"Nana!" came the only barely whispered call that inevitably accompanied such an interruption.
"Shhhh!" both Gilraen and Erestor cautioned Estel as he trotted up to his mother, arms already raised for a hug. She carefully deposited her pen back into the inkwell before bending down to him. "My son, you must remember not to run in the library. What if you had bumped into Master Menester, carrying scrolls for Master Erestor, and made him drop them?"
Estel dutifully lifted his head and gazed at the stern Elf across the table. "I'm sorry, Master Erestor. I forgot."
"You did," Erestor acknowledged with his customary bluntness. "And, I regret to inform you, one day you shall run into Menester, or myself, or even your naneth - if you do not heed our warnings and remember yourself beforehand."
The child's gaze dropped to where he started picking at the embroidery that graced his mother's blouse. "I'm sorry," he repeated, this time with more feeling.
Gilraen felt for Estel. His nature was an irrepressible one; he rejoiced in every new thing he learned and shared each and every achievement with her first. "So, tell me," she tightened her arms slightly to regain his attention to her face, "what has you charging at full speed into the library today?"
She felt her heart skip as the smile that returned to Estel's face was very much his father's. "Elladan said that I could start to watch at the practice ring tomorrow - and maybe even join in some of the exercises!" He glowed with excitement. "He said I was growing big enough that I could, Nana!"
Gilraen had to work very hard not to flinch. The thought of a sword in the hand of her innocent little son chilled her to her very heart. She'd known this day was coming soon; boys of the Dúnedain often started their practice as young as three or four with sticks gathered from the ground, and Estel was well past his fourth birthday already. Besides, Elladan and Elrohir had both mentioned to her that skills in self defense and woodcraft learned very early on would serve her son in very good stead in later years. The woodcraft she hadn't minded, but the thought of a sword...
"Aren't you proud, Nana?" Estel demanded, patting her cheek gently the way he would do to regain an adult's attention that had wandered.
"Of course I am," Gilraen forced a smile to her lips and hugged her son tightly. "And so should you be. You know your brothers would not let you near the practice ring if they didn't think you ready."
Estel squirmed in her grasp now. "Can I go tell Ada? Please?"
Once more Gilraen's and Erestor's gazes met - this time in agreement. "Master Elrond is in a meeting with several important men," Erestor told the boy. "But I am certain that he will be more than delighted to hear your news at supper tonight."
Estel's elation faltered, but then brightened again. "Can I tell Glorfindel, then?"
That Elf would definitely be more accessible, Gilraen knew. His days of late had been spent working through the herd of yearlings, deciding which of them would be gelded, which would be offered in trade to Lothlorien and Mithlond, and which would remain here to find new Elven companions. "You may go find Glorfindel, but be certain not to interrupt him if he is concentrating on the horses," she told him, giving him a kiss on the tip of the nose.
"Can I ask him to let me ride a little?" The grey eyes sparkled even brighter.
"You may ask," she replied, straightening his collar, "but you must accept his answer if he tells you no."
As if Glorfindel would deny her son a ride! The Elf had only rarely denied her son anything asked of him. If Elrond had become Ada - beloved father and the accepted authority in Imladris - and Elladan and Elrohir doting and attentive brothers, Glorfindel had taken on the role of indulgent uncle. Many had been the times that when Estel had vanished without word to any of his normal guardians, he could be found in the stables, perched high and safe on a stack of baled hay, listening intently as Glorfindel recounted stories while tending Asfaloth.
Estel beamed at her, gave her another quick and tight hug about the neck, and then whirled. "Slowly, Estel," Erestor warned in a soft whisper. "No running."
"I won't," the boy promised and walked as briskly as he could without breaking into a trot again toward the other end of the library.
"He is growing quickly," Erestor commented quietly after the boy was gone.
Gilraen looked over at her former teacher. The solemn Elf wasn't normally conversational, at least, not at this hour of the day. "He's still only a little boy."
"A little boy who carries great promise," Erestor agreed with her. "Neither Elladan nor Elrohir would have made him such an offer if he were not ready to begin that part of his training."
"I know that." She sighed, resting her chin in her hand as she stared down into the household ledger without focusing on it. "And I know I'm being foolish, but..."
"There is nothing foolish about a mother's care for her children," the Elf stated more emphatically than normal, again drawing her gaze to him. "For Elves, the time between when they are born and when they first get brought to the practice ring is much longer. I too feel the rush of time pressing against Estel. Were he an elfling..."
"But he's not," Gilraen finished for him. "It's just that every time I think of him using a sword, I see A... my husband..."
