At the sound of heavy boots coming to a halt, Gilraen looked up from her occupation. Gilbarad stood in the open doorway of the winter storehouse, looking bemused. "You’re late," she observed.
His wandering gaze found her, and she knew him well enough to detect his masked surprise. "I didn’t see you—" he began again, "Forgive me, Gilraen. This morning I thought to find you at the dining hall, and ended up sitting for a meal with Elrond’s sons. Had I known you were waiting—"
"I meant late in the year," she replied with a smile. "But I breakfast ere dawn; you would not find me sitting anywhere at this hour." Noticing the man glance outside to guess the time, Gilraen laughed. "For Estel’s sake we keep schedule with Master Elrond, frighteningly early to rise though he may be. Now come, Gilbarad, I owe you a proper greeting!"
They met to embrace in welcome, and Gilraen noted the man’s somber expression when they stepped apart. "I thought it was Valcirion’s dutiful pleasure to suffer Elrond’s hospitality each year. Tell me how it is that you’ve come in his stead – or are there other matters afoot?"
"Alas yes, Valcirion has fallen ill."
Gilraen suspected something similar the moment word reached her that Gilbarad had arrived with the merchantmen, for two commanders would not take leisurely leave at once. But she said, "I see that you are concerned." Also she saw that there was more he meant to disclose, and waited to hear it.
"I am. ‘Tis the same sickness which nearly slew Beregost last year, and it appears to have gathered strength ere returning this winter. Thus far only few of the elders have been afflicted, but they’ve not survived. We pray Valcirion’s fate will be different."
Gilraen did not voice her foreboding: that Gilbarad may return to find the Angle in mourning, and himself promoted. Instead she tried to offer comfort by saying, "What Master Elrond can do with herbs, Gilbarad, you would not believe. I'll bring this to his attention, and a rider will be sent out anon to distribute aid."
Then hushing Gilbarad's halfhearted objection, she assured him, "He would be wroth with us both if I did not inform him, or if his help was refused." Which was unlikely, as she had yet to behold Elrond beyond a shade of annoyance for any reason. But Gilbarad reluctantly agreed, and she saw with satisfaction that his mood soon lightened.
They left the storehouse together, and Gilraen spoke of the goods that had been brought, what exchanges would follow, and how Gilbarad could expect the Angle to prepare. Gilbarad struggled to keep pace, being less familiar with the process than Valcirion, or Gilraen herself.
By the second time she had need to repeat some detail, Gilbarad blinked with a shake of his head. "Thrice before coming I was reminded that you had been appointed the delegate for such affairs, but in truth I still wondered."
Anticipating his reaction, Gilraen said, "For two seasons I assisted another, then for two seasons I had an assistant. Now without anyone to distract me things go smoothly at last." Telmoth had said the same, when Gilraen began learning under her a year ago.
The humor was not lost on Gilbarad, who smiled. "I can only hope that Valcirion recovers soon, for I think I would not be so quick to adapt as you. Our men throughout the wild and all duties thereof, I can manage, but this business overwhelms me."
"Ah, well, it suits me fine." Coming upon a doorway, Gilraen gestured that they pause in the hall, saying quietly, "Estel will be so excited to see you, though I’m loath to interrupt his lesson. They should be finished soon, if you would bide with me."
As Gilbarad focused upon the sounds, she felt a hint of pride at his expression, gone from a puzzled frown to amazement. From inside the room Elrond’s voice would resonate, reciting a simple sentence in Westron, then her son’s small voice would follow, repeating those words in Sindarin.
"Has it only been a year?" Gilbarad breathed. He turned to Gilraen as she corrected his estimate by adding two months. After a thoughtful moment he said, "None could explain to me the need to rename your son, but as you requested, we've come to call him Estel."
With a smile she nodded. "Elrond bestowed it upon him."
"Then they have become close." Neither endorsement nor disapproval was evident in his bearing.
