Onen I-Estel Edain - A Woman's Tale - Part One
Gilraen sat on the cold stone slab, looking at the still form of her lost love. A chill ran through her body, as she looked at him, unmoving. She felt numb; a small tear left the corner of her eye, and ran a path down to her cheek. She laid her hand on his breast, and rested her head on top. The bold heart that once beat only for her was forever stilled. In all her life, she had never felt such pain as she felt now. She had often been told that grief came to different people in many forms, denial, anxiety, and shock. She had never believed that anyone could sit and stare as a loved one lay unmoving before them. She believed now.
Soon, looking at her husband's still face, her thoughts began to stray to their son Aragorn. He was young, and did not know that his father, the chieftain of the Dúnedain, now lay cold in the hall of rest, the day before his burial. She remained silent, listening to the sounds of people walking outside, unaware of her presence there.
After a few brief moments of peace, Gilraen's thought's strayed once again, but this time they were not concerned with the present, but the past. She looked at her husband's face again, and remembered him as he was only four years earlier.
Spring had just began to blossom in the land of Eriador. Since the plague of Gondor many years before, a finer season had never been seen. Autumn had passed by with a flame of gold, and winter had stolen all colour from the land, leaving only the crisp white snow, and the gnarled silver birch.
Arathorn, son of the chieftain of the Dúnedain, was walking through the village, when he spied the home of his beloved. He saw her father, Dírhael, mending the sheath of his sword in the yard. Dírhael looked up and saw Arathorn, and stopped his work. The tall, stern young man began to walk towards him.
Gilraen's father moved to stand at the threshold of his home as Arathorn approached him. "Dírhael! Good day to you sir. I was wondering if perhaps I could speak for a while with your daughter?"
The older man remained silent, and beckoned to his wife. Arathorn was unnerved by Dírhael's stillness. Finally, he spoke to his wife, who had arrived at the door. "Ivorwen, call to our daughter, and see that she comes down here immediately." Gilraen's mother rushed to call her, and all the while Arathorn waited, still Dírhael never spoke a word to him.
After an eternity of waiting patiently for her, Gilraen appeared at the door. She was clad in white, with a white flower in her dark hair. Arathorn sighed deeply, aware that his palms were damp, and his throat was tight. He shifted on his feet. Long had he waited for this opportunity, but now that it arrived, he did not know whether he was anxious to do as he had promised to himself, or if his judgment would fail him. When she walked towards him, he decided to take his chance. Dírhael and his wife watched from the door.
As she stood before him, he took her hand gently, and kissed the back, then held it between his two hands. Gilraen looked at him in wonder while he strained for the right words to say.
"Gilraen, my love," Dírhael shifted his weight, and stood taller than before, but he was content to watch. "We have known each other well for many years, and for that time, found a place in each other's hearts. I would spend all eternity with you if our lives allowed it, but even though we are doomed to a mortal life, we may still spend our time together. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?" Ivorwen gasped. The shawl she had held in her hands dropped to the floor.
Before Gilraen had dared breathe, Dírhael stepped forward.
"Arathorn, you do not know what you ask of me, or of my daughter. I knew as you came to us this day that you would ask this decision of her. I make the decision in her place. She will not be wed to you; she is too young of heart and mind, and too easily swayed by romance. She will not make this decision before her time."
"Father, you do not know what it would ask of me to be parted from the man I love."
"Be silent child." Gilraen went to her mother, and watched, as her one love was lost to her before her very eyes. Dírhael turned back to Arathorn. "You and I are from the same line, and I see in you the makings of a great leader. You are a stern man of full age, and you will be chieftain sooner than looked for; yet my heart forebodes that you will be short-lived."
It was here that Ivorwen stepped forward. "The more need of haste!" Her daughter sank to the floor and wept, and as she did so, Arathorn stepped away from Dírhael to comfort her.
Ivorwen looked at them as they walked away, and then to her husband. "The days are darkening before the storm, and great things are to come. If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts."
Arathorn took Gilraen from her parents, and spoke words of comfort to her. They walked together near the riverbank, until they sat down next to it, and listened to the sound of the rushing water. Gilraen played with the water, deep in thought, and remained silent. At last, she spoke.
"When shall we be free to be together my love?"
"Perhaps your father..."
"He is no longer as a father to me."
"Come now, do not be so harsh, you know that things will be as they should soon."
"Sometimes I wonder."
Arathorn looked at her, her eyes shone still with tears that welled up again. His eyes searched hers for a while; he stroked her cheek, and kissed her hand once more. "They do not rule us my love. We do not bind ourselves to these lands as they do, and if we wish to be together, then so we shall be, despite where we may live."