Unexpectedly, Erestor put a hand across the table to grasp hers as it lay next to the open ledger. "Perhaps you should speak with Elladan or Elrohir about this? I dare say they have watched other Dúnedain mothers hand over their sons to become warriors; perhaps they would have a word of wisdom to help you adjust."
Gilraen blinked against an upswell of emotion at the sympathy and understanding. She patted his hand. "Maybe I'll do that - or perhaps speak to Glorfindel about it."
"I am certain he would also have wisdom to offer you," Erestor nodded and withdrew his hand, "and you would be wise to seek advice and comfort from whatever direction it might be found."
She nodded at him and reached out for her quill once more. There would be no advice - or comfort - until the current schedules and reports were finished and ready for Master Elrond's perusal. The sooner she finished here, the sooner she could follow her son out the door.
Erestor held out and then rattled a small silver cylinder at Estel enticingly as Gilraen and her son entered the Hall of Fire. "Estel! Just the person we've been waiting for! We have a new game for you, nethben."
"This will be very good for you, especially if you intend to start other things in the morning," Menester added with a smile and a nod. He put out his arms to the boy who, with a quick check to his mother, put out his arms to be picked up.
Gilraen's brow climbed her forehead in surprise. Erestor could generally be found sitting in a corner lounge chair, nursing a goblet of wine and listening to an evening's music with closed eyes and gently swaying foot. Menester, on the other hand, usually occupied a bench beneath a lit wall sconce with his nose buried in one book or another. To have both Erestor and his assistant lay claim to Estel's attention was unusual - until she felt a large hand at her elbow. "Gilraen?" She turned with a start to find herself staring up at the Master of Imladris.
"My sons and I would like a word with you." The statement was gentle, but Gilraen could tell that it wasn't a request. A glance in Erestor's direction, catching him exchanging a look with Elrond, told the tale. She should have expected this. Elrond's chief advisor had put a quiet word in his lord's ear which was now bearing fruit. Estel had been effectively handed off into capable guardianship, leaving her unencumbered by the need to watch over him; and now it was her turn to be claimed.
She bowed her head shallowly. "As you wish."
A quintet of comfortable chairs had been arranged in a tight and intimate circle that clearly spoke of a desire for privacy. Elrohir settled a carafe of wine and four goblets on the small table in the center of the arrangement and began pouring libations for those who would be gathering, with Elladan already seated and Glorfindel moving to take his own seat, goblet already in hand. Gilraen found herself led to the chair with the best lighting available, no doubt with the latest mending from Maeniel taken into consideration when placing the seats. "Erestor spoke to you," she said to no one in particular with a sigh.
"He did," Elladan nodded. "We thought that perhaps it would be well if we held this discussion right away, so that any questions or points of dissention could be dealt with before..."
"Before Estel is so enthusiastic about doing something so grown up that there will be no holding him back." Gilraen understood this all too well. She'd seen Elrond and Erestor take others aside and deal with issues in much the same way several times in her tenure in Imladris.
"My sons state that they believe Estel has gained the dexterity and understanding to begin to study basic self-defense," Elrond placed Gilraen's goblet, now comfortably filled, within her easy reach before settling back into his chair with his own goblet cradled against his chest. "Estel, as you well know, is very excited about this and made certain I had heard the news at suppertime."
"He is a very capable student," Elrohir finally found his own seat. "He pays attention to everything we tell him when dealing with woodcraft - already he is able to track small animals. It takes no small amount of encouragement to convince him that neither his Ada nor Nana would like families of field mice or rabbits underfoot in the hall, however." The entire group chuckled, Gilraen included.
"You did much the same in your early years, elfling," Glorfindel pointed out as he shoved gently at Elrohir's shoulder.
"But..." Gilraen drew all eyes as she struggled to put her misgivings into words. "He's barely even..."
Elladan's gaze was compassionate. "I have watched young boys in the Angle grow up into warriors for several generations. Always they start very young - sometimes only three years of age - with their sticks and mock swordfights. Granted, Estel will not have the benefit of having others his age or size to join him in learning, but he is of an age when such things happen even among your own people."
"I know that." She couldn't keep the frustration and worry from her voice. "It's just that every time I think of Estel with a sword in his hand - even a mock one - all I can see is you two that night..." Her voice caught. "And... his head wrapped in his cloak... All that blood..." She swung her gaze to pin Elrond. "I know he needs to learn this, and I know that it needs to start soon. I just..."
