The Old that is Strong

[A tale of Gilraen, Mother of the King Elessar Telcontar]

by Telcontar

When last Gilraen had tarried long with her son, she had dwelt still in Rivendell, and remembered the sight of him then as if in a dream. He had been garbed in Elven robes, and he looked so like his father that she had felt the tears spring unbidden to her eyes. It was then she thought of her son grown full to his inheritance, and then, too, the seeds of her sorrow took root within her, even in fair Imladris. For it was then, too, she knew that her son felt the doom of love's binding on his heart, so like the one she had felt long years before, and so briefly.

Gilraen had not been more than a child, still in the earliest Spring of her womanhood and as fair as all things are fair at the dawn of the year, when she was sought by Arathorn, son of Arador. Arathorn was in the full Summer of his life, over two score beyond Gilraen in years, but she would have no other, nor he have any other woman, so deep was his desire for her. Her father, Dirhael, had refused, pleading that Gilraen was not of age, and he revealed not to this descendant of Aranarth what was given him by foresight: that too soon the summer's bounty would be placed upon Arathorn, and yet early would be the frosts on this same summer. Her mother, Ivorwen, too, was given this vision, but to her was given perhaps the greater sight, for she foresaw that this summer wass time for seedlings to be planted in young earth, so to sleep within its embrace through Winter's darkness, perhaps to be renewed at last after the storms. And so it was with Ivorwen's counsel, Dirhael consented to the wedding of Gilraen to Arathorn, Arador's son.

They had but a single year of bliss before Arador was slain, but it was then the blazing heat of Arathorn brightly shone among the Dunedain. For it was at that time Arathorn became chieftain, and tirelessly he fought against the evil creatures that lingered in the North.

All was not warfare in that time, Gilraen remembered. In quiet moments Arathorn and Gilraen returned to their newlywed bower, and it was from those gentle times Gilraen bore Arathorn a son, and he was called Aragorn. Rarely would Arathorn show a father's love to his heir, for the times were growing dark, and with Arathorn's fire was also a sternness, as benefits a chieftain of the North. Yet Gilraen was Arathorn's beloved, and she him, and so she alone could see the affection Arathorn had for his son, and she was filled with joy and contentment.

Alas, that the foresight of her parents had been true! Aragorn had been but newly weaned when Spring's blush drained from Gilraen's fair cheek, washed away in a flood of tears. The sons of Elrond had rode with Arathorn that day, and far they had ridden, when they had been besieged by Orcs. Elves have no doom of death laid upon them, and so mortality to them is a strange and sorrowful sight indeed, but the breaking of one's heart is shared by both Elves and Men, and it was with despair the sons of Elrond bore back the body of Arathorn to his people, his widow and orphaned son.

An arrow, foul and black-feathered, had pierced the eye of Arathorn and smothered the flame of life therein. Gilraen wept as her husband no longer could weep, the sight of her son's sire in such disgrace a chill frost in her belly. She loved no longer after that day, and never again did she feel the sun's heat, so warm had her love and desire for Arathorn been. In the dying embers of Arathorn's summer had Gilraen gave up her hope for the Dunedain.

In those days Elrond Half-Elven nurtured the tender seed of Numenor when Gilraen fell into despair, and it was he who cherished the Heir of Islidur, calling him Estel. But it was in the house of Elrond that Aragorn suffered the doom of his lineage, for it was there he first saw Arwen, Elrond's daughter and so lost his heart. Gilraen saw this and grew afraid for her son and for the fate of their people.

Much time had passed since that day. She withdrew from Rivendell several years past, returning to the land of her people, in Eriador. Her father and mother had long since passed away, and she spend the long days in silence and the long nights alone. The shadows drew darker on the horizons, she knew; Gilraen had the foresight of her sires. She knew too that her son, Aragorn, and Arwen Undomiel, the daughter of Elrond had pledged themselves to each other in Lorien, but that the time of their rejoicing was far in the future, and not certain.

It had been nearly three score years since Aragorn her son had been given the knowledge of his lineage and the day he first saw Arwen in Rivendell. The doom on him had made him look grim, yet in the moments she saw him, Gilraen saw the fire of his sire and the Elven light of his heritage. She loved him still, with the love of a mother for her only child, but her heart was turned more to the memory of Arathorn as the light waned for her. The weight of the years lay heavy on her now, and she dwelt in the stony ruins of the Dunedain in the North.

So it was from the parapets she spied Aragorn's return to the North after many long years and deeds. She was filled with a weariness long foreseen. Gilraen walked from the heights down into her chambers, and prepared herself to see her son once more.

He found her there, by the fire, wrapped against the cold of autumn, her once fair face worn and aged with time and sorrow. He held her hands and sat before her, and told her of all he had done in his time away. She listened with her eyes upon him, and seeing the lines of his sire wrought over his frame, she saw too in his deeds the echo of Arathorn, and sighed.

Aragorn was much distressed at the withering of his mother Gilraen, but tried in vain to conceal it.

"Aragorn," said she, and cherished the name spoken, for it was given him by his father, and rarely did she use it for him. "Aragorn, do not be troubled by me. It is the way of women to look back upon our bittersweet memories."

"On what are you thinking, then?" asked he.

"On the memory of your sire, and the pride he had when he beheld you."

Aragorn looked into the fire, his hands still clasping hers. "I have little memory of him," he said, low.

"I have memory enough for us both," Gilraen said.

The silence grew long between them, and they sat a long time unspeaking, each in their own thoughts as the fire burnt low. After a time, Gilraen grew tired, and Aragorn escorted her to her bedchamber, and left her for the night. She slept well and in peace, for the knowledge that her son was near comforted her, although she knew that she had one more burden to place on him ere he left again. The shadows lengthened, and the darkness grew.

It seemed an indulgence, the days she spent in his company, but she was old, and it was her due. The weariness grew, and on the day of Aragorn's parting, she had not the strength to leave her bed. Aragorn went to her side, and her maids withdrew to allow them their time. She beaconed him forward.

"This is our last parting, Estel, my son." For a moment the words failed her, for they were bitter indeed to her, for all their truth. "I am aged by care, even as one of lesser Men, and now that it draws near I cannot face the darkness of our time that gathers upon Middle-earth." She looked into the distance, toward the West. "I shall leave it soon."

Aragorn knew the truth of Gilraen's words, and, as a son, wished to ease her suffering and comfort her in her doom. "Yet there may a light beyond darkness; and if so," said he, kneeling by her side to brush back a faded lock of her fair hair, "I would have you see it and be glad."

Gilraen sighed, and closed her eyes to the West. Many long moments she gave no sign, but lay as if in sleep. Then Aragorn saw a single tear trace itself like a gentle river from the well of her dimming eye, and she whispered to him only this in answer: "Onen i-Estel Edain, u-chebin estel anim." Then she spoke to him no more.

Aragorn rose from her bedside and stood long before Gilraen, his mother, and when he left, his heart was heavy in him. There was much before him to attend to, but all that cold Winter his thoughts strayed to her, to her last words to him. It was in the waning of the snowy days, when the sound of the first melting lay on the foothills, that he received word he had longed not to hear, yet knew he would: Gilraen had died before the next spring.