Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 20

Of Waiting, Of Hoping

Of one thing, Elrond was most certainly right. Rest and time to themselves was far more beneficial than anything else. So it was that the next several weeks went a long way toward mending the gap between Aeslin and Haldir.

All their time was spent together, and eventually, each revealed the new and deep wounds that now scarred their souls. Revelations of guilt and grief and sorrow were brought to light, and Aeslin and Haldir alike struggled to come to terms with the events of Helm’s Deep. It was hard, and more than once the couple took their frustrations and pain out on each other, but such tensions always ended up resolving themselves, usually ending with one, the other or both to unburden their hearts, allowing them to reach a new understanding of each other’s experience. It was deeply cathartic, and healing soon followed, allowing those wounds to begin to fade. Imladris proved itself once again to be a sanctuary. However, the idyllic respite was not to last.

Aeslin learned the morning after their arrival in Imladris that Arwen had departed for the harbour, something that troubled the healer. Aragorn had told her of this, but she hadn’t believed it. She still couldn’t fathom Arwen leaving him behind. As it turned out, she was partially right.

A few days after she learned of Arwen’s journey, she and Haldir were taking a leisurely afternoon in the library. They were perfectly content to sit together and read to each other in the sunlight, when they were disturbed by a faint commotion in the courtyard just outside. Sitting up, Aeslin peered out across the lawn to the terrace adjacent Elrond’s study. She stood when she saw Arwen, clad in a flowing silver-blue gown, bearing down on her father. They were just far enough away that the healer could not make out their words, but it was perfectly clear that Arwen was upset and Elrond verging on despondency from their tones and their postures alone. After a moment, the raised voices quieted, and Elrond sank down onto the chair behind him, Arwen sinking down in front of him.

Slowly, Aeslin began to move toward the entrance to the Library, only for Haldir to reach out, halting her as his hand found hers.

“Perhaps it is best to leave them for a time.” She saw the wisdom in his words, but still Aeslin longed to go to her friends. After a moment, she allowed Haldir to pull her back to the chaise where they had been sitting. Still, worry beset Aeslin; something troubled Arwen and Elrond. Though she had her suspicions, she could not be sure just what.

Soon enough, Aeslin was presented with the opportunity to speak with Arwen. She was sitting in the garden just beside the Library when, upon glancing up, she caught sight of her friend among the shelves. Standing, she passed under the arch that led inside, pausing to watch the older elf for a moment.

“I thought you had left for the Harbour?” Arwen started when she heard Aeslin’s soft voice, spinning to face the younger elf.

“Aeslin? I thought… I did not realize you had come to Imladris!”

“I did not realize you had left. Why did you go, Arwen? And why did you come back?” Arwen dropped her gaze looking almost ashamed.

“I was afraid, and I lost faith. I began to doubt my decision to give up my heritage, to give up myself to time and eventually death. But then I caught a glimpse of my future, and just what I was risking. I saw my son…” Her voice trailed off, thick with regret. Aeslin unconsciously raised a hand to her belly, where her own child was growing. Sympathy flowed through her.

It was then that Aeslin saw the books in Arwen’s hands. “What are you looking for?” As she raised her head, Arwen’s face held a determination that made Aeslin uneasy, and for the first time she noticed a fervent light in her friend’s eyes.

“I look for hope, and a way to secure my future.” Ignoring Aeslin’s frown of confusion, Arwen turned her attention back to the collection of texts before her. Sensing she would get no more out of her friend, Aeslin retreated back to the garden, even more troubled by Arwen’s behaviour than she had been before.

Before even a week had passed, things were about to get very troubling indeed. Here and there, Aeslin caught snippets of conversation between Arwen and her father. Even her brothers were being excluded, causing widespread tension to spread throughout Imladris. Elladan especially was concerned.

“Father was never terribly keen on Arwen falling in love with Aragorn. He fears to lose her, and if she chooses mortality, we will all be parted from her, for eventually, we all will sail across the sea, and our sister will be left here to die once her life is spent.” Aeslin could tell that Elladan, like his father, was not keen on the idea of Arwen giving up her immortality.

“But it is still her choice, Elladan. She will choose what path she will, no matter how much you would wish it otherwise.” The dark-haired elf spared Aeslin a hard glance.

“You would encourage this?” Aeslin straightened, a hard look of her own coming to her face.