"Fear for him," Elrond finished for her. "This is normal. I think the process of growing up is harder on the Dúnedain, who must do so very fast. I remember the fears I had as I watched these two grow to the point when I myself had to put swords in their hands and give them over to Glorfindel to teach, even though I had many more years to enjoy them as innocent children before that day arrived than you have enjoyed with Estel." His grey gaze met hers with a measure of understanding. "However, I too know what it is to fear for one's children, Gilraen."
Yes, he did know - better than most here. For the last few hundred years, he had told her once, his sons had spent more time with her people hunting orc with a vengeance even the Dúnedain marveled and worried about - only coming back to their father when they were too injured to remain in the Wild. "How did you bear it?" she asked, her voice soft.
"As best I could," was his answer. "I had to trust that their training was the best I could arrange for them at the time and that they had learned their lessons well. We have no other choice, Gilraen." He lifted his head and gazed at his sons, who returned the regard with a serenity Gilraen wasn't certain she understood. "I have no other choice even now, as I know the day will come when they leave to face the Enemy again."
His gaze shifted, and she followed it to where Estel was crouching next to Erestor and Menester, concentrating on a tangled pile of thin sticks on the floor. "And we both know that the day will come when Estel will do the same." His large hand landed on her knee. "Wouldn't you rather he faced that day with his skills well-honed and practiced with some of the finest warriors in all of Arda?"
"But Ara... my husband had such training too, did he not? Look at all the good it did him!"
"He came to us already half-grown, Gilraen," Elladan answered. "And while I do not disparage the skill of those from whom he had learned in your village, Estel will be far more skilled when he reaches that age with the tutelage he gets here than your husband was."
"I intend for Glorfindel himself to train Estel with a sword from the very start, when the time comes," Elrond stated, and the golden head on her other side nodded as if this were already known and accepted. "I also have someone in mind to help train him in archery, although I have yet to write the request..."
"Are you thinking of..." Elladan gaped at his father.
"But... Both of us are just as good as..." The twins' simultaneous complaints sounded suspiciously like Estel would in a similar situation, only in baritones rather than soprano.
"Enough." A raised hand effectively quashed the argument. "The point is that our son will receive the finest education and training the Elves can offer him, Gilraen," Elrond declared with a note of finality. "But he will need your support and encouragement to enhance the training. If you demonstrate your fears and worries to him over time, the possibility exists that he will perhaps hesitate at the wrong time."
Gilraen grimaced. "You ask another sacrifice of me, Elrond?"
The Master of Imladris had the grace to be apologetic in his nod. "At least when you are around Estel. It is unreasonable to expect you to bury your fears completely, however. When they grow too great to remain hidden from Estel, bring them to one of us, and we can help you - if in no other way than to lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on." His grey eyes reflected his sadness. "But worry is a way of life for those who remain behind and wait - whether it be for son or husband. You know that as well as we do."
She reached out and claimed her goblet and took a lengthy sip. "So what do you intend for him to learn first?" she asked finally.
"There are basic stretching exercises that will begin to build the muscles needed to wield a sword," Glorfindel answered after Elrond clearly deferred her question to him. "Also, there are techniques he needs to learn that have to do with falling without getting injured. It will be a while before he even draws close to a wooden practice sword. However, he will also be taught proper behavior while at the practice ring - how to observe others sparring, and how to learn from watching."
"That doesn't sound so bad," Gilraen had to admit. She blushed. "I'm sorry I'm sounding like such a protective..."
Elrond's hand landed on her knee once more. "Estel is lucky to have such a caring mother," he declared with the same conviction as before. "Do not apologize for having the best interests of our son as uppermost on your mind."
"Now, Ada, let us get back to the fact that you're thinking of asking..." Elladan picked up his dispute with his father's decision where it had left off.
"Do you really think Thranduil will let him come now?" Elrohir added, leaning forward.
Elrond sighed and settled back into his chair, and Gilraen grinned. An evening in the Hall of Fire wasn't complete without at least one small altercation.
She took another sip of her wine and looked around the circle of faces. The expressions on their faces had been neither disappointed or critical, but rather supportive and understanding. Elrond's gentle smile had helped her to relax, knowing herself fully understood by at least one present and her worries acknowledged even as the inevitability of the situation had been driven home with reason and tact.
She found herself bemused by the way things were resolved in Elven society as compared to her own. At home, her father would have simply bellowed, and she would have been expected to submit to his will. Arathorn would have just gone ahead with what was needed, letting her spend her energies arguing and remaining quietly adamant.
For the first time, she realized she was grateful to be living with Elves - and it bothered her.
