The first time she saw him she thought that the firelight in the great hall made his glorious golden hair look as if it was on fire.
She had been timid then. Persuaded by her host to leave her rooms and venture into this public space, now that her sleeping son could be left in someone else’s care for an hour or two. It would do her good, Master Elrond said, and when she had, as before, refused he resorted to blackmail…
“How will you answer Estel’s questions about those who live in the house if you do not meet anyone?” he said. “They all know that you mourn Arathorn, many of them also knew him and regret his passing, and they admire your courage in bringing Estel here when my sons suggested it. No-one will bother you or ask more of your company than you are willing to give.”
That first night she tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. She thought it fairly easy as she was dark haired like so many here, and not as tall. But, if she was inconspicuous, the tall, golden, fire-kissed figure on the other side of the hall was the opposite.
Erestor sat beside her, answering her questions and making gentle conversation, and she asked him about the figure who so caught her eye. “Glorfindel,” he replied, and she thought never had anyone been so well named.
“He is a great warrior who now leads the warriors of Imladris, and oversees the defence of the valley,” Erestor went on. “He is unusual amongst us for, like yourselves, we Noldor are usually dark haired. But he has Vanyarin blood.”
Elrond’s counsellor paused, and then asked, “Do you know of the different lines of the elves?”
Gilraen did not. Erestor asked her if she would like to know more of the folk she needs must live amongst, for the next score or more years, for he could bring her books to read in her rooms whist she still felt unable to venture far from them. And it seemed such a kind offer that she accepted.
He saw her first as a small figure, huddled in a cloak, held to Elrohir’s chest as the brothers rode into the courtyard. But it was some months before he actually saw her face.
She entered the Hall of Fire, on Elrond’s arm, looking as if she would rather be elsewhere and would take flight if startled. Despite her hair being drawn back quite severely, in the traditional manner of the Dúnedain, she seemed to hide in Elrond’s shadow until her face was almost invisible. When Elrond left her in Erestor’s care Glorfindel found his gaze drawn towards her, more and more, as he tried to catch a glimpse of her face.
He smiled at his own efforts. He could go over, and await an introduction, but Elrond had made it clear that she was to be given time to adjust. And, really, Glorfindel knew he only wanted to ‘win’ his own personal game of trying to see what Arathorn’s wife – no, widow – looked like. At least, it was a game until he actually saw her face as she turned it up to her companion. And then he found it had a familiar look, although he could not quite place it.
It was over a week before Gilraen ventured into the Hall of Fire again, and she had read some of the books Erestor had brought her, for Aragorn… no, Estel… still took a nap in the afternoon and went to his bed early. In the first months she had simply sat and watched him, and allowed herself the luxury of tears when he could not see them, but reading was, she realised, also good for it allowed her to forget for a little. It was also a luxury, for at home she had usually been too busy, and anyway she had already read most of the available books.
Those available books had mostly been collections of cures, and recipes, or told the history of the men of Númenor. And, although she realised the books Erestor had brought her from the library here were such basic texts that they were probably meant for schooling children, they gave her the building blocks she would need to learn more.
On her second night in the Hall of Fire she found herself looking for the golden-haired warrior but, whilst there were one or two others with fair hair, none could have been named for it as he was; he was not there. However she met Lindir, the minstrel, and liked his beautiful voice not only when he sang, but when he sat and talked with her.
When he offered to come and talk with her next afternoon whilst Estel slept she worried, at first, that it would be improper; but he smiled and explained that within Elven society to visit a lady in her sitting room was most certainly acceptable. Gilraen was thankful that he only smiled and not laughed at her lack of knowledge.
Now she felt that she had two friends; she could not think of Master Elrond as one yet, despite his regular visits and kind words, for he still seemed to be as one out of legend to someone so many generations descended from his brother.
