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Butterfly-Cocoon

Chapter 19: Chapter Nineteen

by Rous

Ela showed up at Glordinel’s early the next morning. She showed no signs of upset at staying behind as the others rode north. She saw them off, and made her way back through the city. Entering Glordinel’s home, she stopped at the study.

“Good morning,” he said.

“It is,” she replied.

“Come here,” he said to her. Taking hold of her chin, he turned her head into the light. Examining the left temple, he nodded. “It is healing nicely. It is taking longer than usual for an elf, but is sooner than with a human. I can take care of the scarring for you, now.”

“No. I will keep it. It will be a subtle reminder of disobedience.”

“But you cannot see it.”

“I did not say it was a reminder to me. Besides, I earned it, I will keep it.”

“As you wish.” He shook his head at the proclivities of females, and female children in particular. “I thought you may enjoy a ride this morning. I have to go up to Celonost. I am meeting a healer from the north. It would do you no harm to meet her.”

She nodded.

“Then go and get your things. We will be gone into the afternoon. Tell Gariel you will be with me.”

She ran home to do as he bid. Not finding Gariel, she left a note in the apple basket, first removing one to make room. Grabbing the small bag that contained her supplies, she ran back to Glordinel’s house.

“I am ready,” she called, jumping up the steps. She opened the door and almost collided with her teacher.

“So am I. So, off to the stables we go.”

“Who is this healer you are meeting? And do you really want me to tag along?”

“Her name is Corélned and she is from Glenrelia, to the north. She has some ideas and discoveries to discuss. I thought you might like to get out of the city.”

“Glenrelia. Is that not near the northern marches?”

“You studied your geography well. It is little more than a mile from the marches. Corélned is rather a recluse. She prefers the solitude of the north. It also affords her the opportunity to study the obscure herbs and plants that she so loves.”

“But she does not like the city?”

“No, she prefers the isolation. She will only come as far as Celonost.”

“Why have I never heard of her before? Is there something between you two?” She grinned up at him.

“Well, if there was, I think that would be none of your business. You are a lowly apprentice, not privy to the social doings of your superiors.”

“So, the answer is no,” she laughed.

“I really must find another assistant. You think too highly of yourself.”

“Good luck there. Everyone knows how gruff you can be. They are all afraid to come unless necessary.”

“Really. And I thought I was a popular person.”

She sputtered laughter at his mournful expression.

“Lord Glordinel, I know of no one who is disliked less than you. As a taskmaster, you have many things to learn. You would think I was your first student.”

“While not my first, you are among a very few.”

They had reached the stables. Ela went to the pasture and whistled. Her horse came running up and nuzzled her head. Opening the gate, she let him through and closed it behind him. He followed her to the barn. After saddling him and putting on his halter, she turned to Glordinel.

“Which horse do you prefer?” she asked.

“Something gentle. My riding is a necessary evil. I must do it; I do not have to like it.”

“Del,” she called, seeing him in the back of the large barn. “What do you have that a child could ride?”

“Are you needing a mount?” he grinned.

“Do you want to try mine?” she retorted. “It is for Lord Glordinel. He wants something gentle. I am thinking of my old pony.”

“He is dead, Ela. Here.” Del lead a small gelding out from a back stall. “He is older, but will get you where you need to go. Where are you going?”

“It is official. I am not allowed to tell you.”

“Still sore about not riding north, are you?”

“Remind me next time to leave you to your own devices when bleeding to death.”

He looked down at her.

“Why did you do that?” he asked, softly.

“Do you need to ask?”

“I know why you would have done it for Elldar or Meliel. Why me?”

“You are Elldar’s best friend and for her own reasons, Meliel likes you. Is that not enough? You are special to them.” She grinned. “Besides, I would rather not have to listen to them moaning about your death for the next several millennia. It would get tiresome.”

“Here is your horse. Get out of here before I tell Master Unimandil you were down here again.”

“I am going.” She swung up on her horse. “When you see Meliel, tell her I miss her. She is too wrapped up in you.” She ducked the clod of dirt he threw at her.

Glordinel looked up at Ela, for once not taller than she was.

“Do you ride that monster often?” he asked.

“This is the only horse I ride. And I am the only one who rides him. Why?”

“He is so big. Would a smaller mount not be safer?”

“Safer, maybe, but not near as much fun. You should see the store of coins I have put away because of him. Not to mention favours.”

“You wager? I cannot imagine.” He smiled.

They rode out the north gate. For a mile, neither said anything. Ela finally broke the silence.

“May I ask a personal question?”

“You may. I may not answer.”

“Why have you never wed?”

He was silent. Only the years of closeness between them allowed him even to consider telling her.

“There was one. I thought we would wed, but she chose another. There has been no one else since.”

“I am sorry. Maybe some day you will find another.”

“Only if she falls in my lap. I am not looking. What of you?”

“Oh, now you sound like my brothers. I am too young. But if I were not, I have an idea of what I want.”

“And what is that?”