“And you would not? I know how it is to love and have your family disapprove. I will not be a hypocrite. I have also faced the reality of living out the rest of my long life without the one I love, and it made the future far from bright. I have seen the reality of it in my father. I would not force anyone to endure that pain. And neither should you; you see everyday the pain your father bears, being separated from your mother, and they will one day be reunited.” To Aeslin’s pleasureless satisfaction, Elladan looked sufficiently chastened as she finished. Letting out a sigh, she cupped his cheek, her voice far more gentle. “Would it not be better for her to have joy and happiness for a single lifetime than for her to be alone and bereft until the end of time?” He sighed sadly, shaking his head in resignation.

“You have certainly grown wise, sister of my heart. You are right. To stay with Aragorn would indeed make her happy beyond measure. But that may be beyond reach now.” Aeslin frowned.

“How so?”

“The war does not go well. Gondor is under threat and likely to fall, and there is no word on the One Ring. That Aragorn will survive becomes less likely the longer this conflict drags on.” Aeslin looked out over Imladris. A short distance away, amid the arched and shaded terrace beyond the library she could see Arwen and Elrond deep in discussion.

In the last several days, Arwen’s resolve had only deepened, her demeanor calm as she was steadfast in her choice. She was as a fleeting shadow amid the columns and trees of Rivendell, focused on her quest with a single-minded intensity that blocked out all else. Aeslin had not even been able to coax so much as another word from her friend. Elrond as well was becoming similarly reclusive, shunning all attempts to speak with him, whether it was with Arwen or anyone else. So it was that Aeslin was reduced to watching them both from afar.

Even now, as she stood speaking quietly with Elladan, she could see Elrond turning from Arwen’s obviously pleading figure. As he began to walk away, Arwen sank down onto a nearby chaise, moving out of Aeslin’s line of sight. The healer, though, was stopped mid sentence when Elrond turned back to his daughter before suddenly disappearing from her view as well. A feeling of foreboding passed over Aeslin before she suddenly left Elladan where he stood, making her way down to where she saw Elrond disappear. Before she was halfway there, Elrohir, who looked as worried as she suddenly felt, intercepted her.

“Father is asking for you, Aeslin.” Her breath catching in her throat, Aeslin followed him to the terrace where she had last seen her mentor and her friend. As they approached, she caught sight of Arwen sitting with her father kneeling before her. As she came up beside them, Elrond shot her a look of such worry and heartache that Aeslin nearly took a step back. Arwen too looked up, but her gaze was distant within her pale face.

“What is wrong?” It took all of the young healer’s effort to speak. Elrond looked back to his daughter, his features tight in fear.

“It is done, I have chosen my fate.” It was Arwen who answered. A faint smile came to Arwen’s face, but her eyes were ever so slightly unfocused, causing alarm to course through Aeslin. Dropping down beside her friend, she took one of Arwen’s hands from her father. Clasping it tightly, Aeslin laid her other hand against Arwen’s cheek, the healer in her coming to the fore. After a moment, Aeslin inhaled sharply, turning her gaze to Elrond’s troubled one.

“You sense it too.” The despair in his voice was obvious, and despite her assured words to Elladan mere minutes earlier, she began to doubt her friend’s choice. Aeslin nodded, tears coming to her eyes despite her efforts to fend them off.

“What have you done, Arwen?” A perplexed look came over the dark-haired elf as she turned her gray eyes to Aeslin.

“Why do you say that, you who have supported me in this.” Aeslin ignored the flash of betrayal that surfaced on her mentor’s eyes, keeping her focus on Arwen.

“And support you I do. You know that. But by choosing this now—Arwen, your life is ebbing away far faster than any of us could have anticipated. You are dying.”

“I know what I am doing.” The surety in her voice did nothing to assuage the fear growing in Aeslin’s heart.

“Arwen—” Elrond’s voice broke before he could say another word, but Arwen gave him a contented smile anyway.

“Do not fret, father. All will be well. It must.”

That evening, Aeslin sat with the steadily weakening Arwen, growing more and more concerned as time passed. All colour had begun to bleed from her skin, while her movements grew ever more sluggish. After a while Haldir came to sit with Aeslin, their slowly healing bond relaying her anxiety to him. While his presence eased her worry a little, it was far from banished from her mind. Periodically, Elladan and Elrohir would also join them, but Aeslin could see from the expressions on their faces that it nearly broke their hearts seeing their sister in this manner, particularly Elladan.

“Is this what you had in mind?” Arwen lay quietly, lost in a troubled sleep while Aeslin sat in vigil beside her. That her brother was frustrated and frightened went without saying, but the anger in his voice startled the healer.