When Lindir visited he looked at the latest books from Erestor before discounting one or two as ‘written only with the head, and not the heart, which makes for very dry reading’; he suggested one or two of the others as better able to stir the soul. He also knelt to play with Estel when he awoke, and sang him nonsense songs. The last youngling in Imladris, Lindir said, had been Arathorn and he was too close to adulthood to appreciate songs meant for elflings; to teach them to Estel would be a pleasure.
This time the mention of Arathorn in Imladris sank in, through the cloud of sorrow, and she found it gave her comfort to think of him here – perhaps she should ask to see the places in the house that he had favoured…
When Master Elrond visited her next day he was greeted by Estel singing
Here down in the valley!”
The Lord of Imladris burst out laughing, and then joined in.
“My daughter used to sing that as a child,” he said.
Suddenly he seemed more like a person to Gilraen, although she had not realized until now that he had a daughter.
Out on patrol in the quiet moments Glorfindel’s thoughts drifted to Gilraen. By the third night away he realised who she reminded him of; Isildur’s wife, Valandil’s mother.
Gimlîth, her name had been, and she too had been in Imladris with a young son who would become the leader of his people. They had been there when news reached her of Isildur’s death.
Aye, although Gimlîth had born the title ‘Queen’, and Gilraen was only ‘Widow of Arathorn’, these two had much in common. Gimlîth, he recalled, also had been fair of face…
By the time Glorfindel’s patrol was over, and he returned to the great house, Gilraen had made a friend of Riniel, the head housekeeper, to add to Erestor and Lindir (and even Master Elrond himself). Riniel had shown her much of the house, including the rooms Arathorn had used which would, she said, become Estel’s when he grew older. Gilraen was, however, welcome to go and sit there whenever she liked if it would make her feel closer to her husband.
Riniel also explained that many of the inhabitants of Imladris longed to be allowed to care for Estel whilst his mother spent a little time away from him; it was not a chore, but a much sought pleasure.
And so Gilraen finally accepted an invitation to dine with Master Elrond and Erestor. She did not feel ready, yet, to eat in the great dining hall, but felt she could cope with just these two. It had not occurred to her that Glorfindel would join them.
As soon as he entered the room, Gilraen blushed.
One of those books that Lindir had suggested might ‘stir the soul’ had told of the fall of the hidden city of Gondolin, and the death of Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower at the hands of the fiery balrog. She had commented to Lindir, when he next came to visit, that one of Erestor’s earlier books had said it was rare for there to be two elves with the same name – and the minstrel had explained to her that this was the very same Glorfindel.
Now, as he walked towards her, she remembered thinking that, in the light in the great hall, his hair had looked as if it was on fire. She was extremely glad that she had not voiced that thought to Erestor at the time. The very thought of it brought the heat of embarrassment to her cheeks.
Gimlîth had been older, Glorfindel thought, as the evening sunlight fell on Gilraen’s face. Despite the dark clothing of a woman of the Dúnedain in mourning, and the shadow in her eyes, this was a young woman.
She must have a good deal of inner strength to have attracted Arathorn, a man in his prime, and then to have coped with her husband’s death and the need to flee her home, and bring the child here, where everything must be strange to her. He had heard of mature mortal women ‘fading’ and dying under less pressure.
She piqued his interest, this young Dúnedain widow; he would like to get to know her better.
By the end of the evening he knew he would get a chance to do so, quite soon, for Elrond had suggested that, if she wished to know more of Arathorn’s life when he had lived in Imladris, Glorfindel would take time to show her around his personal realm for that was where Arathorn had spent much of his time.
As Gilraen left, to return to her son, Glorfindel did wonder why she had blushed when he entered the room.
There was a strangely timeless quality about life in Imladris. Doubtless planting and harvesting, the breeding of stock, the cutting of grass for hay, and so on, must go on, but they did not impinge on the routines of those inside the house. Days lengthened, and shortened, but she had not noticed anyone store away winter clothing, or air bedding in the first spring sunshine, or bring the heavy clothes back out and add blankets to their beds as winter returned.
