2. Settling In
“Estel!” Gilraen called out in frustration as she watched her wet and naked son scamper out the door of their suite and vanish around the corner with a cackle of glee. She'd asked, and asked, but could the servant bringing the bathwater be bothered to close the door to the suite on her way out? Of course not. The housekeeping Elves with whom she had daily contact seemed to have a real aversion to latching, or even closing, the doors to private chambers. They would listen to her, and then continue to do as they had always done as if nothing had ever been said. It was hard enough to admit - even to herself - that she still felt very much lost and alone in this strange place, much less explain how desperately she needed that closed door to act as a buffer between the suite that had become her refuge and the rest of Imladris beyond. No matter; the reality was that her little son was now flying down the corridor in nothing but his skin.
She sat back on her heels and passed a frustrated and wet hand across her brow and sighed heavily. Chasing Aragorn… no, not Aragorn anymore, Estel… down when he was playing a much-loved nighttime game of catch-me-not was beginning to grow very old. It had been one thing to chase him about a small house in their old village, but had become something quite daunting since their relocation to Imladris.
With another sigh, she pushed herself to her feet, grabbed up the towel that she'd set aside for drying her son, and followed the damp footprints out the suite door and down the hallway toward the Elven end of the family wing. Estel was becoming knowledgeable about the ins and outs and avenues of the meandering, twisting halls and corridors to the Last Homely House, and Gilraen didn't begrudge him that knowledge in the least. After all, this was going to be his home - their home - for a good long time; it was good to know one's way. She had to admit that, in struggling to keep him out of the Elves’ way as the day wound to a close, she’d learned her way around somewhat as well.
So far, his after-bath dashes had been in the direction of the chambers of Elrond's twin sons, who had, for some reason, remained in Imladris ever since bringing her there two months earlier. She feared, however, that someday Estel would instead mistake the door and barge in on the lord of the house himself at an inconvenient time. Not only did she not want to face an angry Master Elrond - Master, not Lord, Elrond, she'd been told several times - but she could see the incident potentially costing her son his refuge.
Down past where the hallway turned to the right, she heard Elven laughter and a squeal from Estel that told her that her wayward child had been snared by hands more talented than her own. Gilraen squared her shoulders, shook out the towel and followed the squeal and childish laughter.
"I believe you've lost something again," an amused Elven voice greeted her as she peeked cautiously around the doorjamb and into the parlor that belonged to the family of Master Elrond. Elladan - or was it Elrohir? - directed her gaze with a knowing eye to where his twin held the naked child upside-down and firmly tucked under one arm, tickling Estel's ribs mercilessly.
"I beg your pardon, Lord El...Elladan?" Gilraen guessed, her heart already sinking at the thought that she still hadn't figured out how to tell the twin warriors apart by sight.
"Elrohir," the Elf corrected her gently, his voice kind, "and no apologies are needed, Gilraen. Your little one just seems to prefer our robes to towels."
"Oh - oh my!" Gilraen flushed at the signs of dampness on the front of Elrohir's robe, and the flush deepened as she glanced at Elladan with Estel and noted definite areas of wet marring his robes as well. "I'm so sorry!"
"Never you mind." Elladan carried the squirming child back toward his mother. "Robes dry just as easily as do towels, and little boys."
"Still..." She berated herself yet again. "I keep forgetting to make certain the door is latched before beginning his bath. This is my fault."
Elrohir shook his head at her. "There is no fault involved in the mischief of a healthy and well loved child. Credit to be assigned, perhaps, but certainly no blame. Besides, Estel's antics remind me of..." His grey eyes grew distant, and yet fond. "...another little one Estel's size, very long ago. She, too, would run from her bath water."
"Yes, but she ran from us as well, remember," Elladan reminded his brother, turning the child under his arm right-side up and handing him over to his mother. "Your escape plan is foiled again, . Time to go back to your naneth."
"E'dan tell me story t'nite?" Estel asked brightly, looping his arm about his mother's neck as she wrapped him in the warmth of the thick towel.
"A story?" Elladan's eyes sparkled as he turned to glance at his brother and then at Gilraen. "What kind of story, Estel?"
"Good one," the child nodded eagerly. "About bears."