"Slow down, Estel, before you choke on your breakfast!" Gilraen cautioned her son after watching him shove in a huge mouthful of scrambled eggs. "You don't want to end up in your Ada's Healing Rooms today, of all days..."
"Excited, are we?" a musical voice inquired in a tone of amusement, and Glorfindel seated himself on the other side of Estel. "Your naneth is right - you don't need to choke before you even get a chance to see the practice ring."
Estel's eyes widened, and he swallowed hard to clear his mouth of the egg. "Sorry." He filled his spoon with a much more reasonable amount, but had another spoonful to his lips before he'd had a chance to swallow again.
Glorfindel grinned over the top of the dark curls. "Definitely excited."
"I know," Gilraen sighed. "I'm surprised he isn't jumping up and down in his chair the way he was while waiting for me to finish getting dressed."
The Elf chuckled and ruffled Estel's hair for him as the child reached for his goblet of fruit juice. "It is a common trait, I see. Yon elflings," he pointed with a thumb at the twin sons of Elrond, dark heads bent close together as they shared something that had them both grinning, "did exactly the same thing in their day."
She grinned at hearing the ageless Elves who had graced the Dúnedain settlements for more generations than most could count referred to as "elflings." She would never get used to thinking of any of the Elves as other than incredibly ancient.
"Speaking of which, I was wondering if you would consider accompanying Estel on his first trek to the practice ring?"
Gilraen blinked in surprise. "Whatever for?"
Glorfindel gave a shrug and then counted off the points on his fingers. "So that you know where it is in case you need to find him there; so that you have a better idea of what is being required of him at this point; and perhaps so that you can see that, while what is done there may look dangerous, the skill levels taught there are considerable - and can be viewed as an art with its own form of beauty." He eyed her evenly. "Did you ever stop and watch your Dúnedain warriors spar?"
She shook her head with wide, startled eyes. "Girls weren't allowed anywhere near where the men practiced. It was considered far too dangerous - both to the girls, as well to any men who might be distracted into carelessness by them."
The blond Elf shook his head. "No wonder you are filled with so much anxiety at the thought of Estel going to such a place already, at his tender age. I think it would do you good to know some of what awaits your son - at least then, if you must worry, you have a clear idea in mind of what to worry about rather than wild imaginings based only on the tragic results you have seen prior to coming here." He picked up Estel's napkin and handed it to the boy before he could leap from his chair. "Wipe your mouth and hands carefully, please, Estel. It won't do to go to the practice ring for the first time with sticky fingers and a juice-covered lip." He glanced at Gilraen's half-finished breakfast plate. "Not hungry?"
She wiped at her lips and carefully folded her napkin next to her plate. "Not so much anymore." The thought of going near where swords and arrows would be in clear evidence had her stomach twisting enough to ruin her appetite.
Glorfindel bent to Estel. "Your naneth is going to come with us this morning, so she will see where you will train and see what you will be asked to learn."
Sparkling grey eyes looked up at her face. "Ready, Nana?"
"Take your Nana's hand, Estel," Glorfindel directed firmly before the child could bound away from the table. "Your first lesson in proper practice ring behavior starts now. It is neither safe nor wise to run to or anywhere near the ring. Knocking down a warrior with a sword or his knives in hand could injure you, the warrior, or both. So at the beginning, you will wait for someone - myself or your brothers, or perhaps even your adar or naneth - to bring you to the ring; and you will let that person hold your hand. Once you have shown that you can restrain yourself, you will be allowed to go there unaccompanied - but not before. Do you understand?"
Estel's eyes widened at the thought; and then he nodded and obediently slipped his hand into his mother's. "I won't run," he promised with breathy excitement.
"Lady." A suede-covered arm was extended to Gilraen, and she rested her free hand on it. As normal when Glorfindel escorted her, he matched his long stride to her more limited pace; and now allowed her to slow him even more so that Estel would not have to trot to keep up with them.
As early in the morning as it was, the summer day was already comfortably warm. The leisurely walk to the practice ring took them across a green field of sweet grass that waved gently in the breeze on either side of the well-worn path. Gilraen had once noted the low building they were approaching from the second floor window of the library and discounted its importance due to its distance from the settlement; now she learned it to be the practice armory. The ring was actually a very large clearing past the armory, each section dedicated to several differing uses.
