Between Freedom and Loyalty

A Secret of Her Own

Elrond was rewarded with the entertaining sight of huge eyes and a wide-open mouth for several whole seconds before Lainien regained her composure. She closed her mouth audibly and narrowed her eyes at the older elf as he chuckled slightly at her expression.

"I would have thought the coming of an old friend would give you pleasure, not a heart attack, Lady Lainien." Said Elrond with amusement heavy in his voice.

Lainien's response was simply to narrow her eyes further at him for a moment, then turn sharply and stride out of the room. The loud snap of the door closing sent Elrond into another fit of chuckling.

Lainien located her Lady and son out in the garden, and followed their minds while thinking hard about the coming discussion.

She wasn't angry, and the logical part of her understood the Lady's need for secrecy, but the childish side of her – the part that desperately sought acceptance – was hurt by her Lady's silence.

She decided she would openly speak with her Lady, listen to her explanation, and tell her all of Elrond's plans for Aragorn, including, she thought darkly, the visit from the Young Prince. There was one other thing that she must tell her. A secret of her own.

The sight before her as she entered the gardens made her regret her recent decision to tell the Lady her story.

Her Lady was sitting in the shade of large tree, her back resting against the trunk. Aragorn was sitting in front of her holding a soft purple flower in his hand, investigating the petals. Lainien's heart expanded at the sight, and she dreaded having to divulge this secret. But she knew that her position meant full disclosure with her Lady, and now was the time.

As she came closer however, the tenor of her Lady's thoughts struck her. Morose thoughts moved slowly through her mind, in place of the normally bright space occupying her mistress' thoughts. Images of Arathorn spinning her through the air, holding her hand tightly, and staring into her eyes overwhelmed Lainien, and she closed their connection.

Lainien frowned heavily. It had been weeks since they the guard had brought back Arathorn's body, covered respectfully, from the forest. Lainien's first time surrounded by other elves was when she stood, hand clasped with her Lady, as her fallen master was buried in one of the many gardens of Imladris.

Sighing heavily with the burden of these memories, and the prospect of giving her Lady more to worry over, she walked lightly over to the woman beneath the tree.

"Hello, my angel."Gilraen's low, smooth voice said, smiling to herself at the sight of her protector.

"You are sad." Lainien stated softly, sitting down next to Gilraen and taking hold of her hand. "He would not wish you to hold onto your grief, my Lady."

Gilraen sighed, glancing down at the top of her son's head. But I feel so…alone. Her thoughts whispered. Even as silly as it sounds with your hand in mine, and Aragorn at my feet.

"Sometimes, I find that our emotions are never very logical." Lainien said, smiling slightly to Gilraen. "But that never means that they are 'silly', my Lady."

Gilraen looked up to Lainien, giving her a tender, soft smile. You are right as usual, Lainien. I often forget your agelessness, and the wisdom that comes along with it. I am thankful for you, dear angel.

Lainien was heartened by her words, but still concerned with her lingering grief. As much as she wished she could leave her Lady in the peace of the moment, with the branches swaying softly in the breeze and the orange leaves beginning to fall about them, there was much to discuss.

"My Lady," Lainien started, wishing that she could postpone this conversation, "there is something we need to discuss."

Gilraen looked again to Lainien, waiting for her to begin. What is it?

Lainien took a deep breath, and began telling her master of the conversation with Elrond. At the end, Gilraen looked uncomfortable, and guilt was heavy on her mind.

"Do not feel so, as I do not take offense at your concealing of the truth. It was necessary." Lainien offered. Gilraen smiled softly, thanking Lainien for her understanding in her mind.

Lainien nodded. "I find I am unable to hold any resentment, as there is something I have not yet told you about myself. It is equally as large as Aragorn's birth, though perhaps not as important." She smiled lightly to herself. But then she instantly sobered. "It is something that might change your mind about accepting me as your protector."

Gilraen's eyes opened wide, worried now for Lainien's secret. It cannot be so bad, my friend, for me to wish you gone. Your presence gives me more comfort than you know, she thought.

Lainien smiled, hoping desperately that it was truly the case. She took another deep breath and began her story.

