Gazing up at the stars, Gilraen lay less tired and more thoughtful than the previous nights. It would be their last camp on the road before reaching the Angle, and she found some apprehension had surfaced as they neared. Frequently, her thoughts turned to Valcirion. With his passing came memories of similar incidents, Arathorn's death foremost among them. She yearned to stand beside her kinsmen against this new grievance, an urge that had not struck her so strongly for years. Yet a part of her cringed, guiltily, to know that family had been present at her own time of need, while she arrived to pay condolences weeks after Valcirion's funeral.
Beyond the campfire, she could see Glorfindel standing alert but silent nearby. He had kept watch throughout each night, she knew, and still marveled at the tirelessness of the Firstborn. If there is rest to be had sitting in a saddle with open eyes, only an Elf could find it.
In that moment he turned towards the fire, and smiled at her. "Do you sleep as an Elf, lady, or do you sleep not at all?"
"Nay to the first, alas." She arched up to adjust the bundle ill serving as a pillow. "If I were an Elf, my body would not ache as it does after any unfamiliar use, and I could sing such sweet songs as I have heard these past days."
"As to the last, you could surely learn." Coming closer, Glorfindel crouched to tend the fire. "The wood-charms I know are not of my making, yet being no bard by trade, even I can weave them easily enough."
Gilraen paused to make a translation of an uncommon term he used, before saying, "A blessed path beneath me, and even with an Elf-lord protecting it, still I cannot sleep." At that, she sat up completely. "And I am poor company to have sat lost in my thoughts while you minded our road these past days. Forgive me that. I am grateful to you, despite what it might seem."
"Nonsense," he said softly, waving a hand. "You mourn, and I commiserate." She watched as he stood, shining in the firelight like some golden statue from an Age long past. He looked left to right, presumably listening also --a demonstration of his 'casual caution', as she thought of it-- before speaking again. "By tomorrow, we shall have seven days left to us, three of which must be reserved for our return journey. You do mean to spend the remaining four among your kinsmen, yes?"
His tone was changed, distant or calculative. "That long is not necessary, for my purpose. To pay my respects to Valcirion's family, wish well his successor... no, I should not keep you waiting four days."
His eyes widened as he replied with laughter, "Keep me waiting? But no! Elrond has set other deeds upon me to accomplish, after seeing you safely to your kinsmen. If the weather remains mild, your glad escort will require two days counting from the Angle, ere he could return to see you home." In a sober tone, he added, "Or I need not arrive so soon, if there are private ceremonies which my presence might disrupt."
Considering what she knew of elvish burial customs, Gilraen concluded that Glorfindel might feel equally as ignorant regarding that of her people. I've spoken so little during this journey, and said nothing of my purpose. It should be no surprise that he's drawn such conclusions as that I go to a confidential service. She explained that Valcirion's body would have been buried as soon as may be, and any formal proceedings already enacted.
"It used to be different, still would be, if not for us being strewn throughout the land as we are, and so often beset. Since I was a child, I've heard our elders bemoaning 'old ways compromised for new days'. I suppose it is inevitable."
"Aye, so it would seem."
Gilraen watched without surprise his expression turn to sadness. She had never heard an Elf speak of change with any other consequence. They agreed then that Glorfindel would depart from the Angle to return at his convenience, but within four days' time.
"Unless my mother catches sight of you, for then I fear you may be compelled to sit for a meal."
The Elf smiled. "Well, we shall see."
He moved back into the shadows, his surveillance resumed. Gilraen decided not to warn him of the truth in her statement: all in the Angle well knew that none escaped Ivorwen's kitchen unfed. She fell asleep soon after, composing a menu of dishes to Glorfindel's liking from the ingredients her mother used to keep in supply.
She looked up to meet the keen gaze, and habitually improved her posture, removing one elbow that had crept onto the table. "Yes, mother?"
Ivorwen smiled, creasing her noble but aging features. "You have been home for two days now, much to the delight of your family and friends. You do know how welcome you are, of course?" Gilraen nodded, and her mother continued with her initial tone, gracefully direct, "But you needn't have troubled yourself by making this trip to relay Elrond's condolences."
"No, I imagine Telmoth made that gesture instinctively. Even so, she does not speak for me."
"Nor is her company as pleasant!"