Already the ring was well-populated with warriors engaged in a number of activities. One group of swordsmen seemed to be performing a very set form of exercises, standing in rows and moving in almost perfect symmetry with their shining, lethal-looking weapons as they lunged, swung their swords high overhead or in great sweeps, froze at a particular pose, and then moved again - all as if of one mind. Gilraen found herself captivated in spite of herself by the grace of the dance-like movements. A little closer in, a number of warriors stood in a scattered circle, cheering boisterously while two of their fellows stalked each other with wooden practice swords and clashed spectacularly from time to time. Much farther away, in an area as long as the first two practice areas set end to end, lines of bowmen waited their turns to shoot at the painted targets at the very opposite end of the field.
Gilraen clenched her fingers all that much more securely about Estel's wrist as she felt his first, excited tug against her control. His eyes, as she had expected, were on the two nearby combatants. Not yet, my son, she thought and gave his hand a firm, answering tug to keep him moving in the direction her guide was taking them. And not for a good, long time yet, if I have anything to say about it!
"This way." Glorfindel's hand guided the two of them toward the armory and in through the door. He led them up to the counter at the end of the room and picked up Estel to seat him on it. "Master Pilimor, this is Estel Elrondion. Estel, this is Master Pilimor, Sword-master of Imladris."
"Estel," Pilimor put his hand to his heart and bowed very formally. "So you are here to begin your training?"
Estel's eyes were wide, and he nodded slowly.
Gilraen felt herself drawn forward as well. "And this is the Lady Gilraen, naneth to our newest warrior trainee."
"Lady." Pilimor bowed again. "It is an honor to meet you. I knew your husband well."
That caught Gilraen by surprise. Of course Pilimor would have known Arathorn - the Elf had probably been Sword-master here for centuries! "Master Pilimor," she said quietly.
Glorfindel swung Estel's legs around so that he had the lad looking directly at him. "Now, what's going to happen is this: Master Pilimor is going to measure you for some light armor and have you try on a few pieces. He will also teach you a few exercises. I'm going to show your mother around for a little while, so you listen very carefully to what Master Pilimor tells you. I shall want a full accounting when we return. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Estel answered, his face brightening in expectation.
"Be good for Master Pilimor," Gilraen reinforced Glorfindel's instructions even as she felt herself gently pulled away from the counter and towards the door. She gave her son a quick wave with her free hand and then returned worried attention to her self-proclaimed guide. "Are you sure..."
"Pilimor has been the very first instructor for the young warriors of Imladris practically from its founding." Glorfindel's free hand patted hers comfortingly. "Rest assured that Estel is in the best of hands. And besides, leaving the boy alone to absorb his first instructions on his own and then testing him on what he remembers is another important step in his training. It will not only demonstrate his level of interest, but his mental acuity and maturity. In many ways, his answers to my questions later will help guide his training program in the most effective way from now on."
She tried to avoid looking at the one-on-one battle as they strolled leisurely past the circle of cheering warriors, but she couldn't help flinching as she heard grunts and hard wooden knocks that spoke of the sincerity of the contest. Simple proximity made it hard to ignore. Glorfindel's hand on hers tightened slightly, as if he recognized her discomfort, and his step lengthened slightly to move them beyond the knot of warriors more quickly. "They truly are not trying to hurt each other," he stated quietly once they were past.
"I know, but still... As I said last night, all I can see whenever I even think of these things is Arathorn, his head wrapped in his bloody cloak," Gilraen choked hard when she suddenly remembered the ban on even pronouncing her husband's name. She wasn't sorry she'd slipped, though; no matter Elrond's restriction, Arathorn was still very much in her thoughts.
"I know." She glanced at her companion at his tone, and found his eyes sympathetic. "It is hard to forget such things when it is those we love or care for deeply we see in such a condition." When it occurred to her just what he was speaking of, she shuddered. Gondolin - he had to be remembering...
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to..."
"Don't apologize, Gilraen; you've done nothing wrong." He turned his gaze off to the distant rise of cliffs and seemed to be gathering his thoughts. "We all are the sum of our memories," he resumed at last. "They give us our mental and emotional foundation, even when they are of unspeakable sadnesses. But consider: without them, could we really appreciate our joys or triumphs as fully?" Again his hand patted hers as it rested on his arm. "To try to forget or avoid the pain of remembering is to do a serious disservice to those we have lost; to give those memories meaning and lend that meaning to future purpose, on the other hand, is to honor them and their sacrifices. Our task, then, is to make the correct choice on a day by day basis."
She stared at him, flabbergasted. With just a few words, he had explained so much of the reason why Elrond, his sons, Erestor, and even he himself behaved and treated her the way they did. What was more, it made sense. "I'd never thought of it that way. Back home, we're so focused on just surviving and continuing the fight, that we never..."
