1. Wolf Moon
Her breath appeared instantly, floating before her, but that was the only perceptible movement. The very air was frozen into stillness. Frost coated every surface, plating the bare trees and stone columns in mithril that gleamed under the bone light of a full moon. In the windless night every noise carried as sharply as a struck bell; the winter-sluggish river sounded as if it ran just beneath the terrace instead of many feet below, and the atonal song of a wolf pack on the high fells seemed to come from within the vale itself.
Gilraen's hands clenched in the folds of her robe, and she had turned to flee back inside before the prosaic nature of the calls reached her – no wargs these, only grey wolves greeting their packmates. They might threaten the deer of Imladris, but not its people. Her heartbeat slowed. Still, she couldn't stop herself from looking in on Aragorn – no, Estel, she reminded herself firmly. Crossing to the next door, she silently pushed it open just far enough to pour a stream of moonlight onto the low bed and illuminate the sleeping child.
Estel was far from beautiful when awake, too bony and sharp-featured, but smoothed in sleep the generous mouth gave his face a sweet vulnerability. Gilraen watched the curves of his closed eyelids with a hungry ache gnawing at her heart. But she must not wake him. Softly she shut the door and turned back to the terrace.
Elrond stood there. Suppressing the startled jerk her body tried to make, Gilraen turned it into a nod acknowledging his presence. A month in Rivendell had still not accustomed her to the unnatural silence of Elves, and she feared that she would spend the rest of her life shying at sudden movements in the corner of her eye.
"Does anything trouble you, Gilraen?"
"No, I was merely wakeful, Master Elrond."
His eyes moved past her to Estel's door. "Is the child's room warm enough?"
"Yes, thank you," she said, keeping her voice low. She crossed to the stone balustrade and leaned against it, staring into the northern sky, where high above the edge of the deep dell shimmering green and blue fires now floated. For a long moment, Gilraen and Elrond stood together and watched the curtain of flame dance on the wind.
Elrond broke the silence. "My mother told me once that those lights were the Walls of the World."
"The walls that keep the Enemy out? But why should we see them now – does it mean they are failing?"
"If they were, we should have more to contend with than lights in the sky. No, it is simply that at some times of the year they are more visible." He laid a light, warm hand over Gilraen's chilled one on the stone. "I believe that it is, like the starlight, a gift of Varda so that we may be reassured the Black One is still shut out."
Gilraen turned her gaze to the sky again, thoughtfully watching the eerie play of light drifting in the air. She did not feel reassured, only more apprehensive. No elf or man – or Power, for that matter – knew when the Enemy might finally succeed in breaching the Walls, or so she had learned long ago. Which meant that it could happen at any time.
"The Rangers call them the Dancers," Gilraen said. "When they flicker and move quickly, like tonight, it means that bad weather is coming."
"It is true that the weather is turning," Elrond agreed. "By tomorrow afternoon we shall see a snowstorm."
"Imladris is a sheltered place, but it is not defended from all that winter can do. It would be wise to keep the child close tomorrow."
Gilraen's cheeks flushed hotly. She had hoped that Elrond was unaware of his new fosterling's propensity for slipping away whenever possible. Several times in the last weeks she had found him wandering the paths that led up the high walls of Rivendell on to the moors beyond.
Yesterday, the last time it had happened, fear and rage combined had led her to soundly smack him. "No! Ar- Estel, you must never go up here alone!"
"Find dada!" he had screamed at her, red-faced with a child's helpless fury. "Ar'gorn find dada!"
"You can't!" she had shouted, even louder. "He will never come back!"
Her face still hot with shame at her own lack of control, Gilraen turned away from the railing to find Elrond regarding her intently. "Sooner rather than later, he will forget Arathorn."
"I do not know which I fear more, his remembrance or his forgetfulness," she whispered.
Elrond looked at her with deep sorrow in his eyes, but made no reply.
The "wolf moon" is the full moon after the winter solstice (therefore usually in January), the coldest part of the year.
The Walls of the World, also called the Walls of Night, surround all of Arda. After the First Age, Morgoth was exiled by the Valar to exist imprisoned in the Encircling Dark outside the Walls. It is said that one day he will break through them, and then the final battle between him and the Valar will take place. Of course, the identification of what we call the "northern lights" with the Walls is non-canonical and highly speculative. :-)
If you've never seen the northern lights, you might want to look at some of the amazing photographs on these websites:
Beautiful as they are, still photos can't really capture the full effect of the lights; if you can find a movie online, better yet (I haven't had any luck finding a good one).
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.