While her mother settled back in her chair, chuckling, Gilraen gave a noncommittal shrug, but concurred with some empathy, "Elves." Then to change the subject, "And it was no trouble for me to come."
"Yet you must leave so soon. A pity, that."
Gilraen fell quiet, reluctant to extrapolate on the logic of her schedule, that she would return in time to welcome her son home. Initially, she had spoken openly with her kinsmen of Estel, garnering varied reactions. Of his renaming, most were inclined to think it an honour. But of his continued fosterage, some were dubious; only the boldest among them spoke to her of the Angle's safety these past years, even suggesting that Arathorn's son be brought home for the remainder of his childhood. Surprised by that much, she resolved not to reveal that Estel calls Rivendell home, and Elrond father.
The older woman had stood, and spoke now over her shoulder from a counter nearby, "Oh, but your father and I are overjoyed to see you, for any reason or amount of days. Next time --and soon!-- you must bring Aragorn for a visit." Clucking her tongue, she frowned at Gilraen's correction, plunking down the dishes she brought to amplify her reply. "In my own home, I may call my grandson by his rightful name as I please. If Master Elrond is half as gracious as his reputation, he would not object as you do."
Gilraen was still smiling when her mother sat again. "Elrond is so gracious that you would name your grandson after this muffin if it was all he asked of you."
Her hand waving seemed to dismiss the possibility as much as it offered more options. "Have some fruit, too, dear, and here, we've no shortage of butter. Now! Gilbarad tells me the boy is growing into a fine young man."
Gilraen dropped her knife. "Well, Gilbarad should know better. Estel is only ten! More 'young' than 'man' by several years, I should say."
Her mother's eyes flashed knowingly over the brim of her cup. "You would say that, as his mother."
"And you would know! Having your way, I would still be living under this roof -- well," she gestured out the kitchen window, towards the house, "that roof. Too young to be a wife, too young to be a mother, too young for aught but housework. Think you that I've forgotten?"
"I think me your memory is full of more holes than mine." Ivorwen paused to admire a plump apple, from her own garden if Gilraen could judge the proud look. "That was your father who lamented those things, when it became obvious his little girl grew into a ripe woman; one who soon had every bachelor in the Angle turning his head. 'Twas I who said you were more 'young' than 'lady' when those hopeful suitors came knocking, but that fact was even less of a deterrent than Dirhael's hard glare."
Together, they laughed. Once composed, Gilraen decided to defend her femininity. "It's true I was of a mind in my youth to care more for horses than embroidery. But I was not so unusual by the time I was turning heads, as you say."
Ivorwen shook her head, eyes lowered to the table, surface as worn as her hands after years of kneading and cutting and washing. "Ah, but you were. Say 'special' instead, if you prefer, but you were. And seeing it, Arathorn desired you all the more, I deem."
Gilraen felt her breath catch, and sighed just as abruptly. I can talk about him here, name him freely. And yet, she found nothing to say. But everyone here knew him, and so many are lost amongst us that we speak more of the future; not like Rivendell, when I cannot reminisce aloud for fear of being overheard, though all the house echoes with stories of the past.
"Nemendil means to stay."
Blinking at the sudden change, Gilraen said, "Does he?" Of all Valcirion's children, she knew his middle son, Nemendil, least closely. He had moved away from the Angle in the same year of her marriage. Yesterday had been their first meeting since.
Her mother went on, "Returned from the Sarn Ford with his younger brother to see their father laid to rest. Of course, Rochil has a new wife that he hurried home to. But Nemendil means to stay, even to inherit his father's residence."
After a moment's deliberation, Gilraen thought she gleaned her mother's direction; as little as it pleased her, she wanted to be certain. "I'm sure his mother will be glad to have some company in that old house."
Ivorwen bristled. "It's a nice house, spacious and sound. Just needs an able woman's touch and some laughter in the halls again." Gilraen glanced up, as discouragingly as she could, but her mother's face stayed tilted away. The aged woman shrugged. "My subtlety is not what it used to be, but my foresight is sharper sometimes these days then ever before. So think not that you can discredit my words on account of their plainness. Nemendil came knocking for you, and I see no cause to turn him away."
