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A Mother’s Gift


Magic

Ivorwen and Gilraen contemplate the nature of foresight.

A/N: With great thanks to my two lovely betas.





T.A. 2957

Ivorwen could not help but take in a sharp breath as she and Dirhael rounded a final bend and came into view of Rivendell. None of the stories of old could have prepared her for her first sight of the Last Homely House, and she slowed her horse to a stop as she took in the view, thinking back to the tales of the Elves’ splendor and dignity that made this place the haven that it was.

She heard a laugh as Dirhael stopped his horse short ahead and turned around to look at her.

“A sight to see, is it not?”

Ivorwen blinked as she came back to herself and glared at the amused expression on her husband’s face.

“If ever again you see me gaping like a fish during our time here, please slap some sense into me. The last thing I need is for one from the House of Elrond to see me as a wide-eyed doe come in from the Wild.”

“’Tis a common enough reaction,” Dirhael grinned. “I seem to recall our son nearly falling off his horse when we came here five years ago. I’ve been saving that tale for a night when Halbarad is in need of some particularly good ammunition against him.”

“Troublemaker,” Ivorwen shook her head, but smiled as she did so. “Perhaps it is good that we won’t be returning for a few months now.”

Dirhael shrugged, “Life will be more dull, for them and for me. But if you are one to listen to, we are all in need of a dull winter this year. Otherwise we would not be here at all.”

“What I would not give to see the peredhil’s faces when they hear you call their home dull,” Ivorwen chuckled. “The Elves get up to quite enough on their own, if Elladan and Elrohir’s stories are any indication.”

A lone figure waited near the gates, and even from a distance Ivorwen recognized the small hand that rose in greeting. Ivorwen waved back in return, doing her best to ignore the bittersweet ache in her chest at the sight of her only daughter. It had been Gilraen’s suggestion that Ivorwen and Dirhael winter in Imladris this year, and though her reasoning had been sound enough—Dirhael had just barely recovered from his illness the previous Mettarë, and another harsh Dúnedain winter promised nothing good—Ivorwen suspected her daughter had more personal motives. Aragorn had departed on his great journeys abroad only two months before, and reading between the lines of her letter, it had been clear that Gilraen desired the comfort of her parents to prepare her for the first of many long years without her son.

Dirhael had protested being separated from the Dúnedain for such a length of time, but Ivorwen would allow no discussion on the matter. It frightened her still to think of how close Dirhael had come to death last winter, and the milder climate of Rivendell would be more of a balm for his lungs than any healer’s potion she could concoct. She also craved time alone with her daughter—the years had stolen too much for her to hope to regain, but she would be glad to snatch a few months with Gilraen and collect a little on the debt that fate owed her. She had seen Gilraen but a handful of times since Aragorn had returned to the Dúnedain, and never for more than a few weeks at once. Though each time Dirhael had pressed her to remain with her kin, always she returned to Rivendell. Ivorwen understood her reasons, or at least suspected, but it never made the distance any easier.

Gilraen approached as Ivorwen and Dirhael dismounted, and Ivorwen ran a critical eye over her daughter. She was still unused to the seeing the lines that had begun to form in Gilraen’s face, or the streaks of grey that now shot through her dark hair. There was a distant sadness to her eyes that had been there since Arathorn’s death, a shadow that not even a quarter-century dwelling in Rivendell had truly lifted. Still, her smile reached her eyes as she threw herself into Ivorwen’s open arms and returned her embrace.

Yes, it will be good to spend a few months here, Ivorwen thought to herself, here, where my daughter has been able to find some solace.

“In a house of Elven lords and still you do not eat enough,” Ivorwen fussed as she kissed her daughter on both cheeks, “If I hug you much tighter I fear your very bones will crack together.”

“It is good to see you too, Mama,” Gilraen laughed before turning to embrace Dirhael beside her, “And you, Ada. I am glad you both came.”

“I thought I should see Imladris at least once before I die,” Ivorwen folded her arms against her as she looked out at the light dimming through the trees. “Home that it has been to you and Aragorn all these long years.”

“My true home will always be with my family,” Gilraen replied, and the sadness returned to her eyes. “With you and with Aragorn. But now that you both are here…yes, home it is indeed.”

“Well, it looks to be good a place as any to have raised an upstart Dúnadan,” Ivorwen tried to keep herself from staring at the various sculptures that dotted the stone courtyard. “I imagine Aragorn brought a liveliness to the place that they had not seen in a good long while.”

