Is it wrong for me to love one so far above me? One who has helped me, guarded me, provided for me? One who took me in when I arrived, terrified, with a tiny child and nothing else? One who has counseled me, comforted me, healed me body and soul? For I am Gilraen, widow of Arathorn and mother of Aragorn, and I love Elrond Half-elven, even though it is a hopeless and desperate love.
When I first arrived at Imladris, Aragorn’s sleeping body a heavy weight in my arms, all faces were a blur until I saw Elrond. Tall, with hair of ebony and eyes like the brightest stars, he was like a young god. It was the kindness on his face that was my undoing; ever was I accustomed to the harsh remoteness of the Dúnedain. Their coldness had begun to freeze me, but one glance from Elrond’s eyes of warm silver, and I kindled like paper. I looked upon him, and I loved him.
The past week had been a confusing misery. I had not loved Arathorn, but he had been a fine husband and ours had been a good marriage. I had never regretted my decision to wed him, until the moment I laid eyes upon the Peredhil. My mind, overtaxed with the implications of Arathorn’s death, and my heart, wrenched by misery and care, could not bear the addition of a lightning-strike of ardor as well, and I felt my son slip from my arms as consciousness faded.
I awoke to find myself in the arms of Elrond himself, being carried toward some distant room to recover, and would have swooned a second time were I not already aloft. I fear, then, that I shamed myself profoundly, for as if watching from a great distance, I saw my arms creep around his neck, and heard my voice whisper to him, words of devotion and desire that should never have been conceived, let alone expressed.
He said nothing, even when I pressed my lips to his warm throat and tasted the smooth skin there. Nor did he speak when I threaded my fingers through the silk of his hair, when I twisted against him to feel the hard wall of his chest against my breasts. He hissed once, when my hand brushed against the delicate point of his ear, but it was quickly stifled and once more he fell silent, ignoring me as best he could.
Elrond kicked open the door to my new chamber with somewhat more force than was strictly necessary, but his actions were infinitely gentle as he lay me on the bed. I stared up at him, brushing aside a stray strand of hair and knowing my eyes smoldered with want as I gazed upon his fair form. Accustomed as I was to the long-lived Dúnedain, still it was amazing to think that this elf before me, who appeared no older than I at six and twenty, could be over six thousand years of age.
“Please,” I said, wanting to touch him again, wanting to feel him pressed to me once more. “Please, I love you.” I began to unlace the front of my gown, wanting to offer myself to him, wanting to bare myself for him. “Please.”
He touched me once more, but not as I had wanted. He stilled my hands, preventing the lace from slipping through another grommet. Leaning over me as he was caused his hair to slip over his shoulders and cascade onto my chest, and I wrenched my hands from his grasp to take up fistfuls of it. It was cool and smooth, and I brought one handful to my lips whilst pressing the other to whatever flesh I had managed to bare.
“I want you so,” I murmured, my voice hoarse, and kissed the lock of hair I still held to my face. “Please, take me. Fill me.” Pain and sadness threatened to overcome me, and I felt tears fill my eyes, blurring the sight of him before me. “Fill me with yourself.”
But Elrond disentangled his hair from my clutching fingers and stepped back. No candles had yet been lit, and no fire burnt in the grate, so the room was draped in shadows where the moonlight did not touch. His face, half-hidden in the gloom, was inscrutable, and I felt humiliation begin to burn away my lust. Now clumsy with embarrassment, my hands fumbled as I tried to lace my gown together once more, and tears slipped down my shame-scalded face.
Then his hands were there again, brushing mine away to finish the job. I lay back and gave voice to my sobs, shuddering as I wept, unheeding of how I was drenching my hair as the tears ran past my temples. As he ministered to me, I knew that there was no hope for me with him, and another pain grew in my heart to sit beside the one I carried for my poor husband, mourned but unloved.
Tying the lace in a tidy knot, Elrond straightened again and surveyed me. “Well I understand grief, Lady Gilraen,” he told me, the first words he had ever spoken to me. “I have borne much of my own. And I have felt the gnawing anguish and fear of losing one who was loved dearly. Even do I feel the keenness of loneliness, of being without my mate, that you now feel.” He paused a moment, and the compassion glowing on his face would have undone me, were I not already undone. “But it is not for me to replace he who you have lost, though it might bring you comfort for a short while.”
“No,” I croaked, feeling strangled by my thick throat. “You misunderstand; I grieve for my husband, yes, because he was a fine man, and our people will sorely feel his loss. But do not mistake what I have said as mere grief, for it is not.” I sat up, tucking my tear-damp hair behind my ears and looking up at him earnestly, needing him to understand and believe me, for I somehow knew this would be the only time I would have to speak of my love for him.
I stood, and took a tentative step toward him. “Hear me, Lord of Imladris. “I have never loved another, never wanted another, as I love and want you. If it is possible to love at first sight, I have done it, for from my first sight of you, it was clear that there is none other for me, not before, and never again.”
Elrond raised his hand and placed it along my face. It was warm, and the blessed power of the Eldar pulsed against me. I closed my eyes, searing the feel of his warmth and proximity into my memory. “You honour me,” he said, a strange note to his voice, and my eyes flew open in time to see his face approach. He kissed me then, chastely and with closed lips, more an act of benediction than passion. Pulling back, he smiled faintly. “But it is an honour I cannot return, for I am wed already.”
