Format: short story
Genre: angst, family, first meeting, friendship
Characters:Gilraen, Gandalf, OFCS
Creator's Notes: This story refers briefly to events in my stores "Candle of Hope," “Dancing with the Daffodils” and “Star of Hope” but can be read on its own.
Summary: Gilraen has an unexpected visitor.
Gilraen rubbed her sore eyes with the back of her hand and then tried to concentrate again on her sewing. It was useless, her eyes were too tired. They had been smarting for days now. It was time to seek some help from her sister who had recently moved to the village to become the healer. It was good to have her sister nearby as since her marriage she had moved several days' journey away from her parents as Arathorn had decided he wanted his bride to live where there were more men to defend her.
“Will you keep an eye on the bread in the oven, please, Haleth?” she asked the girl who helped her in the house. She reached the door and looked out then called back,“And bring in the washing. The leaves are turning over. It is going to rain.”
Not waiting for the girl to reply, she made her way towards her sister's small house. The Chieftain's home was set a little way apart from the rest of the village.
Inzilbeth was mixing herbs on her kitchen table when Gilraen entered through the open door. Her small son, Halbarad was playing in the corner with wooden building blocks.
Inzilbeth hurried to embrace her sister. “I was not expecting you today, Gilraen, but it is good to see you. I will make you some tea. Do sit down.” She cleared away a mixture of toys and jars of herbs to allow her sister to sit on the worn couch.”
“I should like some tea. To be honest, I am here to see if you had any herbs to ease sore eyes. I have been sewing overmuch.”
Inzilbeth knelt in front of her sister and studied her eyes. “I will give you some eyebright drops. They should ease the soreness. What are you sewing some diligently?”
“I, um, “ Gilraen's hand went instinctively to her slightly swollen belly. “Er, just some new clothes.”
Inzilbeth's face let up and she hugged her sister tightly. “You are with child! Why did you not tell me? Does Mother know?” She poured the tea and handed a cup to her sister.
Gilraen shook her head. “I have hesitated to share the news since Mother had so many miscarriages. What if something goes wrong?”
“You are not Mother, and my foresight tells me all shall be well,” Inzilbeth said firmly. She selected a bunch of herbs and started to chop them. “Halbarad was my first baby and I carried him to term. Do you know how far gone you are?”
Gilraen laughed mirthlessly. “I know it must be three months exactly as the Loëndë celebrations were the only time I have spent with my husband in the past six months, apart from the times when he was riding through the village and he and his men shared a meal with me. And he had to leave early even at Loëndë to go hunting Orcs. I wish you could have seen the shooting stars that night.”
“Halbarad was ill with a fever and could not travel,” said Inzilbeth. “Did you make a wish when you saw the shooting stars?” She poured the herbal mixture into a pan and put it on the stove to boil.
Gilraen nodded then sipped her tea. “I wished that I might have a child.”
“Lady Varda must have heard your prayer to grant it so promptly.” Inzilbeth put the bottle on a high shelf and took up another bunch of herbs. “Your child is of the stars, sister. A new star will rise for our people! Does Arathorn know yet?”
“I told him on his last visit. We were only able to snatch a moment alone when he was tending his horse. He was happy and said he would try to spend more time with me.” Gilraen sighed deeply. “I have grown to love him, sister. I only married him as Mother was so keen on the match and I knew him to be kind and honourable. I have come now to realise there is more to him than that beneath his grim exterior.”
Inzilbeth echoed her sister's sigh. “We Dúnedain women bear a heavy load. We either hardly see our husbands or they are slain before we hardly know them. We must continue to hope for better times, though. You should write and tell Mother your good news. She will want to be with you for the birth as do I. You will not be alone.”
Gilraen hugged her sister and thanked her. “I should return home now since it looks like rain.” She drained the last of her tea.
Inzilbeth handed her a bottle. “Here are the eyebright drops, use them three times a day and do not strain your eyes too much sewing baby clothes. I will give you some of Halbarad's. Babies grow so fast the clothes are hardly worn at all.”
Gilraen thanked her sister and bade her farewell. Her heart felt lighter after their conversation. A new baby was a cause for joy, but bringing it into the world was a fearful thing too. She would welcome her kinswomen at her side. Inzilbeth was a skilled midwife.