Elrohir put on a shocked face. "Bears! But bears are big and scary; we would not want you to have a bad dream."
"I not 'cared, E'dan, E'ro'r," Estel complained. "Nana, I big boy now. Not 'cared anymo'."
Gilraen could see the Elves were only teasing and would no doubt end up in her parlor again this night to give her son a bedtime story. This, along with the bath-time dash, was also beginning to become a habit. "I don't know, Estel. You got both Elladan and Elrohir wet."
The little boy looked at his heroes, and Gilraen could see the alarm grow on his face at the darkened blotches on the brocade. "I not mean it..." Estel whimpered. "I sorry, E'dan..."
"It truly is nothing, Gilraen." Elladan shook his head at her and then ruffled Estel's hair. "You are forgiven,
Estel's face immediately brightened. "I be good," he promised. "No more run f'um Nana."
"Then I shall be along shortly." He lifted his eyes to Gilraen's face. "If that is your mother's wish."
Gilraen blushed, grateful for the deference which encouraged the child to look to her for the final decision. She was having a hard time understanding Elves in general, and these two in particular. Elladan and his brother, long considered dedicated if not obsessed warriors, had not gone back out to hunt the Enemy since bringing her here. Instead they now seemed quite content to spend long hours together with Estel out in the sun every day, teaching him about the many details of the natural beauty that seemed ever-present in this alien dwelling.
Fascinated by his new role models, Estel soaked up their attention and mannerisms quickly. Gilraen had just noticed, over the past few days, that all of those little things that he had recently done in mimicry of his father had begun to fade in favor of copying more Elvish behaviors. It was to be expected; she had long since decided to resign herself to watching her son grow up in a more Elvish manner than she would have liked.
As time passed, the Elven twins' influence in the boy's life steadily increased, yet he still was constantly being nudged back in her direction for fundamental guidance and correction. They still acknowledged and respected her as holding ultimate authority over Estel's activities and discipline. It was a losing battle, however. Her time as his primary care-giver was rapidly drawing to a close. Even in their village, Estel would soon have begun spending time with other boys, learning to be rough and tumble, and to fight. Boys of the Dúnedain learned to be warriors from very early on.
"I'm afraid my simple stories are no longer the challenge to his imagination that yours and your brother's tales provide," she told him with frank honesty. "I have no warrior's tales to tell him. That would have been Ar..." she bit her lip. Her husband's name, like Estel's birth name, were not to be mentioned in the boy's presence, according to Master Elrond's terms of her tenancy. "That task would have fallen to another," she amended lamely.
The expression in those very-wise grey eyes grew sharp, and Elladan turned to cast a very quick glance at his brother. "Perhaps that is something we should discuss later, when little ones are walking the paths of dreams?"
She glanced back and forth between the identical Elves nervously. "If you wish," she demurred. She still felt very much out of place with these graceful and ageless warriors, despite the gentle and deferential way in which they never failed to treat her. The only times she ever saw them was when they would collect or return her son to her, or were convinced to come tell the child stories. At such times, she would retire to a quiet chair with her sewing, to watch and listen and not intrude. The last lengthy discussion she'd had with any of them had been her initial interview with Master Elrond.
"E'dan tell me story?" Estel asked his mother with a concerned frown, still uncertain of her decision.
"In a little while, yes," she answered him with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Let's get you back and into your sleepwear, my son."
"Yes!" Estel cheered and threw his arms around his mother's neck. "I get story 'bout bears f'um E'dan!"
Gilraen gave an abbreviated bow of the head to the two Elven lords and headed back down the corridor toward her own suite of rooms, and closed the door very firmly behind herself once she'd re-entered her refuge.
After closing the bedroom door until it was open just the smallest crack to allow the tiniest sound of distress to reach her, Gilraen turned back to her guest. Since she'd left to put an already deeply asleep Estel in his crib, Elladan had not moved except to sit back down in the one other comfortable chair in the parlor, his silver-grey silken robe glowing softly in the light of the flames. He sat with his fingers steepled in front of his face thoughtfully, in a gesture that was similar to one she'd seen Master Elrond use.