I knew this, just as I knew his wife had sailed west almost four hundred years previously, but it was the death-knell of the tremulous and stubborn hopes that had taken root within me. Looking up into his starlit eyes, I saw the flicker of loneliness and longing within them, and felt pain on his behalf as well as anger at his wife. How could she leave him? How could she condemn him to a life of solitude? How could she deny him the comfort of her body?
“Do not hate her,” he told me, correctly reading my expression. “She was ill-used, and would have died from sorrow had she not left. Even so, I will not betray her. We will once again find each other, in this age or the next.”
I covered his hand on my face with my own, pressing it hard against me, feeling the tendons and fine bones beneath his skin, and tried to stifle the resentment I felt at the elleth who had had what I so dearly and desperately wanted, and thrown it away. Gently, he disengaged himself from my grasp and stepped back. “My sons have taken Aragorn, and will tend him this night. Your belongings shall be brought to you.” I blinked, feeling this determinedly normal intercourse as shockingly as a dash of cold water against me. “Is there aught else you require?”
“No,” I replied faintly, groping for the bed behind me once more as I felt fatigue begin to overcome me. “No, I need aught but you.”
“That is the only thing I cannot give you,” Elrond replied sadly. “Sleep now,” he said, a soothing cadence to his voice that had not been there before, and I curled up on the bed against my will, lowering my head to the pillow and feeling my traitorous eyes closing thought I would have preferred to keep them fixed upon him. “Sleep now.”
~ * ~
The next morning brought a new sense of perspective. My love for Elrond burned just as hotly as the night before, but it was joined by a fierce sense of humiliation and horror for my actions, and I resolved to never leave the room again.
However, when one has a small child, resolutions mean little. Aragorn refused to eat breakfast without me there, and I reluctantly followed Elrohir down to the dining hall. In spite of my embarrassment and, yes, my sorrow over Arathorn’s passing, the sight of my son with tiny arms crossed over his chest, resolute in his determination to fast until I arrived, brought a smile to my face. The determined jut of his chin reminded me strongly of Arathorn just then, and in response to his innocent query of, “Mama, porridge?” I snatched him up and wept all over his curly head.
It wasn’t until I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to find Elrond beside me that I realized one of the twins had gone to fetch their father. To my horror, I began to babble something about getting a speck in my eye and tried to exit the hall with as much speed as long skirts and a wriggling, porridge-smeared child would permit, but soon found Aragorn plucked from my grasp and Elrond grasping my arms and marching me toward a chair.
Sucking in a breath, I wiped at my eyes and found that the twins had disappeared once more with my son, leaving me alone with Elrond. This morning he wore a long tunic of emerald velvet that emphasized the lean power of his frame, and a bolt of longing shot through me. “Oh, let me go,” I moaned, looking past him for the closest exit.
But he would not release me, and looked ready to spring in front of whichever door I made for. “How will you live here, if you cannot remain in my presence?” he asked, and there was a hint of humour in his tone that made my cheeks burn.
“Will I live here?” I asked, somewhat nastily. “How can I stay, knowing what I said to you last night? What I did?”
“What you tried to do,” he corrected. “And you must stay, for your safety, and the safety of your son. Should be perish without issue, there will be no heir to reclaim Elendil’s throne.”
“Is that so important?” I asked, impassioned. Though I was of the Dúnedain myself, though I had the same blood, however thinned, that coursed through Elrond’s very veins, never had I understood the necessity of reclaiming the realms of Gondor and Arnor.
“Yes,” he replied simply, the full conviction of millennia in his single word, and my shoulders slumped in resignation.
“Then… perhaps I should leave Aragorn here with you.” I could not think of how I could possibly survive, seeing Elrond each day. My chest ached as if burdened by the weight of a mountain.
“Indeed not,” he said immediately. “He has just lost his father; would you also deny him his mother?”
Shame, now more familiar a sentiment to me than I would have preferred, filled me. “No,” I whispered. “It just… hurts so much.”
The disapproval on his face melted into comprehension and sympathy. “I am sorry for that,” he replied, taking up one of my hands in both of his and pressing it briefly, wanting to bring comfort until he saw how it affected me, and dropped it just as quickly. “I am sorry,” he repeated. “But it is a pain you must learn to endure.” The gentleness of his tone gentled the harshness of the words. “You must think of your son, and his importance to two nations of people. There is more to consider than the concerns of a single heart.”
I flinched at his wording; he had not meant to reinforce the fact that he remained unaffected by me, but there it was, nonetheless. “Yes,” I agreed, feeling the sharp tang of bitterness flood me. “Of what importance is a single heart?”
Elrond tried to speak to me more, to ease that bitterness, but I was done with feeling humiliated by my feelings for him, and how they had brought me naught but embarrassment. I was the widow of the Dúnedain’s chieftain, and descended from a dozen more. Scraping together whatever bits of pride were left to me, I help up a hand, halting his words.
“There is naught you can do now, Lord Half-Elven. I have laid bare my soul; you have rejected me. There is nothing else for me but spend the rest of my life, hidden amongst a foreign people, and raise my son to be the saviour of Men.” I smoothed my porridge-smeared skirts with trembling fingers. “It is a destiny that cannot be delayed any longer.” And I left him standing there, head held high and gaze straight before me, even as I wanted to sink to the ground at his feet, to cling to his knees and beg him to love me in return.
~ * ~
I tried to keep away from him as much as I could in the ensuing years. It was not hard; he was a busy elf-lord, and even occupied with matters of import and family.