Slowly Gilraen began to know her way around the house, and out into the stables and the training grounds, she learnt the names of more of the inhabitants, and took her meals more often in the dining hall or with Master Elrond. She ventured into the library, and discussed books both with Erestor and with Merineth, the elleth who cared for it; she walked quite often as far as the stables and the sparring ring in the company of Glorfindel (without blushing!), and found pleasure in watching him leading warriors in their exercises. But it still seemed, at times, as if Arathorn might ride in from a long patrol and gather both her and his son up in his arms.
Instead it was the sons of Elrond who rode into the courtyard one day and, only hours later, Elladan who gathered her son in his arms and exclaimed how much he had grown this past year.
Year? Year! How could a year have passed?
And yet he was right. Estel was taller, he no longer had the chubby legs of a toddler, or the speech of one; he spoke more clearly now, and ran happily through much of the great house. It really was at least a year since these two tall, dark, warriors had arrived at her home with news of her husband’s death and then swept her up and brought her here.
When, over the next few weeks, the brothers began to take Estel on ‘adventures,’ saying that, as there were no other children for playmates, they would have to suffice, Gilraen could only shake her head and smile, for she had always thought them dour. Now they seemed more her own age than she did herself, for widowhood had left her feeling like an old woman and not one so recently come of age. Although when Elrohir suggested, very gently, that now over a year had passed, it might be time to shed her widow’s weeds and talk to Riniel about some other clothes, she did wonder if he saw her as a young woman who could now be courted.
She did as he suggested, though, and only a few nights later she went in to dinner in a dress of silver grey.
It was good to have the twins home, Glorfindel thought, especially as they seemed as if they intended to stay for a good deal longer than the two days they were here when they brought Gilraen and Estel. When he saw them laughing, and playing with the little boy, he realised just how much their laughter had been missed these past years; and also how much a small child needed playmates. He must remember to ensure that some of the younger warriors and stable-hands knew they, too, could take time to amuse Estel.
When he saw the two of them escort Gilraen into the dining hall, looking as if she was in her own patch of moonlight, he was surprised to feel a stab of jealousy. He had thought of her as his friend since he had first walked with her, out to his domain, and watched her slowly begin to look around her rather than only at her feet. On those few occasions that he had said something to cause her to smile he had counted it a small personal victory.
As the brothers saw her to a seat, and then took the places at either side of her, Glorfindel wondered if there was an ulterior motive to their decision to remain home for a while and spend time with Estel…
Master Elrond was, of course, the twins’ father and they called him Adar. Once they had declared themselves Estel’s playmates Gilraen supposed it was only a matter of time before Estel began to call them ‘muindor nín’, as they did each other, and address the master of Imladris as Ada, too.
Elladan and Elrohir came to her together and asked if she minded. She wanted to scream ‘Yes! Arathorn is his father and by now he and I should be looking towards giving our son a brother or sister!’ But that was not going to be, and if Master Elrond was happy to be addressed that way, as the twins clearly were, then it was as well, Gilraen thought, that the child have someone to call father.
When Elrohir jested that neither his brother or himself could imagine calling her Nana as Estel did, for they saw her much as a younger sister despite her son referring to them ‘my brothers’, she felt only relief.
Yet, despite being thankful that neither of the brothers seemed to have any intention of courting her, it was as if the very possibility had thawed something that had been frozen inside her. She missed the touch of her husband.
No-one here held her. Not even when she had been so traumatised in those first few weeks after her arrival. Master Elrond had touched her arm comfortingly, perhaps one or two of the healers had done likewise, she couldn’t remember. But since then, apart from the occasional guiding hand, her only physical contact with another person had been with her son.
Much though she loved Estel, much though she relished every cuddle, every kiss, it was not the same as feeling a pair of strong arms around her, of being able to rest her head on a broad chest and hear the steady heart-beat.
She began to wake with her own arms wrapped around herself almost every night. Then she woke panting and flushed; she had dreamt of kisses on her breasts and trailing down her stomach, of hands on her thighs and her backside. She had dreamt of the marriage bed and Gilraen ached for what she missed.
