4. Part 1 - Chapter 3
They rested by the Silverstream for longer than intended, as Aragorn fell fast asleep upon a blanket Gilraen had laid out, and all were reluctant to disturb his slumber.
"Well, I am not opposed to tarrying here for a while," Elladan had said, and sat against the trunk of a bald tree, the first occasion Gilraen had seen him recline to rest. For an instant she expected him to prepare a pipe, as a Ranger is apt do when sitting at leisure. But he only gazed into the distance, unmoving. Elrohir did not seem as content, and occupied himself with the horses despite his brother's suggestion that everyone rest.
Although Gilraen might have protested against the delay a day ago, it was difficult to feel harried within the borders of Rivendell. She took the time to walk about. Trees ringed the oblong glade, their bare limbs glittering as frost melted under the afternoon sun. The air was sweet with the smell of growing things, inexplicable for the time of year, and somewhere not far off meat was being smoked. The breeze turned, bringing an echo of singing mingled with the trickle of the Silverstream. The area had not seemed uninhabited since crossing the Ford, but now she became aware of the valley's life by the subtle signs all around her. Rivendell seemed as a hibernating creature warm and safe within its cave, while Eriador withstood the battery of winter outside.
Turning, she marked the bandaged right thigh, then the naked left thumb, and smiled. "Elladan, have I wandered too far?"
"Not at all. But your son is awake, and mayhap we should continue."
When they returned to the horses by the brook, Gilraen was surprised to notice that the shadows had shifted since she strayed: already an hour had passed. Aragorn approached her a bit unsteadily, eyes puffy and squinting in the sun. Elladan moved to pick him up, but the child had a mind for games, and evaded him. Groggy and with half-closed eyes he reached Elrohir, laughing to have escaped – unaware that he was never pursued. Elrohir lifted the boy and walked him to Malfrey, congratulating his dexterity.
Soon they were riding again, through a portion of the trail open to the sun, and wide enough for two comfortably abreast. Gilraen felt herself captivated by the scenery, awed by its newness. For a while she watched contentedly, hoping for the chance to explore this valley someday. But inevitably her thoughts turned to leisurely rides she had shared with Arathorn, few though they were. Once they rode to the Last Bridge together, and camped there – her heart ached at the recollection of loving embraces under the stars that night. She did not pay heed to her surroundings again, until their pace slowed considerably.
Ahead, Elladan rode along as he ever had -though slower- casually surveying the landscape. But when Gilraen turned she was surprised to see that Elrohir walked beside his steed, Palaber following, and they had lagged far behind. She led Malfrey to join her beside Elladan. "We are nearly there, lady." Before she could speak Elladan added in a low voice, "Do not wonder. Elrohir nurses a sore back that needs mending."
"I am sorry!" She glanced behind again. Elrohir was speaking to Palaber whilst rubbing the horse's neck, and from that distance Gilraen could not make out the crease upon his brow, the lone sign of his suffering. Could one so diligent and strong be hindered by aught less than a dire injury? "He will recover?"
"Our father will care for him."
Being less familiar than some with the legendary healing skills of Elrond Halfelven, Gilraen was little comforted. "Now dearly do I rue the times I could have labored in his place, and the times he lifted my son while I was just as able. If only I had known!"
"No matter," said Elladan. "Among the Rangers, Elves are said to be stubborn; I fear Elrohir exhibits more than his half-measure, despite my good advice."
Gilraen might agree, save that she had ever met an Elf. Thinking back, there were several occasions when Elrohir had rejected his brother's assistance with all manner of tasks, and the tension she had sensed between them now made sense. It was a relief to learn that she had not been the cause of their squabbling.
But here again was an opportunity to become more acquainted with Elladan, and she seized it. "Is Rivendell the only home you keep, lord? And have you been away long?"
"Yes, our father's house is the place we call home, my brother and I. And we have been gone for many months."
"Then it must be a joy for you, this homecoming."
He sighed. "Alas that it is not. For me this day is spoiled by the shadow of great loss, the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, and I will not rejoice."
By his solemn reply Gilraen was struck silent, and they rode along quietly, each in their own thoughts. Arathorn had told her of the brethren's errands, relentlessly hunting and executing orcs throughout Eriador, and even beyond. So often and far do they ride, he had said, that the Rangers could not always accompany them; for they are tireless as Elves and wrathful as otherworldly beings, so that lesser Men in their company would be more of a burden than an aid.
Soon the path grew narrower, and Elladan took the lead. Elrohir had mounted again, and their pace quickened as they followed the trail around a bending slope that continued even as it seemed to turn around, and came finally upon the Last Homely House. Though facing it directly, Gilraen could not say that it was much less hidden; for it seemed that when she looked upon it she saw only the trees among which it was built, yet when she looked away the architecture became more visible. "Is there some enchantment at work?" she heard herself say.
"Why do you ask, lady?"
Peering closer, then away, every tree was seen clearly, yet the buildings only in glimpses. The sun glared in her eyes, and there was a mist in the air from falling water nearby, casting illusions of light that distorted her vision. "Perhaps… it is merely my eyesight."
Elladan shrugged. "Perhaps. Though once we are closer, things should be clearer to you."
Laughing to himself Elrohir overtook them both at a trot, Palaber following behind his steed, both becoming lost amid what could and could not be seen. Blinking, Gilraen realized that the path had given way to a flat field of tall grasses, beyond which was an open courtyard cupped by a crest of stone pillars or tree trunks, and a path curved at the top... or is it a hallway of windows? Pondering this they crossed the courtyard, and their horses halted, though hoof beats echoed still.
Her gaze returned from wandering and settled before her, where there was a tiered fountain carved of pale stone. Next to it was an Elf upon a white horse; tall and straight he sat, and about his shoulders fell golden hair the likes of which Gilraen had never before seen. He was flawless as the fountain beside him, and inconspicuous until he moved – he had been overlooked initially, mistaken as part of the chiseled stonework.
"Greetings, Glorfindel," said Elladan. The Elf called Glorfindel gazed upon Gilraen, curious. "Here is Gilraen wife of Arathorn, and Aragorn their son."
Glorfindel's voice was like music, "Ah, as I suspected. You are most welcome here, lady – we have been expecting you."
Only Elladan heard the note of sorrow, and he frowned. "Have tidings of our misfortune reached Rivendell already? I met Ronduir between the Ford and the glade by the Silverstream, but he knew of naught amiss."
An afflicted look crossed the Elf-lord's features. "Elrond knew, yes. I have just returned from the High Pass, and learned of your delay in crossing the Ford—" Elladan was about to speak until Glorfindel said, "but we will talk later." He brought his steed beside Gilraen then, holding his hand against his breast, then reached out to her.
"My condolences for you, lady, and your child. Mortal lives being so short are precious indeed, and more is the pity when they are ended before their time." He bowed his head respectfully, and Gilraen was almost abashed that he should be grieved on her account; for his face seemed fair and young as a new flower, meant for joy and laughter under a cloudless sky.
Unsure if it was what he expected, she took his hand. "I thank you, lord, for your consideration." With a nudge from his master, Asfaloth sidestepped; thus closer Glorfindel bent to kiss the hand that was cold in his, and the weather troubled Gilraen no longer. She felt comforted by this Elf who rose with a smile upon his face, and his bright eyes that fell upon her kindly. His manner reinforced her own courage; for she saw amazed that sorrow perished within him so that no burden rested upon his brow, only the wisdom of experience.
"I am eager to meet the Lord of this house, and give to him my thanks, if I might be led thence."
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