"I added the numbers in the way I was taught long ago, Master Erestor," Gilraen explained with a sigh. This was becoming a familiar battle. "Is it not more important that the figures on the report be correct and noted in proper Elven fashion?"
"But can you not see that this is not so much a matter of correctness as it is a matter of process?" the Loremaster asked back with a hint of frustration. Gilraen was beginning to wonder if the otherwise unflappable Elf now regretted agreeing to instruct her in the more complex art of recording necessary information in the housekeeping books and preparing the various reports for Master Elrond. "It would be easier if you..."
"No, It wouldn't," Gilraen stated firmly. "With all due respect, I find it very difficult to remember that numbers are to be written from right to left, while words are written from left to right. I cannot add or subtract in that manner and still hope to remain consistently correct. Besides, if Master Elrond felt the need to double-check my figures, I'm certain he wouldn't be looking for the wax tablets I used for my calculations; he would merely total them up for himself."
"That isn't the point," Erestor drew himself to his full height and looked down at her with an expression of exasperation. "You are here to learn to keep records in the Elven manner. You cannot do that if you keep resorting to your..." He gestured with impatience at the tablet in question.
"How often does Master Elrond need to double-check your figures?" She wasn't going to back down from this; she just wasn't. She also couldn't imagine having to battle Master Elrond over such a trivial point, which only strengthened her resolve.
Erestor looked shocked at the mere suggestion. "Never. He knows he needs not double-check my totals. I fail to see..."
"And if he were to double-check your figures, would he demand to see your work, or merely do it for himself?" she persisted, reasonably certain of his reply.
Ah! She'd been right - and the solemn grey eyes suddenly refused to meet hers. "He would probably simply do the arithmetic for himself."
"Then would it be safe for me to assume that if and when he felt the need to double-check my figures, he would do the same?" She wanted to smile, but didn't. For the first time, it appeared she might have actually won an argument with the Elf.
"More than likely, you would be correct in your assumption," Erestor sighed and shook his head. "But it really isn't as difficult as it seems to you..."
"That may well be," she conceded with no trace of gloating, "but why make more work for the both of us? I already know my arithmetic; what I need to learn is the proper method of recording the totals in the household ledger and properly creating the reports that will end up on Master Elrond's desk."
"She has you there," came a chuckle from behind them both, and Gilraen very deliberately replaced the quill into the inkwell so as not to accidentally mar the household ledger in front of her when she turned. Glorfindel sauntered up and peeked down over her shoulder. "And you have to admit, she has a clear enough hand. Provided she can back up any figure she puts down, I would say that the most logical option open to you is to go on to the next topic."
"Hmph!" Once more Gilraen had to control her temptation to smile or in any manner demonstrate her amusement at the way Master Elrond's Chief Counselor snapped his robes about him abruptly and moved back to the other side of the table. "As it is close to midday, I suppose we can stop here and continue on the morrow."
"Thank you, Master Erestor." Gilraen rose and bowed to her teacher before gathering her tablet and stylus. "Will you be joining us tonight, after the meal?"
"Unfortunately, no. I have some work that I have left pending for some time that needs finishing," he informed her, his tone modulating slightly away from frustration at last. He glanced up at the warrior and continued dismissively, "Besides, it is Glorfindel's turn at story-telling, and I have heard his tales already many times."
"Not the one I was going to tell tonight," the golden warrior beamed at him. "I have been saving this one back for a long time, waiting for a suitable occasion in which to share it. But it's your loss, my friend, if you aren't around to hear it."
"Hmph!" Erestor straightened the books and papers that he had brought to the table into a neat stack, and then moved with his usual, deliberate speed back to his desk. "Good day to you both then."
"My lady," Glorfindel said, extending his arm, "may I escort you to luncheon?"
"Thank you. I'll need to drop these off first..."
"Don't be ridiculous. Erestor, she can leave these things here until after the meal, can she not?"
Erestor gave him an absent wave. "If that is what you wish," he said, already having turned back to whatever had called his attention. He seated himself and casually tossed long, dark hair back out of the way and focused on the document in front of him.
"You see?" Glorfindel gently relieved her of her writing materials and placed them on the small table near the main entrance to the library. "They'll be right here when you're ready to retrieve them; but in the meanwhile, your hands are unencumbered." He claimed her hand to his arm and opened the door to usher her out.
