Dead Elvish Writers by Suzelle

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Story Notes:

Originally posted in various other archives on 12/21/13. 


Author's Chapter Notes:

With great thanks to my betas, Cairistiona and Zopyrus, who made this far better than it was at the start.


T.A. 2957

Gilraen gave a start as her balcony window clattered open against the wind, and bit out a soft curse as a gust blew a drift of snow into the room. She should have alerted someone to the broken latch weeks ago, but she had spent so little time in her sewing room as of late the thought kept slipping from her mind. She rose from her chair to shut the window, but paused and poked her head outside as the faint sound of hoofbeats broke through the mid-morning quiet.

She stepped through the doorway and leaned against the balcony, abandoning her sewing inside to watch the five riders come in through the gates. The snow was still only falling lightly in spite of the wind, and she took in a deep breath of crisp winter air as she gazed out the sight of the dusted rooftops below. She had asked Lord Elrond soon after Aragorn came of age if she might move to rooms closer to the center of Rivendell, and even now, years later, she marveled at the change. There were times she missed the quiet that her more secluded quarters with Estel had afforded her, but the stark view of the Valley and the main courtyard below could not be matched. Tucked off to the far side of the courtyard, she could see all who came and went from the front gate of the Last Homely House without any obstruction, but with little worry of those below spotting her. At times it made her feel more than a bit nosy, but it saved her the trouble of having to pick up gossip secondhand from the kitchen maids. 

“What heathen raised you to stand outside without a cloak in such weather?” Gilraen heard her mother’s teasing voice before she saw her, and Ivorwen stepped out onto the balcony, a heavy cloak wrapped around her and a spare mantle in her hand for Gilraen. “Here, take this, before you catch the death of cold.” 

Gilraen hid her smile as she took the mantle from Ivorwen and wrapped it around her shoulders. It would not do to admit aloud how she had missed her mother’s fussing over the years, nor how much comfort her parents’ prolonged visit to Imladris had brought her these past few weeks.

“I did not intend to stay out for very long,” she said. “I only wished to see who had come through the gates.”

By this time the newcomers had all dismounted from their horses. Though it was difficult to tell under their dark green cloaks, all five of them appeared to be female, and Gilraen narrowed her eyes as she bent over the railing to get a better look. There was something familiar about the tallest figure…

“Imladris is popular this time of year, it seems,” Ivorwen observed. “This is the third new party I’ve seen arrive this week.”

“Elrond always seems to receive the greatest number of visitors these last weeks before the snows grow too heavy,” Gilraen replied. “Many of the woodland Elves prefer to spend their winters in the Valley if they can, and the closer we get to Mettarë the more people wish to be reunited with their families.”

She gazed back down at the courtyard, where Lord Elrond was now approaching the new arrivals. The tallest one threw back her hood, and Gilraen had her suspicions confirmed as Arwen Undómiel returned her father’s embrace. 

“So, is that her?” Ivorwen murmured. “The Elven lady who has captured my grandson’s heart?”

“Mother!” Gilraen turned to her in shock. “What do you know of it?”

“Enough,” Ivorwen replied. “It’s been the only source of contention between him and the captains, you know, ever since he returned to us. The sole surviving heir—of course they were going to press for an early marriage. But each year he has refused.”

“But what do they know of Elrond’s daughter?” Gilraen demanded. “What has he said to you?”

“Nothing so specific,” Ivorwen reassured her. “He gives one bland excuse after another to the captains, but it’s been plain to me from the start that his heart belonged to one he left behind in Rivendell. I drew it out of him a couple of years ago, after he’d had a particularly heated argument about the issue with your father. As far as I know, no one else knows the full truth save for Halbarad.”

“Well, that’s something,” Gilraen sighed in relief. For the first time since he had departed for his great errantries abroad, Gilraen was grateful that her son was somewhere far beyond the Misty Mountains, and nowhere near to the lady who had stolen his heart. Since the revelation of his true heritage Aragorn had only returned to Imladris a handful of times, but on nearly every visit Arwen had also happened to be present, giving him plenty of chances to encounter the Lady of Rivendell and rekindle his infatuation with her.