The leaves blew as she walked home. It was only late September, but the nip of autumn was in the air. Just as she reached her house, the first raindrops started to fall.
She bade Haleth help her prepare a meal as she had felt too nauseous to eat earlier of late. As they worked, she could hear the rain pattering down on the roof. She lit the lamps early as it had grown dark.
“I will see to the animals tonight, Mistress,” said Haleth. “You look tired.”
Gilraen yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Thank you. I think I will have an early night. “Take your cloak or you will be drenched.”
Haleth returned a few minutes later, her cloak dripping. “The storm is growing worse, mistress. I soothed the animals as best I could, but they are restless. I've secured them for the night.”
Gilraen checked the shutters were all closed then went over to the door and secured it with a heavy wooden bar. “There, we are as secure as we can be against the storm.”
She walked around the house as was her custom then fed the cat who was in no mood to go out hunting on such a night. She used the eyebright drops her sister had given her then went to bed.
Gilraen could not sleep, despite the cat's soothing purring at her feet. The door rattled as the wind blew against it and she feared some damage to the house.
Then she heard a banging on the door. At first, she thought it was the wind, but it continued and grew more insistent. She heard the hound barking in his kennel. A voice was calling something, but she could not make out the words over the roar of the storm.
“Should I open the door, Mistress?” asked Haleth.
Gilraen hesitated. There were foul creatures abroad at night, but surely Orcs would not venture out in such a storm. It would be against all the rules of hospitality to turn a traveller away on such a night. She pulled on her robe over her nightgown. “We will see who it is together,” she told Haleth.
The two women opened the door and peered out cautiously. A flash of lightning illuminated a very old man clad in a grey cloak and pointed blue hat. In his hand, he carried a sturdy staff which he had raised in readiness to bang on the door again. “And not before time, Mistress Gilraen,” he said as the door opened.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” Gilraen asked.
“I am Gandalf the Grey, friend of Elrond Half-elven and of Arathorn of the Dúnedain. Now must we stand talking here all day in the rain?” the old man said grumpily.
Gilraen opened the door wider and beckoned the old man inside. She had heard her husband speak of Gandalf as one of the Wise but had never met him before. “Come inside and get dry,” she said. “Haleth will build up the fire while I fetch you some refreshment.”
“About time too!” said the old man. He shook himself on the threshold and made his way towards the hearth where he removed his dripping cloak and hat as well as a silver scarf. Beneath the cloak, he wore a long grey robe.
Gilraen hastened to fetch cakes and wine for the visitor. He seemed in a better mood now he was out of the rain. “'Tis a foul night to be abroad,” she remarked as she offered him the refreshments.
“I prefer to spend the night at an inn,” said Gandalf. ”My travels, though, took me far into the wilds and I sought shelter in a cave. It was, alas already occupied and I scarce made good my escape, pursued by a bear!”
Gilraen shuddered while wondering how so old a man might escape from a bear. He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling. I may seem old to you, Mistress Gilraen, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.” He took a sip of the wine. “Your husband sends you his greetings, Mistress. I saw him but three days ago. He will be with you ere the child is born.”
Gilraen bristled that her husband should share her secret so freely. “Do not look so angry, Mistress, little happens that escapes my notice. You should rejoice. A new star shall arise, for you carry the Hope of your people in your womb.”
A strange thrill was kindled in Gilraen's heart. How strange that his old man and her sister should speak in the same fashion about her child.
Gandalf yawned and brushed a cake crumb from his beard. “I have disturbed your rest, Mistress, go back to bed. I shall doze by your fire until morning.”
“You must have my bed, sir, I can share with my maid tonight.”
Gandalf waved a hand. “Indeed not, dear girl, I shall be quite comfortable here. I assume you have no bears lurking behind the hearth.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke.
“You will encounter no creature more fierce than my cat,” said Gilraen. “I bid you a good night sir.”
Gilraen retired to bed again, but although the storm was abating, sleep eluded her. The cat was still on the bed, purring quietly in her sleep. What might it portend if her child was a new star rising? The glory of the Dúnedain had long since departed. Would her child somehow restore their fortunes? She patted her belly protectively, her heart filled with love for her unborn child. With that thought, she fell asleep.