Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 4

New Arrivals and New Understandings

As it has habit to do, time continued to pass, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye another decade had passed, and then another, and another until Aeslin found herself well into her fourth century. She graduated from the more mundane medicines and techniques a little over a decade into her studies, and had moved on to study the foundations of elvish medicine. Her knowledge of herb-lore grew exponentially as did her grasp of languages, both written and spoken. The Common tongue was the first she learned under the tutelage of Elrond’s aide and advisor, Erestor, before expanding to learn other, less common ones.

Her promise in the arts of healing was extensive, and she devoured the books and texts both Elrond and Erestor placed before her. By the time she had been in Rivendell for just over a century, she was moving onto learning and understanding the more advanced details and intricacies of Elvish healing and medicine. But that only took up so much of her time. As Elrohir had suggested, she taught herself patience, eventually coming to accept that her quest for knowledge would take time, and that time was one thing she had in abundance.

Still, despite her newfound patience, she was hard-pressed to keep herself from anxiously awaiting news from Legolas and Mirkwood. Correspondence was scattered, and occasion for her brother to venture far from Mirkwood was even more rare. She had seen him once since her delivery to Rivendell, and it was entirely too short.

Then there came a morning when, upon rising and preparing for the day, Aeslin arrived in the dining hall only to realize Elladan and Elrohir were absent. It was not the first time she had arrived before them or after them, but there was something different about this occasion. The two of them had been distant and she had been seeing them less often as the weeks passed. Today was the culmination of a pattern.

After finishing her meal the young elf made her way to Elrond’s study to begin her daily lessons. Entering what was, to her, a near hallowed space, the study was still cool in the early morning sun, and a great deal of the space was still dim. Still, it was a peaceful place of learning. Paper and books littered the space, while cabinets held wonderful and mysterious objects, each harking to a time and place long ago-for her at least. Today, however, she wasn’t overly concerned with the contents of the room, but rather with what was absent. Normally Lord Elrond was already deeply engrossed with one thing or another, but today he was not. He was not even there. Content to wait until he arrived, Aeslin paced over to the terrace that adjoined her mentor’s study. It was there that she waited, leaning against the archway that lead outside into the sun, but still covered by the shade of the terrace’s roof.

She still stood there, nearly unmoving, when Elrond entered a short time later. At first, he took no notice. But, having a similar pale colouring as her brother, the shade did not conceal her the same way it would have had she been less fair. But as the sun had travelled across the sky, more of the terrace and the study came under it’s revealing light. As Elrond entered his study, his attention was caught by the gleam of Aeslin’s pale, nearly white, blonde hair in the morning sun. Unable to withhold a smile at the sight of his star pupil, Elrond went to stand beside her.

His sudden appearance startled Aeslin, though she gave no outward sign that he had done so. Turning her gaze to him, she noticed something was different. The skin around his eyes was tight, one of the few outward signs that he was anxious. Suddenly curious, her attention was soon focused solely on him. If Elrond noticed, he made no move to either confirm or deny her observation. Eventually, Aeslin let out a frustrated breath; unable to withstand her curiosity or discern anything that might explain what was going on. So, what better than a direct approach?

“Something is happening. Something that has you concerned and Elladan and Elrohir guarded. They are up to something, and it has you worried. Has it to do with the Dragon?” News had come in the last several years of a Dragon descending from the north to decimate the dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. It was common to hear those around her whispering of the implications of such a thing about Imladris, especially when the constant stream of visitors brought new whispers and thoughts. A hint of a smile appeared on Elrond’s face at her boldness. Looking over, he met the pale eyes that were fixed on his face.

“My sons travel to Lothlorien. In fact, they left this very morning.” Surprise flitted quickly across the young elf’s features, followed quickly by hurt before she looked away.

“What occasion should cause them to go there?” Her mind worked quickly, despite the obvious sting Elladan and Elrohir’s sudden and wordless departure had caused, “has it to do with your daughter?” Again Elrond had occasion to smile at her quickness.

“Indeed. She is to travel home, to stay in Rivendell for a time.”

“You miss her, and yet you worry about her journey.”

“Yes, that I do. There is no shortage of risks along the way, especially in the mountains.” That Aeslin knew all too well. On her own journey to Imladris, the passage through the Misty Mountains had caused their little party no small amount of caution. She also knew that Elrond’s wife has been attacked and wounded in the mountain pass a long time ago, and that her own mother had met her death in those same mountains, albeit a great deal farther north. No matter the elation Elrond may feel at the imminent return of his daughter, the worry for the safety of his children overshadowed that joy.