“Ha! You may ask, but I will not answer. When the time is right, you will know. Until then, it remains in my head.”

“Well, then, since you see fit to tease your teacher, he will punish you. Did you read the books I gave you?”

“All of them.”

“Good.” He proceeded to question her on the topics of the books. It took up much of the next ten miles of travel. Finally satisfied, he stopped.

“We are almost there.”

She looked ahead and saw the start of a few cottages. Looking up, she did see a few talain, but decided it must be as Gariel had told her. Only in Caras Galadhon did they really live in the trees.

Riding through the small village, Glordinel led her to a slightly larger house. Dismounting slowly, showing his lack of riding, Glordinel stretched, and groaned. Maybe he would walk back. Stepping up onto the porch, he knocked on the door. A tall dark-haired woman opened it. Ela dismounted and tied her horse to the railing.

“Welcome, Glordinel. I trust your journey was not too taxing.” Ela noted the smile in her eyes. “And what have you brought me?”

“Corélned, this is Lady Elrénia. She has been studying with me for several years now. I thought it time you met her.”

The woman inclined her head. So this was the chit her sister had gone on about; she did not see why she was worried. The girl did not even look like an elf. Her other blood was too telling. What was it Deladrieng had said, some human tainting, or something? Then the girl looked up at her. The eyes. She had heard about the eyes. Too often. There was a reason she did not live in the city. Too close to her sister.

Ela nodded back. This woman had something familiar about her. It would come eventually. It always did.

“So, lady, how good are you?”

“I am fair. However, I would prefer Ela. Lady does not sit well with me.”

“Very well. I had heard you were very unpretentious.”

“Where would you hear something like that? I had heard you shunned society.”

“Well met! Glordinel, you have found one worthy of conversing. I like plain speech. The flowery words of court do not interest me.”

“Do not think that because she is plainspoken, she cannot hold her own at court. She was also raised in Imladris, by no less than Erestor, himself.”

“How is the old curmudgeon? I have not seen him for years.”

“If you hightail it back north, you will see him. He comes through later.” Glordinel gave her a wink.

“Well, then we should conclude our business with all haste. What could possibly drag him from his hole?”

“Does anyone realize I am still here? Or should I leave and give you some privacy?” Ela pouted, teasingly.

“Oh, Glordinel. I do like her,” said Corélned, laughing. “No, child, you do not have to leave. I am sorry.”

“No need to apologize. I am used to it. It is a useful trait, being invisible.”

“Come in.” Corélned was still laughing as she held the door for them.

Ela went in first. Looking around, she found a comfortable living area. Worn sofas and chairs with a table set to one side. Everything looked well used. Even the hangings on the wall were old.

“You do not live here?” asked Ela.

“No. This was my parents’ home. I use it when I have need to see Glordinel. He does not ride well, and I refuse to come closer to the city. It suits.”

“Now,” said Glordinel, “what do you have for me?”

Ela listened to the conversation between the two of them, studied the hangings on the wall. She heard mention of herbs and poisons that grew only in the north. Corélned went on about the advantages and uses of the different plants.

“May I ask a question?” Ela finally asked.

“What is it?” said Corélned.

“Have you heard of gardenia?”

“Yes. It is a very rare tree grown only in the far south. Even past Haran, I am told. Why?”

“My brother gave me a bottle of it, but it is so strong, I am loathe to use it.”

“Mix it with yellow rose oil. It has little scent of its own and will cut the potency. Where did he find it?”

“I learned long ago not to ask where they get things. I do not always want to know where or how they acquired something.”

“I know your brothers. That is very wise of you. Still, I am curious. I had heard the oil was a jealously guarded secret, and available only to royalty. But, then, it is well you have it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, with your bloodlines, it is only fitting you own a bottle of the oil of kings.”

“What bloodlines?”

Corélned was becoming uncomfortably aware she had broached a subject better left closed.

“I had heard that you carried bloodlines that go back to the first age.”

“There is a little piece of information that slipped from my studies.” She turned to Glordinel. “How is it that someone so far out on the fringes knows of things only Lord Elrond and I are supposed to know?”

“Then you do know?” asked Glordinel.

“Yes, I know. I asked Ada not to share it with any. Yet, Del knows. You know. Moreover, if rumours are to be believed, half the city guard knows. Where does one go to get away from all this? Mirkwood? The Hidden Havens?”

“You might as well accept it. If it is out there, someone will find it. I would not worry. The rumours are not too rampant yet.”

“It is just that this is something I would rather have stayed buried. Other than my parents, I do not care about delving any further back. So far, it has proven a very unpleasant experience; it is best forgotten. And as it is too late for that, I will just say that I would prefer to not speak about it.”

“Very well. Consider it unspoken. However, what will you do about your grandmother? Will you bury her as well?” She glanced up and caught the twinkle in his eyes.

“You are incorrigible. I do not know why I put up with you.”

“I am the best teacher in Lórien. That is why.”

“All the more reason to go back to Imladris,” she laughed. “I am hungry. Are you two going to talk all day, or do we get to eat?”