Gilraen blushed slightly. She still had not quite figured out how to take the attentions offered her by this magnificent figure rising straight out of the legends of her childhood. The living Glorfindel was irrepressible and irreverent, sharp of wit and completely under-impressed with his own reputation. He was well aware of his capabilities and his responsibilities to Elrond and Imladris as a whole; when acting within any of his official roles, only Elrond himself commanded more authority or got quicker results. But when he decided to set all of that aside, Gilraen found herself sometimes forgetting that he was an Elf of immeasurable age and repute. His stories tended to hold entertainment value for young and old alike, and he appeared to have made it one of his responsibilities to make her laugh.
"Where's Estel?" she inquired, not seeing her son in the private dining room that she had been informed was hers to use as one considered a part of Master Elrond's family. Then again, she didn't see either of the twins.
"Elladan and Elrohir decided to give him a picnic today, I believe," Glorfindel replied, handing her an empty plate and leading the way to the sideboard where the midday repast was offered. "They may even have him helping them catch enough fish for the family's evening meal."
Gilraen frowned slightly. "It's getting a little late in the year for Estel to be walking around in drenched clothing after a fishing expedition. We Dúnedain don't handle the cold with quite as much ease as do you Elves."
Glorfindel's raised eyebrow received a nod in response, and he deposited a helping of fruit salad on Gilraen's plate before depositing a slightly larger one on his own, even as she claimed two thick slices of bread and put one on each of the plates. "They have learned their lesson, my dear, never fear. At the bottom of the picnic bundle is a set of dry clothing and a towel - just in case Estel manages to get wet again. You should have seen how distressed they were when they realized that allowing Estel to wander about drenched in a twilight's breeze had caused that... what did you call it?"
"Cold," Gilraen supplied the word tiredly. Estel had been miserable - and so had she, when she had come down with the same ailment a mere ten days later.
"Exactly. Elrond laid down the law to them as well - no more chills for the boy until he can better handle the stress to the body." Glorfindel chuckled. "Besides, neither of them enjoyed having to clean themselves from the spray of Estel's little... explosions..."
"Sneezes," she supplied again. She took a careful look at his face, and her lips quirked at the sparkle in his eye. It was as she suspected: he was again finding ways to lighten her mood. He had lived too long not to know both the illness itself and its symptoms to be reaching for vocabulary in such a disingenuous manner; and he knew that she knew this.
His response validated her assessment, for his lips twitched as well. "Ah yes." Glorfindel's hand was at her elbow, guiding her to the table. "Messy things, those. Most distressing." Then he was fetching two goblets of watered wine and seating himself across the table from her. "And Elladan told me the two of them were quite challenged to find ways to keep him entertained while he was prohibited from going outside."
"They weren't the only ones, trust me," she sighed. She had read every last book intended for children that Master Erestor could find in the library - twice, at least - during those times when the twins were unavailable and her son was awake and bored. Even Master Elrond had taken his turn telling the boy stories, and been just as successful - or not, as the case might be - as any of the rest of them. An ailing Estel was a thoroughly unpleasant person to be around for any length of time.
Glorfindel chuckled again. "The point is, Estel is well and safely tended by Elladan and Elrohir. And so the question I have is: what do you intend to do with the rest of the day?"
Gilraen lifted a surprised eyebrow in his direction, her fingers with their small clump of nuts and raspberry suspended between plate and lips. "I still have to mend Estel's formal trousers from getting caught and torn on those rosebushes." She answered carefully; Glorfindel did not ask such questions idly, she'd found. "Why?"
The Balrog-slayer's crystal blue gaze penetrated hers with ease. "You have not left the bounds of the House since you arrived almost six months past, except to wander a bit in the gardens close by." He shook a finger at her when her mouth dropped open to protest. "Do not bother to deny it - I hear Elrond worry about you all too often. I thought today, perhaps, you might be interested in seeing the valley in its autumn splendor while it is still warm enough to make such an excursion pleasant." He sipped at his wine. "So tell me, do you ride for pleasure?"
She swallowed hard in surprise. " I'd never thought to do so. The horses at home either work or are in use by the men, so I have very little experience just riding."
