The tiny party arrived at dusk, horses clattering swiftly beneath the ancient arch and on, into Rivendell's stone flagged courtyard. The lord of the valley awaited them on the steps to the wide porch, hands folded into the sleeves of his flowing robes.
With a nod to their father Elladan and Elrohir sprang lightly from their weary horses. Elladan moved forward to accept the small, blanket wrapped bundle from the lady's arms but it was Elrond who stepped up to offer his support to the Gilraen. For a moment she only stared blankly, and then placed her hands upon his shoulders to be lifted easily onto the pavement. There she leaned into the support of her host her for a moment, face downcast.
Gilraen drew in a deep breath and straightened, searching at once for her son, and Elladan relinquished the cocoon into her arms. Aragorn son of Arathorn, slept on, one grubby thumb tucked between pink lips. The lady bent to kiss dark curls but did not otherwise acknowledge her surroundings and Elrond took her elbow in one gentle hand, guiding her into the house. Formal introductions could wait.
Even by elven standards Imladris was an ancient house and it had grown organically over the centuries of its existence. Elrond knew every corner and twisting hallway however and guided Gilraen along less travelled ways to the small suite of rooms that had been set aside for her. Had she eyes to see, the lady would have marvelled at the lavish beauty of the frescoes, the ancient vases, the delicate sculptures, the richly coloured carpets beneath their feet. But her eyes were closed to all but the memory of her husband's ruined and empty face.
The raggedly fletched black arrow had been perfectly placed, piercing one storm-grey eye, to embed itself deeply in Arathorn's brain. How long had it taken him to die? The twins had not offered her that information and Gilraen had not dared to ask. He had breathed his last before she could gather him into her arms.
Gilraen would suffer no other to perform the last act of love that she could offer her husband. She had drawn the arrow herself and bathed his body with her mother's help. Gilraen had dressed him in his wedding robes and wrapped him in a winding sheet. Silent, she had stood vigil with her tiny son until the very last clod of earth had been raised above Arathorn's resting place. Only as Ivorwen lead her little grandson away had Gilraen surrendered to tears and cast herself upon the mound.
Now, as one sleep walking, Gilraen permitted herself to be settled upon the edge of a broad bed. Elrond busied himself for a while, drawing heavy curtains against the chill of the oncoming night beyond the long windows and coaxing a fire into life on the broad hearth. When she continued to show no sign of returning awareness he bent before her.
"Will you allow me to put your son to bed while one of my folk assists you to yours? You are exhausted."
Still there was no response so when Faerwen entered, Elrond slid his hands beneath the precious bundle in Gilraen's lap, relieved and yet concerned when she made no protest at the removal of her only son. With a nod to her lord, Faerwen led the lady away to an adjoining bathing chamber and Elrond moved to a chair by the hearth, where a shallow tub sat steaming gently.
Unwrapping the sleeping form Elrond was struck anew by the echo of his brother's features in the descendents of his line. To be sure, the body was of a more sturdy build than elvenkind but here were the same long, straight limbs and pale complexion. The raven hair formed soft curls uncommon to Elrond's people but he knew that were those dark lashed eyes to open they would be a clear soft grey. With longer hair Aragorn could easily pass for one of Elrond's own sons.
Removing the child's simple gown Elrond noted that although he no longer wore any padding, the clothing was soiled. It was no surprise that at such a time of distress the little one had lost control and Elrond had cloths available in case of just such an eventuality. Using one to wipe away the worst of the mess, he paused only long enough to test the water before lowering the little form into the tub. That was when Aragorn's lashes fluttered and Elrond was treated to his first glimpse of misty grey eyes.
Aragorn blinked and Elrond felt the first tendrils of panic from his charge. Using the contact of his hand with the little one's back the elven healer felt only a little remorse as he carefully nudged the emotion aside before Aragorn could form a cry. Gilraen needed time to marshal her strength.
"Hello, tithen pen. My name is Elrond. I am the father of Elladan and Elrohir," he offered with a gentle smile.
"Where's Mama?" Aragorn asked timidly, his treble voice wavering slightly.
