7. Riding Fences - 2/2
Estel was bubbling with excitement and could barely sit still in the saddle. Gilraen smiled up at him in pride and indulgence, and knew that Elrond at her side was doing much the same. "Now remember, my son," Elrond held up a long forefinger into the air, "You are to do exactly as your brothers instruct you. Do not wander; do not go exploring. The fences, even the inner ones, are not the safety of the immediate environs around the House." He turned a gazed at Glorfindel, still handing up bundles to be tied behind the riders. "Are you certain he is qualified to carry that?" Elrond's finger moved to the short practice sword at Estel's waist, now housed in a fairly worn-looking scabbard.
"He has earned the right," Glorfindel answered after handing up his last bundle to Elladan. He walked over to join Elrond and Gilraen. "Remember, Estel, unless you are ordered to draw that sword, it stays in the scabbard."
"I'll remember, Master Glorfindel. I'll see you in three days, Nana." Estel bent down to accept a quick hug and then waved. "Ada. Master Erestor."
"We shall keep him out of trouble, Gilraen," Elrohir steered his prancing stallion close, "and he shall have all kinds of stories to tell you when he gets back, no doubt."
"Stay safe!" she called out, raising in farewell the hand not tasked with holding her shawl. Glorfindel's large hand at her elbow steered her back a few steps so that she was safely out of the way of the horses and riders. Once the riders had vanished through the gate, Elrond gave her and Glorfindel a meaningful glance, then bowed shallowly and strode back towards the House with a purposeful gait.
"My lady, I am curious if you have duties to attend to, or if I might request your company for a picnic?" Gilraen looked up and over into serious blue eyes. "I believe there are some matters that we need to discuss in private, you and I," he added in a softer voice.
She searched his gaze, but could see no reluctance or sign that his request had been the result of an order from his lord. "Unfortunately, I still have to finish those reports that were left with Erestor," she answered with regret. "Master Elrond…"
"Master Elrond told me, last night when he spoke to me, to tell you to leave aside the reports until after. He seems to feel that this matter is more important… and it is." His gaze didn't waver. "Please, Gilraen."
"Elrond spoke to you last night?"
The golden Elf nodded. "He said he had just come from a very interesting conversation with you."
Gilraen blinked. Speaking to Glorfindel must have been the business the Master of the House had felt needed his attention before retiring. Evidently Elrond was taking this matter very seriously, to the extent of setting aside her assigned duties to him and sending their son off for several days to create opportunities for her and Glorfindel to have a similar discussion.
"Very well." She had to stifle a chuckle at the look of relief that flooded the Elven face at the ease of her acquiescence. "I'll go talk to the cook to…"
"I have already done so," Glorfindel admitted with some chagrin. "I apologize for seeming to take your agreement for granted, but…"
"It's all right." Gilraen let him off the hook. "Elrond is probably right that we should talk sooner rather than later."
"I shall have Rochiril saddled for you, so wear your riding clothes. I have in mind that small meadow not too far from the hot springs - and perhaps a relaxing soak later. Pack clothing for in case we decide to visit the springs."
While Gilraen wondered briefly at the wisdom of heading back to a place that had already been the site of so much misunderstanding, she had to admit that it would otherwise be quite private. "Won't people talk if we just leave off our duties and vanish for the day?"
A golden eyebrow climbed his forehead. "And what if they do? Elrond is aware of where we are going and what we are about; that is honestly the only obligation either of us has, and it is already fulfilled. What needs to be discussed between us is our business, and not that of any other. Do you not agree?" When Gilraen finally nodded, he returned the nod. "So go get your clothes and change. I'll collect the meal and saddle the horses."
Whatever Gilraen had expected, it wasn't the humor-filled ride that followed. Glorfindel kept the horses at a sedate walk and pointed out things to her that she would have never thought to look for, and then recounted amusing anecdotes that had her giggling like a young girl. The reason they were escaping the serenity of the lavish gardens that surrounded the Last Homely House retreated for a while, not forgotten but postponed.
Finally, however, after a delicious repast punctuated by more of Glorfindel's storytelling expertise and no small amount of laughter, Gilraen could bear the tension of the unspoken no longer. "We really should begin our discussion, my lord," she verbally nudged the Elf who was now handing her empty wrappings to be returned to the picnic bundle, only to see his hand freeze for a moment.
