17. Please Come Home
The early autumn day had been brutally hot, and Gilraen was tired from the long hours of helping winnow what little grain had been harvested from the fields. Her arms ached; she would definitely need more time yet to get re-accustomed to the heavy labor of chopping wood and hauling water at the end of the day on top of any other seasonal tasks that was the lot of the Dúnedenith. Now that the day itself was over, her cooking fire made and supper in the pot, however, she collapsed into the one chair in the hut that she'd padded with pillows stuffed with old rags and put before the fire. It was an arrangement which reminded her of her favorite chair in her suite back home in Imladris where sometimes…
No. She wouldn't think of that. Imladris wasn't her home; it never had been. It had been a refuge when she needed it, and now it was but a dream that seemed barely real.
The steam from the little pot dangling over the fire on her hearth smelled better than the last lot of stew had, at least; it had been a long time since she'd been responsible for cooking her own meals, and it was taking time to remember just how much or little of which spice and herb to use. But there was no bread to go with it this night, and her share of the wheel of cheese was dwindling rapidly.
Still, it was food, and it was warm. She was the mother of the Chieftain, and her position came with the benefit of an adequate share of whatever provender was available. She worked as hard as she could, realizing that it would be weeks or months before she was able to do even half of what her fellow Dúnedenith could, but didn't allow a hint of complaint to pass her lips. The life she'd led for over fifty years in Imladris had become a dream of luxury and grace, one that she was working hard to put far behind her. Life among the Dúnedain was hard; it was time she remembered that.
The knock on her door was sharp, and drew her out of her dozing. "Coming," she called and pulled the knit shawl she had just finished around her shoulders as she rose. Frowning, worried that such a summons would often mean someone was ill in the settlement, she pulled the door open while saying, "What is the matt…" only to fall silent in shock to see Glorfindel in his fine armor, fully armed with bow and sword, standing in front of her.
"Míreth," he said softly. "At last."
She didn't dare reach out to him to see if he was truly there, or only a figment of a wishful imagination. Those villagers who were still abroad in the waning sunlight were no doubt paying very close attention to an Elven warrior in shining, radiant armor – one they certainly didn't know – paying her a house call. No doubt Dírhael would hear of it soon enough, the moment word could pass from one village to the next. "How did you find me?" she asked finally, once she swallowed often enough to get her voice working again.
"I sought out the Els, and when I finally found them, they gave me instructions as to which village you now called your own," was all the explanation he offered. With a raised eyebrow and a slight lift of the chin, he motioned into her hut. "May I come in?"
She continued to stare at him for a moment. "Where's Asfaloth?" she asked, suddenly aware that his great stallion was nowhere to be seen.
"I let him go at the edge of the settlement, close to the Dúnedain herd. He will not wander far." He tipped his head. "Míreth?"
Silently, Gilraen stepped back and aside so that he could move past her into the hut. She deliberately ignored the astonishment and concern on her neighbors' faces as she closed the door behind him. She then moved to stand next to the hearth, feasting her eyes on him shamelessly as she passed even as she cringed at the thought of his seeing the rude conditions in which she lived now. This hut was a long way from Imladris and the life she'd led there. "Why?" she asked softly. "Why are you here?"
He moved slowly and carefully forward until he could reach out and touch the backs of his fingers to her cheek. "Because Elrond would tell me nothing of what happened, would not even speak your name. The Els never returned and apparently have gone back to hunting orc with the Dúnedain fulltime. Erestor has gone into seclusion in the library and speaks to no one; and the staff knows only that something happened, that you suddenly picked up and left with the Els. When I arrived there, it felt almost as bad as it did in the days and weeks after Celebrían left us. And since you left no note, sent no word to me as to why…"
"I didn't know what to say, how to explain," she confessed with a sigh. "I was so…"
"Arwen told me much while we traveled together," he continued, stepping back just far enough that he could relieve himself of his sword, bow and quiver, all of which he leaned against the wall near the door. He then unfastened his cloak and draped it over her table like a fine cloth. "She said that her father was beyond furious when she told him of her choice to betroth herself to Estel, that he intended to put nearly impossible conditions on Estel's ever winning his permission for the match. She also said he intended to order him out of the House. When I spoke to Estel while searching for the Els, he confirmed that this was indeed what happened."