The men of the Dúnedain could be away from their wives for many months; there was no shame in relieving such a need in the privacy of your own bed. Doubtless the men did the same; it was not something they spoke about.
But, to Gilraen’s horror, when next she woke in that condition and did what came naturally, as she reached her peak the face she saw behind closed eyes was not Arathorn’s… but Glorfindel’s.
Knowing the twins as well as he did it soon became clear to Glorfindel that neither had any intention of a dalliance with Gilraen, nor anything more serious. They played ball with Estel, commissioned one of the carpenters to make a large set of building bricks, searched store rooms for long-forgotten toys… and paid more attention to ellyth than they had since the loss of their mother.
Elrohir told him one afternoon as they sparred that, whilst Estel had his nap, Elladan was keeping Gilraen company because she sometimes needed to talk about her family and friends with someone who knew them. Glorfindel felt as though he was exhaling a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Then he berated himself for not realising that she would have that need. In fact he was so distracted that he found himself on his back, with Elrohir’s sword at his chest, and smiled even so.
Yet Gilraen seemed to be avoiding him. That she no longer came out to the training grounds could be accounted for by the cooling weather, but he could no longer sit by her at meals for there never seemed to be an empty chair beside her, and on the evenings that she came into the Hall of Fire she tucked herself into a corner seat and invited Erestor or Lindir to join her.
When he found himself thinking that it was a good thing he knew that they were both in long term relationships, or he would have been jealous, he retired to his room and thought very hard for some time.
Estel had gone on ‘an adventure’ with Elladan and Elrohir, to visit the family who kept sheep in the small meadows further along the valley, and Gilraen thought she would take her recently finished books back to the library. She carried the books close to her chest but, just as she approached a point where two corridors crossed, one of them started to slip.
Trying to stop it dropping she didn’t really look where she was going and… oomph! She collided solidly with someone coming down the other corridor. The someone was also carrying books.
Caught between trying to stay on her feet by clutching at the other person, and trying to hold onto her armful of books, she found herself held upright by a pair of strong arms. The other person had simply dropped the books they were carrying to steady Gilraen, who was suddenly very aware of whose arms they were.
As she looked up into his face, Glorfindel looked down into hers, a serious expression in his eyes. Then, slowly, his face came closer and closer until he kissed her.
After sitting and doing some serious thinking, Glorfindel had done some serious reading, then some more serious thinking about how to approach matters.
Then ‘matters’ approached him – and not just approached him but landed in his arms.
He went to steady whoever had walked into him and realised he was holding Gilraen. He knew he should have steadied her and stepped back quickly but, to be honest, he did not want to. He looked into her eyes, and kept looking. So often she had looked away in the past, but this time she held his gaze. Her eyes were grey; usually they seemed to be the grey of storm clouds but today they seemed flecked with silver like the sea in moonlight. Glorfindel felt drawn down into them until he was only a breath away and he did what came naturally; he kissed her.
He had almost expected her to pull away. He was ready to smile and apologise. But instead he heard the books she carried tumble onto the floor, to join the ones he had dropped to steady her, and her arms came up to his neck and pulled him even closer.
Gilraen kept her eyes open; she wanted to know that this was Glorfindel; she did not want to imagine it was Arathorn. Truth to tell, it would have been hard to mistake this Elf for her dead husband; his hair was longer, he smelled different (not better or worse, just different), he was, of course, beardless, and his taste was his own, she realised, as her tongue slipped into his mouth.
She didn’t want the kiss to stop, even though they were in a very public place, but eventually Glorfindel ended it, although he did not pull away, and neither did she.
They continued to look at each other, saying nothing for minutes, and then he said “We should pick up the books before Erestor or Merineth come this way or we will be told off like elflings!”
She nodded. They bent down and somehow got entangled in each other again. Eventually Glorfindel gathered all the books up and opened the nearest door, standing aside for Gilraen to enter.
