This very last minute pinch-hit was written for Larner on the occasion of the Many Paths to Tread 2012 Yule fic exchange.
Her request: I would like to see a fic in which someone is seeking to console Gandalf/Olórin for the loss or death of one of those he has come to befriend, love, and mentor somewhere within Arda. It might be one of his Maiar brothers or sisters who went over to the Enemy or who chose a service he could not share, one of the Noldor who chose to leave Valinor to return to Middle Earth, one he fought alongside during the War of Wrath, one he sought to save on the great migration to Aman, or one of many Gandalf befriended over the fifteen hundred plus years he served as one of the Wizards. Maia, Man, Elf, Dwarf, or Hobbit, he must have come to love many over his existence whose loss grieved him greatly. How does one console a Maia/Wizard?
What a bunny!
I owe many thanks to the beta of this piece, Keiliss. She sorted out much of my thoughts after I quickly wrote this prompt on short notice and later on combed through it again with many wonderful suggestions. Thank you so much!
“No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence.”
George Eliot [Mary Ann Evans] (1819-1880)
The hallways of Rivendell were unusually quiet once Gilraen returned from her personal errand. As it had become her ritual, she wanted to walk through the walkway where the chieftain’s heritage was kept, to honour what her husband had left to her. She rounded a corner and halted her steps abruptly at the unexpected sight of the tall, grey wizard on his knees in front of Narsil's effigy.
He clutched his staff as his shoulders shook violently. Feeling unsure what to do, Gilraen placed the saddlebags on the ground and knelt next to them. Somewhere she had tucked away her emergency handkerchiefs and perhaps Mithrandir had need of them. Why would he cry?
It felt strange to see him thusly, so openly close to that which was important to her husband’s kindred. The wizard never had shown much interest in her family; even though her late husband had always spoken fondly of him, and she had not spoken with him that often either, besides at certain of the main events in her short-lived marriage. It was he who had intervened on her behalf when they negotiated the betrothal and it had been he who had blessed them when they tied the knot. Mithrandir was a friendly individual, prideful surely and she liked him a great deal. But to approach him during such an intimate moment made her hesitate. How does one console a wizard? Should she console him or let him be?
Gilraen sighed. Her own grief was still so near; to see her husband’s life fade away while she held him close… then the chaos that followed, decisions hastily made and the rushed packing of her belongings. So much had happened the past weeks and only when she knew that Aragorn – no, his name was Estel now – had settled down in his new life she could take some time for herself to sort out what had been left to her. There had been no time for her pain until she entered their home, to touch his clothes and breathe in his scent that still lingered. While two rangers waited outside for her to finish, she revisited all that she had loved so much and had to let go. She knew that she still had to properly grieve.
Lost in memory, it was then she suddenly met Mithrandir’s compassionate grey eyes as he moved swiftly towards her. Startled she stepped back against the bannister, feeling unsure about what to say. Much to her surprise he said naught, and to be frank, what was there to be said between them?
I am sorry for your loss? That sounded too awkward since she did not know why he was there.
“I am sorry,” she managed to squeeze out.
“Sorry?” The wizard shot her a puzzled glance. “My dearest lady, there is nothing you should apologise for. It is I…” He clutched onto his staff for support and then she noticed the brief red flare coming from his hand.
“Yes, I interrupted a private moment. For that I wish to apologise.”
“There has never been much privacy for you, dear lady; I had wished to give you more years of that. However, I have failed you, and him and his line…” Mithrandir answered gravely. “I have watched this house for so long; after the death of Arathorn the First it became clear to me how fragile the line of chieftains had become. If my duty had not directed me elsewhere, I could have…”
Gilraen stood there silently and fought back her own tears. Of course she had wondered the past weeks at her husband’s folly, to ride out with Elladan and Elrohir so brashly. Yet, she knew, there was nothing that she could have said or done to keep him at home, not at the cost of him forsaking his loyalty to those two. Yet the price they had to pay was so high and inhuman for her and her son. She fought hard to find the words, she did not want the wizard to walk away without a word.
“Arathorn....” She paused and calmed herself. “He has always been a very responsible husband and son. And I knew, as well as you do know for you have heard my mother’s words, that what we had would be short-lived. That it would come so soon… There was naught you could have done. It is something we have to accept.”
“You are far too wise for your age, Lady Gilraen,” Mithrandir replied. “All prophecies aside, the burden placed upon your shoulders is huge. They may think that the hunt has ended, yet the cost…”
Fighting her own tears, Gilraen felt that she needed to sit down. “Mithrandir, if you may excuse me?”
“Of course, how can I forget?” With an unsuspected grace he helped her to sit down and settled next to her. “Arathorn has always been serious about his duties. Betimes I worried about him, for I do believe that there should be joy in a childhood as well. His father and grandfather before that were different. Of course they were firm chieftains in their own might, but there was something with your late husband, as if he was a soul reborn.”
