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Elladan turned and grinned at the small boy. ‘Come on, Estel,’ he whispered. ‘Elrohir is waiting for us in the stables.’
‘Will Nana not mind?’ the child asked anxiously. ‘She always comes to get me up in the morning.’
The elf glanced up at the balcony. ‘She will not mind,’ he assured the boy. ‘She knows that brothers like to spend time together.’
Above them, Gilraen forced herself to smile serenely. She had given her consent to the twins’ proposed expedition. It would not, after all, benefit Estel to feel that he was tied to her apron strings. He spent too much time with her as it was – and it would be good for him to be outside and in the care of males. Even if those males were the Elrondionnath.
‘They will look after him,’ Glorfindel’s sun-warm voice assured her. ‘They know that they would be in peril of their lives should anything happen to Estel.’
‘I am not that fearsome,’ she said, watching until the three were beyond her sight.
‘They learned long ago that mothers are not to be taken lightly,’ he remarked, shaking his head at a warning glance from Elrond. ‘Celebrían was an adoring naneth – but she had her limits and they knew better than to cross them.’ He sat down at the table and started to cut an apple into thin rings. ‘Do you remember when they took it into their heads to dispose of that ellon who kept following them – what was his name?’
‘Barion,’ Elrond supplied.
Gilraen looked alarmed.
‘They were only children,’ Glorfindel assured her quickly, ‘and they did not harm their little admirer – they simply played hide and seek with him. They told him to hide – and slipped off while he waited for them to find him. The child fell asleep – and his naneth was in a state of panic until he was found curled up in a hollow tree.’ He poured himself some tea and took an appreciative sip. ‘The twins confessed to their naneth what they had done – they were always courageous, if lacking in sense.’
‘But they learned,’ Elrond interjected. ‘And rarely repeated their mistakes.’ He smiled at Gilraen. ‘They will care for him.’
‘I do not doubt it,’ she replied with assumed confidence.
Elrond’s eyes contained far too much understanding. It was, she thought, almost … indecent … that a male – even if he was an elf and old enough to remember the War of Wrath – should be able to see her worries so clearly.
‘Make the most of the freedom,’ he suggested. ‘He will be back before you know where you are. My wife would seize such moments to indulge in scented baths and do things to her hair – it always seemed to make her remarkably content.’
It was easy enough for him to say, Gilraen decided crossly, as she left them discussing the order for the day’s activities – but she suspected that Celebrían had spent rather more time than her husband realised pacing the floors of Imladris anxiously awaiting the return of her enterprising elflings, no matter how calm a face she had presented to their adar.
Stopping suddenly, she leaned against the wall. This was the first time since her son had been born that they had been separated like this. The first, but it would be by no means the last. She closed her eyes as a feeling of loss clutched at her heart. This was just the beginning. The first steps in her child’s growth from baby to boy to youth to man. He would leave her more and more easily and go where she would not be able to follow. Her eyes stung and a sharp tingle – as if she had been making pickles – caught at the back of her nose and closed her throat. And she would have to learn to smile as he left her behind. He was his father’s son – Arathorn’s son – and he had duties that would take him far beyond the life she led.
A gentle hand touched her shoulder and Mothwen folded the young woman into her arms, rubbing soothingly on her back. ‘They do not think,’ the elleth said. ‘To them, it is … a rite of passage. Something of which to be proud.’
‘It is,’ Gilraen said defiantly. ‘It is the beginning of another stage.’
The housekeeper said nothing, but simply continued to hold her as if she were a child until the woman relaxed and released a deep sigh.
‘He is the only child I will ever have,’ Gilraen said, her voice small and hollow. ‘The only legacy his father left me. I do not wish to let him go.’
‘But you will do it anyway,’ Mothwen said simply. ‘Because you must. You love them and raise them and free them to follow the path set before them.’ She gave the woman a quick hug. ‘But he is not leaving you yet, Gilraen. You have many years yet to guide him into becoming the man he will be.’
‘Many years – and a lot of mending,’ Gilraen sniffed, determined to put her moment of emotion behind her. ‘At least I should be able to get that finished – and maybe I will have time to start on the new clothes he needs.’
Mothwen smiled. ‘He will return in rags, if Elrohir and Elladan have anything to do with it,’ she agreed. ‘Filthy, exhausted and only too happy to have his nana bathe him and tuck him up in his bed.’ She shook her head affectionately. ‘They do not know how to do things by halves,’ she said. ‘It has always been all or nothing with them.’
‘They are good to Estel.’ Gilraen was not altogether sure if Mothwen thought their interest was a good thing or not. ‘And,’ she declared, ‘they are good for him. He needs what they can offer. I am just being silly.’ She pulled back from the elleth and straightened her back. ‘I have work to do yet,’ she smiled. ‘And I had better begin.’
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