6. Riding Fences - 1/2
"Nana, are you all right?"
Gilraen leaned her forehead harder into the palm of her hand. "I shall be well presently, Estel; it's only a headache."
She heard a rustle, and then her thirteen year-old son's hand landed very gently on the back of her head. "Do you want me to go get Ada for you?" he asked, his voice kept deliberately soft so as not to jar her ears.
In some ways, she knew that would probably be wise. When one of these headaches struck, it often took one of Master Elrond's potent teas to break through the pain enough to allow her to function again. But this day, she knew the Master of the House was busy with visiting Dúnedain. She needed to honor her promise to stay out of his road in such events, and to keep Estel distant as well. "Not today, my son. Your adar is very busy, and I would not interrupt him - and I don't want you to either."
Estel moved his hand to her shoulder and leaned a bit to hug. When had he gotten big enough to do that? "But I hate to see you hurt so, though. Maybe I can try my hand at making some willow-bark tea for you this time? Ada has been teaching me about…"
"Thank you for thinking of me, Estel, but I think I just need to finish with these servant schedules and then lie down for a while to rest." She reached up and patted his hand on her shoulder. "You go on; I'm certain Glorfindel is wondering where you are."
"Masters Erestor and Glorfindel have given me the day to myself," Estel replied, obviously pleased at the development. "I even got a 'most satisfactory progress' from Erestor yesterday regarding my essay on the War of Wrath."
Gilraen was impressed. Erestor pronouncing anything 'satisfactory' was high praise indeed; and she knew how hard Estel had worked on that essay. "And is Glorfindel equally satisfied with you?" she asked, allowing his wish to gloat a little the chance to draw her out of the pain just slightly.
She felt Estel fidget against her. "He still thinks I should spend more time with the bow, preparing for Master Glawaron's next visit from Eryn Galen, but he is happy with my sword work. I suppose I should go to the archery range for a while today."
If she hadn't hurt so much, she would have chuckled at him. "You do that. I'll be fine, don't worry about me. As I said, all I have to do is finish these schedules, and I'll be very quiet for the rest of the day. That should handle the headache." As much as she loved her son, right now, the last thing she wanted was to be talking to him.
She felt a gentle kiss on her brow and heard the sound of his footsteps heading out of the reading room she had commandeered that day for her workspace. At last it was quiet again!
Oh, but her head ached - almost to the point of giving her nausea - and she still had the bulk of the servant schedule to review and adjust for the next week as well as the monthly inventory. Propping her other elbow on the table in front of her as well now, she rested her forehead in both hands with eyes closed. Maybe just a short rest like this would give her the little bit she'd need to finish things off and then go hide in her chambers for the rest of the day.
She had no idea how much time had passed; but she jumped when something thudded gently on the table in front of her, and groaned when the movement made her headache spike even worse. She opened her eyes to see that her paperwork had been moved from in front of her, and that one of Elrond's blue ceramic mugs now sat before her, filled with a surprisingly fragrant tea.
"Estel, I told you not to bother your Ada…"
"He did not disturb Elrond," Glorfindel's voice countered gently from behind her. "I met him as he was on his way out to practice his archery, and he told me of your distress. This is a tea I made once for another often afflicted as you are now."
Too miserable not to do as told, Gilraen lifted the mug and sipped carefully at the hot liquid. "Willow-bark?" she asked finally.
"Yes, with chamomile to aid in relaxing and mint to help settle the stomach. If you are anything like my… Well, anyway… It has been my experience that the stomach often ended up as unhappy as the head at times like these. And there's a touch of honey, to cut any remaining bitterness."
"This actually isn't that bad," she allowed, and then sipped again. The tea was delicate and not at all unpleasant. And, as much as she acknowledged Master Elrond's command of herbal lore, his teas sometimes left a great deal to be desired in the matter of taste. Even Elladan and Elrohir tended to wrinkle their noses when reminded of their father's remedies. It was often a source of in-family teasing, with Elrond himself being both the target and a good-natured audience, laughing heartily at his sons' wit and exaggerated acting.