A touch of humor began to sparkle behind the seriousness in his gaze. "The Elves have more than enough time on their hands to give such things great consideration, and to see the efficacy of each choice played out dramatically before us. We are past masters of the "Long View."
An answering smile quirked the corners of Gilraen's lips. "So you're telling me that I shouldn't let scenes of combat like that bother me so much?" She jerked her free thumb over her shoulder.
"Not at all. Such scenes trigger memories - such is natural. Understanding the process and letting yourself move through it to a form of acceptance is a first step to assigning meaning, however. Does that make sense?"
It did - more than she wanted to feel comfortable with. "Is that what you did?" she asked very softly.
Glorfindel threw his head back and gave a full-throated laugh. "As if the Lord of Mandos would allow me any other choice!"
Gilraen shook her head at him. How difficult it was to understand what this jovial, gentle warrior next to her had been through - or how and why he found such humor in things. She tried to imagine Arathorn coming back from a short stint in Mandos with such a light and almost irreverent attitude, and found she couldn't see it.
"Come," he dragged at her now, pulling her toward where the rows of warriors still moved as one. "I saw how this caught your eye. Let me explain you what is happening here. The time will come when Estel is part of this group, you know..."
Perfectly happy to put both the one-on-one contest - and the philosophical questions it symbolized - behind her for the time being, she moved with him to where she could watch the deadly dance without obstruction.
There would be plenty of time to turn over the ideas he'd introduced to her later, when she was alone.
Gilraen peeked into the bed chamber once more to check to see that Estel was indeed deeply asleep. The boy had been very excited by his first taste of the training that would occupy a significant share of his life from now on, demonstrating the exercises to anyone who would stand still long enough and sharing each and every bit of wisdom and instruction Pilimor had given him. She'd even caught the indulgent smirk that had passed from Elrond to Glorfindel and back, and had not missed the glow of pride in Elrond's gaze as he bid her - their - son goodnight.
But the evening had grown quiet; the voices singing to the stars had diminished to just a very few, who now sang calming, gentle hymns to lull those who were tired from the day's activities into sleep. Much of the soft bustling that filled The Last Homely House during daylight hours had died away, leaving a comfortable sense of peace that could be sensed at no other time.
Gilraen loved these quiet, late night hours; and now that Estel was older and less likely to awaken from nightmares and need her comfort, she had discovered a preference for a particular bench beneath a flowering jasmine arbor in the atrium that occupied the center space of the family wing. There she could relax and rest her heart and mind - or review the day's events and ponder that which she had encountered that she found confusing; and despite two whole years' residence, she still found a great deal about the Elves that confused her.
She gathered the ends of her thin shawl about her shoulders and slipped through the door and out into the atrium. The moon hung high in the sky above her, lighting her way to her favorite seat. She grimaced when she realized she could have brought her mending with her into the atrium, for Ithil easily was providing enough light to see basic seaming. But no, she decided, she wanted to think about her day and what she had seen. She wanted to think about Arathorn - imagine him at her side - giving her advice about how to raise their son.
He would have enjoyed the day's outing, she was certain. He had been a proud man, proud of his abilities with the sword and the spoken word to direct and protect his people. So much of that, she could now see, had come from this place, from Pilimor and Glorfindel and Erestor and Elrond himself. As she got to know the Elves around her, she began to understand her husband better.
"It is late," a gentle voice broke the peace, and Gilraen looked up to see Glorfindel approaching, his white silk robes reflecting the blue cast of the moonlight. "You should be at rest."
"I wanted to think," she told him simply, and then watched him draw close and seat himself on the other end of the bench she already occupied.
"Are the sights and sounds of the practice ring still drawing forth difficult memories for you?"
"No." She shook her head and pulled her shawl more tightly about her shoulders. She was telling the truth. Once she had had the opportunity to watch that synchronized dance with the sword, the sounds of the contest between two warriors had faded. Glorfindel's commentary, which had followed the moves closely and described each move with such detail and understanding that even Gilraen could appreciate the intent of the exercise, had fascinated her. "Did Ar... did my husband spend much time at the ring while he was here?"
"Many of the Dúnedain we trained here spent their afternoons there," was the quiet answer. "Your husband, like many others in his place, spent their mornings either with Erestor or Elrond, learning history and logic and military strategy. Evenings were for more personal pursuits. Your husband had a fondness for..."
"Singing. I know." Gilraen smiled in remembrance. "He could sing all of the Lay of Beleriand; and he would, if I'd let him."
