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PG-13 for dealing with adult issues, and vaguely implied sexual references.
After Arathorn is killed, his fairly young, somewhat naive, and terribly mistaken widow, Gilraen, does what she feels she must to provide a safe and happy home for her son, discovering precisely what price is due for the Lord of Imladris' hospitality.
I think I should not feel afraid. I tell myself not to feel afraid. Though I am. Or perhaps it is not fear, exactly. Closer probably to dread. For I know what I must do, and there is no worry of the unexpected to cause concern, no question of the outcome to produce false hopes... and there will be no comfort for me, in the end. There will be no going back, once I make this choice; but no choice remains, in truth, for I have already chosen. I have accepted what I must become- though that does not mean I look forward to it.
For my son's future, his safety, welfare, and happiness, I will reduce myself to a mistress. Dare I say: a whore. I love my husband! Even after his death, still I love him. But I will do this thing, for him, and for our son.
As I walk to Lord Elrond's chambers, I cannot help but think of all the women, all the wives and windows, who must have walked as such before me. I wonder if even some men have trodden this path! A deep breath barely stills my nerves. It matters not what I think. This is my choice, as it may have been any number of others' in the past, and I choose freely, as did they. My son is worth it; this and more.
An exquisitely framed mirror hangs in the hall, and I pause before it to inspect my appearance. Perhaps I expected some embittered old lady to stare back at me, looking as overwrought and careworn as I feel. But I must admit that I look nice. The dress I wear is borrowed, but coincidentally a flattering color on me, and it fits well enough. There was no trouble finding an Elf willing to shape my hair; and though it looks precarious –the tresses gathered and twisted and pinned up top to fall in curls about my shoulders- it has not loosened an inch. Arathorn would be quite enticed. At that thought a sigh escapes me, and I whisper to his memory, "I love you, husband. It is you whom I shall see, no matter what manner of beast sweats against me this night."
I make sure the thin silken dress is properly exposing all the right glimpses and concealing all the crucial teases, then proceed on my way. Thanks to my son's inconvenient habit of playing hide and seek in his new home -without telling anyone first- I know precisely where to find Elrond's chambers; in fact, there is not one room, nook or cranny in the entire valley that I have not at some point or other stuck my head into.
Also during my many occasions of seeking Aragorn out, I discovered that Elves do not lock their doors; thus when I enter Elrond's room, I do so without knocking, knowing full well that it is open. Besides, he is probably expecting me. If I were not so naive, I would have seen that he has been expecting me every night since my arrival; and possibly at regular intervals during the afternoon as well, if what I know of Elvish stamina holds true to all aspects of their activities, and if Elrond is as hardy as his sons.
The room is lit by candles and lamps, and as ever, starlight seems to shine especially bright upon the last Homely House. The bed is made, tapestries adorn the walls, and even clutter upon the furniture seems neatly in place.
Belatedly I realize I am being stared at from across the room. Sitting in a chair before a writing table, Elrond examines me steadily with eyes I cannot read. Indeed, I believe I have never been able to read the Lord of Imladris from his face alone. It will be all the more difficult to please him that way, but with any fortune he will inform me of... precisely what he wishes. Still, hopefully it will be apparent should I make the mistake of displeasing him at any time, for I have no desire to invoke the wrath of a Lord of his stature.
"Lady Gilraen," he says eventually, mild surprise in his tone. "Good evening."
I curtsy slowly, showing him all the respect he no doubt expects. "And good evening to you, Lord Elrond."
He smiles that indecipherable smile, and titles his head slightly. "What brings you to grace me with your company this night?" he asks kindly. I suppose I should be honored that he is attempting to sweeten me first. Or perhaps I should be annoyed that he is going to make me say it plainly.
"I have come to extend my most humble and sincere appreciation, Lord." Before walking any closer, I close the door behind myself. That raises an eyebrow for certain, but I ignore his feigned bewilderment and continue as I advance, "What you are doing for my son is simply wonderful beyond words." For this part, at least, I may be completely truthful, "I will forever be thankful for the gift you give to my only child; and to me." He looks a mite flattered, I deem, but I cannot believe he has not heard better appraisals than the one I just managed. Doubtless he is merely being polite.
"Dear girl," he says, "Imladris was founded solely for the like of you and your son. I am pleased to offer your kin aid."
"Well," I come closer still, casually unclipping my hairpin so that my brown locks fall free from the top of my head, "bless you for that, Elrond Half-elven." Spite! He did not seem to notice, or care. Seems I was mistaken to guess that long and unbound hair had a degree of sexual significance to his kind. Mayhap Elrond is more alike to his Mannish kin, in this.
