. "Thank you, my friend."
"Be of good hope, Gilraen. All may not be as dire as you expect."
Somehow, she doubted that. Nevertheless, she was grateful for the opportunity to go back to her suite and splash some cold water on her face. Hopefully it would help her clear her mind and prepare herself for whatever would come next. But that opportunity evaporated as, in turning the corner into the family wing, she met Estel coming towards her dressed once more in his armor, his sword at his waist, his bow and quiver on his back, and his pack in his hands. "Estel?" she asked with a worried frown. "Don't you have an appointment to speak with your father?"
"I already have. It was a very short interview, thankfully. He is very angry. And you were right: I have never seen him angry before, and it is a frightening sight."
The look on his face as he spoke chilled her. "What did he say?"
"He let me know of his feelings about our betrothal in no uncertain terms, and set the criteria I must meet before he would agree to a marriage." Estel's tone mirrored, no doubt, the cold, merciless tone of the Elf he had just spoken to.
"But…" Gilraen waved vaguely at his garb. "Where are you going now?"
Estel looked at her, his gaze filled with pain. "Nana, I have been gone from my duties with the Dúnedain for over twenty years. And for these past few weeks, I have been avoiding returning to those duties by staying with the Elves or traveling with Arwen. The time has come for me to go home and do what I was born to do."
"Now?" The idea that not only was Arwen gone that morning, but that Estel wouldn't even rest a few days before setting off again himself was downright shocking. "Already?"
"To delay any longer would be to do our people a further disservice, Nana. I have placed their needs behind my own for too long, and the time has come to rectify that error." He bent and dropped a kiss on her cheek. "I will write you regularly, I promise. At breakfast, El told me of your discussion with him the other night, and he told me that I would answer to him if I didn't. I already have Ada angry at me; I don't need the Els' temper flaring at me as well."
"Oh, be safe and be well, my son, and come back for a visit when you feel you have the time to do so!" Gilraen wrapped her arms around her son – her very tall, very grown-up son who looked far too much like Arathorn in that moment – and squeezed hard. "Give my love to your grandparents and your cousin. I would have sent letters with you, had I known you were going to leave so soon."
"Navaer, Nana. Be well." With a quick hug of his own, Estel stepped around her and walked with a heavy step through the Hall of Fire and toward the front door.
Bereft and lost, with her son leaving, Glorfindel gone, and Elrond too dangerous to approach, she made her way out into the garden beyond the Hall of Fire and found a friendly bench on which to sit. Around her, the first blooms of summer were already filling the air with delicate perfume, but it made no difference. Estel was back safely, but everything else seemed to have gone suddenly very wrong.
Gilraen had never felt so insecure in her own home before. Life in Imladris moved on at its normal, sedate pace, but did so without the obvious guidance of its Master. Elrond, much to her relief, remained secluded in his office for the greater share of the time, and took all of his meals in his private suite. The only ones who were brave enough to visit him regularly in his lairs were his sons, who often carried with them questions needing the Master's answer and returned with replies.
Without Glorfindel's comforting presence in the House to offset the tension of Elrond's continued temper, Gilraen found herself grateful for the gentle manner in which both of the Els treated her. Elladan informed her that he was well aware of the fact that she had warned Estel away from Arwen more than once, and neither he nor Elrohir held her in the least bit responsible for what was very clearly considered a new tragedy in a family that had borne far too many such events.
Evenings in the Hall of Fire were once more filled with music, but it tended to have a sad overtone to it. Lindir, it seemed, had long been smitten by Arwen, and her betrothal to Estel had hit the harpist quite hard. One or the other of the Els made it a point of being Gilraen's escort in the evening, walking in the gardens and talking with her if she didn't wish to sit and listen to the music any longer. Both Maeniel and Aurin took extra time during the daytime to make certain she knew that, although their disappointment in both Estel and Arwen ran deep, they still considered her a good friend.
As Erestor had predicted, the mental discipline required to assist in the organization of documents that was owed him proved an excellent way of occupying her mind so she didn't worry too much. In fact, Gilraen found the task enjoyable enough, especially since she was now working directly with Erestor in his area of expertise, that she gave him far more than a single day's worth of her time. The somber Counselor's dry wit and sharp mind buoyed her mood, as did the gift of a copy of the Lays of Beleriand.