“Reborn?” Gilraen answered puzzled. “Is it not so that our kindred have a different fate than the elven kind?”
“Yes, that is true. Eru’s gift to men is final, yet there was something behind his grey eyes, the way he carried himself… When he was with you, I could see how that veil was lifted,” the wizard replied and rubbed his knees. “When he was born, he would giggle often, yet once he started to talk and walk it was as if the doom of his house overshadowed him. I found it strange, Elrond was worried as well, and he grew up to be a grave and stern man. Perhaps I perceived that which your mother had prophesized.”
“I did not know that you knew him as a child.” Gilraen spoke softly.
“If I came here on an errand, yes. I saw him grow up and could teach him what he wanted to learn. I watched him go on his first mission as one of them and at times when we spoke in the wilds I saw how he fell in love with you,” Mithrandir replied. “He had a keen interest in the tales of old.”
“That was one of the things that we shared. My father respected him for the vast knowledge he had regarding this. So you see, you did contribute to something very important in our lives,” she said and gingerly touched his hand. Much to her surprise he allowed it and let her hand rest upon his.
“Ah, Dírhael, yes. How fortunate that it proved to cement their relationship, for he did not trust Arathorn at all. I am glad that you see it thus. Gilraen, I am sorry for your loss,” the Maia said gravely, “I worry for your little son and I promise you that I will not fail him as I failed his father.”
“Many worry about him,” Gilraen stated. “I will watch over him in the years to come. That I promised. It is his secret that must be kept at all cost.”
“His people will wander, but be assured that they will be led for I have need of them. Too much is at stake still.” Mithrandir sighed and rose to his feet. He stood there for a moment before he offered her a hand. “I cannot ease your pain, dear lady.”
“None can and none shall. I have to stay strong and build a foundation for my child that later in life he can rely upon. Of course I can give in: it is the easiest thing to do. I ask myself then if this is what Arathorn would have wanted. He of all people knew how hard it is to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart at such a loss.” Gilraen paused, remembering her husband’s resolve to stand up as a fearless leader to his people after his father had died.
“Everyone looks at me, wondering, and most likely they ask themselves why I do not show any of my pain. I am merely following his example, to do as he would have wished to see. I have to stay strong now. It is I who will have to teach my son what Estel means when Amdír fails. I am his everything now. It is just that if I know for certain that he will come of age without being pursued, then I can find my peace in the end,” Gilraen answered and could not stop the tears that she had fought for so long. “It is all I have left now. That is all I can offer.”
“Then our duty is clear to us both. You may only think to show your son what Estel means, but you have also renewed mine. It is not for me to falter, nonetheless even my kindred can feel lost and without purpose. Grief can cloud our judgement and hold sway over our hearts as well. In Arda marred we can also feel the pain of loss. It is your true strength that gives me that purpose,” the wizard said and fixed his gaze on the shards of Isildur’s blade. “It is not for me to give false hope, and yet… Gilraen, my heart tells me that he might be the one. I perceive that he will bring the change this world longs for.”
“In that event we must trust to hope, and hope that we remain strong enough to see him and my people through,” she answered quietly.
“As children of Eru we must. Your child binds us all together for a greater purpose; and to be reminded of this is a great comfort to me. For that I thank you.” Gilraen felt grateful when she heard how the firm resolve had returned in his voice.
“Then my heart feels glad that we have spoken and that I have offered a little comfort where I could. For if you share this pain that I feel, I think that many years shall pass before this loss becomes bearable,” she said and offered him a smile. His eyes were stern at first, but then his lips quirked in a smile and she saw how his hope was rekindled.
“May Estel bring you joy and laughter during those years, Gilraen. Let his laughter be the balm for your wounds and may you look back on the years spent together with love and gratitude.” Mithrandir smiled, as he brought her hands to his lips. It was a brief touch that she felt upon her skin and she let him walk away in silence, feeling that no further words were needed after so much already had been said.
“No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence.”
Chapter End Notes:
Much inspiration for this piece comes from Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth where both discuss ‘Estel’ and ‘Amdír’, the fate of men compared to that of elves and the basic foundation of trust in Eru, the allfather. You can find this discussion in Morgoth’s Ring, the History of Middle-earth part 11.
For those unfamiliar with that piece Tolkien once wrote, I will cite the following:
'What is hope?' she said. 'An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.'
'That is one thing that Men call "hope",' said Finrod. 'Amdír we call it, "looking up". But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is "trust". It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy. Amdír you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?'
I wrote this story on New Year’s Day as a replacement for someone else, but with my novel in progress called Star Wanderer in mind. So one can see this short story as part of that verse. When I read the prompt, my Gilraen muse immediately stepped up the plate, thusly she had this conversation with Gandalf.