Since it was unusual to actually have visitors in her suite, she smoothed her hands over her skirts before rejoining him. "May I offer you..." she began, necessarily drawing the attention of those intense, grey eyes to herself and the small stoppered carafe of wine that sat on her sideboard for just such social occasions.
"I'm well, thank you," the Elf replied, his large and amazingly graceful hand gesturing at the other chair. "Please, sit."
Somehow feeling like she'd just been called before her father after talking back to her mother, Gilraen settled herself on the very edge of her chair and trained her eyes on the hands she had so properly folded in her lap. Finally, after mustering her courage to face whatever else would be thrown at her, she raised her gaze, only to find Elladan's gaze to be warm and sympathetic as well as concerned. "Is it so difficult for you here?" he asked quietly, once he had her attention.
Gilraen's eyes opened wide, and her mouth dropped open slightly without her having the slightest idea of how to respond. Madly her mind struggled to come up with a reasonable response. This was the son of her host after all!
Her days in Imladris were quiet ones, spent in the task of mending or sewing new clothing for her son, who seemed determined to outpace her efforts by growing faster than he ever had before. That was probably due to the much better diet he was getting, for the Elves made certain he had frequent snacks of fruit and nuts that he'd never had in abundance at home. And while Estel was out learning of his new home, she was perfectly content to stay in her suite of rooms out of the way, keeping the both of them as self-sufficient as was possible. But gone were the days of back-breaking laundry, hauling water from the stream, sweating in front of a hearth or tending the small family garden at the back of the hut. Gone too was the camaraderie of gossiping with the other young mothers of the village while doing the laundry, of the communal moots where local decisions were made before all concerned. It was lonely, but it wasn't that bad here, though, was it?
"But..." Elladan sighed and nodded as if her single word had confirmed something he'd only suspected. "Adar feared this would happen."
Her hands clenched tighter together, and she looked back down at them nervously. Had she done something wrong?
"Gilraen." The call was gently made, but in a tone that brooked no resistance. She swallowed hard and looked back over at the Elf again. "Do you know what was meant when you were given your suite in this wing?" he asked in that same, gentle tone.
Something had been meant by which rooms she had been assigned? Did Elves do nothing in a direct manner? Stymied, she shook her head.
The reserved Elven face softened as a smile bloomed. "It means that you are accepted here as family. You are part of us, even if all seems strange about you as yet."
"Not I, Estel..." she protested, only to have her words stutter to a halt by an upraised hand.
"Your lineage is no less noble than was Arathorn's, and can be traced back to Elros Tar-Minyatar, just as his could. That makes you no less family than your son," Elladan told her in a gently chiding tone. "You have as much right to refuge here as he does."
Gilraen stared at him. "But he is the Chie..."
"Yes, he is. And you are his mother, and the best access to the teachings of his people that he can have here." Elladan's grey gaze was still quite penetrating. "Just because the tales you tell are not warrior's stories does not make them any less important to Estel's education." Again the smile bloomed, warming the room. "Arathorn used to tell very interesting and amusing stories about his ancestors and family when we were in his company around the campfires. Certainly you have heard many of those tales yourself over the years."
"Well, yes... I suppose so..." Those stories had been told around a warriors' campfire?
"And while I'm certain that either Elrohir or I could present those tales adequately, they are rather your stories to tell, and not ours. Perhaps the time has come for you to share them with all of us." His smile grew wider. "I'm certain Adar would love to hear new adventures."
That made Gilraen's mouth drop open again. "Your... M...Master Elrond? But surely... he's..."
"A Loremaster - which means that all information and tales are of great interest to him," Elladan supplied the word smoothly, and Gilraen could see full well that he knew that wasn't what she'd been thinking. "For that matter, Erestor would probably enjoy hearing tales that he didn't have to tell himself or hasn't transcribed hundreds of times as well." The Elf sat back in his chair and regarded her with an amused expression. "Estel could have his stories; by taking turns at story-telling in the evenings, we all could benefit from the mutual sharing of lore; and you could being to get used to the idea that you do indeed belong here, which is of great concern to my father. He would not have you feel you must remain solely in these few rooms."
"Your father is very kind..." she tried again.