Nevertheless, Gilraen felt Elrond's absence greatly. Avoiding him, knowing him to be grieving, was difficult. Several times she was tempted to simply brave the moods that had driven most of the rest of the staff away in order to offer him comfort, but caution and a sense that Glorfindel and Erestor wouldn't have warned her against such a thing without good reason prevailed.
Eventually, however, the next monthly report was completed and needed to be tendered; but this time, she could find no sons of Elrond to run interference for her. She voiced her quandary to Erestor, who told her that the Els had been called away unexpectedly to one of the outlying settlements for the day. His advice to her was to simply watch and, when she was fairly certain the office was unoccupied, place the report on the desk and depart immediately.
After supper that evening, then, instead of settling in the Hall of Fire with her sewing for Maeniel, Gilraen went back to her suite, collected the report, and then walked slowly into the administrative wing of the House. The door to Elrond's office was slightly ajar, and the space beyond appeared utterly dark. She breathed a sigh of relief at the thought that he had retired to his rooms for the evening and moved quietly forward and pushed the door open.
She had been in this room many, many times over the years of her residency, so she didn't need much more light than the bit of torchlight from the corridor to show her where the desk was. She had just put the report on the desk and had turned to leave when a sudden flare of a strange, blue light in the corner of the room startled her. She whirled to find herself gazing at Elrond, who was seated in one of the comfortable chairs that normally sat in front of the hearth. The unusual light came from a crystal that she had always imagined purely decorative as it sat in a small bracket on the wall.
"I wondered when you would become brave enough to come in," he said quietly, a strange light flickering in his eyes.
"I'm sorry to have disturbed you," she stammered, backing away, truly frightened of him for the first time since her first meeting with him. "I'll just…"
"Come in and sit down, Gilraen," was the soft command. "But please close the door first. You and I need to talk."
That strange light in his eyes didn't flicker at all as he waited for her to turn and comply. With knees nearly knocking, she did as she was bid and then made her way over to her normal seat in front of his fire. She perched herself on the very edge of the chair with her hands knotted in her lap to keep them from visibly shaking and her gaze firmly fixed on them. The very atmosphere of the room had become charged with an energy she didn't understand, making her wish she dared jump up and run away.
"I am certain that you have been made aware of what has happened?" His voice remained soft, but it had a hard, flat tone that made the hairs on the back of her head rise. Yes, Estel had been right – as had Glorfindel and Erestor: Elrond was infuriated and not bothering to hide it, and it was one of the most terrifying things she'd ever experienced.
Her voice could barely rise above a whisper. "Yes."
"What is your response to this?"
Oh, what could she give him as an answer that wouldn't make things worse for both her and Estel? "I have warned him…"
There was a soft snarl from the corner. "Much good your warnings have done."
"You warned him as well…" The silence that grew between them suddenly told her that that had not been a wise thing to say. "I'm sorry…" she began.
"It seems that I have underestimated the level of folly to which the heirs of my brother's line are still capable of attempting." He rose to his feet and had never seemed to tower over her threateningly so much as he did in that moment. "As ever, mortals cannot seem to resist reaching for immortality…"
"Estel doesn't think…" Gilraen began.
"Do you honestly think that I am going to hand over my daughter – my immortal daughter – to a mere mortal from a weak and dissolute line to wed her and bed her? That I am going to allow her to give away her immortality for a few years of conjugal contentment?" He began to pace with quick, angry steps, his voice tight, flat and clearly outraged. "You people reach for too much, I say!"
"But…" Gilraen thought better of reminding him that, evidently, Arwen had taken that decision away from him. What had Elrohir said? "It is done and cannot now be undone."
"Arrogant manling, presuming to greatness by stealing that which is not rightfully his to take!"
There was nothing to say. It was obvious that he was doing anything but listening to her, and had decided to voice his anger and frustrations regardless of reason or understanding. She had weathered a few lectures from her father in much the same vein, so she merely twisted her hands in her lap.
"Here I have nursed an orcling in my bosom, raising it as my own and bestowing on it the benefits of an Elven upbringing. I should have known better, realized that the day would come when that orcling would rise up and strike a blow…" His voice caught, giving her a quick glimpse at the devastating grief he was struggling with. The moment didn't last however. "And then there is you. I gave to you the duties and position once held by my own wife, thinking that I could trust you…"
That stung, and Gilraen finally lifted her head to gaze at him in dismay, flinching when that eerie fire at the back of his gaze had grown wilder and hotter. "What have I done to betray your trust?"
"He is your son." He paused in front of her, his glare continuing to pour down the fire of his anger on her.