"I am glad that you find it so," Glorfindel said softly from directly behind her.
Gilraen had grown used to this otherwise daunting Elf and his idiosyncrasies; and so even though she was still miserable, she wasn't surprised to feel the first of her hairpins being carefully withdrawn. "Why is it, do you think, that you feel that taking my hair down is the answer to a headache, of all things?" she asked dryly as the pile of pins on the table near her hand grew steadily.
She hadn't expected her question to make him stop. It never had in the past, and it didn't this time either. Ever since he'd taken her hair down at the hot springs that first time, he'd made a point of finding quiet, private moments to do it again. Her hair, so different from his own, seemed to fascinate him almost to the point of obsession. "At the moment, you need as little pressure or tension on your poor head as you can get; and not having long, metal pins holding up all this weight and digging into your scalp will be a relief," he reasoned quietly with her. "Trust me, Míreth."
Míreth. That was what he called her now when they were alone. She couldn't even remember the first time he'd used it. What was more, he used a special tone of voice when he would pronounce that name - that epessë, as Elrond would call it - that would remind her of the way Arathorn used to call her "my star." Both made her feel warm and cherished inside; but there were times now when Glorfindel confused her by using it, the present moment being one of them.
Her braid tumbled down her back, and Glorfindel wasted no time undoing it. The moment her hair was completely loose about her shoulders, his fingers were raking through her hair and gently stroking her scalp from the nape of her neck upwards. Warmth flowed into her from his fingertips and soothed the ragged edges of her headache, and she sighed as she sat up a little straighter into his ministrations.
"Was I wrong?" he asked softly, his fingers returning to the back of her neck and then downward, pressing gentle warmth into those muscles as well. "Does this not feel better?"
"Mmmmm!" She dropped her head forward as his hands continued on to her shoulders, and the warmth that had flowed so gently into her from his fingertips now poured into her from the palms of his hands in a steady stream. "You weren't entirely wrong," she conceded finally. "The massage doesn't hurt either."
"Keep working at the tea, Míreth," he directed with a low chuckle.
She whimpered a quiet complaint when he removed his hands and that delicious, soothing warmth from her shoulders and reached in front of her to gather her paperwork. "No! I need to finish that…"
Glorfindel evaded her hands with disgusting ease. "You may finish it when you feel more yourself," he chided. "I shall give these to Erestor for safe-keeping, so you know where to find them when you are ready; but you are finished with work for the day."
Gilraen scowled, but knew she was in no shape to cross a determined Glorfindel when he'd chosen a path of action. His suede-garbed figure vanished through the doorway of her reading room, but was soon back. "Do not glower at me so," he shook his head at her as he walked toward her again. "You know as well as I that you would not be content with the quality of your work if you continued on while feeling this poorly. I am but doing you a favor for which you will thank me tomorrow."
"So what am I to do when Master Elrond comes looking for a report that should be on his desk, finished, by the end of the day?" Her voice hurt her own ears that time, and she flinched and sipped again at her tea.
"Master Elrond will not come looking for the report, for I shall speak to him after I have you settled."
That made her eyebrows soar. "After you what?"
"Once you have finished the tea, and I am reasonably certain you will not collapse, I shall escort you to your chambers and settle you in bed." He held up a long forefinger at the first hint of protest. "The moment I can catch Elrond, I will tell him that you are indisposed with one of your headaches and that you will tender your finished report at the earliest possible opportunity after you have recovered. I would imagine that he will look in on you himself later, to make certain of your condition. In the meanwhile, however, you will drink my tea, rest and recover." He shifted to point at the mug, which she was holding motionless in front of her face. "Finish."
"Please don't treat me like a child, Glorfindel," she snapped half-heartedly and then closed her eyes in humiliation. She was a child to him; what did she expect? He was ancient, one who had lived and died an ancient once before and now lived again and was ancient a second time around. By Elven measure, she had not even gained her majority yet.