"Good. It's settled then," Elladan announced as he rose. "Tomorrow eve, after Estel's bath, we will all gather in the family parlor, and it will be your turn to tell the tale to direct Estel's dreams in the night." His grey gaze came to rest on the folded material that was a new shirt. "Bring your sewing if you wish. You need not leave merely because he falls asleep, if the conversation interests you."
Gilraen had risen as well, as much in amazement as in the sense of propriety for when a guest was obviously ready to take his leave. "Tomorrow," she repeated, not entirely certain if she were confirming the date and time of her doom. "And I tell the story?"
Elladan laid a very gentle hand on her shoulder. "I'm certain you can think of one that will educate your son as well as entertain those who have heard the same thing for centuries between now and then." He then put his hand to his heart and bowed. "May the stars shine upon your dreams this night, Gilraen."
"And on yours," she replied automatically, having long since learned the proper response to that very Elven goodnight wish.
She leaned her back against the door once her guest had taken his leave, her heart beating hard in her chest. She gazed frantically about the room that had become her home in the past few months, as if something within it would give her courage. Tomorrow she would be telling a Dúnedain story to the Master of Imladris, his very reclusive librarian and councilor, his sons - and only the Valar knew who else.
And for the life of her, she couldn't think of a single story worth telling.
Bath-time went far more smoothly when Gilraen didn't try to move Estel into the warm water until after she'd closed and latched the door to the suite. Games of catch-me-not were far easier to win as well, and far less tiring, when the playing field was only three rooms and not an entire mansion. Then, with her sewing in one hand and a clean Estel in the other, she set off down the corridor toward the Elven end of the family wing. Estel was so excited by the very idea of visiting the Elves in their parlor for his story that night that it mattered not that it was his naneth who would be telling the tale.
"E'ro'r!" Estel exclaimed the moment he had stepped through the door and, wrenching his hand from his mother's, sped toward where Elrohir crouched at the hearth, building the fire up so that the room would be warm enough for small edain.
"Good evening, Gilraen. I am glad my son was able to convince you to join our evening time together for a change." Elrond rose gracefully to his full height and extended a welcoming hand to her as she loitered nervously near the door. "Come in, make yourself comfortable." He gestured to what had to have been the most comfortable chair in the room. "It is our tradition that the evening's storyteller gets the best seat. As I understand it, this night, that means you."
"Thank you for having us, Master Elrond," Gilraen murmured, then swallowed and moved to the seat indicated. Situated near the hearth and facing at what would seem the head of the semicircle of cushioned chairs and short couches, it was indeed quite comfortable. Once settled, she cast a shy gaze about the room, noting the small bits of what had to be family belongings that gave the parlor a more informal feel. On one wall hung a portrait of a beautiful Elven woman with a serene expression and yet a subtle twinkle in her eye.
"My wife, Celebrían," Elrond explained, settling back into the chair nearest hers, and Gilraen cringed at the thought that he'd been watching her so closely.
"She's beautiful, my lord," she said softly.
"Yes, she is," he agreed with a hint of sadness in his voice.
"Are we late?" inquired Elladan from the door, leading another dark-haired Elf into the parlor.
"Nay. You are in luck, my son. Gilraen and Estel themselves just arrived," Elrond chuckled at his son. " Erestor, I am pleased to see you join us."
"Erestor would never miss a chance to hear something new and completely different, and neither would I," came a disembodied voice, and then a new Elf who took Gilraen's breath away strolled confidently into the room. Garbed in simple white robes, with hair the color of spun gold cascading past his waist, he was quite simply the most elegant and awe-inspiring creature she had ever seen. When Gilraen mustered her wits enough to actually meet the Elf's eyes, she found them a crystal blue and smiling. Amazingly, the Elf folded a hand against his chest and bowed to her. "Mae govannen, Gilraen. It is a pleasure to meet you at last. I am Glorfindel."
She was certain she'd heard that name before - something teased at the very back edges of her mind. Deciding to not worry about it for the time being, she bowed her head. "It is an honor, my lord."
"Here now - none of that! Elrond, did you not tell this charming child the rules of the family story hour yet?" Glorfindel moved with sureness through the room to the sideboard to pluck the stopper from the carafe of wine sitting there.