Corélned smiled.

“I have lunch ready. I knew he would forget to eat.”

“You have noticed that, also. I have to bribe him. So far, it has worked, yet I fear for him when I am not around. I have nightmares of him wasting away.”

“It is good then that my nightmares may be laid to rest.”

“Once he latches onto something, all else recedes into the background. I believe he would forget to breathe if it were not automatic.”

“I will be back,” said Glordinel. “I must leave you two to talk behind my back. But make it quick.”

They both laughed at him.

“You have been good for him,” commented Corélned, when he had gone.

“I have a feeling that others would say that he has been good for me. It seems it has been a mutually satisfying arrangement.”

“It has been good to see him so happy the last few years. It near broke his heart when his son was killed. His wife did not get over it. She chose to fade rather than live without their son. He was bitter about it for so long.”

“His son? And a wife? He has never said anything about them. I even asked him coming up why he had never wed. Oh, did I overstep there.”

“You could not know. Very few do. He came here after it happened. It was so long ago, that many who knew him then, do not even know where he is now. He settled here because it is far from his old home and the Golden Woods are closed. There is very little chance of any outside finding him here.”

They were interrupted by Glordinel’s return.

“Did you find out anything?” he asked Ela.

“Nothing of import. Are you ready to eat now? I am starving.”

“Then by all means, eat.”

They sat and enjoyed a simple meal of cold beef on bread and cider. The afternoon was filled with discussions of what Corélned found in the northern reaches of their home. Glordinel shared his findings from the swampy areas far south of the Celebrant. Before Ela knew it, several hours had slipped by.

“Excuse me, Lord Glordinel,” she said.

“What is it, child?”

“It grows late. If we are to make it back before dark, we need to leave.”

“Oh, I did not realize the time. Very well.” He stood up. “I will get these findings written down and in the library, Corélned. When will you be back down?”

“Not for several months. I am leaving for the western marches to check out some findings by Gesel. He sent me some interesting samples. I want to go see for myself.”

“Well, then, I will see you when you get back. Send me word. Come on, Ela.” He led the way out of the house. His gelding was tied up, but her horse had wandered off. She gave a sharp whistle. He came from around the back of the house, munching on some grass. Waiting until Glordinel was mounted she swung up into her saddle.

“It was good to meet you,” Ela said to Corélned.”

“Likewise. I had heard much about you. I am glad that some things exceeded the telling while others did not. I hope to see you again.”

Ela nodded and turned her horse for home.

It was dark when they finally reached the city. Ela put the horses away and bid Glordinel goodnight. Trudging towards home, she made it as far as her room and decided to rest just a moment.

****

The morning sun woke her. She jumped up and discovered that someone had removed her shoes during the night. Grabbing her bathing kit, she headed towards the bathhouses. She changed her mind when she saw who was already there. Shrugging, she headed for the river. It would not be the first time she had bathed in the cold water. Reaching the secluded area she knew few visited, she stripped down to her under slip. Laying her things on a large rock extending into the water, she dived in, shedding the garment underwater and threw it onshore. Diving once again, she came up and washed her hair.

“You are brave, coming to bathe in the river. Are you not afraid someone will see you?”

Jumping slightly at the words, she glanced up. Standing on the bank was Mar, one of Elldar’s acquaintances. Tall and willowy, he was older than Del, and usually did not deign to speak to the four younger elves. That he would do so now, struck Ela as odd.

“No one of importance. Do you have a reason to disturb me, or is there nothing to do on the gates?”

“How is it that you come here, when the bathhouses are more comfortable?”

“If it is any of your business, I do not care for the environment of the bathhouses. If that is all, I would appreciate your leaving. This was not meant to be a shared experience. I have better things to do than banter with you. I did not even think you knew of my existence.”

“Oh, I know.” Looking at her, he cleared his throat. “I wondered if you would consider a walk through the gardens later.”

“A walk?” She fumbled slightly with the words. Her brain was frantically racing to understand what it was he wanted.

“Just a stroll. Maybe after dinner. I thought you might enjoy it.”

“Well,” she drew out the word, trying to come up with an answer. “Why?” she asked abruptly.

“Why what?” he returned.

“Come, Mar. For fifteen years, you do not acknowledge that I exist. Of a sudden, you want to take a stroll. Surely, there is no interest. You do not know me.”

“I did know that you existed. I have watched you for several years. The March Warden gives you little credit. He would do well to listen to what your peers have to say. I have watched you grow from a frightened child into the elleth you almost are. Why would you think there would be no interest? You should be well aware that I am not the only one.”

Ela was quiet. She was not aware. She had lived among these people and had not even been aware of her effect upon some of them.

“Why now? I know the rumours that have been going around. I bring nothing to any alliance, so why the interest?”

