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‘He is beginning to realise that he is different.’
Elrond frowned. ‘He has always known that,’ he said. ‘We have made no attempt to keep from him the fact that he is a child of men.’
‘Known, but not realised.’ Gilraen sighed, for her son’s obvious pain made her ache for him. ‘He was little enough not to think about what it meant – but now … There is always someone to tell him – kindly, because no-one in Imladris is anything but kind – that he cannot expect to be as good as they are in something or other, because he of the Secondborn.’ As Elrond’s lips tightened, she made haste to continue – she had no desire to start a conflagration. ‘Estel thought he was just too young to do what others can – but he is coming to understand that he will always lag behind.’
‘That is not true,’ the lord of Imladris declared. ‘The race of men, I find, learns quickly and achieves far more than many of those who have done little with uncounted centuries care to believe.’
Gilraen raised a sceptical eyebrow. ‘Have you not missed off the final word, Lord Elrond? Where is ‘considering’? It dangles unspoken at the end of much praise.’
‘Have I ever said anything …’ for once, the smooth tones were almost heated, ‘to suggest that I think less of Estel for being of the Dúnedain?’
‘Of course you have not,’ she denied, ‘but a difference that is overlooked is still a difference!’ She stopped and drew a steadying breath. ‘He needs to know that being a man is just as good as being an elf – and how is he to learn that, surrounded as he is by those whom he can never emulate?’
Elrond’s jaw tightened, as if he wanted to say more, but instead he pressed his lips together and turned to look out over the gardens.
Silence brooded in the airy room. There was no answer, Gilraen thought bleakly. They were here to protect her son – and consequently he would be kept apart from all those like him, until finally he was thrust out into the world – educated, elegant, equipped for elven diplomacy – and left to make his way, quite unprepared for the rough and tumble life that was the decay of Númenorean authority.
‘He is not alone,’ Elrond said abruptly, ‘in growing up as a gosling among cygnets.’ His long fingers picked at the smooth surface of his robes as he kept his attention on the unmoving plants. ‘He will survive it – perhaps, even, benefit from it.’
The woman said nothing. It seemed best – clearly nothing she could say would soothe wounds whole ages old.
‘I will do what I can to help him understand,’ the Peredhel said, ‘that different does not mean less. That, often, it calls on a strength of character and courage that takes its possessor far beyond the mediocrity of those who are contentedly at home in their surroundings.’
Gilraen bit her lip. She did not want her son to rise to heights no other man could reach – she wanted him to be comfortable in his own skin, proud of what he was. ‘He is only a little boy,’ she said, knowing not how to explain her worries.
‘He reminds me of my brother.’ Elrond’s words sounded squeezed from him. Eyes deep as fog on an autumn night and hiding just as much turned to settle on her. ‘He may be man rather than elf, but he is family.’
‘He does not know that.’ She hesitated, then continued with gentle ruthlessness. ‘And it would not matter anyway. He must learn to be a man among men if he is to fulfil his destiny – and he cannot do that if all he sees when he looks at himself is a second-rate elf.’
‘You are the best equipped to teach him of his heritage.’
‘But I cannot mention anything that will help him take pride in who he is!’ Gilraen snapped. ‘History is all very well, but he is a child. He needs to learn about himself in relation to the world, rather than wallow in lists of noble kings and legends of great heroes! He can no more aspire to be Beren than he can to be Glorfindel!’
Elrond looked down.
‘Your sons do all they can,’ Gilraen told him, mollified by the Peredhel’s clear admission of helplessness. ‘But they cannot be children for him. However much they understand, they still surpass him – and doubtless always will. He needs equals.’
‘And equals he cannot have. Not and stay hidden.’
‘We are going round in circles,’ Gilraen sighed. ‘We can see the problem – but not the solution.’ She inspected the folds of her skirt where they draped across her feet to rest on the gleaming floor. ‘I am afraid,’ she added softly, ‘that we are raising the child to become a man who will be fit only to be alone. One who will fit in nowhere and will have no place to call home – no people to whom his heart calls.’
‘He is one of a long line of Dúnedain to spend years in Imladris.’ Elrond tried to sound encouraging. ‘His father did not find it hard to go home.’
‘His father did not consider himself to be your son. He knew who he was when he came here – and who he would be when he left.’ Gilraen would not allow herself to be deluded. She was Estel’s only lifeline to the world of men – and, through her, he must learn to value a heritage that seemed a thousand leagues from the tranquil gardens of Imladris.
‘Estel …’ Elrond hesitated, reluctant to speak of something that was no more than an uncertain feeling. ‘Estel needs to learn the lessons we can teach him here,’ he said finally. ‘He will need to follow a path that none else can see – let it take him beyond the limitations of expectation.’ He drew a resolute breath. ‘I will do my best by him – we will all do our best by him. He is different – none can deny that – but in that difference may well be the salvation of us all.’
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