Rules? Gilraen turned stricken eyes on the Master of Imladris. Had she done something wrong already?
"Gently, Glorfindel." Elladan moved smoothly to Gilraen's side and put a comforting hand down on her shoulder. "Give her a chance to get used to us before you start with your teasing." The hand patted her shoulder as he bent to her ear. "Don't mind him."
"What my undiplomatic Master of Arms is trying to say," Elrond added, leaning forward with a smile on his lips and concern in his grey eyes, "is that we do not use titles among family, and especially not during our evening time. I am Elrond, this is Glorfindel, and this is Erestor."
The dark-haired Elf that had entered with Elladan now bowed with his hand over his heart. Gilraen nodded at him, but her attention was diverted when she heard a tiny voice call out shyly, "Nana..."
Estel had caught sight of the golden-haired Elf; his eyes were as wide as Gilraen was certain hers had been at first. Suddenly he was ready to leave the circle of Elrohir's arms for the safety of his mother's. Elrohir let the child go, and Gilraen opened her arms to her son, who peered at the newcomers only after he was safely enfolded.
"Who 'dat, Nana?" the boy whispered.
"That's Glorfindel," Gilraen explained gently, determined not to let her own sense of intimidation transfer to her son. He would grow up among these great beings, it wouldn't do for him to be frightened of them. "Can you greet him properly?"
"'allo," Estel allowed, and then laid his head on his mother's shoulder as Glorfindel came close and crouched down in front of them.
"And mae govannen to you, young Estel. I've heard many good things about you." The crystal blue eyes sparkled when the Elf looked up to meet Gilraen's gaze. "About you both."
Gilraen found herself smiling in spite of herself. "Thank you, my l..." Her eyes widened as he cocked his head aside in an amused warning. "Thank you," she repeated, only to be rewarded by a wide smile.
"So," Elladan began after seating himself on the couch with a goblet of wine, "did you think of a story for the evening?"
"Nana tell story tonight?" Estel gazed up into her face.
"Yes," she answered her son and then turned to face the Elves, who were now arranging themselves attentively in seats before her. "This is a story told by my father and his father before him, of a time when the Dúnedain patrol that grandfather was in was asked to help guide a group of traders across the Misty Mountains. It seemed that orcs were making it difficult for any to pass. My grandfather and five of his best rode out that day to meet the traders in Bree."
"The trip across the plains and then over the mountains was a long one. They had carts with many goods. My grandfather was almost ready to let them go on alone when they were attacked by a company of orcs on the eastern road out of the mountains. My father tells that grandfather said there were too many of them, and he was despairing of surviving the attack when, suddenly, he heard a loud roaring."
"Bears, Nana?" Estel prompted sleepily, having heard the story before.
"In the eastern Hithaeglir? Unlikely," Erestor commented quietly.
"Perhaps," Gilraen answered the comment gently, then continued, "but nevertheless, a group of six huge bears broke out of the woods and headed straight for the orcs. My grandfather and his men began fighting harder, and soon between the two groups, the orcs were all either dead or fled."
"Bears?" Erestor was still unconvinced. He had raised an eyebrow that told Gilraen just how much he disbelieved her.
"Well..." she smiled at him. "They looked like bears - until the orcs were gone. And then all six stood up on their hind legs, seemed to straighten, their fur grew shorter, and suddenly my grandfather realized that these were men - men who could turn themselves into bears!"
"Skin-changers," Elrohir added from where he stood by the sideboard pouring wine from the carafe. "Adar, I know you have heard of them..."
"Aye," Elrond nodded. "But the stories are very old, and few have had knowing contact with their kind since those stories were young." He turned bright eyes to Gilraen, leaning forward. "Where did this take place, did you say?"
Gilraen shrugged shyly. "The story my father told only said that this happened on the road on the east side of the pass over the Misty Mountains."
"It is thought that the skin-changers have their home in the woods east of the Hithaeglir and yet west of the Anduin," Erestor added calmly, his disbelief having faded into open interest. "This is the first confirmation of that we've heard in..."
"Pray continue your tale," Elrohir chuckled at the surprised look on Gilraen's face at the discussion her "simple tale" had caused. "No doubt you'll be answering questions late into the evening, at this rate."