Gilraen chuckled.

“Yes, I suppose you could say that. Though I believe there are those here who would have a…slightly different picture to paint for you, if you asked.” She held her arm out to her mother. “Come. Lord Elrond is waiting to greet you both.”

***

Ivorwen had never spent much time among Elves, despite the numerous occasions that they had passed through the Dúnedain settlements in which she had spent her life. She was acquainted well enough with Lord Elrond’s sons from the times they had ridden with her kinsmen, and had even met the Lord Glorfindel briefly during one desperate rally against a pack of wargs in the days when Aradur had been chieftain. But it was different matter entirely to find herself in the home of such noble warriors and healers, rather than opening her own hearth to them. The entirety of Rivendell seemed to move at a pace that disregarded time itself, as though their immortality had lightened them of the need to worry about their cares and burdens. It was foolish thinking, Ivorwen chided herself, for she knew better than most the tales of old and the tragedies that had shaped the lives of Elrond’s people. Yet their daily life served as a stark contrast to the constant bustle and wariness that always dominated Ivorwen’s home, and she could not help but marvel at their ways.

Immortality, too, had seemed to give them time enough to develop domestic luxuries that Ivorwen had never been afforded. Dirhael had had to keep her from protesting too loudly at the spacious quarters they had been given, and she nearly scalded herself the first evening when she discovered that the faucets above their bathtub let out not only running water, but hot running water at that.

Wide-eyed doe indeed, she thought to herself ruefully as she undressed.

She let out a small sigh of contentment as she let herself soak in the stone tub, the room pleasantly heated by the steam from the running water. She did not usually allow herself to tally up the various aches and ailments that inevitably came with long travel, but as her sore muscles unknotted themselves she reflected, once again, how grateful she was she would not have to make this trip again until the spring came.

‘Tis no wonder that Gilraen tarries here, she thought as she ran a bar of soap idly down her arm, if I had such comforts at my fingertips I’d be reluctant to leave too.

She emerged from her bath and changed into a soft linen gown, fairer than anything she’d made for herself since Gilraen’s wedding. She eyed the full glass mirror on the wall of the bedchamber and grabbed a handful of hairpins from her bag, thinking she might for once be able to tame her damp curls into a decent knot before joining her family for the evening meal.

Lost in her efforts, she almost didn’t hear the soft knock that came at the door, and had to pull the pins out of her mouth to make her own response heard.

“Come in,” she called, and she saw Gilraen poke her head through the door.

“Are you finding everything to your comfort?” she asked.

“Nll thgh n, oh—all that and more,” Ivorwen took the pins out of her mouth once again. “I imagine I shall rest better tonight than I have in a good long while.”

“Father’s waiting for us downstairs,” Gilraen said, “I believe Lord Elrond would like for us to join his family at dinner.”

“I shall be along in a moment,” Ivorwen replied, struggling to force her hair into place. “Your father has made us late for enough occasions before. I believe I am allowed one evening of vanity, am I not?”

Gilraen smiled and shook her head.

“Here, sit,” she pulled up a chair from beside the bed. “Let me help with that.”

“Better you than me, I suppose,” Ivorwen gave a wry smile as she allowed Gilraen to take the pins from her. She sat down before her daughter, and Gilraen’s deft hands took to twisting her hair up behind her. “I’m afraid even with the mirror I still cannot make it look much better than a bird’s nest.”

“Oh, hush,” Gilraen teased, “you always did well enough with me.”

“Your hair was easier to tame, my love,” Ivorwen smiled in memory. “Do you remember the day of your wedding? It didn’t take much longer than a minute or two to have it looking as fine as any Elven maid’s. And that was without any of those mysterious concoctions I found in our bath this evening.”

“I’d forgotten that,” Gilraen said quietly, “It has been a long time since I’ve thought of that day.”

Her hands stilled as she pinned the final knot into place, and Ivorwen turned to look up at her.

“Gilraen?” she asked, “What is it?”

Gilraen smiled and shook her head.

“Nothing,” she said. “Merely the foolish thoughts of a worried mother.”

“There are two of those in this room,” Ivorwen reminded her gently. “What troubles you, ield-nín?”

She didn’t answer, but shook her head once more and put the remaining pins back into Ivorwen’s bag. She turned towards the door but stopped as she reached for the handle. She seemed to be gathering herself for something before she finally turned back to face her mother.

