This story was originally published under a different name, as a sequel to its first installment since revised. Both sections have since been renamed 'More Than Memory', Books One and Two.
Though asleep, Gilraen retained some awareness; of the dim room, and of her son lying beside her. Yet a part of her believed, even insisted, that they were in the courtyard under daylight, and years ago. More memory than dream, her sleeping vision as clear as her waking eyes had been.
"Look at me, nana!"
Again as many times already, Gilraen replied smiling, "I see you." Her attention had been nowhere else, since Glorfindel lifted her son upon Asfaloth hours before.
It was the end of summer; every day since harvesting began, Estel would plead to visit the orchards, where Elves sang as they worked, many being particularly inclined to dance and play. Gilraen never learned what aspect of the chore so enthused them, and her son only asked to be there.
That morning, they had come across Glorfindel, immaculate upon his white steed and looking somewhat out of place as he rode down a row of trees; ladders, baskets, and toiling Elves on either side.
"Fair greetings for a fair lady," he all but sang. "Surely Elrond has not dispatched his envoy to pick apples!"
"Not to my knowledge," she replied, "and neither has he dispatched me." Serving as delegate between Rivendell and the Angle was hardly an envoy's status, Gilraen deemed; moreover, she preferred not to think of her outspoken predecessor, Telmoth, as an ambassador.
Glorfindel dismounted, mirthful at the sight of Estel dancing circles around one trunk. "Is this a good tree, young one? Since it is now graced with your affection, I think I too should prefer it, and have my duty fulfilled." Producing several white ribbons, he began binding the cloth to prominent branches.
Gilraen considered this odd deed, but came to no conclusions. Glorfindel only smiled at her inquiry before calling to those nearby, "Hear ye Elves, this is the chosen one! Leave it be!"
Tradition then, it must be some elvish tradition, and immortals must accumulate scores of them. Would they abandon those oldest, or avoid making many anew, lest every day become an event? Her son danced again, twirling one of Glorfindel's ribbons through the air. Maybe daily cause for celebration is what keeps some Elves so merry.
She might have woken during these thoughts, or imagined her son's sleeping face, who soon smiled again upon a white steed.
Estel was overjoyed to ride unaccompanied for the first time, and to think that he commanded the horse, although Glorfindel had walked beside directing Asfaloth all along.
"Yaw!" her son cried. "Ha-yaw!" Asfaloth simply completed the circle he paced to pause at Glorfindel's other side. "He does not go..." Estel eyed the meadow beyond the courtyard.
Laughing, Glorfindel said, "No! Because no such request was made. But I think he, and your mother, would consent to another go round." Instructed by a hand gesture, Asfaloth began another loop.
Gilraen suspected that her son might complain, demand adventure; instead he called to her, waving. "Nana, look at me!"
"I see you."
So she said, yet this time her eyes focused elsewhere. In that instant, Arathorn stood beyond, clear but colorless, and unobstructed until Asfaloth passed in front. Then the apparition was gone, replaced by Elrond, who should rightly be there, if the dream obey memory. He spoke words lost upon her; on the brink of waking, she wondered if she had listened then, either, or had she thought to see her husband first.
Glorfindel looked at her, attentive enough that she fell deeply asleep once more. Guessing his question, she nodded her approval. It was only a few yards to where Elrond stood, and Asfaloth had demonstrated exceptional temperament.
To ride even that short distance alone thrilled Estel; it seemed all he could do to sit still for the duration. Once arrived, he explained the extent of his accomplishment to Elrond, who held Asfaloth's headstall until Glorfindel arrived to check that none of Estel's clothing had caught on the saddle before helping him down.
She had come to expect such care and familiarity -- but not what came after.
"There you are, child, back on your feet. Now run along to your ada, tell him what you learnt is a good way to pluck apples from high branches!"
That Glorfindel meant well did not change how she hated the moment, as her stomach fell with the weight of the dead, and a chill set in, pending Estel's reaction. Would he be struck with remembrance, and weep for Arathorn? If he did, would Elrond weep for rejection? No, impossible nonsense: one was too young to remember, the other too old to cry.
The silence lasted only a heartbeat, if the consequence would last forever. Estel went forward and began the tale of picking apples from horseback, calling Elrond father for the first time, as he would do thereafter.
Arathorn had not been replaced, she realized; merely blocked from her sight. Still he stood there, revealed again as Elrond knelt. Neither his deathless face nor his unmarred eyes mirrored any expression. All he held was a white ribbon in one hand held out to her. An urge to take it from him consumed her, wanting nothing more. Her muscles burned with the effort to move, to go to him. He shook his head and backed away, fading a little further even as Gilraen managed to sit up.
She sat staring ahead; he might reappear if she quit struggling. The notion that he was dead lingered just beyond her awareness. Wall, window, doorway, nighttime now, and unreal. Alone in bed, every movement took slow effort, as though her body was numb, or her will. Unable to force herself awake, she left the room to find her son, loath to be parted from him, even in a dream.
From the hall window she observed the courtyard below, where walked a procession of hooded figures. One looked up at her, faceless. This had happened one High Day; then the smiling Elf who spotted her raised a candle in salute. This void just stared.
Turning away, now the hallway was a row of trees on each side. One tree stood alone, adorned with white ribbons. Tradition. She vaguely recalled the eventual explanation: that it was custom for the Lords in residence to harvest the fruit of one tree together each year.
The dream made its own ritual. A stale breeze folded the white over to red, which then bled to black under cloudless rain. Amid the swaying branches, she could barely discern a streaked face, beardless and solemn, grey hair in contrast to the black ribbons. Fifteen hung already, and the person held one more, raising cloth to lips before tying it off with thin hands.
Another breeze swept the scene away as so much ash.
Finally, Gilraen could wake. She kept her eyes closed, grateful for sightlessness in place of seeing. Under the light of day, such images would shrink away to sleep themselves until her next restless night. Reaching out to find her son's hand, she waited for the dawn.