"Trust me when I tell you that I see no child when I look at you, Míreth," he soothed smoothly. "I only ask your cooperation in seeing to your own well-being, nothing more and nothing less. It distresses me to see you suffer so."
"I'm sorry," she sighed and drained the last of the tea. She had to admit that the headache was a little less overwhelming at the moment, and her stomach didn't feel as if it was on the verge of losing what little she had eaten for midday meal.
"I know," he told her kindly, then had one hand at an elbow and another at her waist. "Come now. The sooner I get you to your chambers, the sooner you can lie down and sleep away the headache."
"At least plait my hair loosely again!" Gilraen begged as she was urged and supported in rising to her feet. "It isn't right to be seen so completely undone in the middle of the day!"
Again Glorfindel chuckled at her, but he soon set about to comply with her wishes. "No Elf would think anything amiss if you would walk among them with your hair undone. I have told you this many times."
"And I keep reminding you that I am no Elf," she countered tiredly, "and what's more, there are Dúnedain in the House today. What if…"
"Peace. You and I both know that Elrond's office is on the other side of the House from the path we will walk. You will not be seen; and even if you were, only the shape of your ears would give away your kinship, a fact that would remain more hidden if your hair were to hang free."
Gilraen sighed. "I give up. I can never argue with anyone when I feel like this."
"At least you know your limitations. Shall I undo the braid again?"
"No! You may play with my hair another time; today I just want to find a dark hole and hide."
Glorfindel tucked her into his side, with one arm about her waist and the other cradling her elbow again. "My poor Míreth. I should not try to raise your spirits at the cost of your head. Come along then. Does the light affect you as well?"
"Yes." It was almost a groan.
"Then keep your eyes closed and trust me."
His guidance was slow and steady. Gilraen knew that if she wanted to put forth the effort to remember the path between the library and her chamber, she would find her steps making each turn in sequence. Although, without using her sight, the trip seemed to be taking a very long time.
"Glorfindel? Gilraen? What is this?"
What was Master Elrond doing on this side of the House - at this hour of the day - when he had meetings scheduled with his Dúnedain visitors in his office for the entirety of the day?
Glorfindel spoke up before Gilraen could marshal her scattered wits. "She has another of her headaches. I told her she could work on her reports and schedules another time, gave her some tea to help with the pain, and now I'm seeing her to her chambers. Nothing you yourself would not have done in the same situation."
Gilraen cracked her eyes open and found herself astonished at the measure of surprise and consternation in the face of her host, an expression that quickly was replaced by a healer's concern the moment Elrond noticed her looking at him. "It is that bad again this time, child?" he asked gently.
Slowly she nodded and closed her eyes again. She was grateful that Glorfindel had such a good hold on her, for her sense of balance was beginning to wane.
When Elrond spoke next, he sounded resigned. "Very well. I will leave you to see her to her rooms and make her comfortable; but I would speak to you a little later, if you would, Glorfindel. Gilraen, I will be in to see you before suppertime."
"Thank you, Master Elrond." Her voice was small; her reserves of energy almost gone now.
"Master Elrond." Glorfindel's bow was a small one, and he began leading her again immediately afterwards.
She waited until she hoped they were far enough away not to be overheard. "Are you in trouble for something?"
"Nay, Míreth. Do not give yourself another matter to feed the headache. Let us get you comfortable now…"
The late Spring evening was warm, and Gilraen allowed her feet to carry her out of the Hall of Fire and into the gardens. As usual on the day after one of her horrid headaches, her senses seemed to be working overtime. The roses, just beginning to bloom, cast their perfume into the air to mix with that of the wisteria and jasmine. On the breeze was the clean smell of the forest beyond the hedges and trees that outlined the very boundaries of the settlement. Overhead, the stars were bright and twinkling, with Gil-Estel almost as bright as Ithil herself.
