Between Freedom and Loyalty

An Angel with Tainted Blood

The soft footfall of three elves brought Lainien's eyes back in focus. Immediately she stood and moved to the foot of the Lady's bed, placing herself between it and the door. Her eyes closed and she felt for the minds of the newcomers.

Her mind's eye was blinded by the brightness of one mind, the strength and age overwhelming for Lainien, and she quickly closed off her mind to the advancing trio. While not menacing, the intensity unnerved her and she tensed, preparing for the unknown.

A soft knock announced the arrival of the three, and without great pause, the door opened to reveal the Lord Elrond and two identical elves at his side. One was openly curious; eyes wide and engaging, the other was slightly wary, looking at her carefully.

Her eyes moved to Elrond, widening slightly as she realized it was his mind that was so powerful. It made sense now, with all she knew about the wise elf. She could feel no enmity coming from the three, and her defensive stance relaxed.

Elrond did not look surprised to see Lainien in the room, and the corner of his mouth lifted into a soft small as he was relieved to see she did not continue to hold her defensive crouch for long. He did not wish for her to see him as an enemy. She would have many here if she stayed, and she should know whom her friends were.

"Welcome, Lainien, wanderer of the forest, to Imladris. Long have you tarried close to our walls, but never have you chosen to grace us with your presence." He truly smiled now, as he bent his head to her. "I am Elrond, lord of this house."

Unaccustomed to pleasantries, Lainien bowed her head back, keeping her eyes trained on the three in the doorway.

"Never before has there been need to seek refuge here in the city. I have been content with the resources of the woods." She spoke softly, trying to convey her distrust of the elven community without offending.

"And now you seem to have found a need." responded Elrond, nodding slightly to the Lady and child behind Lainien. He had noticed her protective stance in front of the two, and was pleased with her commitment.

"Yes." She all but whispered. "Yes, I daresay I have." She spared a glace back towards the women who was still sleeping peacefully.

"Will she be able to stay here? Will they both be able to stay?" She asked quickly, as she carefully wiped her face blank of emotion.

Elrond caught the quick glint of desperation and concern in her eyes before they closed to him. He was almost offended that she would think so little of him to turn out guests from his home, but he relented, reminding himself of her reason for distrusting the graciousness of elves.

"Of course, my Lady." He said, noticing her eyes widening slightly at his use of the term "lady". He smiled again. "As are you."

She stared at him, face blank, for several seconds. Unsure if she was stunned or simply thinking, he waited patiently for her to respond.

Elladan wasn't as patient as his father. He stared at the strange elf openly, shifting slightly as she continued to stay silent. He knew she must be hesitant to stay in a place where she would be unwelcomed by many. Why would she wish to linger? Who knows what could happen if she stayed, surrounded by many who distrusted her? She could be harmed, or worse, she could prove the murmurings correct and harm others. What could make her stay?

Lainien's mind was whirling, thinking fast over her options. She did not wish to be here. Cities had proven to be dangerous places; mistrust and resentment gave way to small acts of childish pranks, which escalated to violence in her past attempts to live with her kind.

Yet the ever-present warmth and light from the mind of the Lady resting on the bed behind her reminded her of her vow. The tiny fingers she had recently been grasping called out in her mind seeking protection. How similar their eyes were! She thought back to the steel grey eyes that glinted with a feverish passion and life, capturing her eyes and her vow of protection for his wife and beloved son.

She was caught. Before even knowing this woman's name, she felt a protective instinct claim her emotions. How could a nameless woman and her mortal child have such a hold over her? She finally sighed.

She must choose between a selfish desire for peace and freedom, away from the accusatory stares and free to roam where she chooses, or the loyalty she felt to uphold the promise she had with a dying mortal man, uttered as his last request before a noble sacrifice.

Elrond could tell she was coming to a conclusion, and waited patiently. But Elladan heard her sigh and he continued to fidget, drawing an upraised brow from his brother beside him.

Elohir had simply been curious to meet the wild elleth of the forest, condemned to a life of solitude among nature for the blood that ran through her veins. His brother's piqued interests were beyond him.

Finally she came to a decision. She would not turn her back on a vow. She had promised long ago, with the haunting shadow of her father's betrayal hanging over her, that while she took few vows and even fewer masters, she would serve those she claimed loyally and completely.

"I will stay." She stated at last. Drawing herself to her full height and gazing into Elrond's eyes with a hard glint that seemed to challenge him to try and refute her claim. "I will uphold the promise I made to Arathorn and, by my own life, I will protect them. No harm will come to then while I live." She stated firmly, reciting the words she had said to the mortal, recalling his eyes as she held his gaze.

Elrond smiled, Elladan opened his mouth to argue, and Elohir touched his hand in warning while he too gave the elleth a warm smile.

"Then I welcome you again, my Lady, to Imladris, your new home."

Morning came. Bright sunlight filtered down through the sheer curtains of the window beside the bed. Lainien was standing next to the window, idly playing with the soft fabric as it fluttered in the gentle breeze, wafting scents of flowers toward the elf.

A healer had come in the early hours with food for the three of them, softly setting the plates down for Lainien and retreating slowly. The fear in both the eyes of mind of the elf were strong enough to make Lainien wince slightly as her soft words of thanks had the small elf retreat faster through the door.

She had fed the child, smiling widely at the soft suckling sounds he made as he fed, and even giggling as he released a soft burb. She was taken with him surely. The child had Lainien wrapped completely around his soft, small fingers.

Now she stood waiting for her Lady to awaken. Surely it was time now, for she had slept for so long. Lainien had forgotten the strangeness of mortal sleeping habits, having to remind herself frequently to not worry, and that it was normal. Eyes should only be closed in death, she thought sadly. An image flashed in her mind of her mother's eyes closed, lashes clumped together with tears resting gently on her cheek.