"I was born the first child of Iminyë and Saeros of Greenwood, the name of the great forest that is today called Mirkwood. My mother, Iminyë, was a gifted healer who worked in the halls of the king of Greenwood, Thranduil. My father was a soldier in the king's guard. He had grown up with Thranduil and was a close friend to the royal family. He and my mother met when he was injured, and they say it was a great love upon first meeting."

She sighed, thinking back to memories of her naneth describing how handsome her father had looked, and how her eyes would light up when he walked into the room.

"I was born 10 years after their marriage – a common time with elves – around the year 1000 of the Third Age." She smirked as Gilraen opened her mouth in shock. You are so old! She thought. Lainien laughed.

"I am young, actually, in the time of elves." Lainien said with a smile. But then her eyes grew dark and her expression emptied of any mirth.

"The time of Greenwood had ended. Sauran's dark magic plagued the forests and great beasts could be found roaming through the trees. For a time, there was panic, as some thought to leave to forests, while others wanted to fight against the darkness. My father wanted to fight. He loved the woods and felt passionate about the right that his king had to govern the land.

You must understand," Lainien said passionately, "my father's love was his home and he was a loyal guard throughout his life. But it was his passion and desire that led him to his fall."

Gilraen listened closely, completely enthralled with Lainien's voice as she told the story. But she could sense the darkness and feared for the end.

"It was his desire for power to protect his land from the spiders that led him to seek out the Dark Wizard, who was said to roam the woods. His hope was to find a power that could overcome the dark force that brought evil into his home.

He left to find the Wizard against the king's orders, determined to gain power at whatever cost. The king did not trust the wizard," Lainien explained, "and did not wish to stoop so low as to ask for help."

"My father did not return for many months. My naneth suffered so, drawing into herself slowly, as his time away lengthened. After almost a year had gone by, he was announced dead, and because he deliberately disobeyed the King's order, no search party was sent." Lainien looked down, trying to hold onto her tears. Gilraen grasped her hand again, giving her strength to continue.

"He returned a year after he left, but not alone. The children of nobles or, in my case, trusted servants of the king, were kept together for schooling while our parents completed their duties. I was with them the day he returned.

The smoke from the forest beyond the wall of the king's halls alerted us to danger, and I was escorted quickly back toward the keep with the other children. But my mother, who had stopped coming to perform her duty in the healing halls after they announced my father dead, was at home, which was beyond the wall. I was determined to find her, so I rushed off, away from the others, and towards the gates." Lainien remembered the panic she felt as she ran.

"The guards were too distracted to see me, a small child, run past them and out into the forest. I had never seen a forest fire before, and the power of it scared me. I ran as quickly as I could to my home. When I found it destroyed, I was distraught, calling out for both my parents as I searched the rubble. I could not find my naneth." Gilraen had tears in her eyes as she listened, watching the emotion on the elf's face, not sure if she wanted to hear more.

"Just as I had given up, I heard shouts. I ran towards the sound and…" Lainien stopped, wondering how much detail she wanted to give her Lady, who seemed overcome with emotion already. She peered into her eyes and decided that, if she truly wanted to know, the details could be shared another day.

"…and I came upon both of my parents. At first, I thought I had gone mad, for while the man standing before me looked like my father, he had changed. His eyes were dark, where they once were light blue, and the smile that normally adorned his face was replaced by a sinister grin. He was shouting at my mother, who was on her knees before him." Lainien took a sharp breath.

"In the end, she was dead. He had raised his sword against her, and my naneth was gone." Lainien allowed a tear to escape as the horrific memories passed. Gilraen held on tightly to her hand.

Lainien decided to skip the next part, for the sake of her Lady, who was now openly crying heavily. Lainien held her close and the two cried silently together.

Elladan watched the three figures under the tree carefully, and was struggling to hold back his own tears as he listened to Lainien's story. True, it was not proper to listen to such a story, as it was obviously shared only with necessity and utmost trust, but when he saw the three figures in the garden, the curiosity was physically painful.