“Of course not. That you would think that of me…Elladan, we could not have known this would happen, that she would be so affected by the darkness that surrounds us.” Her voice was hushed, conscious of the fact that Arwen slept only fitfully. Elladan was not so careful.

“This would not be happening had she continued on to the harbour.”

“You know she would never have abandoned him, she cannot; that is why she remains,” Somehow Aeslin managed to keep her own fears from her voice, keeping her tone sympathetic but firm. Haldir stood from where he had been sitting on the far side of the room, earning a hostile glance from the dark-haired brother. Turning his flashing gray eyes to Aeslin Elladan spoke, his voice low and threatening.

“You should not have encouraged this, Healer.”

“That is enough, Elladan.” Elrond appeared out of the shadows behind his son, his voice tired and careworn, “she is right.” Elladan was far from pleased at his father’s words, but he did not dare voice that displeasure. Aeslin turned her own tired glance from the brother to the father, taking in the dark cloak thrown about her mentor’s shoulders and the sword held in his hand. Aeslin stood, a faint wonder in her eyes, as she looked to the familiar hilt that gleamed in the low light.

“The sword that was broken…” Elrond looked down to the weapon in his hand, just as it drew the gaze of his son. Aeslin looked up to Elrond’s face. “You bring it to him? You take Aragorn the sword?” The Master of Rivendell nodded.

“It is her last hope. With this blade, and that which Arwen has uncovered, the race of men has a greater hope of victory.” Beside Aeslin, Arwen stirred, drawing Aeslin’s attention when she tried to sit. Immediately, her gray eyes landed on the sword in her father’s hands. A smile came slowly to her face as Aeslin sat beside her, placing steadying hands around her shoulders.

“You reforged the sword.” Her voice betrayed her weakness, causing Elrond’s frown to deepen. “Good.” She lifted her gaze to meet Elrond’s, contentedly leaning against Aeslin.

“I shall depart then.” Tearing his gaze away from his daughter with difficulty, Elrond fixed Aeslin with a stare. “Keep her alive, Aeslin. Keep her here, with us.” Nodding, Aeslin turned to look down on her friend, whose dark head now rested against her shoulder. Laying a hand on his son’s shoulder, Elrond bid Elladan farewell also before turning and leaving them without another word.

After a few more moments of tense silence, Elladan too departed, leaving Aeslin and Haldir alone with his sister. Exchanging a brief look with her husband, Aeslin coaxed Arwen to lie back again, letting her fall once again into a shallow sleep.

One day bled into the next, and then another passed by and still Arwen grew weaker. By the time Elrond returned from Dunharrow, Arwen could barely move. She often lay so still that there were moments when Aeslin feared she had passed on. Her skin grew thin and translucent while her gray eyes grew dull. Still, the days kept passing, and Arwen lingered on, waiting for finality, one way or another.

Aeslin rarely left her friend’s side, drawing the concern of Haldir and Elrond for her own health. She was using whatever healing skill she could to bolster Arwen’s condition and try to give her some comfort. But Arwen was far too weak, and Aeslin’s efforts only served to drain her own energy. Eventually, Haldir and Elrond were forced to pull her away from Arwen’s side. Haldir especially advocated this, for though their bond was still not as strong as it once was, he could feel just how weak his wife was getting.

So, one evening, once he noticed Aeslin had dozed off at Arwen’s bedside, he picked her up and carried her back to their quarters. It was morning when she finally woke, and she was not pleased that Haldir had moved her. The Marchwarden, however, was not moved by her ire, especially knowing her reaction was driven by fear for her dearest friend.

“What if something has happened?” Haldir took her face in his hands, passing what calm and sympathy he could through their bond.

“Lord Elrond has taken over sitting by her side. Arwen has made her choice; there is little to be done but wait and hope that this darkness will end. You need to take more care, my Aeslin. I feel your concern for the sister of your heart. Now feel mine for you and our child. We can do no more for her, and trying will only bring risk to you.” Aeslin sighed in helpless frustration, leaning against him as her arms wrapped around his waist.

“I fear giving up, Haldir.” There was a great deal she left unsaid, but Haldir heard it anyway.

“You had no influence on Arwen’s decision, Aeslin. Do not let Elladan’s words haunt you, for he spoke out of fear. He does not believe what he said.”

“Can you be so sure?” He held her tighter, resting his cheek against her silvery-blonde hair.

“He is like his father. He fears losing another of his family. But unlike Celebrian, should Arwen be parted from them, they will not see her again.” Aeslin buried her face against his chest.