Oddly, Glorfindel was evidently not making any effort to join her that evening. It had become almost a routine of sorts: after the tales had been told or the songs sung, and after Estel had been bid goodnight and sent off to a chamber he no longer had to share with his mother, she would take a short walk in the garden and quickly find herself with a companion. At times he merely walked with her or sat next to her, letting the silences grow without letting them become burdens. Other times, he made a point of making her smile or chuckle to herself at his pointed and often humorous observations of people or events.
She missed him. For one thing, she wanted to thank him for the tea that had appeared on the tray next to her bed every time she had roused with her headache over the last day and a half; it had helped. For another, she wanted to worry at him about the look on Master Elrond's face when they had met him in the hallway. But, it seemed, such things would have to wait for another evening, another walk in the garden. She settled by a fountain and trailed her fingers in the water.
"I am not disturbing you, am I?" She looked up at Elrond's gentle question.
"Of course not," she replied, rising. "You are always welcome company."
"Good. Walk with me?" Elrond commandeered her arm into the crook of his and began leading her on a slow, meandering trek that would eventually aim the two of them up the narrow path to the lookout over Imladris. "You are feeling completely recovered now?"
"Except for a little sound sensitivity, yes; and thank you for the teas yesterday."
"Yes, well, Glorfindel was quite insistent that I provide you with his recipe for relief. He seemed convinced that he had the more effective tea." Gilraen was grateful for the light of the waxing moon, for it showed her that the Master of Imladris was not overly upset by the idea of having his prescriptions dictated to him by others. "It served you well then?"
"Between the tea and staying quiet for the entire day, I am nearly myself again. I promise I'll have those schedules for you first thing in…"
Elrond patted her hand on his arm. "Do not worry yourself about those reports. I am certain the House will continue to function well enough without them until you catch up again."
He seemed to be in a reasonably good mood this evening; perhaps he could explain what was in his mind with that disturbed expression the other day… "Master Elrond…"
He shook his head at her as he moved in front of her on the narrow path, still retaining hold on her hand to give her stability. "We are quite alone, and I need no titles outside my office or audience chamber. Careful," he cautioned as her foot slipped slightly on a rock covered with loose leave debris.
"Elrond," Gilraen amended, clinging tightly to the large hand and glad that the climb was nearly half over. "I was wondering if I might ask you a question."
"Of course you may, my dear," he replied in a gentle tone. "This would seem a perfect opportunity to dispel questions, especially," he hesitated and sent a surprisingly sharp glance back in her direction, "if such questions are of a private or personal nature."
"Not terribly so, but…" She steeled herself. This had bothered her for over a day, and she didn't like to think that she or anything she might have done would have caused trouble for anyone. "Did either Glorfindel or I do something to displease you the other day?"
That actually stopped him and made him turn slightly so he could look at her. "Why do you ask?" he inquired carefully.
"I may have been ill, but I know what I saw," she answered honestly. "For a moment, when we met you in the hallway while Glorfindel was helping me to my chambers, you looked quite upset."
"I was not upset per se," he admitted, resuming the hike at a pace she could tell was tailored to her much shorter legs. "I was, however, quite concerned at what I saw, considering other things that I have noticed of late."
"Such as?" she prompted, curious and worried now.
For a long moment he said nothing, during which he conscientiously assisted her for the last few paces up the hillside and then into the small clearing. Not relinquishing his hold on her hand as yet, he pulled her back toward the rising mountain behind them, where he invited her to sit on a boulder of comfortable height and size. "Elrond?" she inquired again.
The Elf lord looked out over his valley and took a long, deep breath before glancing at her, sitting beside him. "Forgive me. I am not avoiding your question; I am trying to order my thoughts so that we do not encounter one of those awkward moments of cultural misunderstanding that have given both of us trouble before." He patted her hand and then let it go. "Oddly enough, in many ways, this seems to have all started as the result of one of those moments; do you remember when Glorfindel gave you a blanket to wear when stepping out of the hot spring?"
Gilraen could remember that afternoon clearly, and the looks of frank admiration that had filled three Elven faces. "I remember," she somehow managed, grateful for the dimness of the light that hid what was probably a flaming blush.