"Ah!" When Glorfindel smiled widely, Gilraen decided, it was like the sun coming out from behind departing storm clouds. "We surely cannot allow that to continue! Riding is one of the ways in which we all can escape from the somber duties that tie us to household ledgers, warden assignment logs, treaties and the like. Allow me to speak to Master Elrond after luncheon, and then assist you in choosing a mount that would be suitable for you."
"I don't know..." she hedged. Why was he doing this? Surely he had other, more important, matters to attend to.
As happened all too often among the Elves, Glorfindel seemed quite aware of what she was thinking. "Gilraen, your mending, like your wax tablet in the library, will wait very patiently for your return," he told her with quiet serenity, "and you have no schedule of repairs pressing for the task to be completed immediately, do you?"
He leaned across the table, his hand reaching out and capturing hers as it lay by her plate. "Allow me to do this for you, Lady. It would give me much pleasure. You ask for so little from us, while we, in turn, are in the process of dumping one of the most thankless jobs in all of Imladris into your lap. Trust me, I have listened to Erestor's whines about having to keep track of supplies and the help for the better part of five centuries now; I know what it is you face. An afternoon with no cares, in the fresh air, discovering the beauty that surrounds you from a new perspective, would not constitute dereliction of duty - for either of us."
"Dereliction of duty?" a deep voice queried from behind Gilraen, making her jump. A gentle hand landed on her shoulder even as another plate was deposited on the table. "Forgive me for startling you," Elrond soothed, moving into her line of sight. "I forget, sometimes, that you are one of the only people here I could possibly approach without being heard."
Gilraen reached for her wine and smiled over the rim of the goblet. "No harm done, Master Elrond," she assured him.
"Now," he continued after bringing not only a goblet of his own to the table, but the entire carafe of wine as well, "what was this I heard about dereliction of duty?" He seated himself and poured his goblet full.
"I was merely pointing out to Gilraen that she hasn't left the perimeters of the garden walls since she arrived," Glorfindel explained, his blue eyes dancing. "And when she told me that she has little experience of riding for pleasure..."
"Indeed?" Elrond's grey gaze studied her face, making Gilraen blush. "I hope you put forth plans to remedy the situation?" He pulled off a small bite of his bread with honey and poked it into his mouth with grace.
Her eyes opened wide. Master Elrond agreed with Glorfindel about such a thing? "But..."
"I did," Glorfindel nodded. "I told her I was going to speak to you and then help her pick out a suitable mount - and then show her about the valley a little bit, while the weather still allows."
Elrond didn't hesitate, but nodded immediately. "I think that is a good plan. I approve completely." He sipped at his wine and then put the goblet back on the table. "As a matter of fact, I had thought of escaping my own office this afternoon, while the weather was still cooperative. So if you would not mind an extra companion on your ride..."
Glorfindel's smile was wide again. "Of course not! And when Erestor goes to your office, seeking your advice as he always does about mid-afternoon, you will not be there. I will once more get to listen to him accuse me of inspiring truancy. What fun!"
"Ah." Elrond grinned knowingly. "Is that where the comment about dereliction of duty arises?"
"In a way." The Balrog-Slayer let his blue eyes rest on Gilraen's blushing face again. "I told the Lady here that an afternoon spent in the sun, leaving aside pending sewing repairs that are not urgent, does not rise to the level of dereliction of duty."
"He is correct, you know," Elrond bent to her. "There is a time to all things; and living wisely means knowing when to balance recreation with responsibility. He is also correct that you have spent altogether too much time cooped up inside since you arrived. And, as your host, I am remiss in not showing you the sights of my domain. You must allow me to redress this lapse of hospitality."
Gilraen looked back and forth between the two, not understanding them at all. "But..." she tried again. "Your duties..."
"Will wait for us as patiently as your wax tablets wait for you," Glorfindel said gently.
"Wax tablets?" It was Elrond's turn to look confused. "She uses wax tablets?"
"Much to Erestor's chagrin," the golden warrior began chuckling. "But that is Gilraen's tale to tell."