He had been completely surprised by the story, though he had known the basic history previously. He had never thought about the story from the viewpoint of the small child living it. Truly, it would be heartbreaking for anyone, he thought, especially with what comes after.

Lainien allowed her Lady several more minutes to calm her tears before she gently stood, untangling herself from Gilraen's hold.

"Come," Lainien said softly, "let us find some food." She drew Aragorn up into her arms, touching his nose softly with the tip of her finger, and settled him on her hip. Reaching behind her, she held Gilraen's hand as they walked back towards the hall.

The two walked into the great hall, where several had already gathered and sat together, eating and talking loudly. When Lainien entered, a heavy silence fell over the dozen or so elves in the room.

She doesn't belong here!

She will ruin us!

How could Lord Elrond allow that to stay here?

How could that be allowed to protect anyone, even a simple human?

Lainien shut her eyes and immediately closed her mind to the hall, disgusted with her race. She kept an emotionless face as she led her Lady into a seat at the end of the vast, wooden table, adorned with fine carvings around the edges.

Securing Aragorn against her hip, she bade farewell to her Lady and left the hall as quickly as possible, taking long, quick strides until she found herself out on the sloping grounds once again.

Taking a deep breath and holding the child closer, she relaxed and opened her mind to the nature around her. The combination of the slow moving buzzes of the consciousness of the few insects and the bright, calm mind in her arms, the previously concealed anger and resentment was driven from her mind.

She made her way slowly toward the edge of the gardens and closer to the forest, bending down to a plant every so often to show the child, explaining if elvish the significance, or exclaiming the beauty of several.

The two finally reached the beginnings of the wood, and Lainien carefully climbed up to one of the lowest branches and lowered the two of them into a sitting position with her back against the trunk and her legs stretched out along the limb.

Here, she relaxed with the child, holding him up so that he may stand slightly upon her thighs.

"You will be very strong one day, little one." She said, smiling at him. She earned herself a smile of his in return, his grey eyes sparkling.

"And handsome too, I do not doubt! With a beauty for a mother and rugged man as your father, you shall be the fairest King of Gondor." She sighed, thinking of the weight on the child's small shoulders. He seemed so fragile!

The two relaxed in their perch while Lainien's thoughts strayed to the future, to what would come in the next weeks – a visit from the Young Prince. She sighed. I had hoped to never see him again, she thought sadly. Things would have been so much easier if I hadn't known him.

The weeks passed and Gilraen noticed Lainien was withdrawing, even more than usual. Still, every morning she would climb lightly in through the window – despite being shown her rooms by a very apologetic elleth, she was still seeking refuge in the trees outside Gilraen's window – and perform several chores for the Lady before escorting her to breakfast.

She would then leave the hall with Aragorn and Gilraen could find the two in the trees, resting lightly and watching the changing of the season. Aragorn was celebrating his eighth month, and so November came, delivering cold winds. After the chill set in, Lainien would deliver the child to one of the kitchen staff, who had, understandably, fell in love with the child, and she would then disappear, off into the grounds.

Very little time did Lainien spend inside the halls of Imladris, but neither did she venture out into the forest, uneasy with the idea of leaving Aragorn and her Lady. Gilraen noticed the elf spoke fewer and fewer times, and often she wouldn't respond to her questions Gilraen asked through her mind.

She had to do something.

Elrond heard the heavy footfalls coming down the hall outside his chambers. Before she could knock, he went to the door and opened it for Gilraen, motioning for her to enter.

After she sat in the armchair closest to the fire, Elrond asked, "What can I do for you, Lady Gilraen?"

"I am worried for Lainien." She confided, sadness in her tone and eyes.

"She has been quite distant recently." He said, remembering the conversation he had with Elladan just yesterday.

"She isn't well, father. Yet, I do not know what can be wrong?" Elladan said.

"She isn't acting any more strangely than I had expected, for one who is unhappy." Elrond responded sadly.

"If she is so sad," Elladan asked, frustrated, "why does she insist on staying?"

"She gave her word, my son. And she holds herself to her vow." Said Elrond, with a hint of pride coloring his voice.