“Elladan and Elrohir are fine warriors. They will have little trouble, I’m sure.” The words were soft and touched with sadness, and before Elrond could respond, Aeslin had stepped out into the sun before gliding down the stairs and out of sight, leaving him standing alone on the terrace.

Nearly a month passed after the conversation in Elrond’s study, and neither he nor Aeslin had brought up the topic again. He could see the sadness building within her again, and she often took to spending her spare hours on high terraces and the bridges of Imladris. What she was looking or waiting for, Elrond wasn’t certain. At first, he thought perhaps she was waiting for his sons to return, but as time passed, he became unsatisfied with that conclusion. Either way, her studies continued and, while she continued to progress, it was slowed.

Her skills had long since progressed to the point where, if the occasion presented itself, Elrond would allow her to assist in healing any injured who came to Rivendell. While it didn’t happen often, there was opportunity enough. As it was, her natural talent came to the fore in these instances more often than not. It was enough to impress Elrond greatly, leading him to push her further and increase her workload. At first, Aeslin strained under the pressure, struggling to keep up to the standard that Elrond was setting.

Eventually she had adjusted, and grew in the process, becoming more efficient, more focused and able to tune out everything around her. Every skill and technique Elrond taught her she endeavored to master with single-minded determination. Such was her drive to master her art that in the almost a century and a half she had thus far been in Rivendell, she had progressed farther than many of students of healing did in nearly double that time.

She also became more persistent in her other lessons, as well as when she was called upon to heal. This caused some worry for Elrond. Every elf had a limit to his or her strength. Despite the considerable knowledge she possessed for her age, Aeslin was still quite young and, as a result, still inexperienced. She still had a lot to learn about her own limits. Because of this, her strength was far less than that of a more mature healer, despite her admirable control and breadth of knowledge; it was something she seemed unwilling to grasp.

Luckily the situations they had encountered had been relatively minor, but on one occasion, she had very nearly done damage to herself in effort to heal an elf wounded by goblins; Elrond had been forced to pull her away, she had gotten so weak. Pale as she naturally was, she did not have much colour to lose, but her skin took on a grayish cast, frightening Elrond soundly. After that he kept a much closer watch over his pupil. She had become very dear to him as time passed, as dear as if she were his own daughter, and he had all but adopted her into his family as his sons had done.

But now he wondered if that bond was threatened. Aeslin, though showing no true outward signs of a change of regard for Elrond, was more distant than she had been for a long while. The true test would be upon the return of his children. That was what he figured was at the heart of her despondency. She was afraid of being alone again; she was jealous of his daughter for being able to come home to her family; she was beginning to wonder if she had only been a surrogate to Elladan, Elrohir and even Elrond. He could not be sure, but in his heart he felt he was right.

It was midday, and Aeslin had completed her day’s work and had wandered up to the highest balcony off the largest of Rivendell’s buildings. From there she could see everything. She looked down on the rooftops of the other structures and out over the waterfalls and the cliffs that guarded the small realm of her mentor. She had cleared her mind of just about every thought that came to her, putting some of her training to good use. Distraction was never a boon to a healer, after all. Separating herself from her thoughts had been a difficult task at first, but now that she had nearly mastered the skill, she was incredibly pleased with the results. It allowed her respite from the troubling turn her thoughts were taking. She knew she should be happy for her friends here in Rivendell; their daughter and sister was coming home. Yet, she couldn’t seem to bring herself to feel anything but jealousy and remorse.

More than ever, she missed her family, especially Legolas. He always knew what to do and what to say to ease her sadness. The more she thought about it, in fact, the more she came to realize that she had been the sad child of a dark forest, and Legolas had been her ray of sunshine. Now, here she was, basking in the light of midday, and the only thing she wanted was the sunny presence of her older brother. Shaking her head, she pushed her melancholic thoughts away, banishing them as far away as she could; but they still lingered like a shadow over her mind.

It was then that her sharp eyes spotted the riders approaching on the far side of the valley, coming up fast to the bridge that guarded the entrance to Rivendell. Her heart suddenly pounding in her chest, she watched as they came closer and closer before turning and hastily making her way to the main courtyard by the entrance.

She slowed her pace as she reached the final stairway down to the main levels of Rivendell, smoothing her shimmering ochre skirts as she passed under the last arch into the sunlight. Already, most of Rivendell’s inhabitants had gathered to welcome their fellows home. Elrond especially looked ecstatic as he stood at the head of the main group, his advisor Erestor standing close behind him. Uncertainty gripped her as she surveyed the gathered elves. She was not family, but she believed she was reasonably close enough to stand by her mentor. But neither was she Elrond’s only student. There were always several other elves in residence at Rivendell to learn from Master Elrond, though she was soon to be the student who had lived there longest, if she wasn’t already.

