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2933 of the Third Age
Shadows danced on the walls as candles blew out in the wake of figures moving hurriedly about, leaving the house lit sparsely with lanterns. Unobserved, Gilraen retreated with her son onto the porch. Trusting in darkness to hide her tears and fresh air to dry them, she hoped with solitude to settle this sense of unease within her own home. Despite the commotion inside, the evening was quiet. Deceptive. She hugged her son close and pulled her cloak to cover them both against the chill.
Earlier she had been prompted to pack, and admitted that she would not know where to start, feeling as some inept girl-child, not a wife and mother--a widow and mother. Her kinsfolk had only words of kindness and were quick to assist, the sons of Elrond among them now; how many bereaved they had helped spirit away mid night throughout the centuries, she shuddered to think. Together they readied her home to be abandoned, while she readied herself to abandon the life she had known.
"What star?" spoke her son, pointing into the night sky.
"That is Eärendil." For his sake, she found it within herself to smile. "His is a symbol of hope everlasting." Arathorn had always said so. Who else to say it in his place.
From behind came a presence and amiable reply, "Eärendil's star shines brightest upon your new home, Aragorn." Already envious of his nerve, Gilraen turned to face one of Elrond's sons. When he spoke, his voice did not tremble, steady as the strong arm that extended to accept Aragorn's hand in greeting. Little fingers curled around sword-calluses, innocent as young vines over a tombstone. "So many new things you shall see, Aragorn, much more than most lads your age. Are you excited to go?"
The child nodded that he was, little to his mother's surprise. He associated 'excited' in that tone with happy occasions: his father expected home, a game to be played, presents. He did not understand the question, though he thought to know the word. No child could fathom exile; no Dúnadan would smile at the prospect.
The Elf-man still spoke kindly as he looked at her, if a touch faster, "Lady, there are some things we must ask you to decide upon inside. Alas that there is not room for much, if we are to travel swift as we ought. The necessities are stowed, but go choose now some personal effects about which your kinsmen are unsure."
She nodded and went inside, where they expected her to select a few artifacts of highest importance from a house already no longer a home. An elderly maid who sat at the table hailed Gilraen through sudden tears, and stood to share their final embrace. Doubtless Gilraen would not see her former nursemaid again before the woman's death.
"Be brave, mistress," said Luinmoth, her wizened voice breaking. "The master was a wise man. He would ask naught of you save for your own good. And worry not for us here. We'll see to things with no trouble."
Arathorn left to 'see to things' -– the last thing he had seen was the head of an arrow. His son's giggles chased away the grim comparison.
"Here Aragorn, my little man!" Luinmoth curled her fingers at him and crept close. "Come see granny one last time, that's a good boy. Oh! How big you've gotten this year. My sweet boy." She kissed his head and did not look again upon his face. "I... take him back, dear, I can't bear more. Good bye! Good bye."
By the time Gilraen mustered a smile, the old dame had crumpled back into her chair, spidery fingers spread in a web over her face.
Entering the next room, Gilraen found the floor strewn with shapes and shadows. A hearth fire saved her from tripping over the clutter. Gilbarad came up beside, breathing labored from exertion. His was the face of a man who had had hope for his whole life, and had placed that hope wholly in Arathorn. Before the flickering light, he looked drawn and nerveless; seemed everyone had taken weary steps nearer to their last days of life in the wake of death. What relief to have already bid farewell to her parents, that their aging faces would not watch her leave.
"Palaber can carry little more," said Gilbarad, looking regretfully at what remained. "I fear you will be parted from most of your belongings, my lady, if--"
"For the last time, we leave tonight, and travel with all haste." Gilbarad's breath caught at the interruption. She sighed along with him. "Help me, uncle. Help me to obey and see obeyed by husband's last wishes. Please."
"You know I would have it no different, save that we take more than only what Aragorn's horse can carry." His eyes would not meet hers. Nonetheless, they soon lowered. "As you wish. Tell me what here is most dear to you, and Palaber will tell me what is too much for even his strong back to bear."
She directed that a book be taken from the mantelpiece, one that held Arathorn's thoughts in his own pen, and she could think of nothing else thereafter; nothing of need, nothing that mattered, nothing except her husband who would never write again. Disinterestedly she pointed out items on the floor, mere objects, chosen less for sentimental worth than by the years of use left to them. In the wake of such loss, quantity of time replaced quality of life in measure of value –- she would have Arathorn marred, maimed, or otherwise, if he would just return and stay a while longer. The orc that slew him had not asked her opinion on this matter. One day she would inquire how it died.
Letting her son down to walk, they returned to the porch. Out of the barn, one of Elrond's sons led her horse, Malfrey, saddled for the ride ahead. Arathorn's former steed Palaber waited at the foot of the stairs in dismal spirits, missing his master. From the road, Artanal and the other son of Elrond rode up side-by-side, shadows in the twilight; they completed what would be her escort to the Ford of Bruinen. Gilbarad passed by to secure Palaber's load, speaking encouragingly to the sad beast –- Gilraen listened without shame, taking those words to her own heart.
"All right, it's all right."
Night seemed ever deepening. Eärendil's star was lost to sight among stray clouds. Even the close scenery, so familiar to her during the years before, was strange in that hour; dark and blurry, like someone else's half-forgotten memory. Soon that memory would be her own, gradually forgotten from leagues away.
Now all waited mounted save for Gilraen, her son, and the Elf-man who approached them with brisk, uneven steps.
"Lady, it is time we left," he said, grave but gentle. As they descended the stairs, Gilraen tried to decide if this was the same twin she had spoken with moments ago. He gestured to her son. "Here, lad, let me help you sit your mother's horse. Look how pleased Malfrey is to see you! She will carry you well."
Aragorn tightened his fists, reluctant to be parted from his mother; but for love of riding he tolerated it, and broke into a giddy smile whilst hefted atop Malfrey's back. Unnoticed by him went the travel-worn and battle-torn state of the Elf-man's attire, the bandage on his thigh stained black with dried blood, and the grime under his nails telling the tale of recent grave digging. Gilraen could not stop staring. In these things, she recognized that she was not alone of those who endure hardships to preserve the honour of one departed, or of many.
"Lady, may I help you?" One hand he held out to her, the other steadied Aragorn in the saddle.
"Yes." Gilraen could mount behind her child without difficulty or assistance; she took his hand in order to hold it once seated. "Lead me to the house of Elrond, so that I may fulfill a promise made long ago. Then mayhap Arathorn and I shall both rest in peace."
Few marked the departure of just another widow amid a small company in the gloom of that night, and come morning none would speak of such things as were understood. Unless it be so for this saying in the Angle -- 'fruit never falls far from the tree' -- oft recited in light or portent: always, though, with eyes to the West.
Gilbarad is neither a canonical character nor the canonical uncle of Gilraen.
Luinmoth is neither a canonical character nor the canonical nursemaid of Gilraen.
None other than the sons of Elrond were explicitly stated in canon to have ridden with Arathorn when he was killed by an Orc arrow piercing his eye; this story suggests the Rangers Gilbarad and Artanal were present also.
Arathorn born 2873
Gilraen born 2907
Marriage of Arathorn and Gilraen 2929
Arathorn becomes Chieftain of the Dúnedain 2930
Aragorn born March 1st 2931
Arathorn II slain - Gilraen goes to Rivendell 2933