"True. It seems the time has come, has it not?" He didn't look at her, but rose to retrieve the blanket they had shared on the grass and fold it up again. "Very well; perhaps a good place to start is to find out what has already been said. What did Elrond tell you?"
She waited until he looked at her. "He told me you were married, for one thing."
"It should have been I to tell you that," the Elf muttered under his breath, looking away for a moment and then facing her directly. "Are you angry that I did not?"
"I was at first; and then, as Elrond kept talking, I just got confused. The way you were acting - playing with my hair, giving me that epessë - I know that it was probably more my imagination than anything, and you've lived so much longer than I have… How could you think… or want…" Gilraen found her feelings still very much unsettled and difficult to explain. "I felt very foolish. I still feel confused."
"I am sorry, Míreth; I never meant to do more than try to help you find a place…"
"By treating me as if you were courting me?" She folded her brows. "What was I to think? Especially after that night - after what happened here the last time we were here - you told me… you hadn't minded my looking…"
"I truly did not mind your looking," he insisted quietly. "I still do not. Our bodies are not things to be regarded with shame or embarrassment."
"But then why…" Her confusion was growing.
He held out the wad of folded blanket to her. "Allow me to tell you another story, then, and perhaps that will explain things to your satisfaction. In all the long-years that have passed since I came to Imladris, I have allowed myself to feel close to only three women; and of those three, only you are not Elf-kind. I was close to Celebrían because she was the wife of my sworn lord and closest friend. I became close to Arwen over the years as well because in many ways, she reminded me…" He faltered.
The crystal-blue eyes flicked quickly to her face, almost guiltily. "Elrond's daughter."
Elrond has a daughter? Why does nobody in Imladris ever mention her? Why did her father not give her all the duties and responsibilities that Erestor carried for so long - the ones that eventually fell to me? Did something terrible happen to her too - perhaps the same as happened to her mother? Oh! Poor Elrond!
"And she reminded you of your own daughter?" Gilraen asked very gently.
He nodded silently and looked off into the sky over her head for a long moment, obviously working on controlling his emotions. Eventually he looked back down at her. "And then you came, and took me by surprise."
Her eyebrows soared. So very little ever seemed to take the Balrog-slayer by surprise. "I did what?"
"You must understand. While I have known quite well the Dúnedain Elrond has fostered in youth or sheltered later on, I did not make the acquaintance of the Dúnedenith who would sometimes come to deliver their sons into Elrond's keeping. For the most part, those ladies chose to keep close company with their own men-folk and not mix with the Elves." He smiled down at her, his equilibrium evidently now restored. "You are the first firieth I have had the honor of having more than merely espied in the distance or from across a room; and what I saw and heard and learned surprised me."
Gilraen blushed. "I am nothing special," she complained, more to herself than to him.
Glorfindel's hand sought her elbow and guided her back to where she could stow the picnic gear and gather her bundle of toweling, dry small clothes and blanket for the hot spring. "Not all would have weathered the sudden removal from everything you had ever known with the same resilience - especially Elves. We do not handle change well," he stated evenly, "and yet you have begun to blossom and prosper here. Elrond told me once that your father had sent you on with Estel but told you that it wasn't your welfare that mattered; and as I watched you struggle to find your feet and make a place for yourself, I found myself wishing to help smooth your way, if for no other reason than to prove your father wrong. I still intend to give him a piece of my mind someday."
"You have always been a good friend," she admitted, smiling up at him. The absolute last thing she had ever expected to find in this strange and serene place was friendship with a living legend.
"When I saw you still grieved for Arathorn so deeply, I found myself reminded of how Elrond came to my aid a century or so after I came here, when I was overwhelmed with grief. What I didn't expect, however, was that you would turn to me for comfort that evening." Glorfindel's face smoothed into an expression of chagrin. "I had never before considered… and there you were, needing as much as I, touching my grief with your own… As I held you, it was as if some of the shadow lifted from me as well. I too had wept, as you wept, long ago; but never had I looked for or thought to find the kind of comfort that healed; and again you surprised me when you gave me that comfort unasked for even as you took your own. It was as if my eyes opened to the possibility of something very precious in spite of as much as because of its very brief nature." He glanced down at her again. "Did Elrond explain? About the tradition, that is?"
She nodded. "As much as he could. He told me your traditions were different than his, however."