Before she could fix on a decision, Erestor spotted her standing in the shadows and discreetly motioned her over to the main gathering.

Shielding her surprise behind her perfectly schooled expression of calm, she circled around the courtyard, joining the group as silently as possible. As she did, the clattering of hooves signaled that the troupe of riders were crossing the bridge, and indeed, moments later, five riders passed under the archway into the main courtyard of Rivendell.

Elrohir was in the lead, with a staggeringly beautiful elf-maid off his flank. Behind them came two other Rivendell elves with Elladan at the rear. The instant they came into sight, Elrond beamed, nearly rushing forward. As it was, the lady was down from her horse in an instant, rushing into the arms her father. Aeslin couldn’t help but avert her eyes; the moment was too private to intrude, despite the dozens of other elves present. It also dredged up memories of parting from her own family, and the lack of affection shown by her own father. Elrond was the opposite as he held his long absent daughter close, his emotions clearly written upon his face. He was glad to see her, and relieved that his children were safe. As his two sons approached, he ended the embrace, though his daughter remained tucked under his arm. He clapped each of his sons on the shoulder in turn, first Elrohir, then Elladan, whom he asked about the journey.

As Elladan related the events of their trip to Elrond, Elrohir scanned the gathered elves, his gray eyes stopping on Aeslin. With a reserved smile on his face, he came forward to stand before her. They just stood there for a long moment, each gauging the other. That Aeslin had been hurt by the brothers’ sudden departure without so much as a goodbye was evident to Elrohir, and that he regretted the choice nearly as soon as they had left was clear to the elf-maid in front of him. So it was that neither had to say anything. Aeslin’s grin shone through her serious expression as the sun breaks through the clouds, and she stepped forward to draw him into a hug. She had missed them both, but Elrohir had come closest to her heart since she came to live among them.

Breaking the embrace after a moment, the two of them walked up to Elrond and his two other children. By now the courtyard had mostly emptied, most of the elves conveying their welcome with their presence alone. Detaching himself from his father and sister, Elladan also stepped forward to embrace Aeslin, whispering his apology to her. Without hesitation she brushed it aside, saying she was glad only that they had returned. It was then that their sister stepped forward. Aeslin turned her attention to the lovely elf, giving a small curtsey to be safe; after all, though Aeslin was a Princess of Mirkwood, she was not the granddaughter of the Lady of Light, which brought respect in its own right. Aeslin earned a smile and a graceful nod in acknowledgement.

“You must be Aeslin of Mirkwood. My brothers have told me a great deal about you. You seem to have captured their hearts since you arrived.” Aeslin felt a flush rise to her cheeks, but stood tall anyway, pushing aside her self-consciousness.

“I am honoured by their affection, Arwen of Rivendell, but it cannot compare to the love they bear you, for they speak most highly of you as well.” Arwen’s smiled grew, her gray eyes sparkling with mirth.

“Perhaps it is, then, that they have a tendency to exaggerate,” she teased gently, shooting her twin brothers a mischievous glance. Aeslin could not help but laugh.

“That is indeed possible, but I am inclined to believe them thus far,” Aeslin replied. Elrohir huffed in mock indignation.

“We have spoken only the truth, little sister, as our sweet elfling has wisely noted.” Aeslin turned her startled gaze to the brother, as an obviously well used term of endearment-that she herself had never heard before-passed his lips. Elrond laughed, reminding them all that he was still standing among them.

“And I am inclined to believe that you are all prone to teasing one another. Indeed, some things never change.” For an instant his face grew sad, but in a blink it was gone, replaced with enjoyment and amusement. Though Aeslin caught this, she paid it little mind, happy in the reassurance that she was not to be forgotten with Arwen’s arrival.

It was clear from the beginning that Arwen and Aeslin were destined to become fast friends. The fact that Arwen was really the only female Aeslin had to talk to was a relatively minor factor. Though she had spent some time with other ladies of the Woodland court and with the female hunters and scouts, though less frequently still, none of them had inspired much of a desire for friendship in the young elf. The closest she had come to having a female friend in Mirkwood was with Tauriel, a talented Silvan scout that had become relatively close friends with her brother. She had been friendly with the fire-haired elf-maid, but, despite being nearly of an age, it never grew to be much more than a casual friendship. Then, her Father’s protective refusal to allow Aeslin beyond the bounds of the Woodland Court and his preoccupation with the superiority of Sindarin elves had left little room for cultivating friendships with the predominantly Silvan population of Mirkwood’s elves. But even here in Imladris, where she was free of her father’s immediate control, she had found the other elves were rather solitary and usually either attending to a variety of duties or furthering their studies as she was. As such, she had not become particularly close to any of them. Not like she had become with Arwen, at least. With her easy laugh and friendly conversation, Aeslin soon found herself confiding in the other dark-haired elf-maid things she had never truly shared with anyone.