"Estel only told me that he knew he had lingered in Elven realms too long after his long absence, and needed to get back to the Dúnedain as soon as possible," Gilraen said, startled. "I didn't know Elrond had ordered him gone." She sighed. "But then, I warned him long ago that he would lose his foster-father's goodwill if he continued to look at Arwen with any romantic intentions. I guess I was right."
Glorfindel nodded slowly. "Arwen demanded I take her back to Lothlórien again as soon as she did because she was tremendously upset at her father's reaction. She has his temper, after all, to a small extent. But even I know that Elrond has never truly dealt with the pain of his brother's death or his wife's need to sail, that he fears the loss of loved ones above all else. No doubt that made his handling her choice all that much more difficult for him. She told me that she expected he would lash out at nearly everyone for quite a while." Deft fingers began undoing the laces of the cuirass after the tooled and embossed vambraces had landed on the outspread cloak. "I assume that he eventually lashed out at you too."
Lashed out - that's a good way to put it, I suppose. "Yes."
The cuirass slipped away from his torso, and it too landed on the table. "What did he tell you that drove you from your home with us after all this time?" he asked, moving more easily now that he was unencumbered.
It still hurt to think of it. "He said…" she began and then swallowed back a sob that was never far from the surface when she remembered that horrible meeting, "that he would never give up his daughter to a mere mortal – not even one raised by the Elves who dared presume in arrogance to greatness. That our line – Elros' line – had grown weak and dissolute, and was once more reaching for something to which it had no right. He told me Estel was…" She gasped and tried again. "… that Estel was…"
"Hush." Glorfindel moved swiftly to gather her close into his arms. "You know those words were not true, and so does he. Estel is just as skilled and honorable as any who have come from your line in generations – more so, in many respects. Elrond himself has told me and you this many times over the years. Frankly, he has often spoken to me of how perhaps the line had bred true at last, giving us one with the power and strength of Elendil himself."
"Which is why he called Estel an 'orcling,' that he had 'nursed in his bosom'" she spat bitterly, shaking her head against his chest.
He sighed heavily. "That is a very hurtful statement, I will admit. Most unwise." He fell silent for a moment, and Gilraen could feel him shaking his head and snorting in what sounded like disgust. "But you must understand," he finally continued, "what he told you was said out of grief at the thought that Arwen would not be crossing the sea with him in the end; at not only eventually losing Estel to mortality – which will wound him desperately, whether you believe it or not right now – but her as well. The Els have not yet chosen their fate, so that uncertainty weighs heavily on him now too. He faces the real possibility of returning to his wife's side in the Blessed Lands only to tell her that they will never see any of their children again. I tell you again, this whole situation has evoked his greatest fear."
That made sense, but changed little. "I didn't know him, Maethor. It was as if a stranger were berating me while wearing Elrond's face." Gilraen wrapped her arms around his waist and finally, finally, allowed herself to feel and remember all the hurt and insult and highly-focused fury that had washed over her like a tidal wave during that single interview in Elrond's office. "He called us leeches, wished that the Els had never brought us to his door…" She couldn't go on, but gave into the sobs that seemed to well up from the bottoms of her feet, sobs that she had denied for weeks.
"Well," he said after simply holding her until she had at last spent her sobs into his silken tunic and rested limp and drained against him, "whatever it was that you told him at the very end woke him out of a mental state that would speak so hurtfully to you, a complete innocent in this, without any consideration at all. You are correct: that does not at all sound like the Elrond I have known for ennin. I think, perhaps, his grief drove him a little mad for a while, mad enough to forget that you too had been urging Estel to look elsewhere for a bride for at least as long as he had."
"That didn't seem to matter to him in the least," she said quietly, too drained to even give voice to the bitterness left behind when the tears were all spent. "As far as he was concerned, my fault was that Estel was my son. I should have stopped him."
