A cool breeze swept the orange leaves around Lainien as the branches of the tree supporting her swayed gently. It was late into the night when she felt the distant distress of a small mind, and she glanced into the window on her right to observe the child. Again, she felt the child's mind call out in anxiety.
Coming to her feet, the elf took several sure footsteps along the branch and dropped softly through the window into the room belonging to her Lady. Moving silently to the child, she was able to better distinguish the thoughts swirling in the child's mind. She gazed down toward Aragorn with a crooked smile on her lips. The child was hungry again.
Sighing at his incorrigible appetite and turning her attention to the table with his provisions, she noticed they were out of his food. Wishing to avoid his cry that would wake her Lady, she left the room quietly and headed down the hall.
Nighttime was her favored time of day, as there were generally no elves eying her either with fear or disdain. Her soft footfalls went unnoticed, and she could walk freely without focusing on closing her mind to the myriad of thoughts directly at her.
Turning down the final hall toward the kitchen, she hesitated, halting her progress as she felt the presence of another mind at the periphery of her own. She continued, wary now of potential company, to the kitchens.
As she made her way, the thoughts solidified. Stepping quickly to the side, she avoided the elf who came swiftly through the door on her right. Just as he passed her, he changed directions too quickly for even her eyes to follow. He grabbed both her upper arms in an iron grip and pushed her up against the walls hard, the back of her head snapping back.
Reading only fear-inducing intimidation in the motivations of his thoughts, she stayed still, not betraying any emotion or sign of pain as he hovered over her.
"What are you doing wandering the halls this late at night?" He demanded.
She wanted desperately to shoot sarcasm back at him, to reply she was hoping to come across Elrond alone in the kitchen precisely to murder him while the rest of Imladris slept. Instead, she remained calm, her face devoid of any emotion.
"I have come to collect more food for the child, as we have nothing left in his room." She said, her voice betraying none of her exasperation with the elf, or pain she felt from the tight grip on her arms.
"You should not be here." He spat at her, shaking her slightly.
"Unfortunately, this is the only room where I thought to find his food. Though perhaps the library shall have the necessary items." She fired back, unable to hold back her sarcasm.
She had just enough time to register his actions, but not enough to dodge the backhanded slap to her right cheekbone. Stars erupted in front of her eyes at the force and she would have slid to the side if his left hand hadn't continued the iron grip upon her arms.
"Don't think that Elrond's favor will save you here, traitor." He snarled, face mere inches from her own. "Watch your tongue." He warned.
With a final shove against the wall, he turned from her and disappeared back through the hallway.
She held her ground against the wall until she felt his thoughts completely disappeared from hers, and then she slowly slid down until she was sitting upon the floor, resting her smarting cheek against the cool stonewall.
She had expected this to come, but not so soon. She took a moment to collect herself then stood, walking towards the kitchen.
Finding the small bottles full of milk, she made her way back to her mistress' room, praying to the Valar that none would cross her path again.
Opening the door to her master's room, she crossed quickly to the child. The elf gathered him into her arms and held him tightly, rocking slightly back and forth. His simple, clear, and bright thoughts – so similar to his mothers – cleared her mind and soothed her anxiety.
They stayed like this for some time, the child seeming to forget his hunger as if he knew the elf's needs. After some time, Lainien released him slightly and fed him, stroking the light brown curls on his head.
"You are my hope in this dark place." She whispered to him softly.
Lainien was summoned to Elrond's chamber the next morning by a small elleth with a terrified look on her face as Lainien lightly climbed through the window after hearing the summons request to her Lady.
"Thank you," she replied as kindly as she could, "I will be there in a moment."
Despite her attempts at pleasantry, the elleth turned and walked quickly back down the hall, her thoughts clouded with fear.
At Lainien's frown, Gilraen tilted her head in question to her stress.
"It is nothing, Lady". She responded, ignoring the silent protests and further questions as the Lady noted the bruise blossoming across her cheek.
"Truly. It is nothing." Lainien repeated. Gilraen looked unconvinced but let the subject drop as she noted to hard glint appear in the elf's eyes.