"He had a good voice, as I remember. Lindir found him quite pleasant to train."
"I miss him." She found herself focusing on her hands folded in her lap. Where had this sudden sadness come from?
"Of course you do."
"Even though I was only with him such a very short time..."
The Elf shifted slightly closer. "You loved him, did you not?"
Gilraen turned to stare at him, startled and almost angry. "Of course I did!"
Glorfindel's smile was gentle. "Then the time you spent together was full and complete; and the exact length of it immaterial. I honestly meant no offense, Gilraen."
She subsided with a sigh. Of course he didn't mean offense; if there was one thing she'd learned about her Elven hosts, it was that they treated her consistently with more respect and consideration than many at home would have. "I'm sorry," she managed at last. "I know better."
"What's more, I find it not at all surprising that you miss him more this night than you have for a while. You were very close to sharp memories dealing with his death earlier; they would have brought back some of the pain you still feel at his loss."
She nodded, accepting his explanation. Still... "At home, I'd get a fair scolding for coming out at night and pining for him like this, though," she explained lamely. "Life is hard, sleep is precious, and he died over two years ago..."
"You have worked very hard to make a place for yourself here and to become accustomed to living far from everything you knew. In all that time, after we finally lured you out of your apartment, have you sat down and allowed yourself to grieve properly?"
"I've done my share of weeping," she stated flatly, disgusted at herself for having to battle the tears yet again. "You'd think I'd have gotten past it by now."
"Have you said your farewells to him, though?"
She looked up into the ageless face, thoroughly confused. "Farewells?"
Glorfindel nodded. "I have heard the tale from Elladan and Elrohir of his death, of bringing him back to his people, of spiriting you away in nearly the same breath. When you got here, you were ill, and then quite reclusive. Where in all the chaos and then unfamiliar surroundings did you get your chance to bid your husband farewell, Gilraen?"
Gilraen continued to stare at him, unable to stop her tears now. "He was dead!" she exclaimed bitterly, "and far past hearing. Of what use..."
His lips thinned as he nodded. "As I thought." He rose and then turned back, extending his hand to her. "Walk with me, Gilraen."
She glanced back at the doorway into the house. Normally she wouldn't wander far from Estel, even knowing him to be perfectly safe and fast asleep. "I should..."
"We shall not go far, I promise." The hand remained before her.
Slowly she put her hand in his and allowed him to pull her to her feet. "It is but a short walk," he explained as he led her back into the house and then out the front door. With the moon so bright, Gilraen needed his arm beneath her hand only for guidance as he led her to a narrow path in one of the outlying gardens. He moved ahead of her, but caught her hand in his to continue guiding her as they walked the twisted path that seemed to wind up the side of a mountain.
"Here," he said at last, and pulled her up to a small clearing at the edge of a rise.
Gilraen stared. The entire layout of the settlement was visible below in the moonlight. Never before had she appreciated just how fully Imladris had embraced and enhanced the natural beauty into which it was set. The waterfalls that had carved the ravine sparkled with a softer light, and the rooftops below were bathed in the silver-blue glow. As caught as she was by the sight, she still turned with a confused look on her face. "What are we doing here?"
"This is as close as I can bring you to him," Glorfindel said gently, loosing his grip on her hand and stepping back slightly. "Your husband has moved beyond the circles of the world - but a part of him remains with you. He lives in the things you have left unsaid to him that make you grieve so harshly, that draw your mind to the last view you had of him. Take the time now to say all the things that you never had the chance to say - aloud or simply in your heart, it makes no difference. But talk to him, Gilraen. See him in your mind and in your heart and tell him what you feel. And when you are ready, say goodbye to him." He backed off further. "I will wait down the path a ways to give you privacy. Take your time, and call me when you are ready to return to the house."
She watched him vanish into the bushes and then slowly turned back to the breathtaking view, wrapping her arms about herself as the night breeze chilled her slightly. Arathorn would have loved this view. What was she thinking? He had probably known of this spot. And with that thought, it was as if she had summoned him up in her mind; and he stood next to her, looking out over Imladris with her.
I wish you were here, she began hesitantly, wondering if Glorfindel realized how insane urging her to talk to her dead husband sounded to a Dúnadan perspective. Still, the presence beside her - imagined or not - compelled her to continue. But if you were still here, we would be back home and not here in Imladris. I can see why you loved it here. I can even see how much this place and the people in it shaped who you were. Our son will have that too, even more than you.