She shook herself. Her Lady was not dead, merely sleeping, she chastised herself.

Just then, the previously slow-moving thoughts of her master began to quicken, turning from peaceful wandering to tight panic and slight pain as she became aware of the cut to her side.

Lainien stepped closer, grasping her hand in her own, waiting patiently and offering comfort.

Gilraen felt a soft hand close tightly around her own. It was not the large, calloused hand she was accustomed to, and she pulled away from it slightly.

Lainiein immediately paled. Yes, she felt a connection to this woman, but did the woman feel the same? Alien feelings of insecurity and fear of rejection blossomed darkly in her chest, and she almost laughed at her silly assumption. She had been the reason her Lady and husband had been separated. Lainien steeled her resolve, preparing for an onslaught of anger and harsh words from her master.

The mortal woman opened her eyes, blinking rapidly in the brightness of the day, confusion setting in as she felt herself atop a soft bed. This can't be right, she thought. Where am I?

"In the healing halls of Imladris, my Lady. You and your son are safe". A low musical voice filled her ears, surprising her with the sadness laced heavily in the words.

Her first instinct upon hearing the heaviness in the voice was to reach out and comfort the woman near her. But then her mind registered the words the woman had said. What about Arathorn?

"I'm so sorry, my Lady." Came the voice again, laden heavily in sadness. "I could not save him." The hand tightened around hers to offer support as Gilraen absorbed the words.

That can't be possible, she thought quickly, trying to recall the events of the day. We were heading through the forest easily when… she stopped as swirling memories of dark red blood came to the forefront of her mind. She remembered the open-eyed stare of one of their guard as he lay dead on the ground.

"Shh, my Lady, please. Don't think of it. Open your eyes." The voice said, firmly at first, then softly pleading.

She did. And blinked. A stunning face with wild, dark blue eyes looked down at her with concern heavy upon a delicate brow. A corner of a pair of thick, full lips were grasped in pearly white teeth, and she felt the hold on her hand tighten even further.

She was an angel. Meaning, I must be dead. Dark eyes sparkled in quiet mirth and lips pressed together in a line to hold back a giggle.

"I am no angel, my Lady. Far from it, I am afraid. But I promise you that I mean you no harm. Just the opposite." The humor changed the voice from heaviness to a silkiness that relaxed Gilraen. But then she remembered. My beloved! What happened to my beloved husband?

Lainien winced at the thought, remembering who else had called out to their beloved.

"Your husband, my Lady, showed the highest form of love capable of a being. He sacrificed himself so that you and young Aragorn could live." Her voice had dropped again, all the mirth a distant memory.

"He bade me swear upon my life to protect you, and I did, my Lady. In his last moments, your husband wished you and your son safety and life. I granted his final wish, took you and your son into my arms, and brought you to safety." Emotion spilled from the woman's eyes as she spoke, and Gilraen was overcome by it, letting the woman's sadness wash over her.

Sadness was predominant in the Lady's thoughts, but there was also a sense of relief. Strange, Lainien thought.

He died an honorable death, Gilraen thought sadly. It was his wish, he once told her. She could recall the light wind on her pink cheeks as he brushed a thumb across her lips, reveling in the warmth of them. He had told her of the bane that all mortals had – death.

"The greatest victory in life, my dear," he said quietly, "is choosing the manner and moment of your death. For then are you truly master of it. It is not the outrunning of death, but the welcoming of it as a dear friend in a manor of your choosing that makes you triumphant in life."

Lainien smiled at the memory, glad that her Lady could gather some happiness, and proud to have served, if but for a moment, a truly wise man.

"He was as wise as he was honorable, my Lady." Lainien said, allowing her fondness for the man to come to her voice.

Gilraen stilled at her comment, finally realizing that she hadn't yet spoken, and yet this woman responded to her thoughts as if she had.

At this, Lainien looked down, a slight blush coloring her tanned skin. "I'm sorry my Lady, I should have told you sooner." She said, still not meeting Gilraen's eyes.

You can hear my thoughts? Gilraen asked in her mind, eyes widening as Lainien nodded. Impossible, she thought.

"Not so impossible, rather, highly improbable." Said Lainien, her lip lifting in a slight smile. "My Lady." She added quickly.

Such formalities aren't necessary, especially for one who saved the life of myself and my son, and who gave my husband his final wish, Gilraen thought.

Lainien looked up again, confusion in her eyes. "But I promised your husband that I would protect and care for you, my Lady".

Met again with confusion, Lainien continued. "I have chosen you as my master, and with that, you are my Lady. I am to serve you and your son now with my life."

Gilraen was surprised to note that neither sadness nor indignation was present in the woman's eyes or tone. You wish to be a slave?

Lainien winced slightly. "I could be your slave, if you wish or demand it. However, I would prefer to think of myself as your protector."

My angel, she thought with a smile.

Lainien's eyes lit up again with mirth at the thought. Then her eyes darkened as the irony made her bitter. An angel with tainted blood, so a fallen angel, she thought.

Gilraen caught the darkening, and tightened her hand around the woman's, questioning the change.

The elf looked down at her hand, warmth spreading that she hadn't felt since she was an elfling. But then she remembered.

"My Lady," she asked, "what is your name?"

"My name is Gilraen." She said in a soft voice, horse with disuse.

"Hello, Gilraen. My name is Lainien and, by my own life, I will protect you and your son. No harm will come to you both while I live." She said, her voice hardening with determination and with it, sealing a vow with the mortal woman that would change the lives of many through Middle Earth.

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