His head tilts the other direction, and I wonder if he even knows that he does it. "Surely you were not surprised?" He is almost apologetic, as if concerned he had offended me somehow.
"In fact, I was." Taking another step, I sway my skirt a little, knowing that as I do the upper fabric pulls snugly around my waist, and unbound breasts. That should have the proper effect. "Though of course I expected sanctuary, as your good sons assured me of as much." Meeting his eyes, I anticipate some hint of desire to be present by now, but there is none. Hmm. "But, I did not expect to find a new--" I falter, curse me! but I cannot say 'husband', even if it is a knowing lie; I will never call Elrond husband. "A new father for my son," I finish as quickly as I can, hoping he missed the hesitation.
Much to my relief, Elrond laughs lightly. "Many of my brother's line have called me father, and I am glad for it." His eyes darken, as if shaded by a cloud for the briefest of seconds, and he says, "It is the least I can do. There are no orphans in my House."
Ah! Finally he has given me something to comment upon. I come directly behind him, and he is deep enough in thought presently so as not to notice my movement. But when I place my hands on his shoulders he stiffens slightly. I say with an admiring tone, "It is commendable of you, to commit yourself to your brother so. And opening your home –indeed your very heart- to those little more than strangers to you is beyond mere obligation fulfilled." At first I stroke his tunic, innocent as if only curious as to the feel of the fabric. He seems to shrug, then relax.
"Elros was an exceptional... man." His voice barely catches on that last word, but he continues smoothly, "It is my honour to help preserve his legacy, when and however I may."
How dearly I wish to know how an Elf would do this- or even if an Elf would do this. Is that why he seemed uncomfortable? Should I not be touching him, or so near this soon? But what decorum exists concerning my purpose here? I quiet my questioning mind, and will my hands to continue, slowly beginning to knead the muscles between his neck and shoulders. I know of no male creature that would not be stimulated by physical touch; this will succeed, it must. I keep the massage somewhere between how I would enjoy it, and how my husband preferred.
"Nevertheless, all that you have sacrificed... It is so selfless of you, so noble." Perhaps his earlier niceties were a hint for me to adopt the same adoration. Though if he expects much more from me, he will soon find the limit of my vocabulary- of all the skills Arathorn taught me, how to wield a silver tongue was not among them.
"Nay," he shakes his head. "There is no burden, truly. 'Tis a joy."
This is impossible. He has not responded at all; no shift in his position, no escalated breathing, no utterances of pleasure, nothing. I decide to be more obvious, and brush his long black hair over one shoulder, then lean a little against him from behind. Though the back of the chair presses against me more than his body, I still feel the material of his clothes against one breast. I intensify the strength in my hands and speak close to his ear, which I notice for the first time is as pointed as any full-blooded Elf's would be.
"Permit me to speak plainly, Lord Elrond?" There is no proof, but I sense he is at this point amused. At least that is... something.
"Of course." His tone remains devoid of any desirous oscillation.
Switching to the other ear for the sake of touching more of him, I ask, "Does this feel good?"
He laughs again, fuller this time, as if just understanding some joke. "Certainly it does," he answers, with no second meaning in his voice save honesty. But I interpret he would not miss my ministrations if I were to stop. It does not seem to please him... in such a way as I would expect. I wonder to the Valar what would. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps I am wasting my time.
Thoughts of my son keep me from walking out. "You know," I purposefully trail my hair over his ear as I stand straight, now letting my fingers tickle and linger occasionally over the back of his neck, "I do not believe my son could have a better foster father." I slip one hand under the collar of his shirt, but only briefly. "Nor us a better home." Reaching forward, I smooth down his hair, as if making sure I have all of it lying good and proper- in truth caressing his chest, which is unexpectedly... brawny.
Just when I am certain no male could resist such physical insinuation, Elrond tenses again. "I mean not to replace Arathorn," he says a little quickly, and with mild discomfort. "Though I will take Aragorn as my son, and he may call me father if he so wishes, he shall hear always in song and tale that his sire was a great and brave man; though not me."
At his words I cease my ministrations without knowing it. He twists in his chair to look at me, and I feel paralyzed by his eyes, and desensitized to all but his lucid voice as he continues. "Such is my only condition, besides that he shall not learn of his lineage until he is grown. I will save for him his heritage, which he will gain in his maturity; but he will not lose his father a second time in discovering I am not he."