“You underestimate yourself. I know exactly what you bring, in matters of possessions. You have claim to nothing. Your grandfather left nothing. Your father inherited nothing. Your grandmother has much, but that is hers. Even your mother left you nothing to desire. A sorry collection of refugees from so far to the southeast that none have ever heard of them. So what do you suppose you have? I will tell you. You. I see someone determined to succeed. Someone who does the right thing, even when others deem it wrong. You are willing to sacrifice for others. You are what you bring. What man would not desire that?”

Ela was struck dumb. No one had ever spoken to her like this.

“I can tell you what man does not. One who seeks only to gain what wedding me would get him. You do know there was an offer while I was in Imladris. That man was willing to overlook my “deficiencies” in order to attain his desires. Are you?”

“I see no deficiencies. You are who you are because of what you are. Your foreign blood adds something that makes you different, not undesirable. And yes, I know of the offer. What a strange concept, buying a wife. Tell me, would you have accepted the offer, had they waited?”

“No. I cannot live that life. Their women are little more than servants, wedded for what they can give a man. I would have no rights, no property, and no voice. It has been said that Lord Elrond did me a great disservice by keeping me in Imladris. In the world of men, I would have been more willing to accept my fate. However, he did keep me. And I do not think it a mistake. My mother did not accept that life, and she did not want it for me. She and my father died because of that way of life. I would not have their deaths thrown away. No, the Indrel will not gain a ‘queen’ if it is to be me. I am less than no man. I have just as much to offer and I will not be pushed down, just because I am not a man.”

“There, you see? You possess a fire that seems to have cooled of late. Most elleth, even now accept their lives. And yes, while elven women are equal to men, they are too cool. You have what seems to have died in this age, the inner fire that was ours at the dawning of our existence. Only those who have come from other ages still have it.”

Ela looked at him. “I think you have had too much time to dwell on this. I am nothing more than what I am. You place entirely too much confidence in your beliefs. And, as for fire, I am content just to live out my life here, in the relative peace and quiet of Lórien. I only want to serve the Lord and Lady to the best of my abilities. I will wed, and if it is what is meant for me, I will bear children. Then I intend to either live out a full and long life, or die defending it. So, you see, no fire. No defiance. Just what is expected of me. Nothing more, nothing less. You will need go elsewhere for what you seek. I do not have it.”

“Oh, but you do. You just do not realize it, yet. That fire will lead you places of which you have not yet dreamed.”

“Now you are a prophet? I think you should concentrate on the guards. Foretelling is not your forte. However, if you want to waste your time on a walk through the gardens, I am not too averse. After dinner?”

“That is acceptable.”

He turned and found himself facing her brother. Elrohir stood with his hands on his hips and a frown on his face. “While I will admit to some playful bantering with young ellith in compromising situations in the past, they did not include my sister, and I was always careful to know where their protectors were at any given time. It is a lesson I am giving you now, free. I suggest that in the future, you be more discreet. Too many know of her penchant for bathing in the river. Now go.”

Mar wasted little time leaving.

“You would do well to be more careful, Ela,” Elrohir said to her.

“It would have been more dangerous in the bathhouse. At least here, I am usually alone. I do not believe he meant any harm.”

“You must be more careful.” He held her drying sheet up for her as she got out of the river. “He is not a boy. And you cannot flirt with him as you do Rúmil.”

“Was that what I was doing, flirting? That would imply an interest on my part. There is none.” She started combing out her hair. “You are early. They must have pushed hard across the plains.”

“They did. Rúmil sent a scout that counselled that speed would be advisable. Since there had nothing better to do, they complied.”

“Did my grandmother enjoy the journey?”

“She is not complaining. I think she was worried about what she would find of Lórien, but is satisfied it is not the primitive kingdom she thought it would be. Ada would like to see you. Gariel told me where to find you. And who to look for at the bathhouse.”

Without dropping the sheet, she pulled on her trousers. Slipping on her shirt, she dropped the sheet and buttoned up. Elrohir picked up the bottle of oil from her kit and poured some into his hands. Rubbing them together, he motioned her over. He ran his hands through her thick hair. Closing her eyes, she sighed.

“I miss someone doing this for me. When you were not home, Ada or Lady Seldala would do it for me. It feels so good.”

“You know, Ela, you do not have to call her Lady. You do outrank her.”

She turned to him. “It is not a matter of rank, but of respect. The same reason I call your father Ada. I know more than anyone that he is not my father. However, it is his desire that I call him that, and so I do. Out of respect for all he has done for me. If I had my way, there would be no rank. I am who I am because of me, not my parents, nor my grandparents. Only me. I would just as soon leave it at that. Now, can we go?”

“If you wish.”

“Where is your father?” she asked, picking up her kit and stuffing her nightclothes into it. She slung it over her shoulder.

“He waits with my grandparents, up in their talan.”

She shuddered. Fifteen years had not changed her mind about the trees.

“I will go as soon as I check in with Lord Glordinel. I want to make sure he survived the ride yesterday. And see that he ate breakfast.”

“I will see you later, then. And remember what I said about being careful.”