The simple statement was enough to make her draw in a breath of sudden pain. "Your son," not "our son." With four words, he had repudiated a relationship that she had thought he treasured as much as Estel did – one that he had assumed only with her permission, knowing how much it had hurt her at the time. What was more, he had put her into the position of a petitioner, beneath him, who had evidently disappointed him as well simply through her relationship to Estel.
"Silence! If I wish you to contribute a thought, I will request it." He resumed his pacing, the material of his robes swishing softly in an angry sound, betraying his agitation. "Both of you have taken and taken from me, from my House, from my people – time, materials, food, clothing. And I gave it willingly, thinking that by doing so I would be helping the causes of Light. And now, just see what catering to mortal leeches has brought me!"
"That is not correct, and you know it. I have ever done every task you have appointed as mine," she answered, holding her head up proudly, knowing she told the truth. "I have never turned aside from anything you asked."
"Except to keep your scheming son from betraying me by trapping my daughter into making a choice she should never have made!" he fired back at her. "You are his mother…"
"And he has been gone for over twenty years!" she exclaimed, finally finding her voice. This was more than mere venting, and deserved challenge. "Estel is grown and a master of his own mind; he listens to me, to you, to Halbarad, to Dírhael, and then does what he feels is best. His decisions are his own!"
The dark brows soared, and Elrond's eyes flared dangerously. "You believe that this is 'for the best?' For whom, I might ask?"
"What I believe is immaterial. You seem to be ignoring the fact that Arwen could have said…"
"You know nothing! I ignore nothing!" He wiped away her burgeoning statement with a violent wave of the hand. "Arwen is besotted! She has made the most important decision she had to make on the basis of… what? Her infatuation with a man whose very existence will cease to be in what is to us a blink of the eye?"
"But that's the point, isn't it?" As forceful and frightening as he was, she would no longer take Elrond's abuse tamely, nor allow him to abuse either Estel or Arwen for a choice that was theirs, as reasoning adults, to make. "She has chosen – and nothing you can do will ever change that."
The glowing fire in his eyes grew even as his brows lowered. "It matters not. I say she will not wed your son – nor any arrogant and presumptive little mortal with nothing more to his name than a rough-hewn hut in the mountains and a spot of reputation and authority over a scattered and demoralized people. Arwen is royalty, and I have decreed that she shall wed only with royalty. If your son hopes to see her as his wife, he will have to rule over all the lands his forefathers have lost in the last Age."
"What?" Gilraen stared.
"Only the man who both wears the winged crown of Gondor and holds the white rod of Arnor is acceptable as a husband for my Undómiel." Elrond's glowing eyes narrowed. "And we know how much chance there is of that, do we not?"
Did he not realize that by forcing these conditions, he was jeopardizing any chance that his daughter might have to enjoy love and joy in her life, especially if she were no longer mortal, as Elrohir claimed? "Be reasonable…"
He drew himself up as tall as he could and gazed down at her with disdain. "I need be no such thing, and choose not to be. Those are my terms. Both your son and my daughter have heard them and accept them. Do you intend to dispute my right to act in my daughter's best interest?"
"Is that what you're doing now? Does visiting your anger on me help your daughter's best interest in any way?" She glared back at him. Surely he must hear reason eventually, shouldn't he?
"You are as responsible for this outrage as your son is," he stated flatly, Elven rage never more clearly expressed. "And for the first time in my life, I find myself wishing that my sons had never befriended your husband while he was here, so that I would never have had to watch my beautiful girl choose a life where she will never see her mother again, where the day will come when her life is spent. She was born to live to the end of all things!"
Gilraen stood finally, having had enough. "I am no more responsible for my son's choices as a grown man than you are for your daughter's," she spat back. "And if you cannot see that, then I pity you, Elrond Eärendilion, because your attitude has already driven your daughter from your side." She turned and started towards the door. "I've heard enough. This interview is over."
"Do you hope to convince me to change my decision by daring to leave before I give you permission?" he spat at her bitterly.
"Hope?" Gilraen spun about and faced him, no longer afraid of him but offended and hurt beyond words by his attitude and utter lack of reason. Where, o where, had the loving friend and mentor that had worked with her to help her raise her son gone? This… creature… wore his face, but the resemblance stopped there. "Onen I Estel Edain, Elrond. Ar le. U-chebin estel anim.* You know it, and I know it. One day, perhaps, you'll remember it." She turned on her heel and continued towards the door again.
