Last Hope: 10. Part 2 - Chapter 4

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10. Part 2 - Chapter 4

***

Upon waking, Gilraen sensed that something was amiss. Yet the weather had cleared, promising the sunrise would reveal vibrant greenery, fresh after a night of spring thunder. Already Elvish singing echoed down the hallways as the household began chores, the merry song easing Gilraen's mood – if only for a while.

Waking her son, she readied him for the day, expecting a knock on the door at any moment. It was not uncommon for Elrond to suspend the morning's activities, and Gilraen never questioned his reasons, nor would anyone specifically say. 'He is required elsewhere,' was the usual explanation, followed by an invitation to some other event.

Although no messenger came, Gilraen remained wary – in her preoccupation, Estel's squeal startled her. "Aie!" He leapt ahead to fetch the wooden toy left outside the doorway, immediately declaring it would be too lonely if left behind; "Being a horse," he explained.

Gilraen agreed, watching her son frolic with his new companion as they walked. The toy was carved of driftwood, which she recognized from the storehouses' supply, but recalled not if Telmoth explained when it was delivered to Rivendell or why. Months ago, Gilraen had made a game out of discovering secretly who was responsible for the many gifts left for her son – so far to no avail. This new clue was kept in mind.

In the dining hall Elrond was not among those breakfasting. After seating her son with a meal, Gilraen came to Lindir where he sat, since he was often sent with messages. He seemed curious of her inquiry. "I do not think Master Elrond would leave you to wonder," said the Elf. "And I've heard of no changes to this morrow. But why do you ask?"

Smiling, Gilraen replied with an elvish adage: "Just something the wind said." Lindir was still chuckling when she returned to her seat. He did not mind her evasiveness, and she did not notice that he only answered for the morning.

Later, they met Elrond in the library. It seemed to Gilraen that he had arrived not long before, which was unusual, but he received them no differently than any other day. After an excited greeting from her son, he listened as Estel introduced his horse. Elrond suggested that a name be chosen, and spoke to Gilraen as the boy pondered.

"Telmoth is away on an errand," he said kindly. "But you are welcome to remain or see to other things as you wish."

"I would be glad to stay," she replied, taking a seat. The past days had held a similar pattern: Gilraen emerged at dawn with Estel to breakfast with the earliest risers of the house – if Elrond was not among them, he could be found here, always able to interest her son in hearing a tale or two. While Estel was entertained, Telmoth would steal Gilraen away; thus she had gradually been taught those duties required of a delegate for Elrond's House.

But this morning Estel was not eager to continue yesterday's saga; instead he and Elrond sat discussing which names were fit for a horse and why. Gilraen watched with amusement. As Elrond listed places and people and qualities, her son would include odd words: first 'Ran', then 'Leapt' and 'Trek'. Elrond kept from laughing with admirable poise, commending each addition as unique and fair, while Gilraen hid giggles behind her hand.

"Well, virtues and things are common names," said Elrond. The boy had asked why his mother said his choices were 'special'. "But you liked Bestest in particular, did you not? That is a fine name," he glanced at Gilraen, her smile reflected in his eyes, "and being an un-word, 'tis very special indeed."

This led Estel to wonder if 'Unword' was even better than Bestest, then suddenly he became fervent to see pictures of real horses, forgetting his prior concern as a child of three is prone to do. This mission led them throughout the house, as paintings were plentiful, yet the majority of them hung in no particular area. Estel galloped ahead as his mother and Elrond followed the echo of his whinnies, yet he would listen quietly as Elrond told the tale each image represented.

Once when Elrond had lifted the boy for a closer view, Gilraen turned from another illustration to see her son sound asleep, his head upon the Lord of Rivendell's shoulder as if it were the softest pillow. Elrond showed a wry smile. "This happens more often than you might think."

"He was not bored by your stories, if that is your meaning," she said laughing. "The thunderstorm kept him awake much of last night. He will probably sleep all the afternoon away." Estel did not stir as he was shifted into his mother's arms.

"Then you should rest also," said Elrond, guessing correctly that she had sat up with her son. "When Telmoth returns I will tell her not to look for you."

After thanks and farewells Gilraen headed for her room. Neither her son nor the storm was what had kept her from sleeping last night, and she doubted rest would come even now. She had considered and decided against telling Elrond of her strange foreboding that persisted still. Surely if aught was amiss he would know already.

Passing through the last hallway, Gilraen heard a horn sound from afar. Recognizing it as the sentry announcing a rider's return, she proceeded unconcerned. Moments later a nearer horn sounded, the note changed and with it the message. Her fingers clenched the door handle at simultaneous pangs of worry and wonder.

To behold what her heart had long warned of she retreated to a window. The courtyard was visible below, and there Telmoth sat upon her horse stomping in distress. Elrond stood before her, to Gilraen's surprise; she imagined he must have headed to the courtyard directly after they parted.

A few words were exchanged before Telmoth rode off – towards the stable or elsewhere was not clear. Elrond remained, still as stone; Gilraen could not see the direction he looked, but knew he faced the road. In that moment a passing Elf paused beside her, glancing outside. "Have any healers arrived, I wonder..." he spoke seemingly to himself, "Ah good, Elrond is there." Shaking his head he sighed. "Alas that they shall become hale only to leave again."