Imladris was truly more beautiful that Lainien had ever pictured. It was exactly as she would have made a home; with nature embedded in everything and wide open hallways with a view of the surrounding forests. As she walked through the halls alone, she thought for a moment that she could find a home here for herself.
She arrived at Elrond's door and heard his mind wandering slowly, pursuing a book he was reading. She decided then that she trusted him enough to block his thoughts from herself. Her gift, she reminded herself, was to be used to protect herself – and now to protect her charges – and not for her own gain or satisfying her curiosity. Elrond hadn't done anything to warrant her questioning his motives or actions.
And so she knocked on the door and heard only the soft footfalls of the elf moving to the door.
The intricately carved door opened wide, revealing the tall, dark-haired elf with warm brown eyes full of secrets and knowledge. He smiled at her, slightly bowing his head and stepped back, extending his arm toward several comfortable looking armchairs.
Though he smiled, Elrond was surprised. He noted right away the bruise upon her face with distaste. Would she tell him about it if he asked? Surely not, he thought.
She stepped lightly into the room, taking in her surroundings and making an effort to avoid searching it for exits and the best places to defend herself from attackers. She didn't need to know such things, and changing her mindset would show others that she deserved their trust.
Elrond noted her hesitance and quick search through the room. No doubt stemming from the incident that must have happened recently, he thought. Old habits must die hard truly, for he noted that she settled herself on the chair that put her back to the wall, having full view of the room before her. She also seemed to perch on the chair rather than sit back fully, enabling the quickest avenue to movement should she need it. Elrond looked forward to seeing her change and relax, hoping that it wouldn't take too long.
"Good morning," he said with pleasant warmth in his voice, trying to sincerely give her comfort, "I hope you found your rooms to suited well to your needs."
She cocked her head to the side, confused. Her rooms? She hadn't ever been shown any room, just the ones where her Lady had slept.
"Were they dissatisfactory?" He asked, concerned now by her lacking response.
"I'm sorry but I am not sure what rooms to which you are referring." She said slowly. "I have only seen the rooms the Lady has been given."
"Did Gwennel not bring you to your rooms? For you were given your own space next to Gilraen." Elrond said with a disapproving frown on his face.
"No, I have seen no such rooms." Lainien confessed. "Though, I must say," she added, hoping to avoid punishment for the girl, "I am quite content sleeping out in the trees nearest my Lady's rooms. They provide quick access, and she does not mind me using her facilities within her room."
Elrond noted that she spoke quickly, and wondered if she were trying to cover for Gwennel.
"I will not have a guest sleeping in a tree." He said firmly. "I will have her show you your rooms after our meeting."
Lainien was quiet, waiting now for Elrond to begin.
Elrond sighed and sat down in the chair opposite of the elleth, noting how she watched his every movement with an almost predatory gaze, the intensity of her eyes slightly unnerving.
"I must confess to you, this is a heavy meeting with much to discuss." He started, making Lainien immediately nervous. She sat up straighter, preparing for whatever he had to say. He was glad she seemed to grow taller and stronger, rather than shrink away in fear of what was to come.
"There is more to the woman and child who you have come to guard." He said, with a definite sadness to his tone. Lainien now wished she hadn't promised herself to block out his thoughts, as now she was restless to know what he had to say.
"Do you know of the tale of Isildur?" He asked, slowly, pronouncing every syllable carefully and with a great weight.
Lainien thought back to the stories her mother had told her, long ago now, and of those she had heard spoken of briefly during her time living in the kingdoms of men.
"Yes." She replied simply, curious as to the connection with her Lady.
Elrond paused for a moment, and she felt his eyes stare hard into hers as if searching them for something.
"There are many stories that state he has no heir, and that the throne of Gondor is left empty." He began, slowly again. "Yet, there are some stories that say that his heir lives hidden."
Lainien's eyes narrowed, and Elrond could see her mind working quickly through her eyes, counting years and remembering lineages.
"In the year 2931 of the Third Age on one of the first days of spring in March, the youngest heir of Isildur was born to a mortal man, one of the Dunedain." He paused as he saw her eyes widen.
"In fact, this man was the Chieftain of the Dunedain, his name Arathorn. His son is the rightful heir to the throne of men. And he is in your care."