"Yes, well…" Elrond cleared his throat; one of the few hints he would ever give that disclosed his own discomfort at the memory. "Glorfindel took responsibility for explaining things to you, as it was his responsibility that the incident had occurred to begin with. When he later was able to explain to me some things that had been quite confusing, I considered the incident finished and the matter closed at the time. But…"
"But?" What in Arda had given him second thoughts.
"But Glorfindel changed, after that evening's discussion with you, did he not?"
Startled, Gilraen blinked up and was pinned by Elrond's gaze, which seemed deeper and more timeless than ever in the reflected light of moon and stars. "Changed?" She cringed inwardly. Could she do nothing but give single word replies in the form of questions?
"Indeed." The Master of Imladris drew his robes close around himself and stretched out his legs. "It was a very gradual change, I would imagine; one that only recently has become noticeable enough to make me look twice. And even then, I noted it only because I have known Glorfindel for a very, very long time. You, however, most likely noticed some differences much sooner." He was quiet for a moment, and Gilraen knew he was studying her face closely. "I am not in error, am I?"
"No, you're not." It would not do to attempt to deny it. Glorfindel had changed. He had become more attentive, more present in her life on a far more consistent basis; had given her an epessë somewhere along the line that he would use only in private. He now took liberties with her hair in their private moments - and she allowed it. "Did I do wrong?" she asked again in a small voice, biting her lip. "Am I missing something again?"
Elrond shook his head gently. "You have made no errors, Gilraen - at least, none that you would have known to avoid. As for the other, I suspect the answer is yes; although, again, it would be nothing you would have known to look for. As you are under my guardianship, as it were, this concerns me; but to uncover the truth of the matter, I would have to ask you some possibly uncomfortable questions." He gazed at her earnestly. "I would not proceed without your consent, however. Will you answer my questions?"
She stared at him in consternation. How much did he suspect, and how much had he managed to notice without her knowledge? Would he become more upset as he learned the extent to which she and Glorfindel had become involved? Worse: would this infraction of Elven courtesy and decorum cost her the home she'd had for the last eleven years?
"Understand, please, that I cannot tell if my suspicions are accurate unless you answer me truthfully," he stated evenly. "As this is a matter of concern to me, I need to be certain of the facts of the matter; and as it is also a matter of some delicacy, I cannot explain away a situation of cultural misunderstanding to you - or a decision on my part that will influence your future - without knowing myself on firm ground." He gazed at her intently. "Do you trust me enough to answer?"
Gilraen blinked again. There was no question but that she trusted the Master of Imladris implicitly; he had ever been an advocate, mentor, friend, and an excellent foster father to her son. "I will answer, if I can," she agreed finally.
Elrond exhaled sharply, and Gilraen realized that this was probably going to be no easier for him than it was for her. "Very well then. Am I correct in assuming that you have been spending more time with Glorfindel lately than you did before?"
"Yes." He had long since made a point of daily stopping by the library when she was working, more often than not, right about the time for the midday meal. Since the evening after the incident at the hot springs, he had made a habit of accompanying her into the gardens for a short walk just before retiring as well. "Now that I think on it, I see him nearly every day lately."
"And many of these times that you spend together are private - just the two of you?"
Gilraen felt her face flush. "Yes, but even then, we are always in public places - the library, the gardens…"
"But often as not, alone."
She could read nothing in his tone. "At least half the time," she allowed, still embarrassed.
"I noticed, when I came upon the two of you the other day, that your hair was loose. Now, I know you are usually very diligent about keeping it braided and pinned up in Dúnedain fashion. So tell me: did Glorfindel do that?" He must have been watching her closely and saw her quick grimace, for his voice grew gentle. "I do not mean to embarrass you."
"No, it's all right - and you're correct. He told me that having the pins holding the weight up and dragging at my scalp weren't helping."
"Has he done this before?"