“When I first came here, I thought of that day so often,” Gilraen said, “I would play it over and over in my mind—the joy to Arathorn’s dance, the disquiet that Ada tried so hard to mask for my sake. I would see our happiness mirrored against his fear and his pain. And you, sitting there as though you knew all the joy and grief that would befall us in equal measure.”

Ivorwen looked down at her hands, the memory of her visions in that time coming back to her as vividly as they had first appeared. The doom that would come to Arathorn, the hope for her people that would be born again in his son…

“I did not know then, how it must have felt for you,” Gilraen said, her voice soft, “to have foreseen the tragedies that would befall your child and have been powerless to stop them. To do nothing but smile bravely and offer assurances that all would be well.”

Ivorwen frowned. “I would like to think that--”

“I was not fair to you,” Gilraen interrupted, looking up at her mother, “I was blinded by grief, and I was not fair to you. I couldn’t begin to understand how you could have sat by and kept silent, speaking only to Ada of what you knew would befall my husband and my child. What good is the gift of foresight, I thought, if you can do naught to change what you see…”

“I did not want your life to be ruled by the grief that was to come,” Ivorwen broke in. “Who could have foretold what shape it would take? You are well aware it does not work like that. There was no reason for two of us to be bogged down in formless prophecies.”

“I know that now,” Gilraen replied. “But I could not see it then. And now…now I dream of my own son. I see the long and bitter road he walks, and I see how much grief he will face, alone. I know they are dreams like those you had, ones that will come to pass. And I want…I want nothing more than to change the dark path he shall walk. But how? How can I even speak of what I know to him?”

“We cannot let our lives be ruled by the grief that is to come,” Ivorwen repeated. “All those years I saw what lay ahead for you, but my visions told me nothing of what your life would be. I saw an early end for Arathorn, but I knew not when it would come, or how. I saw the hope that would be kindled through your union, but it told me nothing of the child you would raise. Of the delight I would take in witnessing what sort of man my grandson had become.”

“To what end?” Gilraen let out a bitter laugh. “Aragorn journeys to the East and South with naught but what he carries. He shall face turmoil and strife, and burdens that no man should bear. Yet I know not when he will return—if he will return—or what end his labors shall serve.”

“You know he shall return, Gilrean,” Ivorwen assured her. “He has the strength and courage to carry him through any trials he might face. You must see that as plainly as I do.”

“Do I?” she countered. “There are days where I see only the hard road that lies before him. The Valar have not seen fit to reveal to me how it will end, and our lives have not taught us to hope for pleasant outcomes.”

“Our gift shows us an incomplete future, child,” Ivorwen took Gilraen’s hands in her own. “Just because you do not see something does not mean it is not there. Aragorn is the hope for our people, this much I have seen. And I do not believe the Valar would raise our spirits so only to crush them utterly.”

Gilrean gave her a long, measuring look, and Ivorwen had never regretted more deeply their years apart as she did in that moment. Gilraen had been so young, still, when she had taken her child to live amongst strangers, so far from her own kin. If Ivorwen had only been there through the years to counsel her, to show her how to bear the burdens of their line, perhaps she would not be overcome with the despair that suddenly seemed to permeate the room.

“’Tis a funny thing,” Gilraen said at last, “When I was a girl, I thought the foresight of our line to be little more than magic and nonsense. So much of my childhood was filled with legends of our fading race, splendor and powers long gone. I thought prophecy to be of as little import as the tales of rings hidden and lost, or Ada’s nonsense story of Tevildo the Terrible. But now…now it seems our lives are dictated by your dreams and mine. Not a day goes by when I do not think of what is to come, to see if I might grasp even a hint of certainty…”

“Our lives have never offered us much in the way of certainty, Gilraen,” Ivorwen said, “foresight or no. But a lack of certainty has never stopped us from finding joy in our lives, nor should it. It never used to stop you.”

Gilraen opened her mouth to reply but closed it again almost immediately. She shook her head and gave Ivorwen a brave smile that did a rather poor job of hiding her pain.

“I told you,” she said, “these are the foolish thoughts of a worried mother. I should not allow them to consume me such despair. Yet there are times when it is difficult to dwell on much else.”

“You have been too long gone from your own kin,” Ivorwen said. “It is easy to fall to despair if you believe things are as they were when you left us. You have not seen the changes that have come since Aragorn took up his father’s place. I would have you see the renewal that your son has inspired in our people, and be glad.”