“I will. Go. Tell your father I will be along shortly.” She watched him walk away. While she loved the brothers, well, like brothers, they were an added complication to her life. Maybe Mar had had something in mind, maybe not. Sighing, she turned towards home.

****

The climb to the main talan was not something Ela enjoyed. The heights still made her dizzy. She just clung to the inner side of the stairs leading into the upper regions of the tree. Half-way up, she paused to slow her breathing. Finally getting it under control, she stared back up. Reaching the top, she laid a shaking hand on the railing below the talan level. Taking another deep breath, she stepped up on the landing. Pausing once more, she glanced up and saw Del at the door. He came over when he saw how pale she was.

“Wait a moment,” he said, with uncharacteristic concern. “They do not know you are here, yet. Just take a few minutes.” He stood beside her until she had regained her composure somewhat.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I hate this. Why can everyone not live on the ground? This is unnatural.”

Del laughed. “To me, you live unnaturally. I feel safer in the trees.”

“Well, if I roll out of bed in the night, I know I am only going as far as the floor.”

“Ela, no one has fallen from a talan in memory. I do not think you will be the first.”

“I know I will not. I do not intend to take the chance. The less I am up here, the less chance of it happening.”

Standing up, she went to the door. Waiting for Del to announce her, she fidgeted with her dress. It was a simple dark grey and reached almost to her ankles. While to her way of thinking it would be improper to wear trousers and tunic, she saw no need to dress formally. It was only an afternoon visit.

She looked up as Del came back through the door. He smiled and nodded to her. Swallowing, she went through the doors. Entering the main reception area, she saw Celeborn and Galadriel at the far end. With them were Lords Elrond and Erestor. She went over and stopped before the Lord and Lady. Bowing properly, she stood back up and turned to the others.

“Lord Erestor. I am pleased to see your lady is well. I trust you had a pleasant journey.”

“Lady. He nodded politely. “It was very pleasant. And I suppose I have you to thank for my reception at the marches?”

“Oh, no. That was Lord Glordinel. You will have to take that up with him.”

“I intend to. How are you, sell?”

“I am well. And happy, mostly. With everyone, mostly.”

“We can speak more of that riddle later.”

She turned to Elrond. Bowing, she straightened back up with a grin.

“Ada.”

“Ela.” He waited, then reached over and pulled her into an embrace. “You have grown in the last month.”

“You exaggerate. I could not possibly have grown. Maybe you are shrinking.”

He reached for her chin and turned her face. Looking at the cut over her temple, he frowned. It showed the pale green colouring of a healing bruise and the stitching was still red. If the scarring was not eased soon, it would be permanent.

“Who is seeing to this? He should have taken better care.”

“Lord Glordinel is seeing to it, and he is taking excellent care. He says it is just slower because of the Indrel part.”

“But he should have taken care of the scarring.”

“We have already had that disagreement. I told him to leave my scar alone. I am rather attached to it. It is there to remind one of the costs of disobeying to save a life.”

“But you cannot see…ah.” Having heard about the dressing down she had received over her act, he saw her logic, even if he did not understand it. “But it will leave a scar.”

“I cannot see it. It does not bother me. Now, where is Lady Elestra? The Elf said she was with you.”

“She is resting. She left word for you to come. I will show you.” Nodding to Celeborn and Galadriel, she followed Elrond from the room. They went up a side stairs to the guest rooms provided for visiting dignitaries. He opened a door for her to enter. Glancing around the sitting room, she waited while he knocked on an inner door. A few moments later, Elestra came out and looked Ela over.

“Welcome, Grandmother,” Ela said, bowing.

“And to you, Iell.”

“Welcome to Lórien. I hope it does not prove too provincial for your tastes.”

“I find it charming.”

“Another word for backwater. That is fine,” she held up her hand at the older woman’s protest. “It suits me. I rather enjoy the anonymity.”

“It seems that you cannot remain anonymous even in Lórien. Word of the fight has already gotten out.”

“How does that happen? For such a closed and forbidden realm, it leaks like a sieve. I sincerely hope nothing of import is ever concealed here. It would not be secure for long. What did you hear?”

“Only that there was an attack, and you disobeyed a direct order. And that you saved the life of fellow guardsman, and a friend.”

“Well, it seems that Del and Meliel are the only ones grateful for that. I did not make others happy.”

“Iell, you will find in life that you must make decisions that will not please others. It is your place to weigh the cost and then decide if you are willing to pay it. My husband was forced to make the ultimate choice. He did and paid the price. I do not think that given the chance to rethink his decision, he would have chosen other than the way he did. Courage is not making popular choices, but the right ones. Now, enough of this talk. I would see your world.

“I can show some of it now, if you like.”

“I would. I am tired of riding and need to walk off the stiffness.”

“I would think that after eight days, you would have lost the stiffness.”

“The bones are too old.”

“Lord Glordinel shares your dislike of riding,” she said, grinning. “Do you want to change? We will be doing a lot of walking.”

“My dear, I have not worn anything but a dress since my early years. I do not see reason to begin now.