"I told you Adar and Erestor would be thrilled to hear something new and different," Elladan added, taking the seat next to his twin and handing over the second goblet to him.
"Yes, do continue," Glorfindel added his urging to Elladan's. "What happened then?"
Gilraen glanced down and noted that Estel's eyelids were already beginning to droop. "The six guided my grandfather and the traders into their village a few hours north of the Old Forest Road. There they found women and children, living simply..."
"You mean there is a whole group of these people?" Erestor was leaning forward now, his eyes bright with excitement. "Women and children?"
"That's what my father told me his father told him," Gilraen replied in surprise. "The caravan was allowed to rest among them for the night. My grandfather said that there was a small feast for the visitors held - and that while they seemed to live their lives very much as do the Dúnedain, their music was much different. They used drums made of hollowed tree trunks covered with thick hides, and chanted to the beat of the drums. And when they danced, they danced as both as bears as well as men."
"Danced as bears?" Elrond gaped. "And your grandfather saw this thing himself?"
Gilraen nodded. "He was given a token by the Chieftain of these people, a sign that he had been accepted as trust-worthy. My father wears it still, and in time he has ordered that it go to his grandson." She glanced down meaningfully at the now-sleeping child in her arms. "He believes, as did his father before him, that one day such a token may be needed to call forth the help of these people again. My father has been across the pass several times in his life as guide and protector, but he has been unable to find the village or come across any of these people, though. Were it not for the token, my father says that he would believe it to be nothing more than a bedtime fable."
"That isn't surprising," Elrond shook his head. "The stories that exist of skin-changers, like we said, are very old, coming to us as tales much like this one. I suppose that it is easy to discount as fable when the experience is not a personal one. To have a token, however, makes disbelief just a little more difficult, I'd imagine." He watched as the child in Gilraen's arms stirred and settled into even deeper sleep. "If you would like, I can take him in on my bed; it is large, and he is unlikely to fall to the floor. You could work on your sewing, and we could continue this discussion?"
Gilraen couldn't mistake the invitation in the deep voice. "Very well," she nodded.
Elrond rose and carefully slipped his arms around the boy so that when he lifted, Estel was well supported. Gilraen held her breath as a look of fondness swept over the Elf Lord's face before he turned toward an inner door and carried her son inside. Curious, she rose and followed him. The bed within was indeed quite large - larger even than the bed she had shared with Arathorn - and he placed Estel in the middle of it, far from any edge. He lifted a robe that had been draped over the back of a low chair and tucked it firmly around the boy.
He didn't seem surprised to see her when he finally straightened. "He will be safe here," he whispered with a backwards glance, "while we can continue to enjoy the evening."
"Yes, he will be safe here," Gilraen agreed with a lump in her throat. Safe in Imladris, and very safe with the Master of the hall.
"Come," he caught at her shoulder with one hand while extending the other in a gesture of invitation to return to the light and the conversation. "Can I pour you some wine now?"
"Yes, thank you," Gilraen answered, making her way back to her seat. She bent to retrieve her sewing from where she had stowed it at her feet earlier, surprised at her own willingness now to spend time with these beautiful and graceful beings... no not beings, not men, Elves. She looked around the room and found Glorfindel's blue eyes smiling at her again.
"As I was telling Glorfindel, the last time any of us heard of these skin-changers before this night, it was centuries ago," Erestor explained as Elrond caught at Gilraen's attention to hand her the goblet. "And the ones who told the tale at the time were not entirely to be trusted..."
"You have never trusted anyone from Taur-e-Ndaedelos," Glorfindel commented dryly, then turned to Gilraen in explanation. "It is a question of their being Sindar or Teleri, and his being Nol..."
"That has nothing to do with it, you pompous Vanya," Erestor snapped and turned to Gilraen as well. "The problem was that the ones telling the tale were not exactly... in their right minds... at the time."
"He means they were drunk," Elrohir explained quickly. "You will need to learn to read between the lines if you want to understand Erestor's stories half the time."
"Excuse me. My stories are always told in a perfectly concise manner, nethben," Erestor drew himself up proudly. "I will have you know that..."