“I do not doubt what he has achieved,” Gilraen murmured. “For so long I deemed it too painful to return, to leave the land where I had found healing. But now, with Aragorn abroad…”

“Come home, Gilraen,” Ivorwen urged. “Come home, and see that there is more to our lives than what you would believe.”

“Perhaps I shall,” she replied, “perhaps even with you and Ada this spring. It would be good to see Tarcil and the rest of them for more than a scarce few weeks. But I fear it will not bring the peace you wish for me.”

Ivorwen started to protest, but Gilrean only shook her head again.

“All I have accomplished in this life I owe to you.” She reached out to push back a stray curl that had already come loose from Ivorwen’s hair. “You have given me so many gifts, Mama. But this one…this one I wish I had not received.”

***

If Dirhael noticed the quiet tension between his wife and daughter as they came down the stairs, he made no comment on it. Ivorwen feared the silence would stretch into the evening meal with Elrond and his sons, but her worries were for naught. Elladan and Elrohir asked after the Dúnedain warriors they had ridden with throughout the years, and Ivorwen noted with quiet approval the ease with which Gilraen and Elrond exchanged light banter. The Lord of Rivendell carefully steered the conversation away from anything concerning Aragorn, a small mercy for which Ivorwen was grateful, and by the end of the meal her daughter’s earlier melancholy seemed to have melted away.

Following the meal Elrond led them to the Hall of Fire, and Ivorwen’s breath caught in her throat at the archways and great hearth that blazed at one end. Dirhael had spoken to her before of long nights spent in this hall after weeks on the road, of songs and tales that could fortify even the weariest of hearts. As with nearly all she had experienced in Rivendell, however, it was one thing to hear of and quite another to see. Gilraen took her arm and led her to a seat near the front of the hall. An Elf seated next to Elladan, whose name she had already forgotten, opened with the story of Barahir’s rescue of Finrod at Dargor Bragollach, chosen, Ivorwen presumed, in honor of their guests’ presence in Imladris.

As the Elf as wove his tale, Ivorwen ran her thumb along the silver ring Dirhael had given her for their marriage anniversary some years before. It had a simple green stone set in the center, its color not unlike the Ring of Barahir. It had not been crafted in Valinor, and no battles had been fought for its conquest (though Dirhael was fond of recounting how he haggled it down to a fair price). Still, Ivorwen prized it all the more for that, and it served as her own private reminder that not all jewels in this world were meant to be much more than a lover’s token.

She had always been so mindful when crafting her own versions of the old tales for her children, taking care to remind them always that while theirs were a proud people with a noble history, it did little good to dwell on legends when they had their own destinies to fulfill.

Perhaps I did not invest the proper weight in the stories of old, she thought, thinking back on Gilraen’s words from before, perhaps I did not speak to her enough of the powers we did inherit. If I had, maybe she would not treat them as the burden she does.

One tale soon bled into another, and though the music that joined it should have lightened Ivorwen’s spirits, Gilraen’s words still weighed heavily upon her, and she could not bring herself to fully join in the festivities. She rose and slipped out the door into a small courtyard that adjoined the hall. It was a clear night, and as she gazed up at the stars she sent up a silent prayer to Elbereth, calling upon her for aid in sorting through the thoughts that ran through her mind.

“Do our tales not hold your interest?”

Ivorwen jumped and turned to find Elrond standing at the doorway. She gave a small curtsey as she inclined her head towards him.

“Forgive me, Master Elrond,” she said, “I hope I do not appear rude. I simply needed a moment to clear my head.”

“We all need those moments, from time to time,” he approached her, “and you have had a long journey. No one would begrudge you if you were to retire early.”

“Thank you,” she said. “But I will be back in a short while. ‘Never leave a tale unfinished,’ my mother used to say…’tis a habit I fear I’ve never truly broken.”

“It is a habit Erestor would be glad of,” Elrond smiled, “and one some of our younger kin could stand to learn.”

“Could they really?” Ivorwen asked. “I would have thought the Elves would have more patience for sitting through such stories than Men.”

“It depends on the teller,” Elrond replied, amusement dancing in his eyes. “You and I could stand out here for hours and I believe Lord Erestor would not yet have finished.”

Ivorwen chuckled but did not answer, and the two of them lapsed into silence as her mind turned back to her concerns for Gilraen.