Or so Gilraen suspected. Ever since her initial conversation with him on the matter, all those years ago, she had chosen to remove herself from such details of her son’s life. She did not wish to interfere any further, but it was clear enough that his love for the Evenstar had only increased with time. As for Arwen…Gilraen shook her head as she ran a hand through her hair. Even after a quarter-century’s experience gained in discerning the more measured expressions of Elves, she found the Lady of Rivendell impossible to read. 

“Seven years, and his love has not abated,” Gilraen said at last. “I am not even certain she was aware of his feelings for her, and if so thought them nothing more than a youthful fancy. Elrond and I hoped the same, and made it clear enough that she was too far above him. None of us anticipated that his stubbornness would extend to his romantic endeavors.”

“Hmph,” Ivorwen sniffed. “Well, your foresight failed you in that respect, ield-nín. Anyone with eyes can see the same look about him that Arathorn had when he was courting you.”

“Oh, come now, Mama,” Gilraen said in exasperation. “I was not so high in station as Arwen the Fair, and was far more eager to enter such a union than she shall ever be. Besides, women’s hearts aside, I doubt Lord Elrond would be swayed as easily as Ada was.”

“Precisely,” Ivorwen agreed.

Below them, Arwen laughed at something one of her handmaidens had said, and she took her father’s arm as he led her out of the snowy courtyard and into the great hall.

“The very spirit of Luthien,” Ivorwen sighed. “He was not mistaken in that. Still, show me one Dúnedain lass who cannot match her for strength and wit. He is chasing an overblown legend, and nothing more.”

“None of us can deny that,” Gilraen replied. “But I suppose it should not surprise us that he set his sights on legend, and nothing less.”

“Just be grateful your father has not figured it out yet himself,” Ivorwen warned. “Otherwise I could not guarantee a diplomatic showing from the House of Aranarth while she is here.”

“And you, Mama?” Gilraen raised an eyebrow. “Can I trust you to remember we are guests in her father’s house?”

“I know when to hold my tongue, child,” Ivorwen smiled. “They would not still allow me to sit in on the captains’ councils otherwise. ”

***
Had they met under different circumstances, Gilraen imagined she would have quite liked the lady Arwen. She carried the same grace and humor as her father, and though she commanded a queenly authority, she never showed herself to be above the more menial tasks that accompanied life in Rivendell. During her prior stays, Gilraen had encountered her more often than not at a loom or in the kitchens, assisting where she was needed. Indeed, had the awkward subject of Aragorn not stood between them, Gilraen would have welcomed the chance to work alongside Arwen and learn more of the Elven lore she was sure she possessed.

As things stood, however, she was always careful to keep her distance with Elrond’s daughter, and could never quite shake the feelings of discomfort and apprehension in her presence—not to mention a mother’s quiet indignation at the knowledge that her son would never be considered good enough for his beloved. Arwen, she could only assume, harbored similar feelings towards Gilraen, for the two had never exchanged much beyond formal pleasantries in all the years she had spent in and out of Imladris. Elrond's welcome feast that night proved to be no exception, for after Gilraen introduced Arwen to her parents, she went off to join her own family at the high table.

The meal proved to be as delightful as any feast of Rivendell, and after the tables were cleared Elrond took Arwen’s arm, and the two led the way back towards the Hall of Fire. Gilraen let out a small sigh of contentment as she settled into her usual chair, slightly removed from the center of the hall. She always seemed to enjoy herself here the most in the wintertime—the fires of the great hearth seemed to burn even brighter than usual against the darkness that came with the snows, a bastion against the shortening days and gloomy months ahead. To the side, she spotted her friend Merineth laughing with Dírhael, and smiled in satisfaction as she noted that her father had finally shed his gruff exterior around the Elves, and brought forth the mirthful disposition that those outside his family rarely saw.

“Your father is an absolute treasure, Gilraen,” Merineth murmured as she took a seat beside her, “and your mother as well. You ought to have brought them both up to Imladris years ago!”