"The differences are matters of degree only. In essence, the practice is the same. "
"But I didn't even know… You didn't say anything…"
"I know," he bent to claim his towel from his saddle and found her elbow again once she had all of her belongings in hand. "Then we shared those… interesting… moments of miscommunications here that resulted in a conversation where I finally needed to set aside all worries about propriety, and I found I had made my connection with you without realizing it. I had already touched you in a manner most inappropriate within the bounds of a normal friendship - and you had accepted that touch once and then did so again. I took it as a sign that…" The tips of his ears turned a bright pink. "I admit I presumed much."
Gilraen in turn blushed deeply. "You startled me, and yet, there is so much that I don't understand about your people that I let it continue, thinking that maybe such things are not of so much import for you. Until Elrond said something, I didn't realize…"
"Elrond began to notice, but began to watch more closely after Elladan came to him with some of his concerns. You see, Elladan and Elrohir are the ones who are most familiar with your people and their ways. Elladan saw us together in the garden one evening, I gather, and took his worries about what he saw and heard first to his brother and then to his father. As you are Elrond's to keep while you are here, Elladan wanted to protect you, to make certain that all was kept above-board." Glorfindel's face grew a little more chagrined. "As it was, I should have asked my lord's permission first, you see…"
"To court me… or whatever…" she added when he gave her a quick glance.
"Yes, I suppose in your understanding at the time, it was a form of courting," he admitted finally, drawing her to a halt next to bushes that bordered the shallow pool. "And I should have asked your permission as well - or at least spoken before now, when so much is already accomplished."
"Do you…" Gilraen swallowed hard. "Do you regret it now…"
"No." The firmness of his answer drew her to gaze at him again. "If there are any regrets, they concern the needless misunderstandings or awkwardnesses that could have been avoided. But what of you? Would you be more comfortable if we…"
She shook her head. "I've gotten used to having you nearby, of being able to feel like I could lean on you if I needed to…"
"You could always lean on Elrond instead," Glorfindel told her softly. "It might be less controversial that way, in fact. As I have never made a show of my grief for my wife or even spoken of her at all, many in Imladris view me as unmarried and quite available; and such will invite talk and gossip if or when one of our times together is noted, which it eventually will."
"I do lean on Elrond, in matters concerning our son - my son. As far as the women of Imladris gossiping, I suspect that they will eventually even gossip about my time with Elrond; and I would rather not put the Master of the House in an awkward position with his people if I can help it."
"He would not deny you if you needed or wished more from him, you know. He may hold his emotions very close, but I can tell that he is fond of you."
Again she shook her head. "I am content with the way things are." She gave him a searching look. "Unless it is you that would rather steer clear of the controversy."
He shook his golden head vigorously. "I am not bothered by the cackling of frustrated ellith seeking mates. I have borne them for over an Age, I can bear them for a while longer." Then it was his turn to gaze at her intently. "You understand the limits of what we would share?"
"Elrond made things quite clear." She blushed in memory.
"Yes." She took a deep breath and swallowed her embarrassment. "You may have to remind me, from time to time, should my imagination or emotions run away with me; but I have a fair idea of what I am agreeing to - and what you would not allow to happen."
A small smile, far more hesitant and openly delighted than any she had ever seen from him before, lit his face. "You honor me, Lady."
"As you honor me, my lord," she smiled back.
He gave her elbow a slight shove. "I shall meet you in the pool. We don't want to waste the rest of the afternoon after riding out all this way."
Gilraen stepped behind her comforting bush and slowly removed her outer clothes. She hesitated for a moment, and then reached up to remove the pins from her hair and then shake out her braid. "Are you in?" she called.
"You may enter when ready," was the response.
She put the blanket within reach and then stepped into the heated water to walk over to where Glorfindel sat with his head turned away and eyes shut. She sat down and shifted until she found a comfortable spot on the rocks that lined the bottom of the pool. "Oh! That feels lovely."
His eyes opened and then widened when he saw her hair already down. "Lean back into my hand, and allow me to rinse your hair so that it can be soft later on," he urged, with the small and delighted smile back, lighting his features.
Gilraen obediently put her back to him and placed herself in his hands. "Will you tell me about her?" she asked softly, knowing she was stepping into delicate territory.
"Aye, and then you will tell me about Arathorn," he replied and supported her as she tipped back into the water. "The time is come to allow certain names to be spoken aloud again, has it not?"
She smiled broadly. She couldn't have put things better herself.
"I wish you could have met my Laernel," he continued thoughtfully. "I think the two of you could have been good friends."