"But the man is dead, and the woman and child are safe here. She has no reason to stay."

Elrond looked at his son disapprovingly. "Just because their bodies are not in danger from the sword, does that mean that their hearts are yet healthy and protected from pain? Lady Gilraen lost her home and her husband, and almost her life. If you think that losing something else important to her now would do nothing, then I suggest you remember the weight of your own heart after what happened to your mother."

Elladan winced visibly, and Elrond continued, "Do you think that, just because your body was whole, that your heart did not ache? Lainien offers more than physical protection for Lady Gilraen, she offers her companionship and love. I think both the elf and woman benefit from this, wouldn't you say, my son?"

Elladan sat with his eyes downcast, ashamed at his presumptions and obliviousness. "I'm sorry, father." But then he looked up, a new light in his eyes. "What can we do to make her more comfortable here?"

"I have an idea that should bring Lainien from her current morose mood." Elrond told Gilraen, who looked up with excitement in her eyes.

"What is your plan?" She asked excitedly.

The next morning, Lainien followed her normal routine, taking her Lady and Aragorn into the great hall, lingering for a moment next to Gilraen, as if in spite of the cold thoughts directed at her. None mattered but her Lady's.

She then gathered Aragorn into her arms and made her way into the kitchens. She found the maid who attended to the child, smiling at the elf whose eyes brighten at the sight of the child. The elf's mind had cleared of the overly negative thoughts towards Lainien, and was now settled with a slight fear of her, which was significantly better than the slander that she had thrown at her with her thoughts previously.

"Take care." Lainien said as she left, sneaking a final glace back at the child, now giggling in the elf's arms.

As she turned back around, she quite literally ran into a tall elf with light blond hair and dark brown eyes. She recognized him as the head cook. Apologizing quickly, she made to leave the kitchens.

"You're the hunter right? The wild one from the woods?" He asked suddenly.

Lainien stopped and turned back, cocking her head to the side.

"Yes." She responded simply.

Erestor looked at her closer. Wild, indeed, he thought, taking in her dark eyes and masses of long brown, tangled hair pulled back into a graceless knot. Strong skills with a bow, his thoughts continued, evaluating her, perhaps even masterful. His thoughts reflected the respect that he suddenly felt, as he could obviously see her skill. Extremely competent with the double blade of Mirkwood, deadly and precise, and the build of a warrior, he continued, eying the length of her body.

Lainien was not uncomfortable with his assessment, but surprised at his knowledge. She waited patiently for him to continue.

"If you're willing, I'm in need of some help." The elf started. Lainien raised her brow, the only sign of her curiosity at his statement.

"However I can help, I am willing." She said, slowly.

"I need more meat, for my only assistant as taken up other study, and I am not capable enough to hunt for all the meat on my own." Erestor said evenly.

He's lying, thought Lainien, suspiciously. By his hands I can see his practice with a bow, and he is no novice. Unsure of his motivations, she started to refuse.

"I'm sorry, but I have many other duties." Lainien said, trying not to offend, but instantly suspicious of his motives.

"Come now, surely you can spend but a few hours in the morning out in the woods. It would help me greatly." He continued, pressing her.

I cannot let her refuse, he thought, slightly desperate. Lord Elrond asked this of me, and I cannot fail. His resolve strengthened.

"I can pay you if you wish." He said, thinking to attract her thus.

Lainien was surprised at Elrond's involvement. However surprising, it did ease her suspicion of the man. Though slightly offended at his offer, but understanding his desperation, she decided to aid the man.

"I will do as you ask." She said, bowing her head slightly. "But I do not ask a reward. I am happy to help."

He smiled, and gave her a list of the type of game he would like, along with instructions guiding her to places in the woods where the game could be found. She thanked him, but noticed with a hint of pride that she knew of these places already, and there were several more that had better, more frequent results.

With a new task to look forward to, Lainien brightened. Realizing she was actually hungry, she decided to turn back to the kitchens to find some food.

Tomorrow, she thought excitedly as she made her way back out onto the grounds, to trees now almost completely bare with their orange and brown leaves heavy upon the ground, will bring new light.

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