"Aye, Estel looks to him as a father in many ways." She could not have the thought without remembering Arathorn, and his memory still brought sadness. "I did not plan it, though I might have foreseen it. Of everyone here, Elrond is the most... here. Yet I think I would have it no differently."
"And what do you look to him as?"
"Elrond?" Gilbarad nodded gravely, and she did not answer at once. "He just is." Familiarity lent her no insight, and Gilbarad’s thoughts remained unknown. At length he sighed, then chuckled.
"Life here is making you elvish, Gilraen. But I see that you have grown much, and I am glad for it. Here Arag— Estel is safest, and as he is happy also, I think Arathorn’s wishes have been honored to their fullest." He paused briefly to hear that the lesson continued, and went on in a hushed tone, "In truth I am relieved. You know I ever shared your husband’s opinion of these Elves... but when the years gather more whispered doubts than reassurances, even a part of me began to wonder."
"You speak of Aravorn’s son?" Gilbarad winced a little, as if she spoke too loudly of a dangerous subject. Gilraen struggled to refrain from smiling. It was only her son’s attention she wished not to attract, for she knew certainly that Elrond could hear every breath they took, to say nothing of their words.
Speaking softly to appease Gilbarad, she explained all she had learned of what the Rangers alone called a rift between the Angle and Rivendell. Most Elves here had marked little change in relations, and change was something they put out of mind whenever possible; unlike Men who speculate, then forget.
Of Celebrian she spoke -and knew- little, save the date and cursory circumstances of her leave-taking. A lad of thirteen at that time, Aravorn had spent his entire childhood harbored in Elrond’s house; Aragost his father was often abroad, for during those days Orcs were busy in their attempt to bar all passages over the Misty Mountains. Always high in Elrond’s esteem, Aravorn was the last of Isildur’s heirs whom Celebrian had a hand in fostering. After her departure, Elrond’s sons took up their campaign for revenge, though it took them far from their father. From what Gilraen deduced, Aravorn was cherished all the more thereafter, and he thrived under Elrond’s attention, growing to be a wise man and a trusted leader.
Now she was careful with her words. Her own opinion was that Aravorn’s son grew to be proud and envious. Truly an heir of Númenor in all its folly, she thought. Yet even Elrond had not named him so; thus neither would she. It was told that in every way Aravorn had worked to strengthen the bonds twixt the Dúnedain and Rivendell, so had Aravorn’s son encouraged the Angle to support itself – both father and son were successful.
When Arassuil was made Chieftain, he was of like mind with Aravorn, and tried to restore what his grandfather had accomplished. But those again were troubled days whilst Orcs renewed their invasions of Eriador. Where once the Dúnedain looked to Rivendell as a whole, soon only the Chieftains’ close kin traveled to Elrond’s house, save at dire need. Isildur’s heirs were each fostered in safety and secret, while memories of alliances faded in the Angle and beyond.
Gilbarad was thoughtful as she spoke and silent when she finished. "Much of this I had heard of already, though less exactly. But these more intimate details... how is it that they came into your knowledge?"
Gilraen allowed herself to smile at last. "The usual way: I asked."
A grunt was his first reply. "Well, let us hope discrepancies twixt our people have met their final end." One way or another, this would be the case, for Gilraen knew as he did not that the Elves here would soon leave Middle-earth. "Meanwhile, I leave it in more tactful hands -such as Valcirion’s and your own- to keep trading fair and frequent."
"For that the Elves are ever willing." At his questioning glance Gilraen shrugged. "It helps them remember, and forget."
Before Gilbarad could make another comment about assimilated elvishness, he saw over her shoulder a small face peeking at him from the doorway. It disappeared at once, leaving boyish giggles to echo down the hall. "We are found out." Gilraen turned at his gesture. "Since things are changed, how am I to be introduced to your son from now on?"
"As his kinsman, of course. That has not changed." Taking him by the hand, Gilraen led the Ranger into Elrond’s study. "That will never change."
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.