Gilraen found herself covering her mouth as she giggled very softly, suddenly feeling very much at home in this intimate, warm room with... family. She shared blood with the Master of Imladris himself - it was his brother who begat the entire line of Númenórean kings, after all. He was an uncle, unbelievably distant, but an uncle nonetheless.
She felt a gentle touch at her knee, and turned to exchange a silent glance with Master Elrond - to be called merely Elrond, she reminded herself, during these family evenings. His gaze was warm and welcoming. She smiled softly back at him, appreciating the welcome and the feeling of belonging that was slowly filling her, and then returned her listening attention to where Erestor and Glorfindel were continuing their pointed exchange. She sipped at and then set her goblet on a nearby table and unfolded her sewing to find where she'd left of stitching the latest seam. It was going to be a very interesting evening after all.
Gilraen opened the door to her suite and ushered Elrond in, and then led the way to the bedroom. Fast asleep still in the Elf Lord's arms, Estel looked warm and comfortable wrapped in the robe that had covered him in Elrond's bed. Elrond carefully lifted the boy over the protective bars of the crib and deposited him on the mattress, and then proceeded to tuck the warm robe back in around the boy.
"He has blankets," Gilraen whispered, pointing to the neatly folded item waiting at the foot of the crib to be put into use.
"Removing the robe and covering him with the blanket would awaken him," Elrond shook his head, "for the robe is already warm, and the blanket is not. Fear not, I can retrieve the garment in the morning."
Estel rolled onto his side, his hand grasping the robe and pulling it up close beneath his chin.
"Besides, I don't think we could get it away from him at the moment anyway." Even Elrond's whisper could sound amused. He bent and laid a hand on the boy's head for a long moment, and then straightened and turned away. He gestured, and Gilraen led the way from the room, closing the door just enough that the sound of Estel awakening for any reason would reach her easily.
"Thank you, Master Elrond," she said in a soft voice meant not to carry any further than her parlor.
"Just Elrond, please - and thank you, Gilraen," Elrond replied easily, and his grey eyes danced. "I wanted to tell you that your tale was most refreshing and illuminating, and I'm certain Erestor is going to be bothering you for more details eventually. I'm just hoping that you were not so put off by the endless bickering of some this evening that you won't lend us your company again in the future."
"Are they always that way - Glorfindel and Erestor?" Gilraen chuckled at the memory of the "discussion" that had followed her story once Estel had been put to bed in Elrond's chamber.
"Unfortunately. Be glad my sons were on their best behavior, or the evening's entertainment would have been much more lively," Elrond chuckled back. "I just hope we haven't disappointed you by being less than dignified and serene, as some of your people seem to think all Elves are."
"Disappointed?" Gilraen gaped. "Oh, no! This was the first time I've felt comfortable since I got here! If there has been one thing I've missed most of all, it is the laughter and the friendly teasing between the others of the village." She dropped her eyes suddenly, mortified at the implied insult her words could be construed, if misunderstood. "I mean... Not that being here is... Oh my..." If there had been a hole in the floor, she was certain she could have crawled through it.
"Dear child," Elrond moved closer as to comfort; and she dared to look back up at him at the compassionate tone in his deep voice, "you have said nothing that I hadn't already surmised. And the fact of the matter is that you have been alone in these rooms far too long. It is no wonder you have been lonely - and I have greatly feared that your spirit would begin to suffer if the situation were allowed to continue."
He moved to the small hearth that was only barely providing heat, and bent to stir the embers and add more fuel. "My sons have told me much about their time with Dúnedain since they have arrived, stories and tales that I have wanted to hear for a very long time now, and one of the things that always impressed them was the level of camaraderie between all parts of your society. After hearing that, I must confess, I asked Elladan to make certain you joined us this evening." He straightened once more and then gestured to her favorite chair. "Please, do you mind? I was hoping to speak to you, if it isn't too late."
"Certainly." She gestured to the chair on the other side of the hearth.
The Elf settled himself into the chair and relaxed, and his lack of tension communicated itself to her. Gilraen leaned back into the chair and rested her head against the comfortable cushion. "What can I do for you?"