It was a small sitting room which was often used in the afternoons for embroidery or lace-making, for it faced west, but as it was only mid-morning there was no-one there and the room was in shadow.
He put the books down and smiled at her.
“If I thought for one minute that I had distressed or upset you,” he said, “I would apologise. But I did not get the impression such an apology was necessary.”
She looked at him silently for a moment or two.
“An apology would only be necessary,” she said, “if you had no intention of doing it again.”
Oh, he had every intention of doing it again now that he knew the response he would get.
“Then I certainly need not make one,” he said, as he took her in his arms again.
This time he kissed her neck, gently nipped her earlobes, ran his mouth around the shell of her ear (so easy as she wore her hair in such a severe style), and listened to her small gasps and murmurs of enjoyment. And, just as her tongue had danced with his in that first kiss, so now she kissed and nipped in return, twisting her hands in his hair.
He wanted to laugh with pleasure as she pressed herself against him and even took one of his hands in hers to bring it to her breast. When, minutes later, he put his hand to her hair to pull out the pins she was the one who laughed.
He had not heard her laugh often, and never such a laugh as this, which welled up like a new spring before tumbling, joyously, out.
Pausing he waited for her to explain.
“Men!” she said. “It looks as if male elves are just like mortal males – you always want to play with our hair.”
Glorfindel couldn’t help it – he burst out laughing too.
“Look at what you have done to mine!”
He took the pins out anyway. And then undid the two thick braids the pins had held up, until her hair was loose and fell in thick waves down her back.
“Gilraen,” he said then, holding her face in his hands, “I desire you. I want to spend all day slowly removing your clothes, learning every inch of your body, and helping you become reacquainted with pleasures you must have missed since Arathorn’s death.
“I do not want to take his place, but I know it is not expected that a man or woman of the Dúnedain remain in mourning for the rest of their life; you do not have to refrain from all bodily pleasures if your spouse dies.”
Spending all day slowly removing her clothes and so on sounded as if it would be fun – as long as she could do the same thing to him. She and Arathorn had never spent that much time doing those things; for that matter, they had rarely had the energy…
Glorfindel was still talking to her, his voice soft, but serious.
“You must understand, though, that I am not offering you marriage. When Estel is grown you may feel free to go back to your own people and marry again. But I am offering you friendship, and companionship, and the pleasure of sharing our bodies.
“And if you cannot consider fulfilling the desires of the body without marriage, then I still offer you friendship and companionship; I am old enough to exercise restraint over my desires.
“What say you, Gilraen?”
Her mind was a whirl of questions; would such a liaison need to remain a secret? What would Master Elrond think? What should she tell Estel? Was it true that Elves rarely fathered children?
But none of them seemed so important that they needed answering right now. And the very fact that she was thinking them meant that she knew what her answer was.
“Perhaps we should take the books back to the library…”
She paused. She could feel Glorfindel tense slightly, although there was not a flicker in his face.
“… before we follow your plan, for I would hate to upset Erestor or Merineth by accidentally damaging one of them whilst our thoughts were elsewhere.”
Erestor looked up as they entered the library together, and the hint of a smile lit his eyes, but he said nothing more than “Leave your books here, Glorfindel, and I will return them, for then I will know where they are.”
He took ‘Lore and Customs of the Dúnedain’ from Glorfindel without comment.
Merineth noted Gilraen’s loose hair and the way her grey eyes shone as she looked at her companion.
“Leave those with me,” she said, taking the other books, “and come back tomorrow; I do not think you will have need of reading material until then.”
When the couple left she turned to Erestor; they both spoke at the same time so that their words met and mingled.
“She is like moonlight to his sun…”
“About bloody time…”
Written for a prompt in B2MeM 2015, from Binka - "After Arathorn's death, Gilraen comes to live in Rivendell and meets Glorfindel. I would like to see these two together in a story, not too angsty preferably, that would explore their potential relationship. "
This stands alone - but I am already thinking of where it goes next, so don't be surprised if another chapter eventually comes along!