Gilraen was as distracted by his presence as his swift departure. Returning her attention to the courtyard she saw that more Elves had emerged from the house, and from the road two gray horses. One was riderless and distraught even as an Elf tried to soothe the animal. The other bore twin riders whose backs faced Gilraen, but whose identities were writ upon Elrond's face as he approached them.

She tried to look away as Elrohir dismounted, the blood on his clothes and the expression he wore relaying the severity of words muted by glass and distance. Elladan sat slumped on the horse, shivering despite his brother's cloak over his own and the ever warming noon. As Elves rushed up carrying a bier between them, Gilraen tried to look away again, from the skill with which Elrond transferred his son to that support and Elladan's ashen face contorted in pain.

How many times have they returned full of holes for their father to heal? Unintentionally her gaze dropped to her son, unaware in his sleep of what transpired or that he would cause the same grief in his own time. Scraped knees from running too fast would be snake bites from learning woodcraft, then cuts and bruises from training would be broken bones from battle... and Elrond will tend them all.

With that thought she turned at last, and in her room found all the restlessness she had expected and more.

***

"What's this?" Estel wanted to know, for the twelfth time.

"That is a marking to tell when enough of something has been stacked."

"Why?"

The Elf replied with a smile, "Because most of the old Elves here care not to do more work than they must. When someone is expected to 'stack to the mark', the mark is where they stop – usually. Some are lazier than others, especially..."

Telmoth reserved more tolerance for curious children than ignorant women, Gilraen reflected. All morning her son had been full of questions and playfulness, yet the Elf remained indulgent, showing none of the impatience Gilraen strove to evade.

By this time Estel had lost interest in Telmoth's explanation, occupied instead by hopping on and off a small box. Looking satisfied, the Elf turned back to her apprentice. Gilraen said, "I must thank you again. I'm afraid our progress has been slow these last few days." At Telmoth's raised eyes she amended, "Slower than usual."

The Elf laughed. "Dear girl, do not be troubled! You learn fast enough, and your son is a delight. Doubtless Master Elrond misses his young charge, but I am glad for my fortune in this." Her next words concerning seasonal reorganization were dull enough to let Gilraen's thoughts wander.

Since his sons' return, she had not seen the Master of the House. Lindir came the morning after the twins' arrival to tell Gilraen that Elrond was required elsewhere, but that she was welcome to bring Estel to the stables and meet the new horses. At her suggestion, Lindir agreed to return only if the message changed. For the following three mornings there had been no knocks on her door.

When the noonbell rang Telmoth called the day's work concluded, and gathering Estel from his hiding place they proceeded to the dining hall for the midday meal. On the way, Gilraen remarked, "It has been quiet of late." Crowds rarely gathered save for significant events, but even mealtimes had been sparsely attended.

Telmoth seemed reluctant to reply, though her tone was unconcerned, "Riders have been sent out, sentries doubled, the furthest outposts staffed; such is common for this time of year."

Gilraen saw that her son was not listening, then asked, "Then there is trouble?"

"There always is, elsewhere." She made a gesture beyond the valley before her hand fell to her side in a fist. "And sometimes we must make trouble of our own." Softer she added, "But I need not tell you that."

The mood was subdued in the dining hall, and once Gilraen was settled she guessed why. Elladan sat nearby, unspeaking and unsmiling; those closest to him Gilraen recognized as elders, not easily perturbed. Despite his grim appearance she would have called out a greeting, yet the instant before she spoke his eyes focused upon her, revealing a harshness she did not expect. Immediately his gaze dropped, hers following on impulse. Then startled by the bronze ring he wore, Gilraen said nothing, wondering if Elrohir knew she had mistaken him for his brother.

Few spoke during their meals -none loud or jokingly- and all departed without delay. Elrohir remained though he now sat alone, still eating – indeed Gilraen would remember that he had eaten like one half-starved. Telmoth and a few others played with a rapidly tiring Estel, who had not noticed the Elf-man he was so fond of but months ago.

"Well, whose pleads did you finally yield to that we are graced with your company?" asked Telmoth, looking up from the game. "Or has every secluded place and each of your excuses to dwell therein been exposed as such?" Gilraen doubted her jesting was entirely in good humor.

Elrohir flashed a tight smile. "Ah, so I am craven to comply and reclusive to refrain." Sitting back he said in an artificial sigh, "At least my lord father is happy, and that I suppose is your answer."

By now remembrance was dawning upon Estel, and he climbed into his mother's lap to see the Elf-man better; Gilraen saw in his young eyes the question he did not know how to pose. "And how is your brother?" Telmoth was persisting.

As if to lighten her tone Lindir inserted, "Ai, yes, he has been in all our thoughts. A curse upon orc arrows!"

"It was not the arrow but the poison which felled him."

Lindir flinched at the retort. "I did not know—"

"Then ask." Elrohir shifted as if to rise, but paused suddenly as his gaze centered. Across the table Estel gave a timid wave from his mother's lap, mouthing a word that made no sound. Sighing in earnest Elrohir sank back down, then said, "Hullo, Aragorn."