Gilraen blanched and then sighed. At least, before she returned to Master Erestor's tutelage in the morning, she'd know for certain whether Master Elrond would complain if she did her sums on her wax tablets, or if even he wanted her to learn that confusing way of adding that was known as Elven arithmetic.
This is amazing, Gilraen thought as she watched the Lord of Imladris vault lightly over the fence and into the enclosed meadow, not in his usual formal robes, but rather dressed in very informal suede garb that reminded her a good deal of the leathers Arathorn had always worn. Right behind him sprang Glorfindel, who had also abandoned his pristine white robes for rather worn-looking suede of his own. A sharp whistle cut through the air - was that Elrond who could whistle like that? - and in answer came a distant whinny and several nickers. Over a small rise flowed a small herd of horses, answering their master's call.
She leaned on the rough-cut wooden fencing, watching in amazement and admiration as the two Elves were greeted, nudged, bumped, and jostled from ever direction by the attentive horses. She laughed when Elrond finally had to push one inquisitive muzzle away so he could reach into a pocket and bring out the treat he'd secreted for his equine friends - seeing Glorfindel do much the same. The two Elves then walked among the herd conversing for a while, examining several closely, and Gilraen had to admit that these were some of the sleekest, most beautiful horses she'd ever seen. Only the magnificent and spirited stallions on which Elladan and Elrohir had always arrived in her village seemed finer.
Eventually, however, Elrond put a hand on the neck of one of the horses and, with but a word whispered into an attentive ear, walked back across the grass to where Gilraen stood. "I would like you to meet Rochiril," he announced, and Gilraen found herself looking into an intelligent grey face. "She has agreed to carry you and help you learn to ride properly."
"She has?" Gilraen blinked. She'd heard stories about the Elves and their horses - how the Elves could communicate with them and not only be understood, but understand the animal's answers in turn - but until now had given them no credence. Even now, she wasn't entirely convinced.
"This is the Lady Gilraen," Elrond continued in all seriousness. Gilraen saw the ears of the mare twitch, so she knew the beast was listening. "She will need your patience and your help. Can you greet her properly?"
Astonishingly, the mare stepped right up to the fence and whiffled the hair on the top of Gilraen's head. Gilraen put up a hand, only to have it filled with a velvety soft nose that breathed warm air into her palm. "Oh, you are a lovely one!" she whispered, running her hand up to a rounded cheek and then to carefully straighten the forelock over mare's face. Suddenly, the idea of learning to ride sounded very interesting. She turned to see Elrond beaming serenely at her. "I can borrow her?"
"Borrow?" Elrond shook his head. "No. One does not possess other living beings, or trade them back and forth as if they were mere property. But provided a friendship grows between the two of you, she will bear you wherever and whenever you wish to ride."
This was beyond comprehension. "But..."
The Master of Imladris merely shook a finger at her. "You need a suitable mount. Rochiril has consented to be such for you. It is done, now, as it has always been done." His hand patted the grey neck fondly. "Come now - let us find the Lady a saddle that will make her feel more secure, while she..." The ancient grey eyes swept Gilraen's figure knowingly, making her blush yet again. "...goes inside and speaks to Maeniel about more appropriate clothing. We shall await you in the courtyard."
Gilraen stood, struck dumb by the unexpected familiarity in the gaze, as well as the relaxed informality in one she'd seen only behave with weight and wisdom, unable to get her mind to work well enough to order her feet to move. Glorfindel laughed lightly. "It's nice to know you haven't entirely lost your touch, old friend. You can still charm a woman completely off her feet," the golden warrior quipped and vaulted over the fence as Elrond aimed a half-hearted swat at him. He took gentle custody of Gilraen's arm. "Lady - the House is this way."
Gilraen found herself pulled forward and yet steadied by her Elven escort. " Master Elrond... He really thinks... Rochiril agreed to this, does he?" she stammered. Horses were property, weren't they?
"Of course he does - because she did. I was there," Glorfindel answered firmly. "You need a mount that is gentle, yet capable. Rochiril is ideal for you - and she already likes you."
"She's too valuable..."