Again Glorfindel sighed heavily, and the way his arms tightened protectively around her spoke volumes about how he felt at that revelation. "For what it is worth, however, by the time I returned, his temper had cooled and the remorse of having spoken unwisely and driven people he cared about away had set in with a vengeance. The staff told me of his wandering the House aimlessly at all hours of the day and night for days before I returned; not sleeping since your departure, I hear; eating very little and seeing to none of his normal responsibilities – and had been doing that for many days even before you left, I understand. Most alarming, though: I found him once sitting in your old suite, brooding in front of your cold hearth."
"I left Celebrían's circlet for him there," she remembered, "in the middle of my bed after I stripped it that last morning."
Glorfindel's arms tightened about her yet again. "Ouch," he whispered. "We keep forgetting that you really are much more dangerous than any of us wish to believe. You learned our ways all too well in your time among us, and you turned that against him in the end."
"I needed to make my point." she declared defensively, stifling a sniffle. She appreciated his support, but it was getting hard to breathe.
"You did, trust me." His voice was softly vehement and tinged with respect. "Few could have done so well."
"Here…" She pushed against him, freeing herself from his embrace, and then cleared the table of cloak and cuirass after wiping the moisture from her cheek onto her sleeve. "Sit. You must be hungry. There isn't much, but you're welcome to it."
"I did not come to take your evening meal from you…" he complained even as he did as she requested. "I am here to bring you back home with me."
"There is enough to share this night," she replied with a shake of her head, clearly ignoring his last statement. "And tomorrow will take care of itself. I have learned to work with what is given. And I can't leave now; they need my hands for the harvest."
Glorfindel finally looked around the hut, and then focused his gaze on her. "Tomorrow I will hunt and bring meat for us all, then, and help make life easier for all concerned until you are ready to come with me, if you must insist on staying until the harvest is finished. But you are thinner, Míreth, almost alarmingly so. You are not eating well, and you look pale."
"I eat as well as anyone else here." She shrugged away the rest of his worry. There was little she could do about it except let him know that it didn't matter.
"That is not a comforting thought. However, the fact remains that you are not adapting well to your new situation. You have made your point with those who needed to hear it, however, and the time has come to return home with me. You and Elrond need to speak, now that the edge of shock and pain has worn away from the situation for the both of you, and settle this between you before you both fade. You cannot hide here and let this fester."
She should have known that he wouldn't simply take the hint and drop the subject. He had, after all, traveled far to try to make things right, in his way of seeing things. How could she make him understand? "This is my home, Maethor, the only one that is truly mine. It took time to adjust to life in Imladris, and it will take time to adjust to life here again; but I belong here." She looked around, at the little hut in an outlying settlement that she had taken instead of the Chieftain's hut in the main settlement close to her parents. "I will not abide where my presence is resented," she whispered to herself despondently.
"Elrond does not resent you. He was the one who asked you to remain behind in Imladris when Estel returned to your people, remember? You are loved and cherished there."
"He resented me that day, deeply, and it isn't something I will ever forget."
Gilraen could feel the warmth of his frustrated gaze as she carried the little pot from the fire to the table, and then hied herself to the small cupboard from which she pulled two wooden bowls and spoons. She babbled, she knew, from nervousness. "I apologize that this isn't as fine a setting as you have in Imladris, but it gets the job done. And I fear I have no wine to offer you - no juice - only water…"
"Water will be most acceptable. Sit." Already he had the ladle in his hand and was spooning stew into both bowls. "I can bring it for you."
"You are my guest," she answered tersely. "It isn't proper for you to have to do anything."
"You worked hard this day. Do not bother denying it, for I can see the weariness in your face." A steaming bowl landed on the table in front of her. "Sit down. Where are your goblets?"
"Goblets?" She giggled, an almost hysterical sound that made her cringe yet again as she sat down. "I have no goblets. There are some stoneware mugs in the cupboard, however."