"How did you meet her?" She closed her eyes as talented fingers massaged her scalp in the water.
"By accident, actually, if truth be told." he replied, pushing her erect again and then waiting for her to find a comfortable spot at his side before continuing. "She was the daughter of…"
Gilraen smiled as she passed through the gate and into the courtyard, and she shared the smile with Glorfindel. The answers to what was happening or what her Elven companion was thinking had proven a great relief, and the long discussion where they had shared their memories of their lost loves had cemented something very special between them. She had even managed to rise from the soaking pool and step from the water without reaching for her protective blanket, forcing herself to remember that he would not look on her in her transparent clothing with anything objectionable in mind; while Glorfindel had remained in the pool until she was out of sight before rising. Suddenly, accommodating both sets of sensibilities was so simple.
The easy camaraderie lasted through brushing down their mounts and turning them loose into the large pasture that stretched down the valley behind the stables. Glorfindel took up the empty picnic bundle to be returned to the kitchen, and the two of them were laughing and chatting quietly as they walked up to the House; only to stop short at the sight that met them. Erestor stood at the top of the stairs, his face stony and filled with a kind of fury Gilraen had never seen before. In his hands, he held two swords; one was Glorfindel's, with it's amber pommel-stone clearly visible. The second sword looked no less impressive or lethal, but was completely unfamiliar.
Glorfindel glanced down at Gilraen, his confusion plain. "What is amiss, old friend?"
"I had thought better of you," Erestor hissed, his grey eyes snapping angrily back and forth between the two of them. He tossed Glorfindel's sword down into the dust at the Elf's feet. "Pick it up, orchuithor."
Gilraen stared, unable to believe her ears; and next to her, she felt Glorfindel tense. "What did you call me?" the Balrog-slayer asked in a deceptively calm voice.
Gilraen was amazed, both at the foulness of the insult and the lack of heat in the response. Then she blushed, not at all pleased to have actually understood the word in the first place and astounded not only that Elves knew such language, but that stern, aloof and oh-so-proper Erestor was both capable of and willing to use it.
"You heard me." Erestor met him, glare for glare. "Despoiler of innocents, pick up your sword and prepare to defend yourself." He raised the blade of the other sword and shrugged away his dark robe to the ground, leaving him garbed in simple tunic and trousers.
"Stop it!" Gilraen shook her head. What was he doing? "Nothing has happened…" What did he think had happened?
"Yet," Erestor added to her statement almost casually. "But I have been watching, and the time will come when…"
Glorfindel bent and retrieved his sword and stepped cautiously away from Gilraen. "You do not want to do this," he said coldly, his voice holding a whiplash of warning.
Elrond's chief councilor descended the steps one by one, also heading in a direction that put distance between himself and Gilraen. "Do not presume to tell me what I do or do not want," he spat. "For once, the excuse of differing cultures will not avail you."
The very air around the two Elf-lord had become charged with emotion, and Gilraen was glad when she saw one of the servants who had seen the exchange suddenly dart into the House. I hope she is fetching Master Elrond!
"The differences between my culture and yours have never been an excuse for anything," Glorfindel growled, his steps cautious as he gave his sword a practice swing. "Except, perhaps, this madness that has overtaken you. Erestor, I do not wish to…"
Erestor was willing to wait no longer, but flew at Glorfindel with his sword flashing. The clear clang of metal striking metal rang out over the peace of the House. And then the two were circling each other, swords at the ready. "It is not enough that you leave a trail of broken hearts through the women of Imladris - any of whom would make you a fine wife - but now you must toy with the affections of one who would not understand our ways…"
Gilraen frowned. But she did understand now… "Erestor…"
This time it was Glorfindel who flew at Erestor, and swords flashed and metal sang. If not for the look of intense concentration and anger on both faces, Gilraen could have mistaken the beauty and grace with which the two were clashing as a dance. The looks on the faces of those who had gathered at a safe distance to watch spoke volumes: all were shocked and dismayed.
The two combatants fell back again, still circling. "Who appointed you judge of my actions, Noldor?" Glorfindel growled. "You who sit amidst papers and the business of the realm and barely notice what happens beyond library doors? You know nothing…"
"I know nothing," Erestor tossed back in a mocking tone. "Everyone in Imladris with eyes to see can see what you are up to. Gilraen is not a toy!"
"I… Erestor… Glorfindel… Stop!" Gilraen's voice rose, her own ire soaring now.