"I wish my sons had never brought you or yours to my door."
Again his words made her hesitate. She was beginning to shake inside, and every statement he made now only made matters worse. "I wish the same at the moment," she shot back without turning, pulling the door open again.
"I have not yet given you permission to leave!" He sounded surprised at her audacity.
Gilraen paused in the now-open door, turning her head just enough that she could see him in the dim, eerie blue light from that crystal on the wall. "Like Arwen, I do not need your permission to live my life as I choose. However, allow me to remove a source of irritation from your presence, my lord, since I have only managed to make your ire grow in the course of our conversation."
With that, she closed the door with audible finality and made for her suite, willing herself not to let any sign of her distress be seen by any of the staring staff she met along the way. Oh! Elven hearing was very good; and no doubt word of this clash would circulate through the household staff in no time. It didn't matter, however. For the first time in a very long time, the murmurings of the Elves around her no longer were her concern.
She would wait for the Els to return, and then she would act. She knew what had to be done.
Elladan stared at her in shock and dismay. "You want us to do what?"
"You heard me," Gilraen told him stiffly. "I believe the time has come for me to return to my people. I know that you and El were intending on going back out to The Angle soon; I wondered if I could beg you and your brother to escort me home on your way?"
"What has happened?" he demanded, drawing her further away from the house and into a secluded niche near the statue of Celebrían at the very edge of the garden. "El and I leave the House for but a little time, and when we come home, we begin to hear rumors among the staff that you and my adar argued two evenings ago…"
Gilraen steadied herself with difficulty and then gave him an even gaze. "Will you allow me to ride with you back to my village?"
"Will I…? Of course, you can r… If you think that either I or El would allow anyone else to…" Elladan sputtered into silence, his grey eyes frantic. "But this is your home, Gilraen. Your life has been here, your friends are all here!"
"My home is with my parents, where I lived with Arathorn for those few years," she told him quietly. "I have come to understand that better of late, as well as learned that the time has come that I return to where I belong before I am too old to be of any use."
Elladan gave a short, bitter laugh. "You are still young and strong, and you know it. You are but what – sixty, sixty-five? Barely an adult, by our measure."
"I'm seventy-two, and you should know how rude it is to ask a Dúnadaneth her age," she snapped back.
"What of Glorfindel?" he demanded. "Can you not wait until he returns to…"
She gazed at him in mild frustration. "Can you wait until he returns before you leave?"
The dark head slowly shook. "You know we cannot. We promised Dírhael…"
"Then I must leave when you do, must I not?"
Elladan rubbed his chin and paced, then halted with a stern look in his eye. "We do not have the time to put together a wain for all your possessions…"
"I have need of very little," she replied. "What I will take will be little more than a bundle or two of my clothing and a very few small items – not much more than what I arrived with, to be honest. The rest…" Gilraen sighed. "Perhaps another can make use of it here, as I will have no further need of it."
"What of Estel?"
She blinked. "What do you mean?"
"He will expect to find you here when next he returns…"
"When next his duties allow him the leisure of time away from his people, you mean?" Gilraen shook her head. "No doubt you will tell Dírhael of my return long before Estel thinks to come back; and so he will hear the news from his grandfather that I am returned and know better than to look for me here." She gazed at him sadly. "The matter at hand is that it is time for me to return where I belong."
"You belong here."
"No, Elladan," she whispered quietly, working hard not to remember everything that had brought her to this terrible decision. "I don't. Not anymore."
Erestor stood staring out the library window, his hands clasped behind him, as he had been since she had interrupted his work to give him her news. He had listened to her reasons without comment, supporting neither her argument nor Elrond's. Now, with nothing left to say, Gilraen waited for his response. At long last, he heaved a heavy sigh. "This is not wise, little one. When one makes such a precipitous decision in the heat of sharp emotion…"
"Wise or not, this is what must be," she replied gently. "The Els depart tomorrow, and I will go with them. But I didn't want to leave without giving you a farewell – and a thank you for all you have done for me over the years."
"Have you spoken with Elrond since…"
"No, and I don't intend to." No, she wouldn't speak to Elrond again. Something vital had irreparably torn during that painful hour she'd spent in his darkened office; she wouldn't risk him doing damage to anymore of her being. She was done being vulnerable to him. "I'm certain that he knows what I'm doing by now, or will know soon enough. Elladan said that he himself heard rumors of our encounter from the staff. No doubt Master Elrond will hear rumors of my departure from the same source."
