5. Part 1 - Chapter 4
Before doors engraved with runes writ in copper, Glorfindel paused. "Are you certain, lady?"
"I am," she told him, respectfully. "I would not be able to rest at heart until this deed is done."
His look was understanding. "The customs of men are different in such ways, and this is an elvish household; but we would not have you discomforted. As you wish it then – Elrond is within." Elladan stepped forward and pushed open the doors, while Glorfindel led them inside.
Following behind, Gilraen looked about the chamber. Long and narrow it was, windows along each wall shut behind heavy drapes. The warmth was deceptive for a winter day, lit dimly by lamps hanging from beams across the ceiling. Chairs rested between every window frame, and one had a place upon a dais at the end of the room. Gilraen saw that Elrohir stood beside that chair, and a figure sat upon it, head lowered as if in deep thought, face hidden by shadow.
Sighing softly as they came forth, Glorfindel quickly walked to the left and right wall, opening the drapes of the furthermost pair of windows; he was merry returning to Gilraen's side, now bathed in the sun's light. At first Aragorn had cowered behind his mother, shrinking from the gloomy and unfamiliar place, but now he emerged from the folds of her skirt, smiling as he looked about, amazed at what sunlight revealed. He ran to inspect and then test chair after chair, never before seeing so many in one place.
Elladan walked ahead as his sire looked up at last. "Greetings, father," he said, and bowed his head.
Elrond gazed a moment at the assemblage, then stood and descended the stairs to meet them. First he stopped by his son. "Elladan, welcome home." They did not embrace, but each raised a hand, brushing the other's cheek lightly. Elrond now faced Gilraen. "And greetings to you, Gilraen daughter of Dírhael," he glanced to the boy scurrying across his conference hall, voice tinged with mirth when he added, "and Aragorn son of Arathorn."
Elrohir came from the dais to stand beside his father, and Gilraen was struck by the similarities between them. Elrond was tall like his son, hair equally as dark but sheared in a frame about his face, and his countenance told of more memories, in his eyes there dwelled deeper knowledge.
He smiled, and Gilraen bowed as she replied, "I thank you, lord, for your willingness to receive me and my son without forewarning, and to meet with me now." She retrieved a note from a purse at her side. Elrond looked with interest at the folded parchment produced for his taking. "This letter contains Arathorn's last wishes, and explains my coming here. I would ask that you please read it."
"And it pertains to me?" he asked, doubtful.
"Yes," she stammered, "well, in part."
"In that case I trust you to relay aught of pertinence, for I do not wish to pry into personal matters."
However brave Gilraen might have felt before, under the austerity of Elrond's gaze she felt there was no gainsaying his word – yet her heart demanded that she fulfill her promise. Fumbling she unfolded the missive and tried to read it aloud; but her throat went dry, then tears blurred her vision. It felt in that moment as if she was doomed to be dependant upon the strength of others, despite how she strove for control.
"Forgive me," breathing deeply she offered the note again. "Please, lord, it is so difficult! I hear his voice speaking these words as I read; would you not spare me? And Arathorn asked that it be delivered to your hand— if not for my sake, will you indulge a dead man's wishes?" The note was slipped from her fingers while her eyes were cast upon the floor. As she strove to master her emotions a hand rested upon her shoulder, silently consoling.
When next she looked up, Elrond sat again in his chair, one hand holding the unfolded note, the other clasping the armrest, and his eyes grown stern. Stomach fluttering, Gilraen strove to decipher the mood of this being, who seemed changed as morning dew that suddenly freezes. What in that letter caused such a difference? This was not Elladan, remote but courteous; nor Elrohir, peculiar but affable. This was otherworldly, and she was unprepared. Glorfindel squeezed her shoulder, then moved to stand behind Elrond's chair. His expression remained untroubled, but it was scarcely a comfort to Gilraen anymore.
When Elrond spoke, his clear voice reverberated throughout the hall. "Gilraen, listen to me. I welcome you and your son into my house; for I am the Lord of Rivendell, and that is my privilege. Thus it was not within the power or obligation of Arathorn Arador's son to request that which is mine alone to give, and that which has already been given." Releasing Gilraen from his gaze he sighed – the sound of her long breath mingled with his, unnoticed.