"I do not treat her as one," Glorfindel snapped, then ducked unexpectedly and was only barely warded off by Erestor's flying blade. "You insult not only me, but you insult her with your insinuations."
Erestor didn't allow Glorfindel to retreat, but followed him now, his sword flashing dangerously in the late afternoon sun. Gilraen watched in amazement as the otherwise serene and placid chief councilor and librarian for Elrond displayed a cunning and skill with his sword that quickly put Glorfindel - an acknowledged master with the blade - on the defensive. From the quick expression of surprise and dismay that flitted across Glorfindel's face, Gilraen realized that this was no sparring match, no practice bout; these Elves were serious, and it was possible that one of them would do serious harm to the other if something weren't done. As it was, a tear had already appeared on Glorfindel's shoulder, and a thin red line was slowly soaking into the suede.
And they're fighting over me! Erestor seems to think that we have done something we weren't supposed to - as if Glorfindel, perhaps, seduced me? Does he honestly think that I would… And Glorfindel knows how much I hate…
Suddenly, she was so furious at the both of them that she could no longer stand still. "STOP IT, THE BOTH OF YOU!" She launched herself forward the moment the swords stopped ringing constantly and put herself between the two Elves, a hand held out against either. "STOP IT!"
Silence fell like landslide, and she glared back and forth between shocked grey to startled blue. On either side of her, swords that had been raised to make another strike had frozen in mid-air and now trembled with the effort and strain that had been behind them.
"How dare you!" Gilraen snapped, angrier than she'd been in a very long time. "How dare you judge my actions, or whether or not I'm aware of what is going on?" she demanded of Erestor, whose face blanched until only two spots of color remained on either cheek. She whirled on Glorfindel. "And how dare you! You know how much I hate to see people fighting - what it reminds me of." He too blanched, with a stricken look spreading across his features. "How…"
She didn't get a chance to finish, for very strong hands encircled her waist tightly and jerked her back against a very tall and hard body, and from there out from between the two previously battling Elves. She squeaked in alarm and turned, only to find that it was Elrond who held her, his face almost as stony and furious as Erestor's had been.
"I do not know how this came about, but you two will end this - now - and there will be peace between you." There would be no arguing with the tone of the Master's voice, which made both of the armed Elf-lords flinch even as their swords slowly lowered. "And you will come with me." Firmly tucked beneath a heavy and controlling arm, Gilraen was pulled up the steps and into the House before she realized she was moving, and then found herself having to trot to keep up with the pace those long, Elven legs set.
"Foolish child! Had you no thought for your own safety?" Gilraen was grateful that Elrond had waited until they were in a corridor with no one else about before he turned his temper on her. "Do you not know that only thousands of years of skill and practice and warfare for both Erestor and Glorfindel prevented you from being sliced to pieces where you stood just now? You never get between Elves doing battle! Surely you have been to the practice ring often enough by now to know better!"
As quickly as her temper had washed over her, now the realization of what she had done flooded her mind; and she nearly tripped. "But I…"
Elrond thrust her through the doorway to the private family parlor, slammed the door behind them, and then pointed at a chair with a long finger that shook. "Sit down!"
Gilraen swallowed hard and did exactly as she'd been told. This was an Elrond she had never seen before - never even seen hints of his existing before. His hold on her had not bruised, but it had left no doubt who was in control of the situation. Gone was the kind and gentle mentor, her gwaedh-vellon helping her raise her son; in his place, an outraged lord with a temper easily as daunting as her father's.
She folded her hands in her lap and watched him stalk to the sideboard, open it to withdraw a smaller cruet with a silver stopper and a tiny goblet, fill it with the amber liquid, and then toss it back in a single gulp. Head back, he closed his eyes and drew in a long breath; then, once he had exhaled, he put the cruet away and set the goblet on the sideboard - no doubt for servants to take away and wash later. Finally he turned to look at her, and at last she got a good look at the emotion that roiled behind that ancient gaze: fear. Not anger.
He took another deep breath and composed himself as best he could, then walked over to look down at her, making Gilraen definitely feel like a small child. "Tell me," he asked in a voice that still shook slightly, "how would you suggest I should have broken the news to our son that his mother had been killed by two of his teachers?"
Estel. She hadn't even thought of him when she'd stepped between Erestor and Glorfindel. If Elrond was right, and only Ages of experience with a sword had kept them from cutting her to pieces, Estel would have come home to… Her eyes widened.
