Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 2

One Kind of Beginning

In all consideration of the length and breadth of Middle Earth, the distance to Rivendell was not terribly great at all. Still, it seemed a very great distance to Aeslin, since she’d never strayed far from the place of her birth. Nevertheless, it was not terribly long until the small party had breached the Forest Gate on the western edge of Mirkwood and began to make their way south to the Old Ford that provided passage over the Anduin. Once across, the road led directly through the Misty Mountains to Rivendell.

The closer they came to the edge of the forest, the more light came to pierce the expanse of foliage over their heads until the blackness above turned to green and the sun painted mottled golden designs on the forest floor. The fear and uncertainty that gripped Aeslin since her departure from the Court of her Father was temporarily forgotten when her mount stepped out of the shadow cast by the Great Trees around her. Beyond the Forest was a vast landscape, the likes of which the young elf had never seen. She had certainly imagined what treeless, grass-covered plains might look like, but her vision could not compare to the openness and light. The Forest dwindled to grassland and in the distance her elf-eyes caught the glimmer of the Great River as it cut its way across the landscape. Above her, the sky was the purest blue and was nearly painful to gaze upon, while in the North a light blanket of translucent clouds grazed the horizon.

It was beyond anything Aeslin could’ve dreamed. She truly loved the forest, and the life contained within it, but the freedom of the air was new to her and without thinking, she began to breathe deeper, reveling in the sweet scents that drifted along with the breeze that played across her skin. Legolas watched with a bemused patience. Venturing beyond the boundaries of Mirkwood for the first time, centuries ago, had caused him to pause in much the same way, as it did most other young elves that travelled beyond their Kingdom.

Before long, the moment had passed, and the small band continued on, though the wonder that captivated its youngest member did not abandon her for a long time.

As elves travel faster than other folk and are capable of travelling night and day for days on end, the River Anduin was reached and crossed in half the time a man might take. The mountains were similarly conquered; though the progress was slowed in the more treacherous passes that cut through them. The entire way Aeslin was constantly enthralled and mesmerized by the ever-changing landscape that presented itself the farther they travelled from Mirkwood. Her keen blue eyes drank in every detail, though the journey seemed to drag into monotony for some of the others. That did not dim the worry that arose as they crossed the mountains, though. Each and every eye was watchful, Legolas’ especially so. The threat of Goblin and Orc attack was a pervasive fear, and every elf in the party was relieved to reach the western foothills of the mountains.

It was then that the fear and anxiety began to creep back into Aeslin’s heart. The closer they got to Elrond’s Last Homely House, the farther she was from home, and the farther she would be from her protector when he departed. She held no illusions that Legolas would stay. She knew very well that he was needed at home, and that he had been charged with seeing her safely to Imladris, nothing more. She also knew her duty; she would not betray her fear.

When at last their destination came into sight, Aeslin could not contain a gasp of surprise. Bathed in the soft golden light of afternoon, nestled among cliffs and trees and waterfalls, stood Rivendell, and within it, her fate. As the small party climbed to the main gate, Aeslin, though still caught up in wonder, fought to restrain the panic that began to well within her. Even the reassuring gaze of her brother did little to assuage the feeling. As the horses clattered into the courtyard, Aeslin caught the first glimpse of her new home, and the elf who was to be her teacher.

In anticipation of their arrival, Elrond and a small group of Rivendell elves stood waiting in the shaded courtyard. As Legolas and the rest of the Mirkwood party pulled up their horses and dismounted, Aeslin froze atop her mare, trying to look anywhere but at Lord Elrond, lest he see the fear in her eyes and mistake it for anything else. She was certainly grateful to become his pupil, but at the moment she felt little but anxiety. She was forced to abandon her attempts to calm herself when Legolas appeared at her knee, and, with a gentle, guiding touch, helped her down from her mount. His questioning eyes met hers for a moment before he placed her hand on his arm and led her toward Lord Elrond.

The Master Healer was tall, and though his skin and eyes were pale, his long hair was the darkest she’d ever seen. However, that was not what struck her most. His smile as she approached was kind, and his gray eyes were gentle and full of wisdom. Though it did not dissipate the apprehension that pounded in her chest, his calm gaze did a lot to set her at ease. As Aeslin and her brother approached, Elrond opened his arms in welcome.

“Welcome to Rivendell, Legolas, son of Thranduil, and to you, Aeslin, daughter of Lasbereth, and to your fellow Elves of the Woodland Realm. You are welcome in my Halls for as long as you need respite.” Bringing his hands forward to make the traditional gesture of welcome, Elrond inclined his head first toward Legolas and then to Aeslin, upon whom his gray eyes came to rest. “We are indeed fortunate that you are to stay with us, child. Your talent is promising, and I am delighted to have gained another student.” Stepping aside, he reached out, beckoning them forward to accompany him inside. Inclining his own head in acceptance, Legolas lead the way, Aeslin still clinging to his arm.

They were led to a magnificent dining hall, where they all sat down to sup, joined by the other pupils and residents of Rivendell. Aeslin was grateful to be seated next to her brother, but the proximity of her seat to Lord Elrond was verging on unsettling. It was not so much fear that plagued her anymore, but nervousness. This man was to be her mentor in the arts of healing, and already she was anxious to be a worthy student. No matter the kindness of his smile, the power and assured demeanor of Elrond was overwhelming to the young elf.