In a low tone he continued, "That it has come to a state of ambiguity between our houses grieves me to learn. So swiftly do the memories of Men fade, and what once was certain dwindles ever to doubt. But it will be undone." When he looked back, compassion was evident. "Did you not know?" he asked smiling, yet she quailed to think that he had heard the question in her very heart. "Any of Isildur's heirs in need of sanctuary have been harbored within Rivendell, during youth or old age."
"That is indeed as our elders say," Gilraen answered, hesitant. Arathorn had remained utterly confident thereof; but to some it was a matter of speculation, even disbelief. "Yet there are tales of an ancient rift between Rivendell and the Angle that caused relations to diminish... and as you say, lord, some have doubts." Silence followed, and Gilraen felt smothered by it, wishing that Artanal and Gilbarad were beside her.
At length Elrond replied, "Be that as it may, no bearing has it upon the Chieftains' sons and their acceptance here. Arathorn himself spent a measure of his boyhood in my home – it need have been no secret kept from you that his forefathers were fostered here similarly." A crease dented his brow as he regarded the letter once more.
"Yes, lord, I know of Arathorn's youth and that of his grandfathers. And it is what I had hoped to ask for in our son's need."
Elrond blinked. "Then they speak truthfully in the Angle, and your hope is well-placed. Nine-hundred, fifty and seven years ago I opened my home to your kinsmen -my kinsmen- and even after these passing years and waning generations, that has not changed." Rising he approached Gilraen again. "That will never change." He held out Arathorn's note for her to retake, not expecting that she would kneel before him.
Unaware of elvish customs, Gilraen knew of no way to express her gratitude as would be most fitting. But the kiss Glorfindel placed upon her hand emerged from her memory – she felt some of that warmth return, as finding Elrond's hand she kissed it chastely.
"I thank you, lord, with all my heart. But I would not stay as a beggar within your home! And so this I came prepared to pledge: that until the end of my days or until my debt is repaid, I devote my service to your household."
"You will do no such thing," Elrond said gravely. "So long as you reside within my home, you shall be here as my guest or not at all."
Gilraen looked up, unbelieving, grappling for the courage to insist that he take some compensation for his generosity. But his eyes, keen as starlight, clear as the Silverstream, did not waver, and she found herself unable to oppose him.
"A warning, lady, for I have battled and won this same argument since millennia past – but strive with me if you will," said the ancient voice, and Gilraen heard laughter bubbling under the words, as a river that churns even beneath ice. She smiled at last, assured, relieved. "Arise, child, and go to take some rest for yourself. In later days we will meet again, and then discuss matters of import. But for now see to your own comfort, and that of your son." As Gilraen stood, Elrond passed a hand over her eyes; the simple gesture eased her mind like a breeze cools the flesh. "Be in peace," he said, and she was.
Then Elrond moved as if to return to his seat. After a moment of reflection Gilraen realized where she yet stood, and then realized what she was looking at. Glorfindel still stood upon the dais, his smile bright and knowing. Elrond faced his chair, unmoving, looking with an unidentifiable expression at the child contentedly sitting upon it. Glorfindel's amusement was obvious, but Gilraen felt less sure of the others.
She glanced to Elladan, who appeared stoic again, as in the past days of travel. Elrohir was smiling, but seemed tired; and now aware of his injury Gilraen could tell he was pained. Next she looked to Elrond. He had ascended the stairs and now knelt before his chair. Thinking to fetch her son she walked forward, but dared venture no further than the foot of the dais – and though able to see Elrond's face from the side, his temper was no less of a mystery to her.
Finally Glorfindel laughed. "The child fancies himself a ruler, I think."
Elrond looked up at him as if startled, then back to the boy, and Gilraen thought his eyes grew slightly wide. Aragorn's heels barely reached the edge of the seat, though his legs were fully stretched, and with arms extended upwards he could just touch his hands to the armrests, where they held on more than rested. His pride in himself was obvious, just as his delight to have everyone's attention. This, it seemed, was his favourite seat in the chamber – and he had sampled them all. Looking to Elrond he smiled sincerely, unaware of his trespass.
Eventually, slowly, the smile was returned, and Elrond laughed.
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