Elrond steepled his fingers before his chin. "It is my understanding that when you married Arathorn, there were certain responsibilities that naturally fell to you." Gilraen nodded. It had become her job to keep records for the Dúnedain, a task that her own father had been fulfilling since the death of Arathorn's mother many years earlier.
"Something similar is traditional in Elven holdings as well. When my wife... left for the West, the task would naturally have fallen to..." He seemed to catch himself. "Well, be that as it may, there are no ladies of my house here to handle the task - and so it has become an extra duty that Erestor has seen fit to take upon himself. He has done well, please do not mistake my intent..."
"Are you asking if I would assist Erestor?" Gilraen asked, a little shocked. "Certainly keeping records for the whole of Imladris is beyond my..."
"Yes, I would like very much if you would assist Erestor," Elrond nodded. "And I am certain that you would be more than capable of the task, once you have been taught the Elven way of record-keeping." His grey eyes rested calmly on her face. "I believe this would solve a number of issues, not the least of which being your feeling like you and your son are here on suffrage."
Gilraen blushed, and wished that she could blame her proximity to the once-more warm flames of the hearth. "I..."
Elrond tipped his head and put up a restraining index finger. "Now, don't deny it. I see it in your eyes every time we meet. I have no idea what passed between you and your father before my sons brought you here, but I suspect you were firmly told that your own well-being and future were unimportant."
Was it so obvious? Gilraen felt every last ounce of warmth flee her cheeks.
"I thought so." The Master of Imladris sounded frustrated. "Dírhael is a good leader for your people, but I understand he can be harshest on those he cares about most. And so I find myself having to repair mistaken assumptions that he has planted in your mind." He leaned forward, a long finger stabbing at his knee to punctuate his points. "You are not merely here on suffrage. You are here because you are of my brother's line, and your son his latest heir. You have a right to be here, and you serve a greater purpose than simple childcare." He relaxed back into the chair. "It is my opinion that by shifting duties and responsibilities within my hall to you, you can come to believe this more readily."
"You're very kind..."
Elrond shook his head vigorously. "I'm being practical. Erestor's load of duties is a heavy one, and he carries the responsibilities of the lady of the hall on top of all of them. In the fullness of time, he will become one of Estel's chief tutors. In order that life continue here as it has, therefore, he will have to abdicate some portion of those duties. You, my dear, need purpose. It is an obvious solution to both dilemmas." He gazed at her assessingly. "Are you interested?"
Gilraen gazed at him, trying to imagine a life where all she did was sit in her suite day after day sewing clothing for herself and her son and finding the outlook bleak. "Yes," she answered finally, "I think I am interested."
"Good." Elrond relaxed back into the chair's cushions in a mirror of her posture. "Either Erestor or myself will begin training you on the various areas in which you will eventually hold authority. Will tomorrow be too soon to begin?"
Gilraen shook her head. "No, my lo..." She caught herself before he had a chance to correct her. "I mean, that sounds very reasonable. In the morning?"
"After we break our fast would be an ideal time," he smiled at her. "As a matter of fact, if you would break your fast with us in our private dining room, Erestor and I could begin your orientation even as my sons take charge of Estel."
She stared at him. "Private dining room?"
"Ah." He smiled. "I will send one of my sons to escort you, then, so you can know the way." He rose. "And now I will wish the stars shine brightly on your dreams, my dear. You look tired, and need your rest. Tomorrow will be a full day for you."
Gilraen rose in response. "I look forward to it," she said softly, and surprised herself by realizing that she really was looking forward to the new day. "May the stars shine brightly on your dreams as well, M... Elrond. And thank you."
Elrond bowed to her. "Until morning then." He swept through the room and quietly pulled the door to her suite closed behind himself.
Gilraen blew all of the candles in the room out save one, which she carried with her into the bedchamber. She paused to look down into the crib at her son, so carefully wrapped in an Elf Lord's robe; and she realized that Elrond had just done much the same to her, only with words and the offer of a purpose to her day. As she changed into her sleeping gown and pulled the pins from her hair, she reviewed the evening from beginning to end.
And decided that maybe Imladris wasn't all that bad after all.
Adar - father
Mae govannen - Well met
Naneth - mother
nethben - little one
Taur-e-Ndaedelos - Mirkwood
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.