Numb, I can only nod. He studies me for another moment, with that countenance I cannot fathom, and if he undressed me I would feel less revealed. Those eyes! Keen as an eclipse, sharp as the truth. What am I doing here? Suddenly he stands and crosses the room to a small table, laden with some bottles and glasses -and of course a few stray books.
"Care for some wine?" The same unyielding warmth I have grown used to is not in his voice, and I gather the feeling I may have outstayed my welcome. Or perhaps it is my clothes he grows bored with. But I know of not what next to try, save... something tasteless. So I follow him, determined to finish this.
"Please, thank you." There is a window adjacent to the table, and the full moon happens to rest directly center of it. I fancy I must look nice in such pale lighting, contrasted by the flickering candlelight behind me; and Elrond had better take note of it, for I find myself vexed by this dance of innuendoes. I am no Elf!
He hands me a glass filled with fragrant red wine, and we drink in silence. Disturbing silence. I fear what I do not know, and I do not know what he thinks as he watches me. Swallow by swallow our glasses are drained, and I feel much better at the end. That is, much duller. Potent wine indeed. Elrond would not have given me a full glass if he knew how swiftly and acutely it would effect me. He takes the empty goblet from my hand and sets it aside along with his. When his eyes turn back to me, I find it difficult to breathe under his inquisitive gaze.
"Wh-what?" I barely hear myself ask.
He tilts his head; this time it makes me dizzy. "May I speak plainly?" he asks with a small smirk.
I nod, nearly toppling over. Elrond catches me easily, and holds me upright until I have back my balance. "Certainly you may," I slur, and giggle at myself in the way only a nervous and tipsy young woman would.
His long-suffering smile suggests he is indulging my behavior. "Why else have you come here this eve, besides to express your gratitude?"
What a question to ask! I giggle again. "No, really... that was all." And it was. Only I expected to be showing it to him in his bed by now.
"Gilraen," he looks away, expressionless, "all that I offer you and your son is given freely. Know you this?"
I meant to come closer to him, but stepped too far out and end with my chin actually resting on his chest as I stare up at his fair face. "Aye, I know." Thankfully I still have the sense to fib where necessary. "I want it to be this way." I try to be graceful at least and sensual at best as I trace a finger along the line of his jaw, and purr softly. "It is the least I can do."
He puts me on my own feet, as I had indeed begun to lean mostly upon his support alone. "Gilraen--"
I interrupt by taking his hands -eventually, as I missed twice- and placing them around my waist. He does not remove them, as I again sway and he keeps me steady. He begins to speak more but I whisper a "Shhh" and kiss him, barely able to reach his mouth even stretched on my toes and pulling him down by his tunic. But as far as I can tell, he does not respond. Though maybe he does... most likely, I am a little too drunk to be certain of anything.
"Gilraen." His voice is stern once we part, and again he pushes me back to stand on my own feet. It almost seems he is holding back a laugh! He states firmly, "That is not how it will be."
It is only thanks to the wine that I become insulted. "Well, why not? Am I not fair enough for you? Not Elf- like... properly Elven behaving?" Oh, my poor inebriated tongue.
Now he does laugh, modestly, but I still want to hit him for it. "Sweet child, no, you misunderstand." He backs away from me a step, and I replace our proximity immediately.
"I am offering myself to you, Half-elf! I think I am not the one confused here."
His face turns more serious. "Well, at last, I am glad to hear you say it."
"Say what?" I demand, now defensive as well as affronted, and stomp my foot for no reason.
"That you meant to act as my mistress." His answer is impassive, precise.
This time I laugh at him. "I should think it was fairly obvious from the beginning. Just why do they call you wise? It surely is not for your perception."
He frowns slightly, the first time I have ever seen him do so. "I suspected your intentions, but wished to be certain."
"Before bedding me you wished to be certain that is why I came? Well, it is; where shall we begin?"
Now he plainly scowls. "Nay. Before humiliating us both, I wished to have just cause."
He seems as reluctant as I feel. Come to think of it, he has all along. And did he say... humiliation? Oh my... have I made some kind of mistake? But no- no! It was plain and clear, what was expected of me, once I began recognizing the clues. I could not have misconstrued so much. Why else would I have been told of Celebrian's departure, if not to inform me that Elrond was without a wife? And everyone was so welcoming towards me, so grateful, even expectant, as if I was supposed to bring some change- such as relief of their Lord's loneliness. Why else would I be offered a room in his house, a seat at his table, and invitations to celebrate their High Days. And why is he looking at me like this?