Finally he turned to her, his grey eyes filled with sorrow. "Glorfindel will be devastated that you did not at least wait for him to return from Lothlórien."
"I can't wait for him. If I wish to travel with the Els, I must leave now – tomorrow morning. Glorfindel will understand."
"But if you could just wait, I am certain that Glorfindel and I would be just as willing to provide you an escort, if you are that determined…"
"Erestor," she sighed sadly, "No. I cannot stay here. Not now, not after…"
"Have you not thought that Elrond might even now be regretting his temper and the words that he said to you in anger? Perhaps, if you gave him but a little time to get over his shock and upset, he would…"
"He may regret his words now, but he meant them when he said them," she replied dully. "It took me a long time to learn to understand even a small part of the way an Elf thinks, and this much I know for certain: he told me the truth as he knew it in that moment, regardless the cost. In my time here, I've learned to prize and honor truth over convenient falsehoods, even when the truth hurts. And you yourself told me that it often took years for him to forgive those who disappointed him. No, I've made my decision, and I stand by it. My father will be thrilled that I have finally come to my senses and am ready to take up my duties as mother of the Chieftain."
"You have duties here…"
"…which were yours for centuries before I came, which you are more than capable of handling when I'm gone, and which would be yours again anyway in the end were I to live out my life here. You're not Estel's instructor anymore, so the extra load that was given as the official reason I assumed those tasks no longer exists. Just think, all the computations for the weekly and monthly reports will be done in proper Elvish from the start again now - and not on a wax tablet and then transliterated with all the opportunities for error."
Gilraen found it suddenly hard to look him in the eye, for his expression at the mention of their long-standing difference of opinion was tragic. "Is there nothing I can say or do to convince you to change your mind or at least postpone your departure?" he offered in a bleak tone.
She shook her head. "I am going to miss you," she whispered, "more than I thought I would."
At last he stepped forward and opened his arms to gather her close. "And I will miss you greatly, little one. You have been a bright light in a darkening sky for me, at the very least, whether you believe it or not. I pray the Belain are gracious and merciful to you, and the stars light your path, wherever you walk, from this day forward."
"The stars guide you always, my friend, wherever you walk, on this side of the sea or th…" Gilraen had to swallow a sob. Erestor had been more than a colleague. He had been a defender, a friend, a teacher, a confidante, a co-conspirator. Through him, she had learned a great deal about what it meant to be immortal, and to be mortal in the company of immortals. She would miss their long talks while doing the household ledgers and reports, when the topics would range from history or philosophy to humor and anecdotes. She knew, in the depths of her heart, she would never see him again.
"Shhhh…" She felt him lean his cheeks against the top of her head. "This is not the end of our friendship, never fear. There will be letters, and I may even decide to travel one day with the Els. I cannot forever allow those two to think me utterly helpless afield."
"You would ever be welcome in my home, you know that." She meant it, but had a hard time picturing the austere and aristocratic Elf in the lowly setting of a Dúnadan hut. No, her heart was seeing clearly: this was an all-too-final farewell.
"And perhaps, one day, you will relent and come home to us."
I wish. Slowly Gilraen pushed herself away from Erestor's chest and stretched up on her toes so she could deposit a kiss on a pale cheek. "Goodbye, old friend."
The backs of his fingers traced the line of her jaw with a touch as delicate as butterfly wings. "Navaer, híril nîn."
She forced herself to turn away and walk slowly to the library door. She couldn't resist the temptation, however, to turn one last time. Erestor stood where she had left him, but he now pressed his hand to his heart and bowed to her. With a sad smile, she nodded in acknowledgement and then pushed through the door.
"Let me help you, Lady," Arthor offered, snagging the linked bundles from her arm and leading the way to where her mare, Ariel, was saddled and waiting for her. Her four-legged friend whickered softly as the bundles were fastened to the back side of the saddle, and Gilraen fished a piece of carrot from the pocket where she'd secreted the offering after begging it as a last favor from a weeping Aurin.
"Here you go, my friend," Gilraen said softly, stroking the velvety nose for a long moment. How long did she need to wait, she wondered, before Elrond had finished farewelling his sons so that she could simply ride out into the courtyard and through the gates without having to say anything to him? How long would it take, she wondered, before the household staff returned to his office the box with the circlet belonging to the Lady of the House from where she'd left it in the middle of the bed?