Elrond cupped warm water in his hand and trickled it over small shoulders. "She is having a bath, just like you." He settled the little body against the back of the tub, confident that Aragorn was in no danger of drowning now that he was awake, and began to apply soap to a wash cloth.
For his part, Aragorn craned his head to look around the chamber, eyes widening at the sight of high, intricately carved ceilings and sumptuous furnishings. Then his gaze returned to Elrond's face assessingly. "Dan and Roh are big. You don't look like grandpapa Dirhael. You have no grey hair or beard."
Elrond chuckled as he lifted one skinny little arm and began to wield his soapy cloth. "I am an elf. We do not age as quickly as your people. It will be many more years before my hair turns grey."
"Oh." Aragorn suffered his limbs to be moved as Elrond continued to bathe his small frame. "Where am I?"
"You are in Rivendell. It is where Elladan and Elrohir live. You and your Mama will be staying with us for a while."
Elrond began to lather the ebony curls and Aragorn screwed his eyes shut in anticipation of stray suds. When grandma Ivorwen washed his hair there were always stray suds and they usually made straight for his eyes. When the suds did not arrive and Elrond began to rinse, he opened his eyes in pleased surprise. His mouth was quick to follow suit.
"How long is a "while"?"
"At least until you are grown as tall as Elladan and Elrohir," Elrond replied carefully as he spread a thick towel on his lap.
Elrond withheld a smile as he watched the cogs turning in Aragorn's mind. He lifted him from the tub and settled the little one on his lap with the practiced ease of a father, using another thirsty towel to dry his charge.
"Will Papa be coming too?" Aragorn asked.
Elrond knew that the little boy had attended his father's funeral. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that mortals matured differently to elves. It was clear that Aragorn had not linked the ceremony with his father's demise. Indeed it was possible that he had no concept of the finality of mortal death as yet. For some moments he considered, using the act of vigorously rubbing dry Aragorn's hair to cover his pause.
"No. He has gone to another place but before he left he asked me to look after you and your Ami." Taking up a gown last worn by Arwen many years before, Elrond dropped it over Aragorn's damp hair and wrangled it down the little body. Fortunately, he was spared further explanation by the scattered nature of a child's overly active mind.
"What are an ami and a tittlepin?" Aragorn wrapped wiry little legs about Elrond's chest as he was lifted and he was too busy taking in the world from this more elevated position to notice Elrond coughing back a laugh.
"Ami means Mama in my language. And Tittlepin means Little One." Elrond lowered the now wide awake child into a little, high sided bed and began to drape him in soft blankets. Of course, Aragorn sat up at once.
"If Ami means Mama, what's your word for Papa?"
Elrond held out a two handled cup of warm milk, watching carefully as his charge took a large swallow. Once it was clear that Aragorn could drink without spilling Elrond settled upon a stool at the side of the low bed. "It is Ada," he replied.
"Do you have an Ada?" Aragorn asked.
Unphased by this change of direction, Elrond reached out one finger to wipe away a milk moustache and smiled. "My Ada is a sailor. He has taken his ship and gone on a long journey." He accepted the now empty cup from his charge and watched in some satisfaction as Aragorn settled down contentedly and yawned.
"My Ada took his horse. He says one day I will have a horse." There was another huge yawn. "I've never seen a ship. Is it like a horse?"
Elrond tucked the blankets closer, letting his voice drift low as he saw grey eyes grow misty once more. One small thumb made its way toward Aragorn's mouth and Elrond congratulated himself upon the fact that it was now a clean thumb. "Well. They are both used to ride. A horse is an animal for riding on land and a ship is made of wood and usually rides on water." Elrond decided that to explain Earendil's ship sailing across the midnight sky was definitely a tale for another time.
Aragorn's eyes slid all the way shut as he rolled onto his side. Many of Elros' heirs had been placed in his care down the generations but something about this little one tugged at Elrond's heart. He and Elros had been little older when their father had first sailed away so he knew well the pain Aragorn would feel soon enough. In that moment he determined that he would do what he could to ease the path of this child. He bent to offer the benison of a kiss on damp raven curls.
"Sleep well, Tittlepin. May the Valar watch your dreaming."