"What do you mean?"
Elrond sighs, and retreats to the window. "This is not the first time someone has misinterpreted my intentions."
I make my way over and give him a small shove to make him speak more. His look is unappreciative, but he says, "I take your son gladly as my own, but I will not have you as my mistress, or anything else." His eyes soften. "That is not a custom of Elf-kind, though as I understand, not unheard of among Men."
"I care not about Elven customs. I only want my boy to grow well, and have a happy, safe childhood... with a mother and father..." my eyes tear as I think of Arathorn. Why is he making this so difficult?
My hands are taken gently. "He shall have those things, Gilraen. For between us, we can provide all that you have named."
"Yes, but..." I search his face. "Do you not want anything in return?"
He shakes his head. "My reward is you and your son's happiness."
"But, nothing else?" I frown. "Nothing at all?"
He chuckles and squeezes my hands. "No." There is a quirk to his upper lip that I have never seen before, and he says, "But I am flattered, as always, by the offer, and I do thank you regardless."
I heard it said once that there is no doubting an Elf's sincerity. Arathorn said if you found yourself believing, it was certain they spoke the truth. If I doubted my husband then, that does not keep me from believing Elrond now.
"I am such a fool," I groan. "I thought--" But of course, now it is only too obvious, all the occasions Elrond distinctly went to conscious efforts to give me privacy and space, and to address me formally. I even took his politeness wrongly, for at times he said we would discuss certain matters later, and I thought he meant in private. He meant later. What a fool am I. "I feel I most definitely owe you an apology, Lord." I risk meeting his eyes with a wince of apprehension, my words sheepish and lame.
But he smiles and shrugs, gracious as ever. "Nay, never you mind."
"This has happened before?"
A tired look crosses his face, telling a tale of millennia-long dealings with silly mortals such as I. "Oh, yes indeed," he sighs. "Many times."
A giggle escapes me. "For your sake, may I be the last!" We laugh together then, I in sheer relief, and him probably in the hopes that I am right. "It is none of my business, but may I ask why you never...?" My face burns and I can only imagine what color it might be.
"To say nothing of my beloved wife!" he laughs. "It simply is not the practice of my kind to remarry, nor take second lovers. Many creatures in Arda choose mates for life, Lady. Elves being exceptional in that they choose life-mates for ever." His manner is nonchalant again, finally putting his hair back where it was before I moved it. "Besides, I have not had any urge of that nature for over two millennia."
Had I still been drinking, I most assuredly would have choked on my wine. Elrond sees my reaction and adds with sly mirth, "I daresay your services would be severely neglected in my bed."
"But... so you... oh. Oh." My teeth strive to chatter, as they are apt to do when I am mortified, but I force my jaw still. "I thought, that is, I merely assumed your kind would always... keep on... you know."
"Ah." The curiosity is too much, and I cannot keep myself from looking at his body. His healthy, robust, in all appearances young, body. "Why?" I ask before I think better of it.
He ponders a moment before replying, "That particular desire simply diminishes. I imagine if it did not, things would be different."
Realizing that I am still looking at his hale, trim, firm body, I stop myself. "Do you not miss it?" again I question without thought.
He pauses once more before answering. "No, though the memories are fond."
Suddenly I feel overcome with great shame. Here I stand before a creature of divine intent and demeanor; yet not fifteen minutes before I was offering him my body in exchange for room, board, and nursing assistance. "You must think little of me."
With a grip somehow gentle yet firm he takes me by the shoulders. "I think you are a brave and rational woman who is willing to do everything within her power to ensure the best future possible for her son." Elrond holds his breath for an instant, hesitantly adding, "Would that all mothers shared your sense of selflessness."
I feel a great swell of sadness by the deprived look in his eyes, and mean to inquire after his sorrow, but he speaks again. "Aragorn has a wonderful mother, and Arathorn a devoted wife. They both love you dearly, and do so not in folly or on a whim. Have you no shame over this, Gilraen. None would think less of you for your valiant efforts."
I smile my thanks, speechless for the moment, and hug Elrond instinctively. Apparently being abstinent does not inhibit the Firstborn's willingness to cuddle, for he returns my embrace with tender and welcoming strength. "Thank you," I manage to whisper. "For all your kindness and understanding, thank you."
"And thank you, Gilraen, for bringing to me a little hope in these darkening times."
"Just a little?" I tease. He looks down at me with a smile.
"It may yet grow impressive, in time." I hug him again, and he matches it all the same.
There should be more Half-elven in this world, I deem.