Elrond nodded, satisfied evidently that he'd managed to get her to begin to understand his thoughts. "Estel would have had good reason never to trust either of them again, and his training would have been seriously compromised. And then there would be consequences of Erestor and Glorfindel both knowing that they had harmed you. Can you not imagine their pain?"
That was worse. Slowly Gilraen had been getting an appreciation of the benefits and drawbacks of an immortal memory; and now the knowledge that had anything happened to her, she would have sentenced both of her friends to an eternity of grief over their part in her demise took her breath away. No longer able to face the forced serenity in Elrond's face, she looked down and blinked hard against the tears. "I didn't think…"
"Exactly. You did not think."
Oh, having her father yelling at her, or even cuffing her, was infinitely easier to handle than the disappointment in Elrond's voice! Fat tears rolled down her cheeks; and had there been the smallest hole in the floor, she would have gladly slithered through it.
And then a long-fingered hand landed gently on her knee as Elrond knelt before her. "I would not have been in time to stop them, Gilraen. I have seen many things in my long years; but few of them have chilled me to the bone quite like coming through the door and seeing those two swords raised with you between them. For a moment, I believed you to be dead." He raised his hand to frame the side of her face and bring her gaze to him again. "Please do not attempt to frighten me into Bannoth again in that manner."
"I'm sorry," she whispered earnestly and leaned into the ready shoulder.
Gilraen wrinkled her nose as she swiped the escaped tendril of hair out of her face yet again. She would be glad when she'd finished with the report, for she desperately needed to wash the nasty smell from her hair. But, determined to atone for her earlier actions, she had pushed through the evening mealtime and now had only a few more of the numbers from her wax tablets to translate into Elvish notation and write into her weekly report.
She glanced up as the flame from the nearby candle flickered to find Erestor, once more in his dark robes, standing next to her. "It seems I owe you an apology, Lady," he pronounced stiffly, the way in which the light from the flame illuminated the planes of his face only accentuating his brittleness. "I jumped to a conclusion without the benefit of all the facts, and as a consequence placed you in harm's way at my own hands."
"I moved into harm's way all on my own, Master Erestor," Gilraen replied with a sigh. "And for that, I owe you an apology."
She saw a flicker of something in his eyes. "I hope Elrond informed you how dangerous it is to do what you did."
Gilraen looked away. "He made it very, very clear, I assure you."
"Then I accept your apology." Erestor bowed slightly, his right hand over his heart. "For my part, Glorfindel graciously took the time to fill me in on the details of your situation that I had been missing; and I now discover that not only did I seriously misjudge you and your naiveté, but his actions stretching back over a very long time." His lips thinned. "I had allowed an old prejudice to poison my mind, and it nearly cost me not only an old friend, but a new one. I hope that someday you will find it in your heart to forgive me."
She put her quill into the inkwell and turned to face him more directly. "You have my forgiveness, Master Erestor…"
The dark head shook. "After this day, I think a simple Erestor would be more appropriate address, please."
"Erestor," she corrected herself, her eyebrows raised. "But I am a bit confused."
"Why did you feel the need to react as you did?"
"Why," he repeated flatly, and again Gilraen saw something flicker in those almond-shaped grey eyes of his.
She nodded. "I would expect Elrond - or even Glorfindel - to defend my honor…"
"But not me." Erestor's voice had an odd tone to it. "Few do nowadays." He looked down at her and then shifted, moving both body and gaze away from her. "Suffice it to say that you sometimes remind me of someone… whom I have not seen for a very long time."
Gilraen reached out and laid a hand on his lower arm before he could entirely pull out of reach. "Expecting defense from Elrond or Glorfindel doesn't mean that I don't appreciate your concern as well, however. Please believe me."
The very edges of Erestor's lips twitched, as if he were fighting against a smile. "Thank you," he said softly and bowed again before turning around to leave.
Gilraen watched the dark shape move smoothly and silently back into the deeper shadows of the darkened library and then turned back to her report, determined not to allow herself to reflect on this brief glimpse behind the stoic mask Erestor normally presented to everyone. In but a few minutes, she had all the numbers carefully entered; and she was blotting the ink when the candle flame flickered again at another's approach. "Dare I approach, or am I still the target of your ire?" asked another familiar voice.
"I'm not angry anymore," she sighed as Glorfindel's white robes and shimmering golden hair moved into the small pool of light surrounding her work table.