“Very well, but I am stopping to change. Dresses make me feel curiously underdressed. Like I have forgotten to put something on. Would you like to join us, Ada?”

“I think I will leave you two to yourselves. I will visit with Arwen.”

“She will enjoy that. I will see you later.”

After he left, Ela turned to Elestra.

“Is it permissible to call you Grandmother? I did not think to ask.”

“It is quite all right, sell. As you are the only grandchild I will ever have, I would rather enjoy it.”

Satisfied, Ela held the door as Elestra left her rooms. They crossed the great reception hall and stopped at the entrance.

“Del, this is my grandmother, Lady Elestra. She has come all the way from the Hidden Havens. Grandmother, this is Delinfel. He is a friend of Elldar’s. As we are the four youngest elves in Caras Galadhon, we tend to spend our time together.”

“I am pleased to meet you, Lady. Ela has told us much about you. Well, what she knows. I hope your visit will be pleasant.”

“Thank you. I am sure I will see you again.”

She watched Ela walk to the edge of the landing.

“She is afraid of heights,” whispered Del.

Ela turned back to them with a sick smile. “Are you ready, Grandmother?”

Elestra followed her down the first flight of steps. She noticed Ela hugging the inner side of the stairs. They walked in silence to the halfway point, where Ela once again halted.

“Are you all right?”

“No. I do not like the heights. I will be fine once I reach the ground.”

“That is curious for an elf.”

“It seems my sense of balance is not as fine as is others’. I blame my mother. It seems I have much for which to thank both my parents. I must remember to do so when I reach the Halls of Namo.”

“Do you think you will go there?”

“Why not? Is it not logical? What are the chances of surviving the coming war?”

“What war?” Elestra was disturbed by the turn the conversation was taking.

“I am sorry, what?”

“The war. You mentioned a war.”

“I did? Then it must be tumbling around in my head somewhere. It will come out. It always does. I just do not always know when. We may go on now. I am fine.”

She started down the rest of the stairs. Reaching the bottom, she sighed in relief.

“Now, we will go to Gariel’s first. I want to change and ask her about supper. You will like her.”

As they walked through the city, Ela pointed out different things that meant something to her. She talked about the library and all the time spent there. She pointed out the formal gardens and explained the gatherings there. They finally came to the lane where Orophin lived. Ela held the gate for Elestra and led her to the house. Going through the open door, she called out.

“Gariel! Are you home?”

“Yes, Ela, I am. What is it?” She came into the family room. She stopped at the excitement on Ela’s face.

“Grandmother, this is Gariel. She is Rúmil’s brother’s wife. Gariel, this is Lady Elestra.” Gariel bowed to Elestra’s nod.

“Lady, welcome to our home. May I get you something to drink?”

“Tea would be welcome. Go, sell. Change.” Ela scooted down the hall to her room.

“She is happy here?” asked Elestra.

“Very. And she has been a delight for us, like a daughter. I cannot imagine how the last fifteen years would have been like without her.”

“Gariel, what is for supper tonight?” Ela called from her room.

“Stew. Did you get a better offer?” Gariel laughed.

“Not yet. Just wanted to see what my options were.” She came down the hall. “Would you like to see my room?” she asked Elestra. She had changed into dark blue trousers and a matching tunic. Her hair was plaited into a simple braid, copied from Meliel’s. Light boots covered her feet.

“I suppose that would be a good place to start. I have seen your room in Imladris.”

“Well, then, you will be disappointed,” she laughed. She led the way back to her room. Moving aside so Elestra could enter the room, she waited to see her reaction.

Her grandmother took in the small room. There was a bookshelf with several dozen books and quite a few bottles on it. The cupboard had trousers and tunics neatly folded. A knob on the wall held three or four dresses and another held a gown. As she glanced at the open window, a large yellow tabby cat jumped down on the bed. Ela went past her to sit on the bed. She picked up the cat, motioning to the chair.

“Hello, cat. You were out all night, again. If I did not know better, I would think you have a lady cat somewhere.” She laid him down on the bed.

“Are you happy here?” Elestra’s voice carried just a tinge of doubt.

“Very. Oh, I know it is not what you are used to, but I do not spend much time in here. I could have stayed with Arwen, but her way of life is not for me. And, this is not in the trees. I am usually out trying to get Lord Glordinel up by dawn. He does not function well before noon. Then I go to the fields for training. The rest of my time is spent on trying to outthink the March Warden and getting out to the fences.” She sighed. “It is a full-time job. He is as stubborn as an Orc.”

Elestra smiled. The exuberance of youth. She remembered it well. The fire she had had. The determination of her husband. It would dim, but it was good.

Ela jumped up, startling the cat. “Come, it is almost lunchtime. Would you like a sandwich?”

“I think I could find room for one.” She followed Ela back to the kitchen. Gariel was just finishing a basket lunch.

Ela sat at the table and watched Elestra pick up the sandwich for examination. The woman gingerly took a bite, chewing slowly. Swallowing, she smiled faintly.

