Winter Solstice

by LOTR lover

Disclaimer: The Tolkien Estate owns the setting, any language used other than English, and the characters.

Chapter Two

The Elf-lord sat still as a statue with his eyes closed. Gilraen didn't think he even realized that Aragorn was there--at least not until her little one turned from watching the dancers to notice the golden bells that clasped the ends of the Elf's thick braids. "Oh, no," Gilraen whispered, and broke into as fast a walk as she could manage without spilling the tray.

"P'itty," Aragorn said, grabbing for the closest bell and tugging. When it failed to come off, he announced, "Want dat!" and pulled harder. Lord Glorfindel's eyes opened and he turned and put a hand out to the boy, saying something Gilraen didn't understand. Aragorn let go of the braid and twisted away, catching his heel on the cushion behind him and plopping down hard. The Elf reached for him again, apparently to prevent his falling from the bench, but the quick movement frightened Aragorn further and he burst into tears just as Gilraen arrived.

Lord Glorfindel pinned her with a look and said something that might have been a question, except that it was in a language Gilraen had never heard before. "Your pardon, my lord; I don't understand." She set the tray on the bench between him and her son and took Aragorn into her arms, shushing and soothing him. She handed the boy a honey cake; as she had hoped, the cake claimed his attention and she was free to concentrate on making her apologies to the Elf before her.

She had never met Lord Glorfindel, and had never before been close enough to get a good look at him. He was exceedingly fair, of course; by now Gilraen had almost stopped being amazed at the personal beauty of the Elves she encountered. Despite the warm, mellow light cast by the fires and the Hall's many candles, his face seemed wan and his green eyes glassy, and Gilraen remembered how ill he had been. He said something else in the same language, his tone sharpish, and Gilraen answered, "I mean you no discourtesy, my lord, but I do not understand the words you use. Would you be so kind as to speak in Sindarin?"

A look of displeasure passed over his face, but he did as she requested, though his voice was cold. "Maiden, if you are to care for the King's grandson, you must learn to speak the language of the King's household. Did Lady Idril not tell you that His Majesty does not wish his grandson to speak the tongue of Doriath?"

Lady Idril? His Majesty? Doriath? Arathorn had told Gilraen stories of the Elder Days, and as a girl she had been taught the history of Númenor and the Dúnedain. She also knew what was said of Glorfindel--that he was an Elf far older than Master Elrond himself, and that in a society where one's lineage was carefully recorded, his origins were obscure.

"My lord?" she asked gently, "Do you know where you are right now?" He made a gesture of dismissal, but there was something in his eyes.... She gathered up her courage, shifted Aragorn to one hip, and laid her free hand firmly against the Elf-lord's forehead; in the moment before he frowned and leaned away from her touch, she felt the unnatural heat of his skin.

Dark fabric rippled beside her and she glanced up to see Master Elrond standing there. "Happy Solstice, Mistress Gilraen, and a Merry Yule. I am pleased to see that you and your little one decided to join us," Elrond said. "And Glorfindel, old friend, how do you fare?"

"Lord Glorfindel feels fevered to me, my lord," Gilraen told him. "And I believe he is somewhat...confused."

"Hmm." Elrond placed a hand on his Captain's forehead also. "You are right; he is fevered. Glor--"

Glorfindel slapped Elrond's hand away and came to his feet in a rush, his other hand going to the hilt of the eating knife that hung from his gilded leather belt. "Who are you?" he growled. "I gave neither of you permission to make free with my person."

Gilraen clutched Aragorn close and backed several paces; the little one grabbed handfuls of the fabric of her dress and held on tight, his eyes wide. Elrond moved to shield them, his hands raised in a gesture of conciliation, his palms facing outward to show they were empty. "Be at ease, my lord! You are threatening a child and his mother. Think; are you sure you do not know me?"

Behind Glorfindel Gilraen could see the sons of Elrond turn from their respective conversations in different parts of the hall and stride quickly toward their father. Elladan made a gesture toward the musicians, who immediately struck up a rather noisy reel, and Elrohir paused to whisper to a woman in blue who drew three other Elves into a foursome and began to dance, calling on others to follow them.

Glorfindel narrowed his eyes and tilted his head slightly to one side, regarding the Elf in front of him. He glanced toward Gilraen and Aragorn, then back to Elrond. Heartbeats passed before his shoulders relaxed and he let go of the knife. "Elrond?" His voice was uncertain. "I lost track...I thought the child was Eärendil...."

The sons of Elrond arrived simultaneously, one to Glorfindel's left and the other to his right. Elladan threw a brotherly arm heavily across the Elf-lord's shoulders, and Elrohir slipped the knife from its sheath on his belt at the same time. Glorfindel offered no resistance, simply looking stricken at what he had done.

Elrond took his right arm and together he and Elladan eased Glorfindel down onto the forgotten bench while Elrohir moved the tray away so Elrond could sit beside him. "Ai, my dear friend, I fear you are near the limit of your strength," Elrond sighed. "And yet I must ask more of you." He turned to Elrohir. "My son, will you fetch us all some mulled wine?" As Elrohir went off in search of a pitcher and mugs, Elladan brought over another bench and offered Gilraen a seat.

"By your leave, my lords, I should go," she said. Aragorn was quiet in her arms, his head tucked up against the base of her throat, his fists still clutching a fold of her bodice.

"No, Mistress Gilraen, please stay. The Solstice Ceremony will soon begin, and my sons and I must lead it. Will you watch over Lord Glorfindel for me?"

"But should he not go back to his bed?"

"Indeed he should, but I need him here." Elrond paused, then added, "Mistress, there are whispers abroad that my friend here has died of his wounds and that my household and I are keeping his death a secret."

"But why? What reason would you possibly have to do such a thing?"

"It is said that I did it so that no one would know that Manwë has withdrawn his care from the Elves and left us to the mercy of the Shadow."

Gilraen sat down, feeling as if her legs would fold if she didn't.

"Of course, Manwë would never do that," Elladan put in, sitting beside her. He stuck his tongue out at Aragorn and gently ruffled the child's hair. Aragorn didn't move; usually he liked attention from Elladan, but he was still subdued by the tension among the adults.

Elrohir arrived with mugs, a steaming pewter pitcher, and some bread and cheese. "You have always been one to state the obvious, brother," he said blithely, thrusting the tray into his twin's hands and maneuvering a small table over to set it on.

"If it were that obvious, brother, half of Imladris would not believe such foolishness." Elladan set down the tray and poured mugs of hot wine for himself and Gilraen.

Elrohir snorted. "'Tis not 'half of Imladris'. 'Tis a small and faint-hearted minority who will probably take ship for the West soon enough anyway."

Elrond had been bringing small packets of herbs from his pockets as they talked. He took a pinch of this and a bit of that and sprinkled them into a mug, then filled the mug with mulled wine and stirred it. He handed it to Glorfindel, who had been sitting hunched with his elbows on his knees and his braids dangling around his face, ignoring what was going on around him. "Drink this, Glorfindel. All of it."

Glorfindel did as he was told, grimacing at the taste, then leaned back with a sigh, stretching his legs out in front of him. Elrond got up and gestured to Gilraen to take his place. He put his hand on his captain's forehead again and promptly got it batted away. "Go and perform the ceremony, Elrond," the blond Elf snapped. "I will last until it ends, but not much longer."

Elrond merely walked away. Elladan rolled his eyes; Elrohir quipped, "Mistress Gilraen, I do not envy you your task," and they turned to follow their father. Gilraen watched them go, wishing heartily that she and Aragorn had stayed in their room.