“I pray that does not come to pass too soon.”

“As do we all.”

Shortly after Elrond returned, word spread to Imladris that, thanks to the arrival of the Army of Rohan and that of the Dead, the Battle of Pelennor Fields was a victory, though one hard won; news of King Théoden’s death was met with sorrow, especially by Aeslin; she had respected the King greatly, and was still grateful for his kindness. But despite the sorrow, the future began to brighten with the outcome of that single great battle. Still, though everyone breathed a sigh of relief, the worry did not subside. The One Ring still lingered, somewhere…

Everyone waited on finality, those in Imladris not least of all. Aeslin and her family took to spending their days in vigil at Arwen’s side. The dark-haired elf-maid drifted in and out of consciousness, murmuring quietly every now and then as her gray eyes stared off into space. Elrond stood in the far corner, his eyes not leaving his daughter’s still form for an instant, while her brothers sat nearby refusing to look for more than a moment, lest their grief take hold. Aeslin had resumed her seat at Arwen’s side, though now she did little more than watch, taking Haldir’s plea to heart. The Marchwarden sat close to his wife, the only one not focused solely on Arwen.

In the growing warmth of spring, the air was surprisingly cool that day, and little served to disrupt the silence. The quiet, though, was broken when Arwen stirred, her eyes roaming the room briefly before fixing on Aeslin. The healer, roused from the almost trance-like state she had sunk into, leaned forward, taking one of Arwen’s cold hands in her own. The dark-haired elf smiled faintly.

“You do not have to watch me so. There is nothing you can do to help me.” Aeslin tried to smile back, but found she could not manage it.

“That does not mean we will abandon you, Arwen. We could never do that.” Arwen looked at Aeslin with consideration, her eyes brighter than they had been for days, now.

“Do not feel guilty, Aeslin. This was my doing,” her voice began to trail off, her gaze shifting away to stare off into the distance again, as if watching for some far off sign, “I wish I could have seen him one last time.” As she spoke, a single tear escaped from her eye as her wistful words passed her lips. Fear coursed through Aeslin, causing Haldir to jolt behind her and her family to tense as their own alarm took hold.

“No, Arwen, don’t you dare give up. Did you not hear us tell you? He lives still; victory is closer than ever before. Do not let go now, not after you have held on so long.” Arwen smiled sadly, but made no move to speak again.

Neither did she let go. Despite the alarming finality to her words, she continued to endure. Hours continued to pass, and the feeling that a conclusion was fast approaching was growing in the minds of those who waited.

Yet, despite the agony of waiting, some of the tension began to ebb. They were all beginning to accept that Arwen’s fate was out of their hands. Aeslin retreated to sit by Haldir, gripping his hand tightly in her own while he laid the other around her shoulders, holding her close. The silence was monotonous, lulling them all into an almost trance-like limbo of anticipation.

The spell was finally broken when Arwen jerked, her gasp in the quiet surrounding her as loud as a shout. In an instant, Aeslin and Elrond both were at her side. Aeslin’s heart pounded in fear as she took Arwen’s hand into hers, terrified that the finality she feared was upon them.

As the two healers leaned over her, Arwen’s eyes shot open, focusing first on Aeslin and then on Elrond. With a sound of disbelief escaping from her lips, Aeslin started to laugh quietly as colour flooded back into Arwen’s flesh. Behind her Elladan and Elrohir jumped to their feet, identical expressions of hope blooming on their faces.

“It’s over,” Arwen breathed before falling into a deep, peaceful sleep. Tears of joy springing to her eyes, Aeslin reached out, grasping Elrond’s arm as they exchanged a smile of relief. Turning, she looked first to Haldir, then to the brothers, her own voice breathless in elation.

“She recovers. I think she will be well.” Laughing she embraced the brothers before falling into Haldir’s embrace, weak with relief a long time coming. Elrond and his sons too embraced, the tension and worry fading from their faces. After a moment, they all edged out of the room, leaving Arwen to rest in peace. It was a long moment before Elrond spoke, his gaze distant and thoughtful, though there was a cheer in his eyes Aeslin had not seen in a very long time. When he finally looked up, his eyes glimmered with joy, a smile lighting up his entire face.

“It is indeed over. The darkness is destroyed. The One Ring and its Dark Lord are gone.” His good spirits were infectious, and soon all of them were smiling, already able to feel the darkness that had infused Middle Earth for so long begin to lift.

“What’s more,” he continued, “I think we have need to go to Gondor. I do believe there is to be a King again.”

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