"Nonsense." Glorfindel opened the door for her but didn't let loose of her hand. "You are a member of the family - why shouldn't you have access to what the rest of us do by right of blood?" He pulled her to a halt and turned to face her. "Don't tell me you are once more suffering from the illusion that you are not worthy!" Gilraen turned away from that piercing gaze that saw far more than was comfortable. "I thought so. If ever I have opportunity to speak privately to Dírhael, I shall be honored to give him a healthy piece of my mind regarding his treatment of you; and you can bet that Elrond will be second in line to do the same."
"He was just doing as he thought right," she defended her father lamely.
"Hmph!" Glorfindel turned her down a hallway that she hadn't had opportunity to fully explore yet and then knocked at the second door. "Maeniel, this is the Lady Gilraen. Gilraen, this is our head seamstress," he introduced the pretty elleth who answered his summons. "Maeniel, Master Elrond wishes that you find for her something suitable for riding this afternoon."
Gilraen found herself the target of a very quick and assessing look from Maeniel and then the recipient of a wide smile. "She looks to be almost of a size with Arwen - just not as tall. I should have a few pieces she left behind that won't take much work to alter." She waved Gilraen in but put up a hand, preventing Glorfindel from following. "Go on, my lord. I shall send her out again once the alterations are complete. You need not observe her dressing and undressing, do you?"
The look of surprise and then dismay that washed over his fine features made Gilraen step away and into the apartment so as not to break down and giggle like a fool. "Of course... I mean, of course not! I shall await you... here... Lady Gilraen," Glorfindel nodded firmly. "Yes. Much better I stay here..." Then his consternation cleared. "But make some haste; Master Elrond awaits us both."
"Then we will do as we can," Maeniel chuckled and closed the door. "It is so much fun when one can get the better of that Elf!" Turning to Gilraen, she pointed. "Off with the skirt and blouse. You need only trousers and tunic. Tell me - can you sew a hem?"
"Good." Maeniel headed for a chest and began digging through the folded garments it contained. She pulled out one, then another, and then turned and pointed again. "Underskirt off too - you won't need it. Then put these on..." She handed over a pair of suede trousers. "...and stand on that stool so I can mark where they need to be trimmed."
Unbelievably - with Gilraen hemming trousers while the seamstress let out seams and added gussets to the tunic - Maeniel managed to make the necessary adjustments to the garments she'd selected in record time. She then waved at a newly-garbed Gilraen toward the door after asking if she would consider helping out with some of the sewing for the realm from time to time. With a promise of enough sewing to fill her evening hours, Gilraen opened the seamstress' apartment door to find Glorfindel leaning casually against the wall across the way, his arms folded and his ankles crossed. "Have you been waiting out here all this time?" Gilraen asked, startled.
Blue eyes swept her as he straightened quickly, taking in the way the tunic tended to hug her a little more closely than any other garment she'd ever worn. "It was a wait worth enduring," he stated with startling candor and no small amount of admiration - making her blush warmly. He eyed the little bundle of garments she held with a growing smile. "Maeniel, can she leave her things here until we get back?"
"Of course." Maeniel came up behind Gilraen and promptly relieved her of her discarded clothing. "Enjoy your ride, Lady Gilraen."
"You seem determined that I leave little bits of myself in odd places, my lord," Gilraen commented as her hand was once more commandeered, "my tablets in the library, where they still are, by the way; and now my clothing with the seamstress..."
Glorfindel chuckled softly. "Am I as obvious as all that? I merely am doing my best to make certain that you are out of your apartment and visible to the rest of us as much as possible."
"I haven't been hiding," she complained as he pushed the front door of the House open for her. "I haven't!" she repeated at the raised and skeptical eyebrow.
Glorfindel didn't answer, but escorted her across the courtyard to where Elrond waited with the grey mare, now equipped with a saddle and headstall, while two others - spirited and dancing stallions with nothing at all but ropes about their necks - were held at a distance by two patient Elves. "We came as quickly as we could," he explained as the Master of the House gave Gilraen a quick glance and then a satisfied nod.
"Well done." Elrond turned to Gilraen and bent to cup his hands together. "Allow me to help you mount."
Amazed that the Lord of the realm would allow her to step into his very hands, she obeyed and found his grip quite stable. Once firmly seated in the well-padded saddle, Gilraen watched as Elrond on one side and Glorfindel on the other moved to adjust the length of the stirrups. "Remember to keep your heels down, and only rest the balls of your feet on the stirrups," Elrond advised.
