A/N: Arathorn and Gilraen, one of my favorite couples in the book (and Faramir and Eó wyn, and Galadriel and Celeborn, and…) ^.^ I always imagined Gilraen as spirited and kick-ass, and, well…this was spawned in the depths of my strange-odd brain! *grin* And…of course…review!

Disclaimer: Not mine. Not the Mary-Sue writers', either. Hear that whirring in the distance? That's Tolkien turning in his grave. *listens intently* my bad…he's not turning…he's spinning…

One Afternoon By The River

By Thalia Weaver

Chapter One: Gilraen

It was laundry day in the village, and one and all, from the youngest maid to the oldest grandmother, were bringing their soiled clothing to the river to wash. It was my turn to bring our basket to the flowing Anduin that day, and I relished the chance to leave our musty, straw-smelling home.

My mother was sick, and my father was dead; my sisters and brother had long ago left to be married. It was only I, the spinster Gilraen, that was left to help our mother in her last days. It was my midwife business that kept us alive, and none in the village dared show me disrespect for fear of being left alone when their wives were straining and pained in the agony of childbirth.

"Be careful, Gilraen," my mother called from her bed, in the soft voice that had secretly begun to grate upon my ears in the last months- my life was becoming too dull and repetitive for my taste.

"I will, Mother," I called, exasperated. I was one-and-thirty, and yet my mother could not yet accept that I was full-grown.

My resentment vanished as soon as I left our dark cottage, full of the rank smells of my mother's sickness. The day was young and beautiful, the sun shining with a deep golden radiance that filled my bones and warmed me deeply. Even laden with our heavy basket, a spring came into my step- the village was beautiful with the sunlight shining in the thatch of the roofs, giving the illusion that the houses were made of gold. A small smile flitted over my face as I thought of the dirty, dingy interiors of those very houses, filled with the screams of women straining in childbirth, and the golden illusion that they presented now.

After a few more minutes' walk through a small section of woods that bordered our village and separated it from the river, I reached the flowing banks of the Anduin. Hearing the chatter of the other women, I moved farther downstream- having no husband and no suitor, I found myself left out of the conversations, and long experience told me solitude was more peaceful than the company of the village gossips.

The water was clear, the current strong. I kneeled, placing the basket on the ground beside me. Methodically and carefully- we did not have many clothes, and it would not do to lose them to the river- I began sorting and washing the clothes, soaking them carefully in the water and scrubbing them with a bar of the rough lye soap the villagers sold- this particular bar had been given to me as a gift for successfully delivering a set of twins to a formerly childless couple. The memory was a happy one, and it fit the day; the cold water felt wonderful against my skin after weeks of the tepid well water in the village, and the sunlight shining through the green leaves was enough to make anyone forget his or her troubles. I lifted the last item in the basket to the light, and as always sucked in an appreciative breath at the beauty of the cloth. It was a Haradri silk scarf my mother's mother had bought from a traveling merchant, and even after many years it still retained its loveliness. I smiled and began washing it.

And then a low growl came from the trees behind me, guttural and unpleasant.

"We've had good fortune, Morhen…a pretty woman in a lonely stretch of river…mayhap she needs someone to keep 'er company."

"Mayhap she does, an' mayhap we'll give 'er more than company!"

My blood ran ice as laughter echoed from behind me. I obeyed my first, powerful instinct, leaped to my feet, and began to run. A strong arm caught my waist.

"Now, where are ye goin'? Surely ye won't desert us without a bit o' fun, will ye?"

A large hand slid down my thigh, while another reached up and covered my mouth. I smelled liquor on the breath of my unknown assailant. He was large, I could tell- I was tall for a woman, and yet I barely reached his neck, and his hands were very big.

I was not helpless, however. No one attacks a Dú nedan this way, even a woman, I thought grimly, and went limp in his arms. He loosened his grip, surprised, and I dug my elbow into his groin. He grunted and pushed me forward awkwardly, doubling up in pain. I lost my balance and, swinging my arms wildly, I fell into the river, the swift-flowing current carrying me flailing downstream.

I choked and went under. The last thing I saw before darkness took me was my grandmother's scarf, trailing like a blood-colored banner before me…