They ate silently once the water was brought to the table. Gilraen barely tasted the stew, but rather toyed with the bits of carrot and turnip. She knew that he was watching her closely and not at all pleased with her lack of appetite. Reluctantly she began taking small bites, grateful that her cooking skills had at least had a little while to refresh themselves, but still ashamed. After living for millennia with food prepared by Aurin's magic hands, he would no doubt find her stew barely palatable by comparison.
"How long before the harvest is done?" Glorfindel asked in a conversational tone the moment his bowl was empty.
Gilraen shrugged. "As soon as all the grain is cut and winnowed, and the straw bailed and stored for winter fodder, I expect. At least, that was the way things were back when."
"How many days, do you imagine?" he pressed determinedly.
Again she shrugged. "I'm honestly not certain. Ten, perhaps more?"
"Very well." He reached out and scraped the last of the stew from the pot into Gilraen's bowl. "Eat. You need this far more than I do."
"I'm not that hungry…"
"Eat it. And then you will rest. You look ready to collapse."
Gilraen frowned at him. "You are not my husband to order me about in this fashion," she reminded him darkly. "I thought we settled that a long time ago."
"Indeed we did settle that," he replied easily, his gaze not wavering under hers. "I am, however, still your gwaedh-vellon. I will not allow you to come to harm, even from your own pride." His expression softened. "Just because you have left Imladris does not mean that I wish to or even am able to turn off my feelings for you. Let me help you, please!"
She thought for a long moment, and then sagged in defeat as she lifted the spoon with a bit more substance in it. "I'll eat – and then I will wash dishes before heading to my mother's sister's son's family for the night. I cannot stay here with you in the night…"
"I will not have you lose your bed. You will sleep here, and I will return to a little glade just to the north, by the stream. The grass is soft there, and I can catch fish for your breakfast before returning for the day." Those beautiful, ice-blue eyes lingered on her face like a caress. "And I will wash your pot and bowls tonight. You cooked, I shall clean."
"You are a guest…"
"I am family," he countered with a light of real determination flaring in his countenance. "For fifty years, I have been family to you; you cannot think to set that aside by virtue of a four day journey and your current mean circumstances."
Gilraen looked down into her food, knowing she'd be unable to control her emotions if she continued to look at him. Glorfindel's arrival on her doorstep had ripped the scabs from the open wound that had been her departure from Imladris. And now here he was, declaring that something that had only been possible in Imladris still held sway over him – and her – here. Did he not understand that gwaedh-gwend was a concept utterly foreign to the Dúnedain, that his presence here would cause comment and speculation that she neither wanted nor needed? She had carefully avoided speaking of her years with the Elves with her new neighbors, and now she would be hard-pressed to avoid it.
"Maethor," she started quietly. "You don't understand. This can't be. We can't be, not gwaedh-gwend, not family. Friends, perhaps, acquaintances…"
"Acquaintances?" His brows had slid together as she spoke, and now his face was downright storm-filled. "You and I are far more than mere acquaintances…"
"We were that there, yes. But here…" She sighed and reached out for his hand. "You will be one of the most precious memories I carry from my time with your people. Never doubt that, please. But that time is finished, and I must make my way among the Dúnedain for the rest of my days. My people make no provisions for the kind of closeness that we have shared for so long; you know this. Erestor gave my father a taste of the dust of Imladris' sparring ring over his reaction to even just the friendship I shared with the Els; what do you think the least of those people out there would say if you and I behaved openly as gwaedh-vellyn?"
"The reactions of those who are unaware of the truth are not my concern," Glorfindel stated quietly and firmly.
"But they are mine," Gilraen interrupted him with a patient sigh. "I will have to live with them once you are gone."
"I am not leaving without you."
Her stew was finished at last, and slowly she rose to her feet. "I am grateful you have come, for not being able to say goodbye to you before I left was an ache that never went away. But whether we wish it or no, my time with the Elves is at an end. Nothing would be the same."
He too had risen, and now stepped towards her again. "That is not always a bad thing, is it?"
"It would be an uncomfortable and unnecessary thing." She gestured vaguely to the table, with its dishes. "Understand me: I appreciate the help you offer this night, because I truly am tired. And you will always be welcome in my home, at my table – you know this as well – whether or not the others are shocked by it or no, for as long as you choose to remain. But understand this too, my stubborn, beautiful friend: I am home, and I will not go back to Imladris with you when you leave."