The two Elf lords leapt easily onto the backs of the sleek stallions, who seemed surprised to be interrupted in their competition for the attentions of the pretty grey mare. "We'll go slowly and only walk today. You and Rochiril need a little time to get to know each other better before we tackle something more jarring," Glorfindel announced firmly. "Hold your reins this way," he directed and then leaned across and adjusted her grip.
"It seems we are not the only ones just now returning," Elrond commented lightly as the three riders walked sedately into the courtyard. He pointed, and Gilraen could see two tall Elves striding through the orchard just outside the courtyard fence with a very small child suspended between their hands, swinging back and forth as the Elves walked forward. She could hear the joy in her little son's voice, and the amusement in the lower voices that answered him. She also couldn't help but notice the healthy string of fish hanging from both Elven belts.
"I doubt you'll have much trouble with his bath time this night, Lady," Glorfindel added with a chuckle. "I would wager that Elladan and Elrohir will have worn the boy out completely by now, and he'll barely stay awake long enough to eat some of that fish. And he's dry," he added slyly, referring to their discussion over lunch.
"Thank Elbereth for that small favor!" At least she wouldn't have to worry about another cold setting in.
"Nana!" Estel had caught sight of the riders, and he struggled and successfully broke away from his minders when they released his hands. "Nana! Ada! See what we gots for supper tonight!"
Gilraen felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach. Ada? Since when did Estel call anyone but his own father "Ada?"
She turned to Elrond in consternation, but saw that he was looking back at her, equally stunned. He had expected this no more than she had! That made her feel just slightly better - it would have rankled to think that the Elves had convinced Estel to accept the Master of Imladris as his father without at least notifying her of it beforehand - but it hurt nonetheless to think that Estel himself had forgotten Arathorn now to the point that he was ready to accept another as 'Ada'.
She was grateful to Glorfindel when the golden warrior descended from Asfaloth and was there to catch up her running son in his arms with a joyous whoop, but her smile faded when the one to whom Estel was reaching out to first was not her - not his mother - but to Elrond.
The conflict in Elrond's face was obvious, and Gilraen understood his disquiet fully and immediately. Her son was ordering his new life about him, and assigning roles to his Elven caregivers without asking permission or giving notice. He had heard both of the twins refer to Elrond as "Adar" or "Ada" often enough in her presence - she hadn't given the occurrence much thought at the time - and was assuming that he was allowed to do the same. But now, if Elrond nudged Estel toward her instead of taking him up on his horse with him, he would be perceived as quietly refusing the fragile connection. And yet she could see, in the Elven lord's expression, his unwillingness to be responsible for the emotional blow his accepting that connection would make for her.
Even Glorfindel hesitated, and his face turned to her. Valar! They were letting her decide if this was going to be permitted!
Gilraen saw the affection in her son's face slowly starting to fade into confusion, and knew that she had no choice. This day had been assured since the terms of his residency had been agreed upon. It was inevitable: Arathorn would fade in Estel's memory, but he would not lack for a father that he would need more than almost anything else as he grew into the man he would become. Estel needed a role model worth striving for; and Elrond was more than qualified for the job. Estel had chosen well. "Give him to his adar," she directed in a voice she could only hope sounded more convinced than she felt. She wouldn't break down and sob - not now, not in front of Estel and the Elves!
Still, her breath caught as she saw the flash of comprehension and compassion that filled Glorfindel's face just before he turned and handed his small burden up into the arms of a still-stunned Elf lord. "Look, Ada!" Estel seemed not to notice, but patted Elrond's cheeks gently to get his full attention and then pointed down at where Elladan and Elrohir were just now coming close. "We caughted lots and lots of fishes for supper!"
Elrond swallowed hard before looking down at Estel and ruffling the boy's hair. "So I see, my son," he managed finally, acknowledging and affirming his new place in the boy's life. "We shall dine well this night."
"Elladan teached me words to say, and then made me he'p clean them too," the chatterbox continued with a thoroughly disgusted look on his face. "Icky!"
"This is well done too," Elrond chuckled weakly and then sobered. "When we take the life of other creatures in order to survive, we should always take full responsibility for what needs to be done. That includes giving thanks for their gift and then caring for it properly. Your brothers have taught you well this day."
