9. Part 2 - Chapter 3
The chamber was dimly lit, but that was the only similarity to her first visit, over a month ago. Now it was chill with winter's fury, and through the open curtains only moonlight shone. Gilraen approached the dais, where upon his chair Elrond sat quietly as the doors closed behind her with a groan.
At his raised hand she froze, then started from movement beside her. Two Elves stood from chairs on either side of the hall, departing without sound. Though grown used to overlooking Elves at their leisure, Gilraen was no less bewildered; for she had long stood outside the chamber doors conflicted about her purpose, yet in all that time had heard no words from within.
Looking back to Elrond, she found his gaze already upon her. "Telmoth told me I could find you here, lord."
"And so you have." His moon-illuminated face seemed pale, countenance still as the breath before a yawn, poised on the brink of weariness. A part of her knew that she was staring, but that stare being returned she was powerless to look away.
When Elrond spoke again the spell was broken. "Something has been kept from me, which you have come to disclose."
Taken aback by his precision, Gilraen stammered, "Y-yes, lord." More she yearned to say, yet she was not a child to list excuses for improper behavior, and so held her tongue.
"Then it is good that you have come, for I also have been dishonest, and wish to confer with you," said Elrond, to Gilraen's surprise. Then he smiled with patience that she had yet to glimpse the end of. "Which truth shall first be made known? Would you feel comforted to listen as I speak a while?"
After several days spent in his company while he read to her son, Gilraen had no doubt that his voice would be a comfort. And though she had not come seeking consolation, his admission unnerved her enough to accept it. "Yes, please, speak first if you would."
"Very well. There is no word in your tongue to describe the nature of the lie I have told: one spoken without malice, and only later realized to be an untruth."
"I know the word," she jumped at hearing her thought spoken aloud. "I know the Sindarin word you speak of, that is. Excuse me, please continue."
"I once assured you that repayment would not be asked nor accepted for your asylum here. That is no longer the case if you are to remain, for now I perceive a change that must be made, and to make it I must insist." As he leaned forward, the shaft of moonlight caught only his eyes, keen beyond reason.
Gilraen shivered not entirely from the cold as he continued, "I see that you understand me, Gilraen, for the depth of foresight is in your eyes. You carry the burden of clarity, a weight greater than knowledge of the past and present combined; it is the price we all pay, as seers of the future."
Is that why I crave more? To attain balance? The thought seemed unnatural, as a question answered that had yet to be asked. Elrond sat back, and sighed. Never before had he appeared fatigued to her, and Gilraen was at a loss to see him now, slumped as an elderly man, yet not so. Passing a hand over his face, he straightened a bit. "It comes when and as it will." Spoken as an explanation, and Gilraen was amazed that she understood his meaning: insight.
"What would you have of me, lord?" she asked. "If in your wisdom you discern aught that needs doing, but tell me what lies within my capability and I will see it done."
Elrond looked up sharply, a flash of emotion that might have been wonder or doubt, then faced away with a nod, and sat unmoving for several minutes. Gilraen was reminded of her first evening in Rivendell, and Elladan's distraught mood over supper. Even learning that his brother's injuries and Arathorn's death were at cause, still she had thought herself unable to offer condolence. Now that feeling of incompetence returned.
I cannot enlighten one so wise; I cannot uplift one so ancient. But with her eyes closed it was possible to try. "Will you not tell me what troubles you?" She heard a muted rustle of fabric, then sincere words.
"That I will do unto your son in fear what once was done unto me in evil, and that I shall be little the better for it. For I too was an orphan, but unlike your son, old enough to remember my sire, and refuse the strange name in a foreign tongue that was given to me. Yet that is to be Aragorn's fate, to bear a new name and forget his father, until such a time that I cannot foresee, when the truth is revealed to him."
"He may not know his—"
"He may know his kinsmen by name, but not their relation to him; and he may know their business in this world, but not his eventual place among them – not yet."