"I have until the Harvest is ended to change your mind," Glorfindel shook his head. "I will not rile your temper tonight by arguing. Go to bed, meleth. I will see you in the morning, and we will discuss this again at a more auspicious time."
He was as good as his word. The next morning dawned chill and bleak, but by the time she had risen and dressed herself, Glorfindel was knocking on her door with a pair of fat trout that she fried for them both for breakfast. He had changed into a simple tunic and leggings, leaving the armor and all but his bow and quiver behind, hidden in his forest camp. When he walked her to the field before leaving to hunt in the mornings, it was with her hand tucked into his elbow as if they walked the halls of the Last Homely House.
He came to be known in the village only as Maethor, Elven friend of Gilraen, and not Glorfindel, hero of Gondolin and Battle Master of Imladris. Maethor went hunting regularly and rarely failed to bring back a deer or boar that could be shared with all the settlement, making up for the fact that so many of the men were Rangers and out taking care of guarding the land. The gangly boys on the cusp of manhood, still too young to have started their formal Ranger training, quite soon got over their awe and fear of him to ask him to teach them to use their swords. Smaller children flocked to listen to him sing and tell silly stories in the late afternoons – songs and stories that Gilraen remembered hearing many times in the evening in the Hall of Fire. The adults came to accept him more slowly, but due to his consistently sharing the bounty of his hunt with them all and to his patient attention to the children of all ages, they eventually warmed to him and spoke to him in tones of near-reverence. Imagine! An Elf – and one warrior-trained at that – had come to stay with them for a time.
Glorfindel himself seemed quite contented for the most part, only displaying his continuing agenda in the evenings when he would deliberately bring back up the subject of Gilraen's return home to Imladris. And every evening ended the same way: with her telling him that she was home, that she would not be returning to Imladris with him, and consigning him to the care of the Belain and the stars until next she saw him as he departed for the glade and his camp.
But she knew he was keeping a sharp eye on the progress in the fields, that he was more than aware of every stage of the harvest. When the time came, he made a point to bring down a large buck to supply the meat for the feast to celebrate Harvest End, and he laughed and sang with the others during the festivities as if without a care. Gilraen knew differently; throughout the evening, his eye would land on her face and his expression would turn serious. As they wound their way home from the bonfire that night, she knew she was walking into a final confrontation – one she had to win at all costs.
"It is well you have so very little," he commented, opening the door to her hut and following her inside, "for while Asfaloth can easily carry us both, we do not want to overload him." He nodded at the small clothing press that sat against the wall at the foot of her bed. "Is everything you will want to bring with you in there?"
Gilraen shook her head at him. "I am going nowhere, Maethor. I keep telling you this, but…"
"Enough." He moved to tower over her, his gaze stern. "Winter is coming, and you are in no shape to weather it in this place. Be reasonable and start packing."
Again she shook her head. "I will survive, as will the others. Yes, winters are harsh here. I knew this when I chose to return. I cannot go with you. I am needed here."
"There is no more time for discussion; I must return to Imladris, Míreth. I can linger here no longer. By now, I hope, Elrond is at least back to taking care of the realm again, and probably wondering where I have gotten off to. I have the winter duty rosters for the inner and outer fences of Imladris to set, and other duties…"
"I do not and would not hold you here," she told him gently. "I know you have duties, important things that you must see to, I know this. I, too, have duties – here. What little healing skills I learned from Estel and Elr… well, suffice it to say that I am the only one with any knowledge at all in this village. I cannot abandon my people."
He shook his head slowly at her. "These people have survived without your help for all this time. They will survive…"
"And I will survive with them." She worked hard to put a tone of utter finality in her voice.
Evidently, it did its job, for he blinked and then gazed down at her with intense sadness. "I have done nothing to sway you in my time here? My pleas, my arguments, my reasons, all mean nothing to you then?"