Gilraen could see the surprise on the twins' faces, and saw each in turn glance over at her to assess her reaction to the shift in relationships taking place right before their eyes. "We will see his soiled clothing to the laundress, Lady," remarked the one who recovered first - she still couldn't distinguish one from the other. "Learning to clean fish for the first time can be a messy business."
Meaning the clothes were most likely bloodstained. Gilraen swallowed and nodded her thanks. She needed no further reminders of death and separation this day.
"I ride with you?" Estel asked then, twining his fingers in the coarse mane of Elrond's mount.
Again Gilraen found Elrond's grey eyes seeking hers for direction. She gave him a tiny nod and then gave Rochiril a tiny tap with her heel to get her to walk again.
"Very well," she heard the Elf lord agree behind her, "but when we get to the stables, you will have to go on with your brothers to the kitchen and present the cooks with their evening assignment."
Gilraen felt as if she were moving through a fog as she approached the stables and had a helpful Elf hurry forward as she slid from the saddle and onto slightly unstable legs. Only a few moments later, however, a firm hand had cupped her elbow. "We will see to Rochiril for you today," Glorfindel told her gently. "Tomorrow we will show you how to care for her before and after a ride; but today, I think, you could use a rest."
She nodded, working too hard against tears to be able to speak. He turned her and helped her make her way up the steps to the House and then through the corridors until they stood at her door. "Thank you," Gilraen managed in a whisper. "For everything."
"Gilraen, will you be all right?" he asked quietly. She glanced up into a face that hid none of its owner's emotions of understanding, concern and sympathy.
As grateful as she was for the understanding, the last thing she wanted at the moment was sympathy or pity. She knew what she had lost and wished to mourn alone. "I'll be fine," she told him, straightening her shoulders and tossing her head just enough to toss back the tears as well. "Thank you for your concern."
"Lady." The Balrog-slayer pressed his hand over his heart and bowed to her, and she turned to open her door so as not to watch him leave. She wanted to be the one leaving - not the one being left all the time.
Alone at last, Gilraen leaned against her door and finally allowed the tears and sobs to break loose. Of all of her illusions living here among the Elves, forbidden to speak her husband's name or even her son's given name, her fondest one had been that Estel would remember that his father had loved him, but had been taken from him too soon. She'd known it to be wishful thinking only, but she'd hung onto that as, one by one, that which had once belonged to Arathorn had been reclaimed and given over to one Elf or another.
How would she be able to compete with the very air that surrounded them all? She was living in Elven lands, in an Elven household, with an Elven family. Estel would not be as other Dúnedain, no matter how good Elladan and Elrohir were at teaching him the traditions and ways of his people. He would see this - this Elven life - as "home" and "family".
To save him, his people had lost him.
She drew herself together and walked shakily into the bedroom to change from her riding clothes into a gown - realizing only after she was standing in her small clothes that her good underskirt was still in the keeping of the seamstress. She drew out her only other underskirt and a worn blouse and skirt and dressed herself. Drawing a shaking hand over her hair, she disciplined herself to stillness.
She would not mourn that which was lost any longer; the loss had happened long since. For her son's sake, she would look forward. She had a purpose here, almost as important as her place at home. Her son was safe, well loved and secure in a family circle that provided him will all the possible support and guidance he could need. She was gradually discovering she had friends here.
But it still hurt.
Gilraen focused her attention on her sewing - setting in a sleeve for a new shirt for someone, Maeniel hadn't told her who and she hadn't asked when she'd turned over the task while returning her clothing - and let the sound of Glorfindel's voice telling the evening story in the Hall of Fire wash over her. Her lap was empty this evening of all but the sewing, however; Estel had attached himself to the Master of the House almost the moment they had arrived after his bath, and Elrond had cuddled him and teased him gently and now cradled him as he drifted away to sleep.
The Hall of Fire was far more comfortable than she had thought when she first arrived in Imladris - and having a place among the Master's family meant a chair in the family circle near the hearth, close enough to storyteller and music to be able to enjoy the evening's entertainment. This night, Glorfindel told tales of his childhood, of losing his father to one of Morgoth's invasions and of the Elf that had fostered him. With the knowledge and pain that only came from the personal loss of a parent suffered by a son, Gilraen knew that the story had been meant for her.