"But—" despite a swell of resentment, she forced herself calm, and focused upon the floor lest Elrond see what emotions she repressed. Either I trust in his wisdom or I do not. "If that is all you ask, lord, I can hardly complain. But will you tell me also what you fear?"
"Someday, perhaps." The sound of Elrond standing brought her eyes up. "But I tell you now what the morrow will bring: new hope for us both, though time may reveal it as our last." The same look of before was about him, leading Gilraen to wonder if insight had come upon him again – and if it ever truly left. Into the silence he sighed. "I have spoken."
Before she could ready herself to speak her own part, Elrond descended the stairs, saying kindly, "My chambers are warmer. Let us see about you there."
His chambers were indeed warmer, and Elrond led his guest to a fireplace, where Gilraen stood rubbing her hands together gratefully. When they entered, an Elf had been busy tending the fire and a kettle suspended over it; he saw to other chores while Gilraen warmed herself, and soon the doors closed, marking his departure. Elrond came to her side then, peering at the contents of the kettle before dropping two long leaves into the brew.
"When you are comfortable, we may sit."
She remained in place, hands no longer fidgeting out of coldness, waiting for ease that did not come. When she turned, Elrond extended his hand towards a couch facing the fire; Gilraen allowed herself to be guided there, and they sat. Twice she opened her mouth without uttering a word, at length glancing to Elrond beside her. He watched the fire, apparently as comfortable in the silence as she was the opposite.
Without shifting his gaze, he said, "So you believe to have brought something unforeseen into my house." Unsure if he expected an answer, she merely nodded. "That is possible; yet there are two ways to be certain, either by time or inspection." His eyes met hers evenly. "The choice is yours alone, though I think you sought more than for me to know."
"I think you knew already, lord," said Gilraen, and dropped her head with a wince. In Elrond's presence her thoughts rarely went unvoiced, despite how she wished it were otherwise. Yet directness seemed to be his preference. "But you are right that I sought for more. Aragorn is still so young... with another child I would need help, even as I would be loath to accept it. Already I feel privileged beyond fairness; to ask for more is nigh unthinkable."
Elrond's voice was gently reprimanding, "I have long been oblivious to much that has changed if it is the habit of Men in this day to shun the safekeeping of their very future."
"It is not," she assured him. "Were I in my family's household, I would have no doubts." Looking up she amended quickly, "Oh, do not misunderstand me, lord! 'Tis not that I think any less of your ways—"
"Only that you are unsure of them," he finished for her, with a smile. "I do understand. But we have leapt ahead and away." His smile faded as he said, "Tell me now why else you are troubled; I am grieved to see the toll it has taken on you."
It was not lost upon her that moments ago their positions had been switched. She extended the same honestly she had received, "Uncertainty has kept me from rejoicing, or resting at ease."
The room seemed unnaturally quiet, until Elrond asked, "For what would you rejoice, Gilraen?"
"To have Arathorn's second child." Baffled, she searched his face, wondering how this of all things could be a mystery to him. But then she marked the pity in his eyes, meant only for her, and could bear to look no longer. "Then it is not so." She accepted his silence in answer.
While Elrond went to the fire, Gilraen sat between embarrassment and denial, barely noticing when a warm cup was placed in her hands. It seemed unreal that this matter was concluded. When she had thought her suspicions confirmed, for a week she debated over how and when to let it be known, and guessed at how Elrond would prefer it be dealt with. She was willing to return to her family in the Angle until the new child was of a more manageable age, if none in this household might assist as need be. Now she was awash in a tide of conflicting emotions. Am I cold to be relieved? Selfish to be disappointed?
When she next cared to be aware, her hands were empty again, and a taste of mint lingered on her tongue. She sensed movement from behind, and spoke over her shoulder, "Telmoth insisted that I come to you – she assured me there was none other this side of the Mountains qualified."
Not knowing if Elrond had heard made continuing easier. "I hesitated, unwilling to be a nuisance, maybe fearing this, to be wrong." She laughed without mirth. "At least I have naught to fear now... save perhaps that I am imagining things."