“You do not eat like this much, do you?” Ela grinned.

“Not often. This is rather simple. Is this how you always eat?”

“Only lunch. Supper is more elaborate, but I hope you do not expect the nightly meals Ada requires. ‘Formality is wasted in the fringes.’” Her tone and the look in her eyes made it obvious she was quoting someone with whom she did not agree.

“Who said that?”

“Our dear March Warden. He has no time for the niceties of polite company.” She arched her eyebrows as she said this. Her expression was so like another, Gariel laughed.

“Ela, do not do that outside of home. It will not bode well for you is she catches you making fun of her.”

“What do I care of her? She is a useless piece of fluff. If he wants her, he is welcome to her. She would not survive long on the fences.”

“But she can make much trouble for you.”

“If she does, I will just have to wiggle out of it. She does not frighten me. She is just a bitter woman who has been thwarted in all her machinations. If he weds her, he will have his hands full wondering where she is when he is out of the city.”

Elestra listened to the exchange in silence. She had found out in Imladris that the girl was capable of handling trouble, and not above causing some of her own. She definitely did not inherit that from her father.

Ela poured more cider. Downing the cup, she picked her dishes up and set them in the sink. She turned to Elestra.

“Are you ready?”

“I am.” Ela picked up her dishes and placed them in the sink with hers. She quickly washed the few things up and placed them on the counter to dry. Elestra watched thinking how odd it was to see what should have been the heir apparent to the throne of the High Elves washing luncheon dishes. How her beloved Ereinion would laugh at the irony.

“I will stop before supper,” she said to Gariel, reaching up to kiss her cheek. Grabbing the basket, she started for the door. “Goodbye, Nana.”

“Good luck keeping up with her,” Gariel said quietly to Elestra. “She is a whirlwind when going about her business.”

“I have seen that. Thank you for lunch.”

“You are welcome. And come back, anytime.” Elestra nodded.
Ela waited by the gate. When her grandmother joined her, she started down the lane for the main road. They walked quietly, until a flash of colour drew Ela’s attention. Kneeling down along the side of the road, she picked up a butterfly. Its wing seemed broken. Ela cooed over it, and then rubbed the break, gently. Kissing the wing softly, she threw it up into the air. It fluttered over her head, lighting on her braid. Laughing, she reached her finger back and felt it crawl up to her wrist.

“Fly away, little one. It is dangerous here. You need to go out to the meadows.” As if listening to her, the butterfly flapped its wings and lifted off her finger, heading towards the more isolated part of the woods. She watched it go, and then continued down the lane.

She stopped before a large house. “This is where I do most of my studying now. Lord Glordinel,” she called as she jumped up the steps to the porch. The two meeting at the door narrowly missed hitting each other.

“One of these days you will injure me,” the tall Elf said, coming out onto the porch.

“It is a good thing you have taught me well. Lord Glordinel, this is my grandmother, Lady Elestra.”

“I am pleased to meet you,” he said, nodding to her.

“Likewise. So you are the one who takes up so much of her time.”

“Someone has to save the rest of the population. If I have her, others are spared. What do you have, child?” he asked, seeing the basket.

“It was your lunch. Now, I am not so sure. You would do well to remember who it is that ensures your survival.”

“I apologize. Now, may I have my lunch?”

“If you are that hungry, you skipped breakfast, again. Here, go and eat.” She smiled at the look of gratitude on his face. “Will you have need of me this afternoon?” she asked.

“I suppose I can handle the multitude of patients that stream through here. Go enjoy yourself. If Unimandil yells at you for creeping around the fields again, tell him I said it is time.”

“Thank you. I will. And do not forget about the party.”

“As if I would forget the chance to eat and drink at someone else’s expense. Now, go. I have things to do. Someone has to do your work.”

She laughed at his gruff demeanour. Jumping off the porch, she waited for Elestra to make a more sedate withdrawal.

By late afternoon Ela had shown her grandmother the activities that comprised her world and Elestra had a better grasp of what had made Ela and who she was. The few she met who really knew Ela were respectful, but not deferential. For her part, the girl showed no condescension. She was carefully as respectful in return. It mattered little to her if it was the stable keeper or the master of arms. Each was treated the same. It seemed the girl chose not to recognize class anymore than race. She showed a singular lack of self-importance. Elestra could not help thinking of the heir she would have made, in another place and time.

She had heard of the incidents in Imladris, good and bad. Now she was seeing what had shaped her granddaughter into a young woman. It was a life alien to her cloistered upbringing. Where Elestra had learned to use a bow for sport, Ela was deadly. Elestra could use a knife for cutting meat; Ela had killed two men and injured a third.