Erestor had evidently finished whatever task it was that he wanted to accomplish and arrived in time for the storytelling. Afterwards, he and Glorfindel refrained from their regular bickering about trivial points in the story, actually breaking down and telling a little of his own story in response to some of the post-story discussion. To have Erestor recounting such personal experiences captured the attention of many in the Hall, for he was normally quite reticent about offering any information about his own past. He touched very briefly on the loss of his own parents in the sack of Tirion - enough to tell Gilraen that even her tutor knew of the events of the afternoon.
She was not surprised when Elrond once more carried a sleeping Estel back to her suite and tucked him into his crib, nor did his hesitation and playing with the dark curls for a few, brief moments before turning away give her pause. The Master of the House walked all the way back to her apartment door before finally turning.
"Gilraen, I did not intend..."
"I know, Elrond," she replied, putting a hand up to stop his protestation. "You were just as surprised as I was. I bear you no ill will for what happened. Merciful Elbereth, you had just introduced me to my first horse and shown me the magnificence of your valley."
"Still..." He moved back into the room a few steps. "I know what this has cost you personally." His already deep voice grew even more profound. "There is still time to direct his thinking into other lines of thought, however, if you wish."
Gilraen waved him toward one of her comfortable chairs, sinking into the other tiredly. "I cannot say I didn't expect this sooner or later," she sighed, resting her chin in her hand. "When you decreed that my husband's name would never be spoken, that my son would not hear his own name until much later, it was only reasonable that he would begin to fill in the gaps of his family with those he was learning to care for."
"I did much the same as a child," Elrond said softly. "I was very young when my mother left us, even younger when my father departed. The first real parent I remember was Maglor; and yet, I never could convince myself to call him 'adar.' Just because his father's name must remain unspoken doesn't mean Estel cannot know that his father was Dúnedain," he continued gently, folding his hands in his lap. "I am more than willing to foster your son as my own without laying claim to such an intimate relationship as 'adar.'"
"But Estel has already heard me call you his adar. To change now will only confuse him, and right now, he needs stability, security - a way of ordering his world that he can understand. Ara... my husband would understand this. Besides," she gave him a thin smile, "he soon will be leaving my nest to begin to learn to be a man. A big part of that requires that he have a father figure. You - or one of your sons - would be the logical choice for that; whether he calls you 'Adar' or not, you would be so in his mind."
The grey eyes smiled sadly at her. "You are very wise, Gilraen."
"All I ask is that you do not forget your promise that he be taught what it means to be Dúnedain."
Elrond nodded. "That I can do. He may call me 'Adar', but I will make it clear that I am a foster-father only, even though I think of him and treat him as if he were my own. He will never doubt his heritage. Elladan and Elrohir will be of great assistance, when the time is right, to make certain of this - I swear it."
Tears unexpectedly sprang into her eyes. "That would be most satisfactory," she whispered, blinking hard.
A large hand reached out and captured her forearm as it lay on the arm of her chair. "And you and I will confer often about the greater and smaller things involved in raising a son we both can be proud of, just as you and your husband would have done, if things had been different."
"You don't have to do that..."
"Yes, I do. I know the danger of a child attempting to play one parent against the other; and I know from past experience that all will try it, at one time or another. Our remaining united on all things that concern our son is of paramount importance."
"'Our' son," Gilraen whispered. How strange it sounded to hear such a thing from the lips of someone other that Arathorn!
The hand tightened its grip on her arm. "I am most honored that you would consent to share your son with me in this way."
She gaze into ancient, grey eyes and felt much of the sting of rejection fading away. "Thank you," she said at last, actually meaning it.
Elrond rose; and when she rose as well, he reached out to her shoulders to pull her close enough to kiss very softly on the forehead. "May the stars shine brightly on your dreams this night, child. And may Elbereth herself guide us all in the days and years ahead."
"May your dreams be similarly blest," she returned, and the smile that answered her before the door closed behind Elrond's departure warmed her heart.
It still hurt to think that Arathorn would never be 'Ada' again in her son's mind. But the assurances she'd just received made the pain bearable.
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.