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A/N 1: This story is finished, but I am not posting all chapters at once. I will update every few days. Also, I am grateful to my betas, Chris, Warg, and Vana, for their invaluable assistance.
A/N 2: You will find that I write Gilraen and, to a lesser extent, Elladan differently from how we typically see them portrayed in fan fiction. Because we have so little canonical information on these characters' personalities, I don't think any of us can say with any certainty what they would have done in the circumstances in which I have placed them. My story presents merely one possible alternative. In order to understand my rationale for writing this story as I did, please read the Author's Notes contained in the Prologue. Thank you
Chapter One: The Boy Called Hope
“Look at you!” spat the woman. “You are filthy!”
The boy looked down, flushed with shame. Though he was, in fact, spattered here and there by mud, having only just come in from his outdoor play, he knew that it was not his appearance to which his mother referred. He concluded, with the simplicity of his age, that if his mother found him disgusting, he must truly be vile, unable to recognize his mother’s reaction as a reflection of her own pain.
It had been nearly four months since that horrific day that had transformed the relationship between mother and son, when the boy’s father, many years his mother’s senior, had met his sudden and violent end. When the part-girl, part-woman found herself a widow, she cared little that she was also mother to a young boy still learning to speak in complete sentences. On the contrary, her pain blinded her to the possibility that loving another creature, even her own flesh and blood, could be anything but folly. Her son, therefore, was no treasure but liability.
Neither knowing nor caring how she would raise the boy alone, the young mother did the only thing that came to her marred mind: she accompanied the sons of Elrond to Imladris, and mother and son took up residence as two mortals among a sea of Elves and Peredhil.
The boy scarcely remembered a time when they had not lived in Imladris with the kind half-elven Lord and his kin, recalling only flashes of his former home and his brave father, Arathorn. In fact, he had nearly forgotten that he had been known by a different name in those earlier days; he had been born nearly three years earlier as Aragorn, but following Arathorn’s death, the boy’s name had been changed to conceal his true identity as Isildur’s heir. Thus, on that darkened day when Arathorn died, Hope was born.
The boy called Hope, Estel in the tongue of the Eldar, had loved and admired his father but was still young enough that his life revolved around his mother, Gilraen. Before Arathorn’s death, Gilraen had been a freckle-faced young woman with a free spirit and unruly hair (“Woman, your hair is nigh as unruly as your temper,” Arathorn had been fond of saying). From the little that Estel could remember, the small family had been happy, and he had always had the distinct impression, though he was too young to know it consciously, that he was the center of his parents’ lives. No more.
This day, when Gilraen’s son sought her attention, he was met by a loathsome stare that hardened the face of the woman who, only a few short months earlier, had been pretty and youthful. Reading the hatred in her eyes, the boy retracted his hand, his body aquiver with restrained tears. He longed to return to the days when his mother, upon seeing his tears, would scoop him up in her arms, clutch his head to her shoulder, and caress his back with such tenderness that his pain and unhappiness was soon forgotten. Now, his sobs only caused her lip to curl in utter disgust.
Gilraen spun away and fled the room.
Left alone with his pain, Estel’s mind quickly strayed to a conversation he had overheard between Gilraen and Elrond shortly after their arrival in Imladris, one that haunted him:
“From now on, we call the boy only Estel,” Elrond explained matter-of-factly.
“Estel? Hope? Why do you call him Hope? No Hope remains!”
“Gilraen, it does. You will see, though not yet. Your pain clouds your vision.”
“Say what you will, Elrond. That boy is not my Hope! . . .”
It was not his mother’s words so much as their hateful tone that had shattered Estel’s heart, and that tone played itself over and over again in his mind, reminding him that he had somehow lost his mother’s love. What horrible infraction had he committed to make his mother despise him so?
Through his study window, Elrond saw Gilraen leave the Last Homely House. Again. Her absences had become habit, but she was too unstable to be allowed to stray far. His younger twin son, Elrohir, usually volunteered to find her and had done so today; he had always had a knack for finding strays: kittens (they had delighted Arwen), frogs (they had repulsed Celebrían), and now young widows. Interesting talent he has, mused Elrond.
Elrond knew that with both Elrohir and Gilraen gone, Estel would likely be alone. The Lord was pleased to have a respite from his current task of preparing a long overdue account of Arathorn’s death for the home’s ever-expanding repository, and he welcomed a chance to spend time with the young Dúnadan.