“They would not have come,” Gilraen laughed. “As it is, my father’s health is the only thing that could have persuaded him to leave the Angle.”

“More’s the pity,” Merineth said. “We see Men so rarely in these times. I suppose all we can do is hope that he now sees that there is more to draw him here than simply the houses of healing.”

“You do not know my father,” Gilraen shook her head. “The richness of these halls cannot hold his interest for longer than a week or so. The only reason he remains now is because he cannot remember the last time he spent Mettarë with his daughter.”

“Well, you ought to remind him that there are plenty more holidays he could spend with you here,” Merineth smiled.

Gilraen suppressed a sigh. She had not yet told her friends in Rivendell about her tentative plans to return to the Angle in the spring, and it was a conversation she did not look forward to having.

Her thoughts were broken by the sound of a familiar tune, and she turned to a pair of Elves near the front of the hall who had begun to sing:

“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
the hemlock-umbels tall and fair…”

Gilraen let out a small groan, and could not stop herself from sinking down ever so slightly in her seat. Across the hall, she saw her mother grip the armrest of her chair, and on the dais near the great fireplace, the color drained from Arwen’s face.

The song seemed to stretch for an eternity, and when it finally ended the hall broke out in scattered applause, Gilraen joining in only reluctantly.

“Has Ravennë taken leave of her senses?” she asked. “What in Elbereth’s name possessed her to play that?”

“What is the matter with it?” Merineth asked, “It is a popular enough tune, and it has been some time since it was heard in these halls…”

Her voice trailed off as her gaze shifted from Gilraen to Arwen, who had risen abruptly from her seat and slipped out the back door of the hall, to Elrond, who stared frowning after her, and finally to Ivorwen, whose stony expression had not lifted.

“Gilraen, what is going on?”

“Nothing of lasting import,” Gilraen sighed. “Still, someone ought to inform the household that that any songs of Beren and Luthien might be considered…unwise to play so long as the Lady Arwen is present. Or my mother, for that matter.”

“But what on—ah.” Her eyes cleared in understanding as she looked again from Ivorwen to Elrond. “Never mind then. I do not need to know.”

“All of Rivendell will know before long, if this sort of thing keeps up,” Gilraen sighed again.

“Well, it cannot be helped, mellon-nín,” Merineth patted her arm. “Gossip travels as it will, but no one shall judge either of them the worse for it. I might see to Lady Ivorwen, though, if I were you—she might freeze the fire itself with that look.”

“It would not be the first time,” Gilraen muttered, but was spared having to leave her spot near the fire as Ivorwen herself approached.

“Your pardon, Lady Merineth,” she said, before turning to Gilraen. “Will you walk with me, ield-nín? All of this music is starting to give me a bit of a headache.”

Gilraen raised her eyebrows at Merineth, who simply smiled and nodded her head in farewell. She rose from her chair to take her mother’s arm, and slipped quietly out into the side courtyard.  

“That was expertly timed,” Ivorwen murmured dryly. “I see the art of subtlety is one thing in which we Dúnedain have gained greater mastery…”

“They do not know,” Gilraen said as she led them towards a room near the hall of feasts that she knew was left unused. “How could they? There are few who can read Aragorn the way you or I can, and he has been careful enough to keep his desires to himself…”

“And how on earth do they manage to play the great songs with any semblance of tact in these halls?” Ivorwen asked. “It seems as if every legend involves either a distant relation of the peredhil, or Elrond himself…”

“Oh, Mama…” Gilraen rolled her eyes as she opened the door, but stopped short as she realized the room was already occupied. Lady Arwen sat on a cushioned bench near the window, staring out at the falling snow.

“Our apologies, Lady Arwen,” she said hastily. “We did not mean to disturb you.”

“No apologies are needed, Lady Gilraen,” Arwen shook her head as she rose from the bench. “I find that the flurry of my father’s feasts can get overwhelming at times, however joyful they may be. I come here when I desire a moment’s peace to clear my head.”

“We will not bother you any further then, my lady,” Ivorwen said, and put a hand on Gilraen’s shoulder as if to steer her out of the room. 