Even Legolas had never quite been privy to the thoughts Aeslin shared with the older elf. He had guessed many of them, but that was because he knew his little sister better than she’d known herself. But with Arwen, thoughts and dreams and fears seemed to pour out of the young elf like a flood. Her anxieties about making her own family proud, the depth of the gratitude and disbelief that Arwen’s family had so readily accepted her as one of their own, her frustration at her slowing progress in her studies, her longing to see her brother and the Forest of Mirkwood again, her fear at the stories of a Dragon taking the dwarven kingdom of Erebor, so near to her home, even her untold grief at her father’s choice to send her away, all found its way into Arwen’s confidence.

As it had been with Elladan and Elrohir, it wasn’t long until Arwen had worked her way into Aeslin’s heart and vice versa. The two became as close as sisters, and became nigh inseparable during Arwen’s stay in Rivendell. It was only during Aeslin’s lessons that the two were apart, and even then, Arwen would sometimes settle herself on the terrace adjacent to Elrond’s study, whiling away the morning engrossed in a book while Aeslin attended to her studies.

It was in this way that more years ran their course. But, eventually, Arwen intended to return to Lorien. She had been home over a century when she brought the subject up with Aeslin. The pair was wandering the paths under the beech and oak trees that flanked the outbuildings of Rivendell.

“I want you to come to Lothlorien with me when I return.” Aeslin was startled, neither of them having said a word in several minutes.

“Lothlorien, the home of the Galadhrim? I—Arwen, I have never even dreamed—I cannot. Arwen, I am sorry, but I cannot.” The younger elf had stopped walking, causing Arwen to turn and face her.

“Why ever not. You deserve a chance to get away from your studies for a while. You have made incredible progress in your time here; my father has said so himself. You have the promise to become one of the greatest healers in Middle Earth” Aeslin struggled to keep her longing in check. She did desire to see the Woods of Lothlorien with her own eyes, but she had a duty to fulfill here in Rivendell.

“I am sorry.” Before Arwen could say another word Aeslin had begun to walk again. Arwen, however, was not dissuaded so easily. Catching Aeslin by the arm, she turned the younger elf to face her.

“You have nothing to be sorry about, Aeslin. I understand your need to further your studies, to learn all you can. But I am no longer convinced that—” Arwen abruptly cut herself off, drawing a frown from Aeslin.

“Not convinced of what?” When Arwen hesitated to answer, Aeslin could feel her ire beginning to grow, “what is it you meant to say, Arwen?” The older elf suddenly looked grieved and apologetic, causing the younger’s eyes to bore into her’s, demanding an answer to quell the growing fear there. Arwen took a deep breath, marshaling her courage to finish what she so carelessly started.

“I am no longer sure that your father will summon you home when you complete your training.” The look that spread across Aeslin’s face was one of pure shock and disbelief.

“What—no. No, Arwen, that—that is not true. He will call me home. He must.” As Arwen’s words sunk in, Aeslin’s voice became weaker, eventually trailing off completely. Arwen knew in her heart she had to continue, even though she desperately wanted not to. Reaching out, she tried to take Aeslin’s arm, but she was shrugged away. Aeslin couldn’t even look at her.

“Aeslin, I have sat in on your lessons with my father. He is teaching you far more than any regular healer learns. You already know enough to be a true healer in your own right. He knows that if he were to stop teaching you, you would try to return to Mirkwood, only to find you cannot. So he continues. He knows you thirst for knowledge, that you thirst to prove yourself, so he gives you the chance to pursue those desires.” Tears were beginning to form in Aeslin’s eyes, though she refused to let them fall.

“Mirkwood is my home—”

“Rivendell is your home now. We love you here; me, my Father, my brothers, they are all your family now too. We want nothing more than to keep you safe. I have heard talk—Mirkwood is dangerous; darkness and shadow are beginning to creep back into the world, and your home becomes more and more dangerous as time passes. It used to be called the Greenwood, but it is no longer; you know that already as you’ve lived there and have never known it as anything else. Even since you left, it continues to grow darker still. You are safe here, with us.” As Arwen spoke of darkness, a different shadow was beginning to grow in Aeslin’s mind, one that even she didn’t want to understand or acknowledge. As grief and resentment coursed through her, Aeslin’s body began to tremble, and before she knew it, her legs were giving way. Arwen was there in an instant, pulling the young elf into a tight embrace, guiding her to the ground as her tears began to fall.

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