At Gilraen's quick hiss his eyes rose. In a cheerful voice she said, "He is called Estel now." She kissed one cheek after the other, both of which her son promptly wiped.

Patient and interested, Elrohir seemed more himself. "Of course, I had forgotten father said so. Well, he is growing like an anthill! Three years this month, yes?" At Gilraen's nod he brightened, but after a glance towards Telmoth his tone turned apologetic. "It was not my intent to defy your wishes by meeting here, Gilraen. My brother and I depart today, and mayhap you would have preferred this brief reminder be avoided."

While Telmoth voiced her opinion on their plans, Gilraen fell silent. When Elrond's sons had last taken leave months ago, she kept her son unaware of their departure for his own sake, thinking he would be saddened enough by their absence without watching them ride out of sight. At the time, she had become skeptical, suspecting to have misjudged the extent of Elrohir's affinity; that he remembered her concerns was unexpected, and appreciated.

Elrohir and Telmoth's bickering continued, though with less fervor. "If Elladan is recovered that is well. But why be so quick to leave?" she was saying.

"Only out of dire need did we return, already at the cost of several days. It is simply a matter of returning now to a duty left unfinished."

Telmoth tossed her head. "Your gratitude for Elrond's care is as transient as your sojourns here."

"Your gratitude for my labors afar is as nonexistent as snow in summer."

After a long silence they appeared to reach a truce: Elrohir accepted the title of 'spoiled brat' and Telmoth agreed she was a 'meddling irritant', then they clasped hands. Citing the hour, Gilraen left the dining hall to put her son down for a nap; despite that, she had endured more elvishness than she deemed fair, and the day was not yet over.

***

Gilraen would never recall what had compelled her to emerge from her quarters that afternoon, leaving her son asleep within. Restless, she paced the hallway before venturing further, eventually coming to the window where the courtyard was visible below. Seeing who was gathered there, any other day she would have turned away from business which was not hers; instead she descended the stairs and crossed the foyer to hear better.

Sitting upon his horse, Elladan appeared quite hale, and impatient. "You do this every time," he said to his twin.

Elrohir stood fiddling with his horse's headstall. "Maybe, but for different reasons. Now I am uncertain, and not without cause. I only suggested that we reconsider." Telmoth had not been named that Gilraen had heard, though she felt certain the Elf's argument had affected Elrohir.

But not Elladan. "Ponder all you like; for my part I am steadfast. Stay or follow, brother, but I will not wait." With nothing more he rode off, slow enough that he did not flee, fast enough that he showed no regret. Expression unreadable, Elrohir looked after him as the dust settled.

Elrond stood off to the side, his eyes low. During the conversation he had backed away so as not to stand between his sons; it was not difficult for Gilraen to guess his predicament. "I did not raise you to be extensions of my own will," he said to Elrohir. "Nor did I raise you to be reflections of each other. Follow your own heart – do not choose for me."

Elrohir's dropped head shook. "Ah father, for all your wisdom, do you still not understand?" Laughing mirthlessly he mounted his steed. "I have never chosen for you, and neither has he." After a pause he added, "Forgive us." Then he too was gone.

Finally Elrond looked up, facing the road still as stone, a look about him that Gilraen could not bear to see. She had stood similarly times uncounted, bound by love unconditional though her heart be broken, watching as friends and family left to risk death and worse for the sake of those who remained, or those who were gone. And she recognized now the mood Elladan and Elrohir returned in, one echoing spent wrath and hatred, for she had seen it in Arathorn each time he returned, and saw it in Gilbarad the day Arathorn returned not.

Yet although this exchange between father and sons seemed cold, she reminded herself that a thousandth parting must be quite different than the tenth, and that she was as a child observing adults manage matters beyond her grasp. It is not my business in any case, she told herself as she returned to her room – but not as she left again.

Checking through the window to see that Elrond remained, she descended the stairs once more, crossed the foyer, and knelt to release her charge. Standing inconspicuously beside a pillar she watched outside, waiting.

Showing her a boyishly devious smile over his shoulder, he padded down the entryway, then scurried out to the center of the yard. For a moment he stood silent, seemingly unnoticed. But he did not look back to her for encouragement before reaching out a small hand. His finger had barely touched the other's when Elrond looked down at him, eyes growing wide.

"Need cuddles?" Gilraen heard her son ask, and stifled a laugh.

Elrond kneeled, smiling as Estel leapt into his arms. "What are you doing out here, child?" The boy freed one arm from around his neck to shrug in answer. "Your mother is not somewhere searching for you, I hope..."

Just as Elrond began to look around, Gilraen moved out of sight behind the pillar. She heard her son call for her once, then again, followed by a squeal and an excited explanation. Elrond was told every rule of the game at least twice before Gilraen moved to a better hiding place, certain that she would be sought.

Gilraen would never recall what had compelled her to wake her son that afternoon, and set out to cheer the Lord of Rivendell. But she would always remember the difference one mortal could make.

***


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.

Story Information

Author: AfterEver

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/08/04

Original Post: 07/28/03

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