Her breath caught in her throat as sobs that she had for so long held at bay no longer would be denied. I miss you, every day I wake up hoping that this was all a horrible dream; that the empty space beside me in bed is merely because you are out with your men. Your son doesn't even remember you anymore - he calls Elrond "Ada" now. It isn't fair.
For a long moment, she just let herself feel - feel everything from the grief at the memory of his bloodied form carried into her house, to the anger at being left alone to face the strangeness and loneliness of life in an alien world. It was strange, but she could have sworn she could feel Arathorn standing next to her silent and concerned, as he always had become when faced with her emotions unleashed.
Glorfindel said that I need to make my farewells, but I don't know. How do I say goodbye, my love?
In her mind, Arathorn looked at her with sadness and love. By knowing that I will be waiting for the day you step from this world into mine, my star, she heard in the back of her mind in well-known and well-loved tones.
But I don't want to say goodbye. I love you! she insisted. Stay with me! Help me through this!
I cannot. You have to say goodbye sometime, Gilraen - I am no longer with you, and I cannot return to you. You are alive; don't drag yourself half into my grave by hanging onto that last, horrible memory of me. Live, my love, for our son. He needs you. Let me go, and live. Goodbye, my love. In her mind, he began to grow faint; fade.
The tears were washing her cheeks unabated now. I love you, she sent to him, wherever he was. I will always love you. Goodbye, Arathorn.
She shivered as she realized the space beside her was very empty. "Glorfindel?" she cried out, suddenly desperate for someone, anyone, to see with her eyes and touch with her hands, to know that she wasn't dreaming - wasn't mad.
"I am here, Gilraen." And in mere moments, he was. His hand touched her elbow and guided her hand to its customary place on his arm. "Are you ready?"
Suddenly it didn't matter that he was an Elf who had seen three Ages of the world come and go. She needed someone, anyone, to lean on - and Glorfindel was close at hand. "Please," she choked, and then leaned hard when the arm moved from beneath her hand to gather her close.
"There, child," he soothed gently as she sobbed into his shoulder. "There, now."
"I'm sorry," she mumbled between hiccoughs, feeling herself awkwardly careening between gratitude for his strength and humiliation for her emotional display.
"There is nothing to apologize for. You have needed to shed these particular tears for a long time. Now, at last, you can begin to heal."
Gilraen drew herself away and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, wishing she could erase the dark blotch where her tears had marred the perfection of his garment. "I got your robe wet."
"Robes dry," he countered, using his own thumb to brush away straggling tears. "It was far more important, however, that my shoulder be there for you to lean on. And now, I think, you need to return to your room and seek your rest. This has been a very hard day."
He was right. Gilraen could feel the exhaustion that had lain hidden behind the surging emotions. It was a long walk down the mountainside again, and suddenly she wasn't certain she would make it.
It was as if Glorfindel could read her soul. He put his arm about her waist and gently held her hands together in his large one. "Lean on me again," he directed and, holding her very close, began the long walk back to Imladris. "You can always lean on me, Gilraen. What are friends for, after all, if not that?"
"Nana? Are you awake?"
Gilraen groaned and opened her eyes to find the morning sun already shining strongly through the sheer curtains covering her window. She turned her head and then laughed; Estel had dressed himself for the day and done well, but his long dark curls were aimed in odd directions and, as a whole, made his head look like a spitting cat stood on it.
"I got dressed all by myself, so I can go back to the practice ring. Hurry up, Nana! I'm hungry!" He was excited, for he was bouncing on the balls of his feet again.
"Very well, I'll be out shortly," she shooed him from the chamber and climbed out of bed. It was amazing, but she found that she was actually looking forward to the day. A shadow seemed to have lifted that she had never realized had taken up a post in her heart. She pulled on her skirt and blouse for the day, then redid her braid and pinned it up. She threw the chamber door open with a flourish, startling Estel. "See?" she announced with a smile. "I can get ready quickly, just like you. Let me run a comb through your hair, and then we'll be off."
Estel bounced and danced around her all the way down the corridor to the private dining room. "Back to the practice ring," he chanted and clapped his hands, pausing from time to time to do a portion of the exercise he'd been given.
"You look ready to conquer the world, my son," Elrond commented with a chuckle, beckoning. "Come over here and tell me what has you so happy."
As Estel grinned up at his mother and then moved into his Ada's care, Gilraen felt someone looking at her. She looked up and over at the sideboard, where Glorfindel was standing holding the carafe of watered wine, ready to pour himself a morning's libation. He smiled and inclined his head, and Gilraen smiled back shyly.
Yes, the morning was off to a fine start.
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.