If Gilraen could sink through the boulder, she would have. How many of those late night walks had ended in small alcoves, where Glorfindel had turned her about and taken her hair down and loosened her braid? Too many to count - and, in the end, she had come to enjoy the touch of his fingers running through her hair ever so lightly. "Yes," she squeaked and hid her trembling lips behind her hand.
"And you allowed this." This time, it wasn't a question.
"Yes." Mortified, she could only barely manage a whisper.
Elrond was quiet for a moment, and then: "Has he touched you in other ways as well?"
Had Dírhael been asking the questions, it would have been at the top of his lungs, and his grasp on her arms would have been bruising. For the briefest moment, Gilraen wished with all her heart that she had had Elrond's gentle guidance growing up. That, as well as the thought of disappointing him, made it hard to get the words out. "He… stroked my scalp, when I had the headache, and rubbed my neck and shoulders. It helped…"
"I am certain it did." His tone was dry, but Gilraen didn't hear any sarcasm. "Glorfindel has… talents… that he rarely feels the need to use, unless it is for someone he cares for deeply." He grew silent for a moment, releasing her hand and pulling into himself. "Tell me, is there anything else that he has said or done that is, how shall I put this, more of a personal nature than you would expect from one of my sons, for example?"
Did he really expect her to confess that she now had an epessë all of her own, used only when the two of them were alone? "Yes," she whispered, but then fell silent. No, the name Glorfindel had given her was a private gift. She would admit its existence in the most general of terms only. She could feel him waiting for her to explain herself, but folded her hands in her lap and decided to wait him out.
"It is as I thought then."
"What? What it is?"
Very carefully, very gently, Elrond claimed her hand. "Gilraen, did you know that Glorfindel is married?" he asked, his voice very soft.
"No…" She was aghast. Glorfindel was… married? But he had never said anything… She turned her face away from Elrond, seeking comfort in the stars, in the darkness across the valley, anything but to reveal her humiliation to her host.
"Listen to me. There is a tradition among the Elves… Gilraen? Are you listening?"
She nodded, but her breath caught in her throat. What a fool she'd been!
Elrond chafed her hand again. "There is a tradition among the Elves that sometimes comes into play when one is separated from one's mate by death. You know that for us, death is not the end; we spend time in Bannoth and are later re-housed and returned to rejoin our people in Aman - in the Blessed Lands?" He paused, and again Gilraen nodded obediently, not really wanting a lecture on the subject of Elven immortality at the moment. "In these latter days, it is rare when an Elf loses a mate that the survivor does not soon sail West to wait out their mate's return in Aman. But when, for whatever reason, one mate is in Aman and the other remains in Ennor, and it happens that the separation lasts for several long-years, the Elves developed a tradition in ancient days where a widowed ellon and a widowed elleth could allow a friendship to grow closer than normal between them, so that they could take a small measure of needed comfort from the living that they were now denied through loss."
"Is that what he has been doing?" Gilraen didn't know whether to be shocked by Elrond's explanation or insulted at the possibility that Glorfindel's actions might have had an ulterior motive. "He was preparing me to be his mistress?"
"Child! No! Calm yourself." Elrond shook his head vehemently. "There is no possibility of a married Elf having an affair as happens in Mortal societies. For us, we join with and bond with one only; and that bond lasts until the breaking of the world, beyond death, if need be. Glorfindel could and would no more dishonor you or his wife in that way than he would dishonor himself."
She slumped against his shoulder. "Then I don't understand."
"I know, and it is difficult to explain to outsiders. This is called the gwaedh-gwend, or comfort friendship. The two individuals involved each accept the other as especially close friends and from then on take a certain measure of responsibility for the welfare of the other on behalf of those who are missing. There is usually a level of emotional intimacy involved which eventually indicates to others that this is more than just a simple friendship, but generally little else happens; at least, that is the gwaedh-gwend as I am most familiar with it.