"No." Gilraen stood, unexpectedly angered by her mother's suggestion, and to a lesser degree, hurt. She busied herself by checking that everything they had prepared for the day remained prepared, though her thoughts were more reasonable. She pictured Arathorn, an old habit never discarded; his temperament, unshakable despite any circumstances, comforted her always. And that she did still think of him only served to fortify her first impulse. "You may tell Nemendil, or I will, but the answer is and will remain no."
Calmer, she returned to the table.
"He wed, not long after you and Arathorn," said Ivorwen, as if to herself. "But she died in childbed, three summers ago; first such tragedy in a decade. Broke his heart, poor man, to lose his wife and heir. He would not so much as look at another woman over the longest time, went about electing himself for the most perilous duties and would not be gainsaid. Seeing him now though, even in the wake of his father's passing, he is clearly much improved. Nay, he'll not again be ruled by grief. Ah, you did not even suspect such an ordeal had befallen him, did you?"
Nemendil had looked to Gilraen twenty winters beyond his age, and indeed, she had failed at first to recognize him. But she said, "No, I did not wonder," before smiling beseechingly. "As I recall, Nemendil has always been a strong man. Alas for his ill fortune, yet if he has overcome the worst of it, I am heartened. Now let us do likewise, and speak of something else! I was amazed that father and Glorfindel had such a long conversation when we supped together. Did I tell you --wise Elf-lord though be may be-- that Glorfindel doubted he would be convinced to stay for even one meal?"
"I was about your age, thirty-four years past, when I brought you into this world, as was my sister when she bore your cousin Artanel."
Gilraen rested her head in her hands. "Mother, please, be not so stubborn."
"I am stubborn, as any woman should be after a half century of being right more often than not." Her tone changed to gentle persuasion, "My only care is for you, Gilraen. Would children, a family, not bring joy anew into your life?"
Just then, Dirhael stepped into the kitchen, the room falling silent as suddenly. Gilraen sat facing the door, and saw her father's face betray immediate discomfort. She suspected that he had some idea of what subject his entrance had interrupted. Also, she thought to glean his opinion on the matter; that he stood no more willing than she to argue with Ivorwen.
She went to take from his arms the wood he had gone out to chop. "Thank you, father." Then turning to the table, "Mother, I have a child, the grace of a family so extended that I am still learning their many names, and good reason for living as I do. Nemendil is a fine man and I wish him well, but the path he seeks is not mine. I am going into the house now, and if you sit with me by the fire, I would tell you about your grandson, the people he loves, the house Arathorn wished his heir to grow up in, and why. Will you not come?"
Ivorwen arose, standing wordlessly for a moment before collecting a tray. "If it would make you happy."
It is not about me, Gilraen bit her tongue to refrain from saying. As they walked together towards the house and the setting sun, she heard her father release a long breath.
They had spent a full day on the trail, riding as hard as possible to make up for lost time, though encumbered by the results of recent rainfall. After setting a meal to heat, Gilraen crouched close by the campfire, warming her hands. Soon Glorfindel joined her.
"Our path should become easier, the further we go. I believe the storm turned west nigh here. If we can maintain this pace, our arrival should be on time after all. Oh, are you cold?"
Gladly, Gilraen moved closer to his side, her chills subsiding the moment his arm draped around her. They remained thus for a moment. "That tea will not boil faster from my eager stare, will it?"
Glorfindel laughed. "Nor from ours both combined, I fear."
She nodded, and sought for diversion in the absence of a hot drink. "You said that rain had plagued you on your road, but I meant to ask, was your mission accomplished despite the delay?"
"To Elrond's satisfaction, I hope." His voice turned thoughtful. "But I would not mind setting out again, even soon. Rivendell, not unlike any Elf-realm, is an island in many ways, beyond which the world moves quite differently. Almost an Elf can travel from Elrond's House to Lothlórien without getting wet. But if we intend to dwell offshore unenchanted land at need or desire, it is wise knowing what to expect."
They disentangled momentarily, settling close again with steaming mugs in hand. "And you, lady? Your family seemed well, when I last supped at their table. But had you other business with the Angle?"
"Yes. It is settled. Gilbarad is determined to visit Rivendell before long, and more often. In the meantime, I have brought his missives for Elrond. I think I will not have need to return soon."
"Had you desired to?"
She considered that for a moment, next considering how to put her feelings into words, and words an Elf would best understand. At length, she said, "It is good to be home."