“No, please, join me,” Arwen smiled. “I am glad to know I am not the only one who seeks refuge from the commotion of the Hall. I asked one of the servants to bring some wine, but it is far too much for just one—I would welcome sharing it with you both.”

“That’s very kind of you, Lady Arwen, but truly, we ought to head back,” Gilraen said uneasily. “We have tarried out here long enough already, and I’m sure—“

But the Lady of Rivendell cut her off as she strode to the table in the center of the room.

“Come,” she said and held up the carafe of wine, “we cannot let this go to waste, can we? And I do not remember the last time I kept company with the women of the Dúnedain.”

Gilraen exchanged glances with her mother, who shrugged slightly.

“As you wish, m’lady,” Ivorwen replied, and took a seat beside Gilraen as Arwen poured out glasses for them both.

***

Elves did not water their wine as the Dúnedain did, and Gilraen had always been careful to dilute her own supply, or else to drink far more sparingly than her immortal counterparts. However, she had either neglected to mention this fact to her mother or Ivorwen simply did not care, and she matched Arwen glass for glass as the night wore on.

“This is excellent,” Ivorwen pronounced as a steward brought in a third carafe, “in all my years I don’t think I’ve ever had anything quite this fine.”

“I brought it back with me from Lorien,” Arwen said. “My father’s stores are more than adequate, but this is…more than a bit of a taste of home.”

“So you consider Lorien your true home, then?” Gilraen asked, curious.

“Oh,” Arwen sighed, “who can say? I suppose I have spent more than half of my life there, now, and it is a comfort to be so near my mother’s family. But my brothers have always felt more at home west of the Misty Mountains, and the more time passes the more I begin to understand why.”

“In what way?”

“Rivendell is more—how shall I put this? —cosmopolitan than Lorien,” she said, “My father promotes more communication with the other races of Middle-Earth, though even that seems to grow rarer every generation. And I suppose, in the end, this is where I spent my childhood. Nearly everyone I grew up with remains here, and I do not get to see nearly enough of them.”

“It has certainly been livelier than I expected,” Ivorwen said. “There has hardly been a dull moment ever since Dírhael and I arrived.”

“And I hear you yourself have befriended enough of my old companions,” Arwen turned to Gilraen and smiled. “Erestor and Merineth do nothing but sing your praises whenever I am in earshot.”

Gilraen blushed.

“They have been very kind to me,” she said quietly. “The entirety of Imladris has treated us as nothing less than family, and it has sustained me through all these years.”

“And now, Gilraen?” Arwen eyed her curiously. “Merineth seems to have it in her head you’ll be with us forever, but I imagine you must miss your homeland in the same way I do. And with your son grown…”

Gilraen paused, unsettled. This was not where she had imagined the conversation would be going.

“It’s…complicated,” she began. “It would take far too long to try to explain…” 

Arwen smiled. “We have all night.”

“Indeed we do,” Ivorwen leaned back in her chair, wineglass balanced precariously in hand. “And I would like to hear this for myself.” 

Gilraen raised her eyebrows, and found herself guiltily wishing her mother was not present for this particular conversation.

“I almost went with him, that first year,” she said, “the summer Elrond revealed his true name to him. But it no longer seemed my place. Rivendell was where I found healing, where I raised my child, and I did not want to shatter that peace. But the longer I remain here, the more reminders I have of his absence and the dangers he faces now abroad. It has been so long since I have been home, with my family, and my desire to return is stronger now than it has ever been.

“But I also know my son wished for me to remain here, though he would never say it aloud. Rivendell affords me far more safety than the Angle ever shall—do not give me that look, Mama, you know it’s true,” she added as she caught the expression on Ivorwen’s face. “So there is another part of me still that feels I should honor that. Not that he would know of my comings and goings, wherever he may be now, but the thought lingers. I would be reluctant to do anything to cause him further worry, imagined or otherwise.”

“It seems he bears enough burdens,” Arwen said. “I can understand not wanting to add to them.”