"What makes this particular situation slightly more complicated, however, lies in the fact that Glorfindel is Vanyar; his people's traditions about the gwaedh-gwend are not all the same as our Noldorin ones. Some of the emotional intimacy within the relationship can go deeper with them; and there can be some physical expressions of the closeness involved that many of my people might consider less than proper." He put his arm about her shoulder and stroked her upper arm with his hand. "When I spoke to him about this after he helped you to your chambers, he confirmed that this seemed to be the direction his relationship with you was taking now."
"But he has never said anything to me about a wife before!" she exclaimed angrily.
Elrond nodded, stoically facing her tumbling emotions in a way that couldn't help but calm her. "I am not surprised. The only reason I know that he is married is because I long ago met some refugees from Doriath who had known Glorfindel and his family in Gondolin before the House of the Golden Flower perished. To my knowledge, he has never spoken of his wife - or of any of his children - to anyone since he was re-housed. I think that to be one way in which the Belain's injunction to him to return to Ennor to assist me weighs the heaviest on him. By agreeing to do as the Belain wished, Glorfindel has denied himself the chance to be there in Aman when any of them is released, his wife most especially."
Gilraen was quiet for a long moment, pondering the many implications of that. "Then why, if he never speaks of her…"
"It could be that you are the first he has ever felt comfortable enough with to dare let down his guard. He has been at my right hand for centuries, and never have I seen him give any of the ellith here the slightest heed. Trust me, I am certain this is not something he did not consider long and hard beforehand. He does you great honor in entrusting you with his inner being, do not doubt this. Glorfindel's error - for the error is indeed his - is both in not explaining himself to you as well as underestimating the ways in which you in time might misunderstand him and his actions through your innocence of our ways."
She pulled back. "But if you've explained things to me now, how will I misunderstand…"
Elrond shook his head at her. "I have given you but the simplest of explanations of a very complex situation. You still run the risk of misinterpreting his actions, or after a time having expectations of him that can never come to pass - expectations that can lead to frustration and dispute eventually. Already you allow him liberties with your person you would not even consider giving to another. A time may come when your comfort with those liberties may lead you to desire him as a woman would desire a man who demonstrates affection for her in a physical manner. Such is the way of your people, is it not - finding a new love, even marrying again?" He waited, and Gilraen nodded finally.
"It happens; not so often among the Dúnedain, but it is not unknown," she answered quietly.
"This was my understanding. But, you see, it is not our way." He took a deep breath. "Gilraen, no matter how close you allow him to get to you - no matter how close he allows you to get to him, physically or emotionally - Glorfindel will never take you to his bed; not even if you ask him to."
"Because he can't; I understand that. He's married…"
"It is not a case of inability." Elrond paused and cleared his throat. "As uncomfortable as this little truth might make us both, you should know that when you lifted that blanket at the hot springs, all three of us there learned very quickly that certain life processes and physical responses do not simply cease because our mates are long-absent from us."
Gilraen's head swiveled sharply. "Oh! My!" She buried her face in her hands.
"But we control them, they do not control us." He tugged gently at her hands. "Just as when Glorfindel and I stood up during another, earlier hot springs visit, I believe you unexpectedly suffered much the same lesson?" At her groan and return of her face to the palms of her hands, he chuckled at her. "Admiring the view does not mean acting mindlessly for any of us, now, does it? We are held in check by other things, including the vows we made to our mates, are we not?"
"I'll never be able to look any of you in the eye again," she whimpered. She could hardly believe that he had brought up the topic again, much less the frank way in which he continued to discuss it - referring to those two very embarrassing episodes with a casual "admiring the view" - although, she had to admit to herself deep down, the description was very apt.
Elrond laughed, obviously quite amused. "Do not be ridiculous! It did none of us any harm to be reminded that we remain attracted to - and attractive to - members of the opposite sex, especially when the one who normally does the reminding is very far away indeed." His voice softened, and his tone grew serious. "And is that not one of the major points of this entire discussion? Glorfindel of late is showing you the kind of attention you have missed receiving from your husband these many years spent here in Imladris, and you have found it pleasant."