"Having you here has meant the world to me, you must know this. You have no idea how much I've enjoyed having your company again," she told him, putting a hand on his forearm, "and watching you with the little ones has been a delight. You have given these people an experience and a tale that they will be telling their grandchildren, I promise you, especially when I finally tell them exactly who it really was that visited us. But no, you have not swayed me. I will not leave." Her voice shook. "I'm sorry, Maethor. It has to be this way."
"I cannot stay." His voice had dropped to a deep whisper.
"I know." How she would miss him! For the space of these few days, she had had the best of both her worlds about her again, and she had relished it with abandon. And now the memories of this time, combined with her memories of a distant place of grace and ageless beauty, would have to sustain her into an uncertain future. "When do you leave?"
"I must away at sunrise."
It was no less than she had expected. "Then this is navaer."
Glorfindel moved so quickly that Gilraen barely had chance to draw another breath before she was in his arms and pulled tightly against him. "I do not wish to leave you here alone. I want you to come home with me, back to where you belong. Hear me, please!" His voice was low and urgent, as desperate as she had ever heard from him. "I have watched you, and it is so clear to me that you are more Elf than Dúnadaneth now in your ways and in your thinking. Yes, these are your people, but…"
She freed a hand and used her fingers over his lips to stop his words. "They are my people, and I cannot abandon them to return to a life of luxury. I may have many Elven ways now, I know, but I am still mortal. I will learn to fit in among them again, relearn Dúnedain ways. Were you mortal, our story would end differently, Maethor nîn, but you are not. You belong there, helping Erestor and Elrond watch over all of Middle-earth and preparing for the darkness that will come all too soon, a darkness I have no wish to witness." She tried to smile up at him, but the edges of her lips trembled as her hand caressed his smooth face in a delicate gesture she had denied herself before. "I think I have loved you for a very long time, and I will love you as I loved Arathorn past the ends of the world."
His long fingers cupped her face in return, and his blue eyes glowed ice-fire at her. "I tell you truly that were I not already married, I would have taken you as my own long ago – to Fire and Shadow with proprieties! Never did I expect to find among mortals a spirit so much like my own. I too have long loved you dearly, and you will be a light for my life even after you have stepped past the circles of this world." He pressed trembling lips to her forehead. "Since you will not heed me otherwise, I beg of you to hear me now, my stubborn love. If you need me to come to you, send word and I will be here as soon as I may. I care not the reason, or even if you have none; if you need or want me here, I will be here for you. Promise me you will summon me."
Gilraen gazed up at him in the warm and flickering light of her hearth, carving his features into her heart and mind. The flames turned his golden hair to flames as well, and his eyes glittered with ancient wisdom and deep sadness. "I promise," she whispered. "If I need you, I will send word."
Slowly, almost unbelievably, Glorfindel lowered his face until he could press his lips to hers. As had happened so long ago, only moments later he deepened it. For a timeless moment, nothing else existed in Gilraen's world but his arms about her, the taste of him, and the feel of him pressed intoxicatingly – all too temptingly – near. Two heartbeats fell into harmony and beat as one for an exquisite time. Even after all these years, her aging body happily sprang back to life at the manner in which the two of them fit so perfectly together. For a short time, they both seemed to share in the illusion that they could bridge the impossible chasm of age and custom and mortality that lay between them.
As had happened the last time, when the kiss ended, they stood long in close embrace while fires that could never be allowed to burn freely slowly died, each grieving already while yet on the very brink of loss. Not another word was spoken between them. Eventually, very reluctantly, his arms about her loosened; he brushed a tender kiss across her brow, and finally stepped away.
As the door closed behind him for the last time, Gilraen slid to the floor when her legs would no longer hold her upright. Shamelessly she wept bitter, silent tears for a life that she could no longer share. She wept for Glorfindel; and amazingly, she wept for Elrond and Erestor and the Els, for Lindir and Aurin and Maeniel, for Arthor, for Arwen and even gentle Tadiel.
When she finally forced herself to her feet to stumble to her bed, she promised herself that, from that moment on, she would never weep for any of them ever again.
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.