"I should still beg your forgiveness. I knew how much you loathe being around sparring warriors; but I just could not bear to stand there and allow…"
"I know." She held up a restrictive hand. "I know. I understand. I will forgive you if you will forgive me my foolishness."
"We could have killed you." The rich voice shook, betraying the strength of the emotion behind the simple statement.
She hung her head. "I know that - now. But you didn't, and Elrond tells me I should thank the thousands of years of practice and warfare you both have faced for that grace. All I can say in my own defense is that I wasn't thinking clearly."
Glorfindel chuckled weakly. "None of us were, Míreth - not even Elrond, I suspect. It has been centuries since I have seen that expression on his face." He moved behind her so that he could pull out her chair as she made to stand up. "Promise me you will never again put yourself so deeply at risk from my hand or any other's, and you may have my forgiveness freely."
"That I can promise you," Gilraen affirmed with conviction. "I never want to be that close to swords raised in anger again."
"Then all is well between us, and we start fresh. Come. You did not join us for the evening meal and you need to eat; and perhaps a walk in the garden after, to settle with a very taxing day?" A large hand cupped her elbow as she blew out the candle and put them in the dark. Suddenly she could see the soft glow from his skin that made him easily discernable in the utter darkness; and for a change, it only made her more aware of all of the other differences between them that would remain obstacles despite everything.
My dearest friend and confidant - what did I do to deserve having you in my life? "Thank you, but no. I need to deliver these reports to Master Elrond and then go to the baths to wash out my hair." She patted the hand at her elbow the moment they were through the library doors and into the dim lighting of the corridor. "I'm very tired, and I truly have no appetite." Not this night. Tonight I think I need to be alone.
"Then may the stars watch over you this night, Míreth nîn, and I will see you in the morning." Lips ghosted across her forehead, and the soft, white glow remained motionless and protective as she made her way down the long corridor. She would be relieved when she had handed in the reports so she could relax in a tub of hot water and think through everything that had happened over the last two days.
Light continued to spill from beneath Elrond's office door, and the deep voice that pronounced, "Enter," at the sound of her knock had a tone of fatigue about it.
"My reports," she offered in response to the silent, questioning tilt of expressive eyebrows from behind the piled-high desk. "They're overdue."
"You need not have missed a meal to rush them to me," he chided gently, putting down his quill. "I told you earlier that the household would survive another day without them."
"I know, but I wanted them finished. It was the least I could do."
Elrond leaned back in his chair and stretched out both his long arms over the desk. "And now that you have done so?"
Gilraen smiled at him. "A nice, long, hot bath to get the smell of hot springs from my hair and to relax. I may even decide to sleep in tomorrow morning."
"No walks in the garden?" Again the eyebrow canted.
"I don't think so," she answered with a shake of the head. "Not tonight. I have enough I want to think through without adding to it."
"Have you even spoken to either Erestor or Glorfindel?" he asked carefully.
She nodded. "Both, actually. In the library, while I was working."
His eyebrows rose, and then he smiled. "Good. And all is well, then?"
"I think so," she said around an involuntary yawn.
He rose and stretched out his back before coming from behind the desk. "Then I will wish the stars to watch over you, my dear. Take your bath and rest well. You look quite all in." He grasped her shoulders, deposited his usual kiss on her forehead. "I will most likely retire soon too, as the day was a difficult one for me too."
"Hey! None of that!" Elrond shook his head firmly. "When I told you that the possibility of misunderstandings existed with the gwaedh-gwend, I would never have dreamed that it would involve two of my master swordsmen having at each other, with you trying to get in the way and get yourself killed in the process." He smiled ruefully. "I am actually surprised you are not so completely overwhelmed with everything that came at you today that you had closeted yourself in your chambers and barred the door against us all."
Gilraen tipped her head up and gazed at her host. "I am overwhelmed," she replied simply. "That's why no walks in the garden. I need time to think."
Slowly he nodded. "That is wise. Good evening, then, and may your thoughts bring you enlightenment."
"Thank you. May the stars guide your dreams on peaceful paths as well,"
Funny, but Elrond held the door of his office open almost the entire time it took for her to walk to the stairs that led down to the bathing rooms, lighting her way just that much more.
Enlightenment: she certainly needed some this night. But Gilraen was fairly certain it would be a long time before she felt enlightened about the Elves among whom she now made her home. It seemed the longer she lived with them, the more complicated things were getting.
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.