"Is that wrong of me?"
"No, provided you proceed from this point forward in an informed manner and with extreme caution. I am frankly surprised that Glorfindel would choose to reveal his inner self to one whose life will be so painfully brief."
Gilraen dared to look up. Elrond's face in the moonlight glowed softly, and his expression was as kind as ever. "Then you aren't angry at him - or me?"
He shook his head disbelievingly. "How could I possibly be angry? You and I have been gwaedh-vellyn for several years now, most noticeably when it comes to issues of child-rearing and Estel in particular. What is more, we entered our relationship more or less knowingly on both our parts; although I will grant that you had no idea that what you had agreed to even had a formal name and/or specific boundaries and privileges at the time." He nodded at her widening eyes, but then his gaze softened. "And, just so you know, I have to admit that I have found much comfort in sensing a woman's touch in the running of my household again, and in sharing the joys and burdens of raising another child with one of whom I have become fond."
Elrond shifted uncomfortably and looked away, and Gilraen knew she had just received as much of an open admission of affection from him as she probably ever would get. Would she ever fully understand these incredibly complex and inscrutable beings? "I shall speak to Glorfindel, and request that he discuss this with you as soon as realistically possible," he added brusquely and rose, brushed off the back of his robes, and then put out his hand to her. "But now it grows late, and I believe I have given you much to think on."
She easily returned her hand to his keeping so he could pull her to her feet and begin leading her back down the path to the House. The silence between them was a relief; Elrond had been right to say that he had given her much to consider, almost too much!
He tucked her hand into his elbow as they reached the bottom of the steep path and began sauntering back toward the House. "I am thinking that I will allow Elladan and Elrohir to take Estel with them when they ride to the inner fences with supplies tomorrow," he said gently. "Estel has been begging for permission to do so for weeks, and I think you could use some time where you do not need to worry about him walking in on you when you and Glorfindel are having the discussion that needs to happen."
"Riding the fences?" Despite herself, Gilraen's heart skipped a beat in dread. That term, at home, was not one associated with pleasant memories. Worse, Arathorn had been 'riding the fences' with the sons of Elrond when… "Isn't he a little young to do something that dangerous?"
Elrond evidently sensed her distress, for he patted her hand comfortingly. "To ride the outer fences, yes; it will be a long time yet before he is ready to go anywhere near those. But the inner fences are nowhere near as dangerous, and this is a supply trip, not a duty rotation. Elladan and Elrohir will be quite sufficient as escorts for him, he will enjoy the chance to feel as if he has done a service to Imladris and to do so among other warriors, and you could use the respite."
Gilraen relaxed again, appreciating the diplomacy of Elrond's answer, and the fact that he was not just sending her - their - son off without consulting her. "He told me the other day that Glorfindel said he was satisfied with his progress with the sword, and that Erestor had given him a 'most satisfactory' comment on his essay. I believe he could use a reward, if only to maybe convince him to put in the same effort on his diplomacy studies."
Elrond threw his head back and laughed. "Very true! There are times I worry that his inability to remain serene in the face of stubborn idiocy - even one as contrived as Erestor's - might be the end of the unified Dúnedain as we know it. After all, we do want him to assume his role as Chieftain someday and actually survive the encounter to wield the authority. Any remedy, therefore, to help him develop greater patience and tolerance must be diligently attempted - even if it is a blatant bribe at first." He opened the door into the Great Hall. "So we are agreed then?"
Gilraen found herself smiling. Elrond's laughter always lightened her heart, for some reason. "Yes, we are agreed."
"Then I will bid you goodnight. I have some matters which require my attention before I can retire. May the stars watch over you this night, my dear." He pulled her close and kissed her cheek gently, surprising her. Usually, this delicate gesture landed on her forehead instead.
Gilraen blinked and then relaxed and returned the gesture to an Elven cheek before he could pull away. Gwaedh-vellon indeed. "Goodnight, Elrond. May the stars guide your dreams as well."
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.