“You are troubled, Lady Ivorwen,” Elrond observed, “you have been ever since your family joined with mine for dinner this evening.”

Ivorwen sighed as she turned to face the Elven lord who her grandson had called “Adar.” She supposed there wasn’t much that escaped his notice, after all.

“Among my people I am an old woman, Master Elrond,” she gave a wry smile, “wise and mysterious with her knowledge of healing and her foresight. They know to heed my dreams, when I choose to speak of them, and they look to me for guidance. Guidance that on most days I feel perfectly equipped to give.

“But here, amongst members of the race from which I received my very gifts…I feel as young as a child,” she said. "Among those who have lived through so much and seen all measures of victories and defeats, I feel all my wisdom and age stripped away. I cannot even give to my daughter the reassurance that she seeks. Today, the years I have lived are somehow not enough for me to fulfill my duty as a mother."

Elrond stood in silence beside her, his gaze turned up towards the stars above them.

“It is never an easy thing, to feel as though you have reached your limit in doing what you can for your children,” he said at last, “but it happens to us all. As for age, you could live to see a thousand years and more pass by and still feel inadequate as a parent. There are times even now when I feel as though I have done nothing but fail my children, in one way or another.”

“You seem to have done well enough with my grandson,” Ivorwen said lightly, “he speaks as fondly of you as my own son does of Dirhael—more so, often enough.”

“He does me a great honor in that,” Elrond said gravely. “And you should know that Gilraen has always spoken the same of you.”

“That is kind of you to say,” Ivorwen said, “but tonight I cannot help but feel as though I have done little to earn such praise. As it stands I know not how to make her see that there are parts of her son’s destiny that lie well beyond the scope of our foresight.”

“Her dreams weigh heavily on her,” Elrond said, “As they have for years. When Estel dwelt here it was…easier, I think, for her to bear it. But now that he has left to take up his title and his duty, it becomes harder for her to hold on to hope.”

“It has created a gulf between us, this gift of prophecy,” Ivorwen said. “Or curse, I am sure she would say. Always has she treated it as an arbiter, as an absolute that robs her of the ability to shape her own fate. I had hoped…I had hoped with her own visions might come understanding. But to see only a part of Aragorn’s future grieves her more than she will ever say.”

“Each of us has our own way of dealing with foresight,” Elrond said. “Some find it more difficult to bear than most. But Gilraen has the strength and love of her kin to aid her in finding her way. At the moment it seems that no words can convince her, but they will, in time.”

“What makes you so certain?”

Elrond turned back towards the doorway to the hall, and his eyes found Gilraen within, sitting beside Dirhael. Ivorwen followed his gaze to see the firelight reflected on her face, the shadows flickering and fading in turn.

“When Gilraen first came here with Estel,” he said, “her fëa was greatly diminished. She never spoke to us of her grief, but it was clear to us all how deeply she felt the loss of her husband and her family. Still, she did not wish for her pain to be passed on to her son, and feigned her happiness for the sake of Estel. Yet there was a point that passed where she stopped pretending, and her joy became true. She forged a life for herself here, and found her own sources of happiness. I believe she will reach that point once more, once she comes to truly accept the fact that she might not see Estel again for many years. And, loath as I would be to bid her farewell, this time she may need to leave Imladris to regain her hope. She is dear to us all, but we are not her kin.”

“I tried to tell her as much this evening,” Ivorwen sighed. “Perhaps she will take your own counsel more easily than she took my own.”

“Perhaps she will,” Elrond turned to her, his eyes kind, “but I might wait to broach the topic again until the spring. I do believe having you and your husband here will raise her spirits more than any of us could have foretold.”

A lute player had struck up a tune, and Dirhael had taken his daughter by the hand. Gilraen shook her head, protesting, but smiled as she left her seat to join her father in a dance that Ivorwen was fairly certain was far more rowdy than the denizens of Imladris were accustomed to.

“Well, there go Erestor’s hopes for a quiet winter,” Elrond said dryly. “It seems the House of Aranath is forever fated to bring an added liveliness to my halls.”

Ivorwen laughed as she leaned against the doorway to watch the flurry of motion in the Hall of Fire. Dirhael twirled Gilraen around the floor, and her laughter filled the hall—a high, clear sound that Ivorwen had not heard in full force for decades.

Our foresight does not tell us of moments such as these, ield-nín, she thought, Valar willing, you will understand this someday.

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