“Well,” Ivorwen broke in tartly, “that was a concern you might have had yourself, Lady Arwen, before you led my grandson to think he might follow in the footsteps Beren himself.”

The room fell deadly silent.

“I am so sorry, my lady,” Ivorwen said as she covered her hand with her mouth, “Of all the—I don’t know what has come over me…”

“The wine is what’s come over you,” Gilraen muttered as she took a sip from her own goblet. Ivorwen threw her daughter a scathing look before she turned back to Arwen. 

"Here I was just talking about tact," she sighed, "and I seem to have abandoned it myself. Please, my lady, forget I said anything." 

“No,” Arwen said slowly, “no, I would have you speak your mind. It is why we are all here, is it not? None of us would have left the hall had the Ravennë not chosen this of all nights to sing the Tale of Tinuviel.”

Well, the time for subtlety is certainly over, Gilraen thought, silently cursing the Dorwinean beside her. Had her own thoughts not been so muddled she would have made more of an effort to end the conversation then and there.

Beside her, Ivorwen drew herself up in her chair, clearly abashed but determined to say her piece.

“If my husband knew of the situation between you and Aragorn,” Ivorwen said at last, “he would say you bring about the end of our line. It is a union that can never hope to be made, and it is clear there is no point in him pursuing it. So why does he still consider the possibility? Why have you not done what your father himself has done, and disabused him of the notion entirely?”

“Perhaps the situation is less clear than you believe,” Arwen answered. "There is much that gets muddled when all you have to go on is hearsay.”

“Is it hearsay?” Ivorwen asked. “Your own father has told him you are too high above him, and I would not argue the point—Men have not had the ability to measure up against the Elves for more than an age. But if that is your feeling, you need to tell Aragorn that yourself. Otherwise he will keep chasing a shadow—“

“Since when does my father speak for me?” Arwen asked, a flash of impatience behind her eyes. “He has not asked me my feelings on the matter, and I have said nothing to him. Lord Elrond’s views are not my own, nor should they ever be mistaken as such.”

“Are they truly so different?” Ivorwen challenged. “You have said nothing to indicate that you reciprocate Aragorn’s feelings…”

“But neither do I wish to dismiss him out of hand,” Arwen said, “I have seen the sort of man Aragorn has come to be, and he is more noble than any other mortal I have known. I do not yet know my own emotions in this matter, that much I will admit. But while that remains true I would not refuse him outright. A heart may change, in time.”

“And I am telling you, Lady Arwen, that Men of the West do not have that luxury!” Ivorwen set down her glass in emphasis. “There are few of us who survive long enough to die of old age, and the lives of our men grow shorter each generation. In the span of twenty-eight months the line of Isildur was reduced to a two-year-old child. By the grace of the Valar he has grown into a man worthier than any of his predecessors, but he is not exempt from the dangers of the Wild.”

"You have said yourself you foresaw that Aragorn is the hope for our people,” Gilraen murmured. “That you did not believe the Valar would raise our spirits only to crush them utterly. If you believe that, why then should it matter when he marries?”

"My foresight does not blind me to the realities of life, ield-nín," Ivorwen retorted. "There are forces at work in this world beyond the visions of an old woman. And that is to say nothing of the rest of our people, those who cannot see what I see. He has a duty beyond the workings of his heart, but there are some in this room who seem to have forgotten that fact."

“You think I know nothing of duty?” Arwen asked, her voice dangerously soft. “You think I do not know what it means to carry the weight of a fading race? Your memory fails you, Lady Ivorwen. Who do you think my people look to, with my mother gone and my brothers lost in one vengeance quest after another?”

“Such quests have not been entirely pointless,” Ivorwen said. “Indeed, if not for the aid of Elladan and Elrohir the line of Isildur might have ended long ago.”

“I would not deny that,” Arwen said, “but my brothers lost faith in Middle-Earth the moment my mother was attacked. They fight now to preserve the descendants of Elros, to protect what family they have left, but they give little thought to any kind of future your people or mine might have. Who is left to do so, beyond my father?”

The room fell back into silence.

