Chapter Six: Knowledge

A/N: This chapter may or may not be excessively sappy. Let me know if the sugar in here is diabetes-inducing.

Arathorn appeared to have recovered from his swoon; he was, for reasons unknown to me, staring into my eyes. His gaze was full of a strange mingled joy and wonderment, and as the moment lengthened, I could feel myself flush.

"Arathorn? Are you- all right?" I asked, wrenching my gaze from his and fiddling with a loose thread in my sleeve. Why was I so very awkward with this man? I released my breath in an unladylike snort, indignant at the realization that I as falling- nay, had fallen- in love with a relative stranger I had met but a few hours ago.

"I have never been better," he answered, his voice deep. Many of the village men had tired to romance me, over the years- but never once had my heart fluttered with in me, nor had my voice failed, nor had my knees trembled, as they did when Arathorn spoke. Long had I scorned the blushing maidens of the village when they proclaimed their love for this man or that man mere moments after meeting the object of their affections. I had seen t he results of such hasty decisions, as the same women who had smiled and coquetted and simpered thrashed and screamed on childbed, cursing their husbands and themselves, ruing their own foolishness and its consequence.

"My dear Gilraen," my mother said suddenly, jolting me out of my reverie. "You have erred in bringing me your suitor, for think you that I will ignore a man so handsome in my home for long, though he is already spoken for? It would be ill indeed for you, were your beloved to fall into the clutches of an evil old woman such as myself…"

Arathorn blushed, and I rolled my eyes at my mother's ribald humor. She coughed, a spasm that racked her whole body. "Go now, and leave an old woman to her rest."

I looked at her quizzically, knowing that she wanted no such thing. It was difficult enough to force her to rest, even when she needed it desperately between bouts of the long illness that had haunted her so long.

She smiled at me, and winked, though her eyes were sad. With an imperious gesture, she banished Arathorn.

"Please, sir, be kind enough to allow an old woman to trade a few words with her daughter alone for a moment. I will not keep her long."

Arathorn stood obediently, bowed courteously to my mother and I, and exited. The moment he was out the door, I turned to my mother.

"Mother, I know that you do not truly wish to rest! Unless there has been a dire change in your temperament since last we spoke, some plot or trickery must be afoot."

"No plot and no trickery is afoot, my Gilraen.," she answered. "I wish only to speak with you, for there is much I would say that has been too long delayed."

I sighed. "Will you now try to amend for the past? That wound is bound and closed, and the scars beyond repair or regret."

My mother sighed, and took my hand in both of hers, holding it gently, as though it were a fragile bird whose bones she was afraid of breaking, but must keep grasp of lest it flutter away.

"You are very beautiful, Gilraen. Did you know that on your next birthday, you will be the same age I was when I married your father?"

I looked up in mild surprise. "I knew not that you were as old as I when you were married."

She smiled. "You are not the only woman who waited long years before finding her true love. Ah yes, I found him when I was two-and-thirty. He, too, was a wandering Ranger. His name was Arador, son of Aragonui."

I started in shock. "Arador? But- my father-"

"Arador did not return my affections, though he did not discourage my intentions as swiftly as he might have. I was very beautiful then, and he is only human. But when he told me that he did not love me, it- it broke my heart. I turned away from him, and when Dirhael son of Lorend confessed to me his own love, I wedded him out of some misguided spite."

"You did not love my father, then?"

"He was a fine man, and tried to make me happy as best he could. But no man could ever take the place of Arador; I fear that a certain weakness for the men of that family was passed down to you, my daughter…"

"The daughter you never wanted."

My mother sighed. "Understand, my Gilraen, that I did not love your father, nor did I wish for a child. I am sorry I did not prove as good of a mother as I wish I had been now."

At her words, old bitterness that I thought had been long buried rushed up to my tongue.

"'As good of a mother'? You gave me to a midwife long before the proper age of apprenticeship rather than deign to raise me yourself!"

There was a long silence after this statement, in which I realized that I was crying, the tears spilling silently from my eyes and spilling down my face.

"I know I am not worthy of a daughter so beautiful," my mother said softly, "and I know that I lost my chance of considering myself truly your mother. I ask only one thing: that you forgive me."

I turned away, wiping my eyes. "You bring back memories that would be better buried. You were so very beautiful back then, and I wanted you to love me more than I have ever wanted anything in my life. But you never even looked back."

"Gilraen, I am dying. I have seen my death; it is a gift granted to the Dunedain, that we may foresee our manner and time of dying. I have only a few months at most. I wanted you to forgive me, before I die."

I turned back to her, anger boiling within me. "Do you truly believe that with one word you can repair all those years of abandonment?"

"No. They can never be truly repaired. But- I- I know that I erred. Each time I see you, I see also the chance I lost; that no part of me is reflected in you, my only daughter. I made the greatest mistake of my life the day I gave you away. I cannot yet forgive myself; what right have I to ask you for absolution?" She turned away, spilling her own tears.

"No, I- I am sorry, mother." I grasped her shoulder and turned her gently, to face me. "I mourned the loss of a mother long ago. I realize now that I gave you up too soon."

"For many years, I ignored you. And now, shackled by my illness, I am nothing but a burden upon you!"

"What is a midwife but a healer? I would be a poor one indeed if I could not provide such services as I am equipped to give you." On impulse, I drew her close and hugged her; it was the first embrace between us that I could remember for a long time. She was so frail, so weak, so thin! If I had wished, I could have snapped her backbone with my bare hands.

"I love you, Gilraen." Her voice was thick with emotion.

"I love you too, mother."

"Now go," she whispered, gesturing towards the door. "Your life awaits you."

Wiping away the tears that still streamed down my face, I obeyed. Arathorn took my arm, and slowly we began to walk away. I turned once, to look again at the house that I had lived in for so many years. My mother stood in the doorway, her white hair whipping about her in the wind. With tears glistening in her eyes, she raised one hand in a silent farewell.