She shook her head. So different from Dorlandad. He had been a quiet child, causing no stir. Perhaps it had been because of his mother. No one had ever said anything to her about his Sindar blood, but the differences were there. He had had her silver hair and paler skin. His eyes had been a curious mix of blue and grey, depending on his mood. Everything about him had marked him not a Noldo. And, he had been very conscious of it. Elestra had been just as aware, but fear had kept her from leaving. Finally, Dorlandad had been the one to leave. Unable to find one willing to wed him, he had told her goodbye and walked away from their home. She had heard things over the years concerning her son, but nothing definite. He had chosen to cut himself off from all he had ever known. Until nearly fifteen hundred years later, a letter had arrived from the most unexpected person: Elrond, her husband’s aide and friend. Elrond, asking about her and her son. Elrond, claiming he had her granddaughter. Elrond. How much different would life had been had she sought him out instead of withdrawing to the northwest? However, in the aftermath of the Last Alliance, chaos had ruled her actions. Fear had driven her to hide her child, lest there were those who would seek revenge. Devastating sorrow had driven her to run. She had lost the only man she had ever loved, but could not even claim openly to have wedded him. There were no documents and only one surviving witness, and she had not even been sure of that. Therefore, she had lived her life in obscurity, slowly building a life for her and her son. Slowly working her way back up the social hierarchy to find a place where she would be accepted as at least the noble Sindar she was. Trading on her father’s name, not her husband’s. Using the wealth left her by her sire. It was a lonely life for one who had known such happiness and love.

She started as she realized that Ela might be more like her than she thought. Where there had been a desperate determination to her, Ela had a quiet determination to succeed. Where she had been content with what she could achieve, Ela would be content with nothing less than what she wanted. This child was more like her than her son had been. For the first time, she was truly proud of the daughter her son had sired.

“Grandmother!” Ela’s voice was slightly raised.

“I am sorry, Iell. What did you say?”

“You are so lost. And in pain. Did I cause it?”

“No, sell. It was caused a long time ago. You are just reminding me that life goes on and gives us compensations.”

“Well, it is near dinner time. I asked if you would like me to go back up with you.”

“That will not be necessary. I know your feelings for the heights. What if we meet later, in the gardens?”

“That would be acceptable. They are beautiful in the moonlight.”

“Then, I will see you after dinner.”

“Enjoy your meal. I know it will be more than I care for.” Ela gave Elestra a slight peck on the cheek and turned to go back home. Walking back, she wondered what had made her grandmother so sad. She had a feeling it had to do with her father. Someday, she would ask about him. When it did not pain Elestra so much.

Ela returned home. She found Gariel and Orophin in the kitchen finishing setting the table. Sitting down, she waited until they had joined her.

Orophin could not help but notice Ela’s fidgeting during the meal. Elldar had made other arrangements and they were reduced to the three of them. He watched her play with her food and smiled as she almost tipped over her cup of tea.

“Ela?”

She glanced up at him. “Yes, Orophin?”

“What is on your mind? It certainly is not dinner.”

She hesitated. Judging whether to say anything, she finally made up her mind.

“Do you think me desirable?”

“What?” exclaimed Orophin and Gariel both.

“No, that did not come out right. What I mean is, should others? Have I enough to draw the interests of others?”

“I am not sure what you mean,” stated Orophin, confused.

Without mentioning who said it, she related the conversation with Mar. Gariel smiled. She wondered how long it would take the younger men to notice Ela. Orophin did not look pleased.

“I was asked to take a stroll later, in the gardens. I did not understand the reason, until he explained it to me. I never felt that way. Now, I am wondering. Is this normal?” She looked to Gariel, pleading with her eyes.

“Oh, Ela. It is very normal. I do not think you need be concerned. If asked, and you want to, go for the walk. How will you find your destiny if you do not explore your possibilities? Will you tell us who the boy is?”

She looked at Gariel with reluctance.

“It is Mar,” she whispered.

“I did not think you cared for him.”

“I did not. I do not. I mean…I do not know what I mean. What he said confused me. First, he treats me as if I am nothing, now he tells me I could be everything. Is he serious, or just flirting?”

“Knowing Mar,” said Orophin, “I would say he is serious. And, maybe flirting just a little. He is a very sober ellon. He does little without thinking it through.”

“Then I should accept his invitation?”

“Only if you want to. However, as he says, if you turn him down, there are others. I have heard some talk. You do not go unnoticed any longer. You have gone from ‘that girl staying at Gariel’s’ to Ela, or, I have even heard, Lady Elrénia. It is something you will have to deal with eventually. I fear that is the price of growing up. You should maybe speak with the Lady. She has much more experience than do I with young elleth. I have only my brothers and Elldar to go by.”

“Yes, I think I will. That is what Lord Glordinel suggested.”

“Go, sell,” laughed Gariel. “You have not eaten enough to even clean up. I will see to it.”

Ela nodded and rose from her chair. Going into the house, she walked slowly back to her room. She took down a plain grey dress from the hook on the wall. Changing, she combed her hair and pulled it back, braiding it. She looked in the mirror on the back of the door, and then took the braid back out. Leaving her hair free, she left the house.

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Chapter name
Chapter Nineteen
Created
06 Mar 2005
Last Edited
06 Mar 2005
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