"It is what I have hoped for all these long years." He smiled at her, and held her face in his hands, and kissed her in resolution.
But they never did leave the lands of their forefathers, and so Gilraen and Arathorn married, and lived happily in those lands for a short time. But only a year after their marriage, Arathorn's father Arador was slain by trolls, and it was Arathorn who was entrusted with the chieftainship of the Dúnedain.
A year later, Gilraen bore a son, who was named Aragorn II. Arathorn proved to be not only a great leader, but also a true father. And so, for the first two years of Aragorn's infancy, Arathorn protected him, and taught him as well as was possible.
Gilraen spent many days standing in their garden, watching as her husband and her son played together. She saw the light in Arathorn's eyes as he looked with growing pride at his son, and laughed as he threw him in the air, catching him again. Every time he did so, Gilraen would start, afraid that he would fall, and then sigh with relief when he landed giggling in his father's arms.
But pain and sadness were to come to Arathorn and his family. For when Aragorn was but two years of age, Arathorn had to ride away to battle against the orcs once more, with the Sons of Elrond. When the time of his parting came, a sober mood fell over his household.
Gilraen moved from her husband's resting place, and stood by the threshold of their home. She looked out to the lush pastures that lay beyond, and the dense forest, which held so many memories. A gentle breeze filled the air, and fanned her face. She could smell the sweet fragrance of the garden, and the heavy scent of pine. Only now, her senses were tarnished by grief. She did not appreciate the wonders of nature that lay before her.
Only a few weeks before, she had stood in the very same place, saying farewell to him, and bidding him to come home. Safe. She could almost feel his touch as she stood there, watching her son play in the field, as he had done so before. His dark hair rippled in the wind, and his eyes shone with delight as he chased birds from the trees. She imagined her husband standing before her; he reached for her with one hand. In her mind she took it, and felt herself move deeper into the daydream.
"Come now my love, don't worry. I will be back safe, don't cry I beg you."
He looked at her fair face, already soaked with tears. He dreaded this part of battle more than any other. Leaving her was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, and he was more afraid of it than of death itself. She looked up at him at last, and smiled at his concern. "I would never live a life without you my love." She took his hand, and held it to her lips. As she did so, his face became grave, and his tone was gentle.
"And I would never ask you to do so. I will be back safe, and this I swear to you. Do not be afraid." He kissed her forehead, and held her close. They murmured another affectionate farewell, before he left her with sorrow.
Gilraen let his hand go in despair. She stayed to watch him ride away, and her eyes rested briefly again on her son. But to her surprise he had changed. He was no longer a son of two years, but a young man, and the image of his father. He stood tall and proud, and looked content as he tended to his steed. She looked around quickly to see where her child had gone, but the only person she saw was this young man. She saw him look at her briefly; he nodded at her, and smiled affectionately.
He walked over to his father's horse, and they shared a friendly exchange. They bid each other farewell, and then, as her husband rode away, he walked away from her direction, but his gaze returned to her, he smiled knowingly once more, and pointed to a small child still at play in the field. When her gaze returned from her child, the man had gone, and her husband had disappeared also.
Gilraen thought this dream strange, and did not know the man. But she had her mother's intuition, and knew that the man was indeed her son as he would be in the future. He had the appearance of his father, though in his eyes, she had seen herself. She smiled at this, and looked again to her son as he was, playing still in the field. The day before, the Dúnedain had returned home. Their mood was solemn, and Gilraen had sensed that something was wrong.
She ran to the first rider she saw, and pleaded with him for news of her husband. His face remained grave; he placed a soothing hand on her shoulder.
"Fair lady, your husband... died in battle." She fell down to her knees, her body racked with heartache. He dismounted nimbly, picked her up tenderly, and steadied her with his arm. "Do you wish to see him?" Though the question was abrupt, his tone was soothing, and his expression sorrowful. She nodded slowly, and allowed him to lead her away.
They walked together along the mounted riders, many of whom were unscathed, but carried with them men who had lost their horses, and many who were injured in the battle. Gilraen bid Oeric (For so he was called) to stop at every man who was injured. She gave to them words of kindness, and ordered that they be taken to women who would heal them. This continued until they came to a group of men who carried upon their shoulders the fallen chieftain. They lowered him to the ground upon her arrival, and uncovered his face.
She knelt down on the ground beside him, and looked at his face. One of his eyes had been pierced by an orc's arrow. The arrow had been taken away, but the scar remained. She touched the wound lightly, and flinched as she felt his pain.
She closed his other eye, and bid him be at peace. Upon doing so, a tear left the corner of her eye and fell upon his cheek. She heard his voice calling to her from afar, and answered it. "My love, I shall never in all my days forget you."