As Elrond came and knelt before her, she felt a pang of anxiety at his expression, heightening after his words. "You have not imagined these symptoms afflicting you."
Little explanation occurred to her. "I feel fine now." Realizing that his hand had been held out, she belatedly rested hers atop it. Elrond shifted to hold her wrist in his palm, and his eyes seemed to unfocus before drifting shut. "My mother's sister was widowed at a young age. She caught heart sickness -or so we called it- but there was nothing in truth the matter... eventually she recovered. Should I be silent?"
"The Elves call it sea-longing," he murmured, "but it is similar." His next question was as unexpected as its immediate answer, "Gilraen, are you happy here?"
"I should be." Frowning, she pondered her own reply. "Why should I not be?" She thought of Arathorn, beloved and lost, then Aragorn, last of his line. Next forcing her thoughts upon what happiness the future might hold, the sadness that would always accompany any joy froze her heart. Her emotions had been in such turmoil since coming to Rivendell, and she could see no end to it.
"I have too much time, with too little to do. I never fretted so, about nothing and everything, before coming here."
"And you think having more concerns will lessen your worry?"
"Nay, but better that I worry over concerns I can affect."
"I cannot have you assigned chores belonging to others, Gilraen."
She sighed, ashamed that she had begun to argue with him, and that as an obstinate youth she yearned to argue still. Respectfully she said, "As you have said already, lord – and I obey."
"Therefore since you desire an occupation, you must serve as emissary twixt my house and that of your kinsmen, for it is the only function in Rivendell now unfilled."
Her calculated reply surfaced as a strangled noise. Thinking Elrond was offering some elvish humor, she repressed annoyance as she looked at him. Yet no mirth was evident. "You're serious." His expression indicated there was no other possibility. "I know not how!"
"You would be taught."
It seemed plain and simple to him. Gilraen nigh panicked. To profess herself unable to learn would be to refute his ability to teach. To claim the responsibility too great would be to challenge his judgment in appointing her. Without showing disrespect in some form, she could only try leading him to reconsider. "But why me, lord? Surely there are others among your household, more experienced than I, ah- wiser... better suited for the task?"
"It is owing to your very presence that this duty exists. It belongs to you more than anyone." His hand held hers now, so gentle that Gilraen could not but notice how easily she could sever that connection. "For my part I will do all that I can, as ever. But would you not help me?"
"Yes." Once again her thoughts were worded before she could examine them. Next came awareness of what lingered underneath disbelief, as doubt slipped away. She felt a little giddy, excited like a child with a new toy, and as eager to play. "How should I begin?"
Glancing to a window, Elrond said, "You have already, by taking it into consideration. For now that must suffice, as I see the first hour of morning is upon us, and I would keep you awake no longer."
When they stood he slipped a pouch into her grasp, explaining that it was the same recipe she drank of earlier, and that it would steady her stomach and help her sleep. Quieting her profuse thanks, he insisted that as a healer it was his privilege, and warranted no such praise.
They parted at his door with words Gilraen did not remember as she found her room in a daze of revelations and change. Entering she saw that her son was asleep as she had left him, and Telmoth sat in a chair beside the bed. The Elf rose, and Gilraen half expected a quip about nonexistent illnesses and the silliness of mortals. Instead Telmoth came to embrace her, saying softly, "I am sorry, child."
Gilraen was less sorry than expected; but her gaze rested upon her son, and it was not her nature to long for more when what she had was within sight. "Aragorn sleeps in peace," Telmoth continued, "and I shall leave you to yours." By the door she uttered a few well-wishes that Gilraen did not hear as she lowered herself into the chair.
Before long her gaze found a window nearby, and those parting words outside Elrond's chamber returned to her. 'Put your care upon hope, Gilraen.' He had blinked then, and continued in a distant voice, but with a smile, 'And hope upon your son.'
Either in memory or distance, she thought there might have sounded laughter on the edge of her perception. True as Elrond had said, the morrow revealed new hope, though it would be her last.
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