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The elves wove round each other in an elaborate dance that had nothing to do with – well – dancing, and everything to do with knowing exactly what part they played in setting up the wide halls of Imladris for a celebration that left Gilraen wide-eyed. And, she smiled, looking down at the child whose hand she held firmly in hers, had Estel so bemused that he was likely to trip over his own feet in his desire to see and take part in everything. It only went to prove how much he had grown – and how much he belonged here. This was not the first time he had been present when the elves readied themselves to celebrate the longest of the star-filled nights and welcome the turn of the year, but it was the first time he had been old enough to be filled with such anticipation.
The first time – Gilraen drew a steadying breath – the first time, she had sat beside her son’s bed, shutting out the sounds of a joy that seemed to have no more place in her world, cutting herself off from the life of this place that was to be her home. The year after that … well, Estel had been too young to stay up late into the dark evening and nobody had said anything when she had withdrawn to sit by the fire in their rooms and think of happier times.
But now – Estel’s excitement would ensure that she would be one of those taking part in the celebrations. She had not required Elrohir’s coaxing or Elrond’s carefully-worded invitation – not once Elladan had done his work in letting Estel know the delights in store for him as the youngest by far of those attending the night’s events. The look in her son’s eyes would have been more than enough.
‘Estel!’ One of those fixing evergreens turned towards them and beamed her a bright smile. ‘Can you come and help? We need someone with small fingers for this job!’
When she gave a nod of assent, Lindir swung the child up to his shoulder and carried him off to offer whatever aid they could find for him to provide.
‘He will help Mothwen decorate the halls,’ a voice said in Gilraen’s ear. ‘Then Iavas will summon him to decorate gingerbread and Elrohir will take him out to the stables to ensure the horses have fresh hay – and Lindir and he will sing all the traditional songs Estel can remember. By the time you see him again he will have sticky hair full of grass stems and leaves and look as if he has never seen a bath.’ Elladan sounded delighted at the prospect.
‘I will try to get him to have a sleep this afternoon,’ Gilraen said doubtfully, ‘or he will never last until tonight.’
‘We will do it.’ Elladan grinned. ‘He will come and sprawl in front of the fire with us while we tell him stories – and never notice that he is taking a nap until he wakes up refreshed in time to eat supper.’
‘One day your cunning will catch up with you,’ Gilraen observed.
Elladan’s grin widened. ‘But not this day,’ he said.
Gilraen looked round her. ‘I cannot believe how different it feels this year.’
‘Imladris has become your home.’
Had it? Gilraen turned the words over in her head. She did not think that was entirely true. If anyone asked about her home, she would probably still talk about her parents’ house, even in preference to the place where she had spent the few short years of her marriage. No. What Imladris had become was her son’s home. Seeing it through his eyes had made it a place where she was comfortable – but without him, she did not believe she would be willing to remain here.
‘You have all been so kind to us,’ she said. ‘How could we not be happy here?’
‘It takes more than kindness to make someone happy,’ Elladan remarked, ‘although its absence can be enough to make for great unhappiness.’ He tilted his head to inspect the woman. ‘I hope that you will dance with me this evening.’
Gilraen returned his gaze. ‘I do not know,’ she said frankly. ‘I am not that well-acquainted with the customs of the elves. I would not like to find that I am breaking some age-old shibboleth.’
‘Would I?’ Elladan placed his hand on his heart as if he were deeply wounded – but a smile lurked at the corners of his mouth.
‘Nana!’ The charge of an excited child across the floor gave Gilraen an excuse not to reply. Not that she needed to – Elladan knew perfectly well that any suspicions she might have would probably be justified.
Elrond’s son intercepted the boy smoothly and tossed him into the air, swinging him round to face his mother. Estel crowed with delight as he wrapped his hands firmly in Elladan’s hair.
Gilraen smiled. For all it looked at a casual glance as if the twins were indifferent to her son’s safety, she knew perfectly well that Estel was as secure in their care as he was in hers.
‘Nana, can I … may I help Iavas in the kitchen? She says she does not know how she will get the baking finished if I do not give her a hand.’
‘That is not fair,’ Elladan protested. ‘Why is she asking you to help her instead of me? Anyone would think that she did not trust me.’
The boy leaned back, confident that his foster brother would not drop him. ‘You can come, too,’ he suggested. ‘I will ask Iavas if you can help. You and me and Elrohir. We can do it together.’
The warmest and most gentle smile Gilraen had ever seen brightened the elf’s face as he looked from the child towards her. She nodded her agreement silently, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. This was why she found herself content here, she realised. It was more than the house. She had found a family.
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