Elrond found Estel sitting on the floor of his chambers, hugging his arms about himself as he sniffled, silver eyes gleaming with tears.
“Come, Estel. Let us go sit by the fire, you and I.”
Elrond picked the boy up and carried him to the Hall of Fire, settling into an overstuffed chair, Elrond’s favorite. Estel curled into a ball and placed his head on Elrond’s lap. Soon, his sniffles transformed into the deep, steady inhalation and exhalation of sleep.
The boy had been asleep only minutes when a figure appeared in the doorway, catching the periphery of Elrond’s vision. The Lord turned his head, not surprised to see the elder of his twin sons. Although his sons spent a fair amount of their time apart, each always seemed to sense when the other was absent, something the Lord understood well, being a twin himself, sorely missing his brother.
“Is she gone again, Father?” Elladan inquired coolly, glancing at the sleeping child in his father’s lap.
“Yes, Elladan, but please, let us not wake the boy.” The Lord ran his fingers through the young mortal’s hair. “Your brother is out looking for her now.”
“I should hardly think it is his responsibility to fetch her each time she runs off, nor is it yours to raise another child.”
The boy stirred in his sleep.
“Elladan, please keep your voice down.”
“Sorry, Father,” Elladan whispered. “I have no wish to disturb Estel.” He paused, fingering the pendant around his neck as he was prone to do when agitated. The elder twin of Elrond knew he should let the conversation lie, but he had never been much good at holding his tongue. This day was not different. “I still think that woman should be here caring for him instead of you!”
“Elladan,” Elrond whispered in return, struggling to keep his voice even. “We knew when the two came to us that this would be a difficult period of transition. And certainly you realize what pain can do to a person. Gilraen can hardly be held responsible for her actions.”
Yes, Elladan knew all too well how grief could poison love. Everything he saw in Gilraen—what he had seen in his own mother—told him it was so.
When Elladan failed to respond, Elrond continued, “She simply knows not how to cope with her grief, so she flees this home. I suppose that she thinks that if she runs far enough, she will escape her pain.” Elrond had a faraway look in his eye, and Elladan wondered whether his father was thinking of Celebrían’s departure, as well. He considered asking but decided against it; Celebrían was a subject rarely discussed even though the memory of her haunted this home like an invisible shadow, a presence made ever more palpable through each effort to deny its existence.
Elrond sighed inwardly. In Elladan’s younger days, he had been the more easy-going of Elrond’s sons, but his anger had been ready to flare at the slightest provocation ever since his mother had left Middle-earth centuries ago. When Celebrían first departed for Valinor, it was Elrohir for whom Elrond felt the greatest anxiety; the younger twin had always been sensitive and moody, and with the absence of his mother, his pain was open and raw. But his youngest emerged from his grief with greater clarity and wisdom than he had had before. Arwen, too, wept and mourned with the grace becoming a lady, grace she had inherited from her mother and which only served to ripen her beauty into one of true womanhood. Elladan, however, was reticent and increasingly quick to anger. Elrond lamented the change, but he knew not what to do to help his son cope with unresolved feelings of loss.
The Lord himself was still silently lamenting his beloved’s absence, but Elrond’s pain went beyond grief; his loss was exacerbated by the unrelenting mental tirade of “if only.” Many a restless night, the hunger of his demons woke to nibble on the fringes of his mind. At such times, he sat alone in Celebrían’s favorite courtyard with only the trees as his confessor, silently berating himself for his perceived ineptitude. Inevitably, it was Celebrían’s voice that quieted him; the sea separated their bodies, but in mind and spirit, they were still one, and her voice dwelled in his mind, providing him comfort as it always had:
Ai! Celebrían, if only I had not permitted your journey to Lórien.
Elrond, you think you could have prevented it? I am too strong-willed for that, being my mother’s daughter.
If only I had sent more adequate protection.
As it was, you sent a most capable escort. They suffered and died to protect me.
If only I had—
Enough, Beloved. It is because of you that I live.
As Elrond lost himself in private reverie, silence covered the room and hung so long that Elladan thought perhaps his father had forgotten he was there. Eventually, Elrond shook his head as if to clear one of his visions from his mind’s eye, but Elladan thought it more likely that a memory had held his father spellbound.
“We will do what we must. My concern is for the boy.” Elrond gazed at the sleeping form in his lap, and there was no mistaking his affection.
“Yes. Mine, as well,” said Elladan. And with all his heart, he meant it.
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