Over the course of the dinner, Aeslin remained all but silent while conversation flew around her. Legolas already knew Elrond and his two sons, Elladan and Elrohir, and talked readily with them. Aeslin was not so familiar, but if she was addressed, she answered, even if her voice was soft. At one point she looked up to see one of Elrond’s sons gazing at her with a faint expression of amusement. She frowned, wondering what he could possibly find so funny. As if responding to her thoughts, the brother, Elrohir, leaned forward.

“Are you always so serious, little one?” Irritation flared briefly within her at his offhanded mention of her youth. Legolas, hearing the query, suppressed the urge to both laugh at his little sister’s expression and to speak up in her stead. He knew, though, that she needed to begin to carve herself a place here, and that required her to speak for herself.

“I am not so young that I cannot be serious. To the contrary, I am quite old enough to be here, and have no intention of taking this opportunity lightly. I have a purpose here, and have not journeyed all this way for frivolity.” Legolas stifled a laugh, while Elrond leaned back in his chair, his own amusement playing across his features. Elladan joined in on his brother’s questioning, taking advantage of Aeslin’s newfound boldness.

“But surely, you should be taking advantage of the opportunity for frivolity. Such an expression of seriousness should not grace the features of one so young.” Aeslin flushed at the comment, both out of ire and embarrassment. When she spoke, her voice, though obviously betraying her annoyance, also reflected her unease.

“I am sure frivolity is all well and good, but I am here to learn, not to play as you seem to think I intend, based solely on my youth. I am more mature than you seem to give me credit for.” Elladan smiled widely, while Elrohir chuckled.

“Is that declaration not an indication of your youth in itself? Usually one does not try to make another see them as older unless they are too young for their bearing to reveal it in time.” Aeslin’s flush deepened as she realized what she had been doing. She was mortified that she had let them bait her as if she were a child. She hastily held back a retort. Elrond, seeing the depths of her discomfort, could not help but smile at the innocence of her reactions and the spirit that briefly made an appearance.

“I do believe you have had your fun, my sons. But if you tease my pupil any further I shall have to demonstrate just how young you are yourselves. Trust me, you don’t want me relating any of your youthful blunders, now would you.” He turned to Aeslin, “I’m afraid my sons are even more guilty of immaturity than they charge you to be, despite their advantage in age.” With an indulgent smile still on his face, Elrond watched as his sons chuckled at his gentle chiding, hiding their disappointment at the end of their fun. Aeslin, on the other hand, looked relieved that they were no longer teasing her and even relaxed a bit, the flush fading from her cheeks.

By the end of the evening, she wasn’t quite so dour as she had been when she sat down, her gestures becoming more animated and her features more lively. Eventually though, the lateness of the evening began to tell, and the whole of the Mirkwood party began to display their exhaustion. Standing, Elrond formally brought the evening to an end, dismissing the Rivendell residents and inviting his guests to retire to the guest quarters prepared for them. Then, he gestured for Aeslin to follow him, showing her to her new quarters himself. He could tell from the cast of her expression that she was exhausted from not only her journey, but also from the emotional strain her situation was causing.

He opened the door to her chambers, motioning her inside before gently pointing out important features of the room, like how the bedroom was beyond the small, private sitting room they passed through, where her belongings had been placed and where she could wash up. Aeslin was barely listening, and in a corner of her mind she was a little bewildered that Lord Elrond had taken it upon himself to see to her comfort. Almost without realizing it, she sat down on the edge of the elegantly decorated bed. In her exhaustion, her control of her emotions began to loosen, and Elrond could see the anxieties of her journey written on her face.

“You can sleep in ease, Aeslin. You have nothing to fear here. Your brother will remain until you are settled, and I am sure that your uncertainties will prove to be unfounded.” Aeslin nodded mutely in acknowledgement, not trusting her voice as relief flowed through her. With a few words, Lord Elrond had struck at the heart of her anxieties, easing them. With a heartfelt wish for a peaceful sleep, Elrond departed, leaving the young elf alone in a room that suddenly seemed too large and altogether too empty.

Despite the way sleep called to her, Aeslin felt the need to survey her quarters as a means to calm her mind. The open-air sitting room she had passed through was on the smaller side, but it provided a comfortable place where she could receive visitors and attend to her studies. The candlelight flickered upon the nature motifs and statuary that seemed to adorn the whole of Rivendell. A cabinet on the westward facing wall held several books that were all encased in modest but beautiful leather bindings. Aeslin couldn’t resist and brushed her fingers against the spines before moving on back into the bedroom.

On the far side of the bedroom, rather predictably, was the bed, clothed in ochre and pale green covers and pillows with a large, tree-motif designed headboard and a cloth draped chest at the foot. On each side of the bed, matching side-tables sat with potted greenery and delicate candleholders. On one side was a wall, against which a wardrobe and matching vanity, covered in cleverly carved vine-work, rested. Opposite was a large view of the vista that Rivendell overlooked, framed by an intricately carved arch and built-in statuary, complete with a lavishly cushioned divan from which to experience the extensive view of the landscape. Almost completely open to the outside, like the sitting room, she noticed she was on one of the higher levels, able to look over the roofs of the other buildings. More than that, she was able to see the sky. She could only look out in awe at the glorious multitude of stars that shone across the sky. Never had she seen anything so beautiful. A handful of times she had seen glimpses of the stars through the thick canopy of Mirkwood, and she had heard others tell of the clear night sky beyond the trees, but never had she dreamed that it would like this.

Settling herself among the scarlet and crimson pillows, Aeslin felt sleep break upon her like a wave, engulfing her. It wasn’t long before her eyes closed, shutting out the stars that twinkled and gleamed overhead.

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