After all, that was her final statement to him, made in the silent language of clues and hints that the Elves preferred for such messages, a language it had taken her a very long time to learn. By returning the circlet in this manner, she was not only relinquishing her duties to him and his House, but turning her back on all the honor and prestige that went with the position, turning her back on him. Leaving it in the location she had, after stripping the bed of its linens as was the custom after a guest departed, made the gesture into a very personal statement; she was putting a very final end to their gwaedh-gwend, which had long outlasted its original intent of raising a child together. It would wound him – and it was intended to wound him at least as much as she herself had been wounded by him – but he would survive. He was immortal; he had no choice in the matter.
At last, she was fairly certain that the Els would have received all the instructions that their father would have for them, and the time had come. "May the stars guide you, Arthor, and keep you safe from all harm," she told her son's best friend among the Imladhrim. "Thank you for your friendship to me and my son."
"May the stars ever watch over you and protect you as well, my Lady." Arthor looked no happier at seeing the mortal Lady of the House get on the back of her mount, intending to ride away from Imladris forever, than any of the other Elves Gilraen had learned to call acquaintance or friend over the years. Like so many others who had quietly come to speak to her over the last day, he too had counseled patience and waiting until the Master's temper had cooled so that things could be set right again; and like all the others, he just didn't understand that there were some things that simply couldn't be repaired. "It has been an honor to know you, and your son."
He helped her into the saddle, and then handed her the reins. With a gentle touch of a heel to rib, Gilraen set Ariel to walking out of the stable and into the courtyard, where Elladan and Elrohir were already in the saddle, waiting for her. On the portico, Elrond stood, looking slightly confused when he caught sight of her; and then his eyes widened in shock and dismay as her intent became clear. "Gilraen, merciful Eru, no…"
It hurt to even look at him, but she relented enough to grant him one last gaze, trying to remember all that had been good and warm and fine between them for so long. Together, they had raised Estel to be a fine and upstanding Imladhrim and now a capable Chieftain of the Dúnedain. He had shown her more patience over the years than she had ever imagined possible - until the very end. In honor of those good years, those years of friendship, companionship, support and mentoring, she could at least tell him goodbye. She forced her voice to be steady. "Navaer, Elrond. May the stars watch over you now and always."
"Wait! You do not need to do this! Please…" With hand outstretched, he started down the steps toward her.
Deliberately, she looked away to Elladan as she sidled Ariel to put a little more distance again between herself and Elrond. "Are we ready?" she asked brusquely. If Elrond got any closer, if he touched her, if he had a chance to say much more than he already had, her delicate hold on her composure would be demolished; and she didn't want to leave Imladris in the same state of collapse as she had come to it.
Elladan's grey eyes were sad as they flicked between his stricken father and her, but as she had hoped, her determination carried through. "We are." He took the lead and turned his mount toward the gate, and Elrohir settled himself behind Gilraen.
As she had in the library, she allowed herself one, quick glance back as she reached the gate. Elrond still stood there on the steps of his House, his hands hanging limp at his side and his face a study in anguish. It tore at her to see him that way – and she almost resented the fact that she still cared about him to such an extent after all was said and done – but she refused to let that emotion now sway her to reconsider. Behind him, the home that had sheltered her for the past half-century still looked as it had the first morning she'd truly seen it: as if it had grown up in place amid the trees and streams and waterfalls. The timeless beauty that was Imladris and the grace and kindness of all who had shared that life with her would be a part of her for the rest of her days, but it was her past now.
Gilraen turned forward and was grateful that Ariel was willing to follow Elladan's lead up the narrow, winding path out of the stronghold's ravine, because her tears were blinding. Her time in the House of Elrond was at an end, and it was fitting somehow that it ended on a similar note of despair and loss as it had begun so long ago.
What had she told Elrond just before she'd walked away from his office less than two days earlier? Oh yes: "Onen i Estel edain. Ar le. U-chebin estel anim.*" She had given Hope to her people – and to him – and retained none for herself. Never had that been more apparent than in that very moment.
Had it all been worth it?
She doubted she'd ever know.
* - Quoted directly from Appendix A: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen
adar – father (fam. – Ada)
Belain – The Powers (Q. the Valar)
edhil - Elves
gwaedh-gwend – comfort friendship
híril nîn – my lady
meleth – beloved
navaer – farewell (Q. namarië)
"Onen I Estel edain. Ar le. U-chebin estel anim." – I gave Hope to men. And to you. I have kept no hope for myself.
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