With this, she escorted the men who carried him to his resting place, and there she stayed with him, until she heard her son call to her. "Mama!!! Mama!! Come and see!" She had gone, and stayed with him until the next day, when she returned to her husband, to be next to him again before his burial.
When she had entered the tomb, Gilraen sat next to her husband's body, and spoke softly to him, silently aware that he couldn't hear her, but not heeding the advice she gave herself.
"Do you know what our child wanted yesterday? He showed me a butterfly, and he said 'pretty'. That's all. It's as though that was all he could think of to describe it, as if it had taken his breath away." She took his hand in hers. "It reminds me of when we first met. You said that about me, that you didn't know how to describe the way you felt in words, without making the feeling sound less special."
She kissed his hand, and stroked his cheek gently, as she began to cry again. "And then, he asked me where you were..." she paused, trying to suppress the flood of tears welling up yet again. "And I told him that you'd gone away, and that... that you weren't coming back again." It was only upon saying this that the full knowledge of what had happened struck her. The tears that had been suppressed now filled her eyes, and her sight was blurred. She sat and looked at him through her tears, and thought back to their past together.
From outside she could hear one of her people singing a song of lament. It was unusual for her people to sing so, but she listened with a heavy heart to the tale they told.
Tales told reveal glory of the past,
And so it is my duty to tell
The tale of Arathorn, stern to the last,
And the story of how he fell.
Dírhael, father of Gilraen the fair
Had foreseen Arathorn's doom
He warned that Arathorn, Isildur's heir
Would be lost to the Dúnedain soon.
But Ivorwen, his wife, made so bold
To tell of the need of haste.
Her daughter, and Arathorn, she told
Had no more time to waste.
And so, four years the pair were wed,
When the king rode away once more,
Never to return to his maiden's bed
Or see again his son whom she bore.
Arathorn, son of Arador,
Where do you dwell this day?
Some day, on a distant shore,
Your son, see him, you may.
A week after her husband's death, Gilraen and Aragorn were to leave for Rivendell, where Elrond would help to care for Aragorn, as he had done for all of the chieftain's sons down through the ages. They took with them five men on horseback, and began the journey East towards the house of Elrond.
Before her home was out of sight, Gilraen turned back, and bid a silent farewell to the lands that she had grown up in, then turning away she followed her escorts to Rivendell.
After many months of riding eastward, they arrived at the house of Elrond, and it was here that Gilraen's company departed. They wished her a happy life, and bid her farewell, before turning back, and riding once more to their homeland, and to their own families.
Gilraen looked about her, and saw the beauty of Rivendell. She could hear the ford from where she stood, and looked back down the river Bruinen, by which she had travelled.
Gilraen had never seen Rivendell in her waking memory, the last time that she had seen this place was in her childhood, and at that time she had been too busy playing with the elf-children to care about the lands. Rivendell had a fresh beauty, which Gilraen would carry with her in her heart till the end of her days. The flowers, animals, and grass were the same as anywhere else, but their presence in the gardens made the place feel even more alive, more sacred. She stayed next to a large tree, covered by its shade.
And thus she stood for sometime, unsure of where to go or whom to see, until Elrond came to meet them. "Mae Govannen, Gilraen, and the heir of Isildur. I trust that you had a pleasant journey."
Aragorn, who had been chasing a bird for quite some time, ran straight into Elrond, fell on the floor, and began to giggle. Gilraen gasped, unsure of how Lord Elrond would react to such a situation. But he merely laughed, knelt down to the young boy, and took his hand. Picking him up, he looked back to Gilraen, who had now relaxed, and felt at ease with Elrond. She had known that the elves would take care of her son, and that they would educate him, and raise him into knowledge, but she had been unsure of whether such other-worldly beings were capable of loving a human child. All of her fears had now been washed away by Elrond's calm attitude towards her child. Finally she spoke to him.
"Thank you Lord Elrond, we did, and it is a pleasure to finally walk again in the gardens of Rivendell. Are we both to stay here?"
"If you so wish, my lady, you may stay here always. And your son is more than welcome. I hope that he fulfils our expectations."
"He is the only hope left for the Dúnedain." At this Elrond nodded slowly, and smiled at the young boy before him.
"Then I shall name him Estel. His true name and lineage must be kept secret - Not even he will know, for the enemy is searching for the Heir of Isildur, and I do not wish him to be found." Elrond turned to the young boy before him, who was still looking up at him with awe. "Would you like to meet your new brothers, Elrohir and Elladan?"
Here ends part one of Onen I-Estel Edain: A woman's tale.