“When my mother abandoned Middle-Earth, I wondered where that left me,” Arwen continued, almost to herself. “If I would be left wishing I had followed her to Valinor, or if there were things in this world worth honoring. Some days I am still left wondering.  But I know in my heart that life in Middle-Earth is worth fighting for, worth risking everything—so I stay, for those who still remain behind, to show that their choice to linger has not been in vain.”

“But they shall make that journey eventually,” Ivorwen said, “as you will yourself.”

“Nay,” Arwen replied, “I have a choice to make, Lady Ivorwen. The same choice that falls upon all of my father’s kin—to answer the call of the Sea, or to follow the path of my father’s brother and remain in Middle-Earth. It shall not be long, I fear, before that choice is thrust upon my brothers and me, as the world falls deeper into darkness. But when I make my decision, you can believe that I will be thinking of my duty to my people, and nothing else.”

Ivorwen picked up her wineglass again and leaned back in her chair, surveying Arwen with an expression that Gilraen dimly recognized as grudging respect.

“And Aragorn has made his choice too, Mama,” Gilraen reminded her gently, “for good or for ill, you know he shall not be returning to us for at least another decade, perhaps more. There is not much left for us to do but wait, and hope.”

“That is all I can ever seem to say to our people,” Ivorwen said, a trace of bitterness in her voice. “Wait, and hope. It is a wonder that they have not yet tired of hearing it.”

“Your concern for your people does you great credit,” Arwen said, “and I know you have faced hardships beyond anything Rivendell has seen. But I do not doubt their steadfastness, or yours–you do not strike me as the type to allow your life to be ruled by the uncertainty that surrounds it.”

Ivorwen stared at Arwen, and Gilraen covered her hand with her mouth as she hid her own smile. She had lost count of how many times her mother had said nearly that exact phrase to her.

Ivorwen opened her mouth to reply, but was stopped by a soft knock on the door, and Gilraen turned to see one of Arwen’s handmaidens poking her head through the door.

“Begging your pardon, my ladies, but Lord Elrond has been asking after the Lady Arwen,” the Elf said softly. “He is wondering if you might return, as soon as it is convenient.”

“Thank you,” Arwen smiled at her, “you can tell him I shall be along in a moment.”

The Elf curtseyed and left the room, and Arwen finally set her wine glass down as she rose from her chair.

“Well,” Arwen said, “I suppose we should be returning to the Hall of Fire. Will you join me, both of you?”

Gilraen picked up her wineglass and rose to follow Arwen, but paused as she reached the doorway. Ivorwen had not moved from her chair.

“Go on,” Ivorwen waved a hand, “I shall be along in a moment.”

“If you say so,” Gilraen said dubiously. She made to leave through the doorway, but stopped again and turned back to face her mother. 

“Are you all right, Mama?”

“Quite,” Ivorwen gave a faint smile. “The Lady of Imladris has given me much to think on.”

“Indeed she has,” Gilraen raised her eyebrows, “not least of which the notion of listening to your own advice. It would seem that you and she do not have such differing opinions after all.”

“Off with you!” Ivorwen laughed. “I have had enough of your cheek for one night. If your father asks, tell him I will be back before the next song ends.”

Gilraen shook her head and closed the door behind her, making her way back to the hall. Arwen stood motionless at the entrance, staring out the flurry of motion and the singers at the front.

“Lady Arwen, I hope you will forgive my mother,” Gilraen said as she approached, “she is not often one to apologize, but I feel—“

“No, it’s quite all right,” Arwen said, her voice distant, “and she was not wrong, in some respects. But you were right too, Gilraen—sometimes there is not much any of us can do but wait. I think it would do us all good to put the matter from our minds, at least for tonight. Unless, of course, they choose to finish the festivities with the Lay of Lethian.”

Gilraen choked on her wine, and Arwen’s eyes danced as she turned from Gilraen to rejoin her father at the front of the hall.


Chapter End Notes:

As the title reflects, the idea for this story first came to me after I watched the West Wing episode "Dead Irish Writers." So I owe thanks as well to Stockard Channing’s performance in that for inspiring me to write about Arwen.



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