Encounters and Departures
That Arwen’s admission had nearly devastated Aeslin was obvious. For nearly a week, she rarely spoke, and even then she spoke sparingly. She was always deep in thought, wandering here and there, distant and aloof. Eventually though, she began to revive, but there was now a stronger set to her jaw and a reserve in her step that had Elrond worried. He feared she would do something reckless. So it was that on one late evening, while he sat up in his study, watching Aeslin overlooking the Valley from the terrace adjacent to his, he began penning a missive to Thranduil.
Aeslin, meanwhile, was fighting a battle of her own. She desperately wanted to talk to her brother and to understand what was going on. She still couldn’t quite believe that she could possibly be in Rivendell for a reason other than to study the healing arts. But if she was—Aeslin refused to think like that, and yet, as she tried not to, the subject kept worming its way into her thoughts. That the things Elrond was teaching her now were more advanced than anything an average healer might know was obvious. She had wondered on that for several years now. The fact that he was allowing her to treat patients without supervision had struck that thought home the first time it had happened nearly a decade ago. In addition, the breadth of his lessons were now starting to broaden even further to encompass histories, some of the sciences and even poetry and song. Half the time it was now Erestor, instead of Elrond, who guided her studies.
The more she thought about it, the clearer her situation seemed to become, and the possibility of going to Lothlorien was even more tempting than it had before. On several occasions she found herself on the verge of accepting Arwen’s offer, only to rein herself in. No matter the temptation to disregard her purpose in Rivendell, she was not prepared to so blithely abandon her studies. Until Master Elrond told her there was nothing more he could teach her, she would remain.
First years, and then months began to count down until Arwen’s departure, and still, Aeslin could not reconcile her thoughts. She continued with whatever studies Elrond placed before her and acted cordially enough around others, but everyone around her noticed her change of spirit, especially her adoptive siblings. Elrohir tried to get her to open up with his usual teasing and jests, but she would only politely smile or feign a laugh. Arwen tried to get her to open up about the rift growing between them and the issues with her position, but she was usually met with silence on these occasions. Song was one of the few things that garnered a true response from her, and a peace would appear to come over her when she lost herself in a book of poetry.
But it was Elladan who finally found the means to bring her out of the gloom that had settled inside her. One gray afternoon, after finding Aeslin holed up near the gardens, he all but dragged her to the Practice Field, an area she had rarely visited. She put up some resistance, though Elladan was convinced her heart wasn’t in it.
Early on, the brothers had taken her here for a separate part of her lessons in order to discern her skills for handling a sword and defending herself and expanding upon what she had learned in Mirkwood. That had lasted for some time, but eventually the frequency of those lessons dwindled and ended. She hadn’t really visited the field since. Elladan stood her at one end and placed a bow in her hand and a quiver of arrows at her side; one thing he hadn’t done during the course of her lessons. Holding her surprised gaze for a moment with a stern expression of his own, he then turned and picked up a bow of his own. As he suspected, like most wood-elves, Aeslin was talented with a bow and was already well trained, so the reintroduction of one into her hands had the effect of waking her from a deep sleep.
It was evening before they returned to the Main House, but she was pleasantly weary after the rounds with the bow Elladan had given her. That night she slept deeply and without the weight of her internal struggles bearing down on her.
So it was that the next day, and the day after that she found her way to the Practice Field almost unconsciously, her own Mirkwood-made short bow no longer forgotten in a corner of her rooms but clutched in her hand. She had never thought much about her familiarity with a bow before, but having it placed in her hands once again, she realized that she had missed the sound of arrows in flight and the feel of the bow tensing and straining beneath her hands. It had left her tired, and emotionally drained, for she had taken her frustrations and anxieties out on the target across the field. It also brought back memories of simpler times, when Legolas had been her protector and her hero. He had spent days on end teaching her to wield a bow, and once she had mastered the weapon, they had honed and practiced those skills together on many occasions. He had even taken her on a short ranging once, much to their father’s displeasure. As it had then, in the dark forests of Mirkwood, time seemed to hold still as she sent arrow after arrow flying towards the targets.
However, the sun would eventually begin to set, reminding Aeslin that time had indeed passed as she gave herself over to the therapeutic effect of her bow. On one evening in particular, her mind calmer than it had been in weeks, Aeslin made her way back to her rooms. Before she could slip away to her quarters, though, Elrond waylaid her. He surveyed her for a long moment, his gaze distinctly troubled. Aeslin met his gray eyes without flinching, realizing for the first time what her withdrawal from the world must have been doing to those closest to her. It took her a long moment to find her voice, and when she did it was soft, and it betrayed how ashamed she was of her recent conduct.
“Master Elrond, I—I have no words to convey the depth of my shame at the way I have been acting. It was unwarranted, and after the way you and yours have accepted me into you home, it was cruel of me. I am so sorry.” Elrond gave a sad smile.
“We have done more than accept you into Imladris, child, we have welcomed you into our hearts. My children see you as their sister, and I love you like a daughter.” He sighed deeply, “I must admit, your unhappiness has weighed heavily upon my heart, and I must bear some of that responsibility as well. I should not have kept the nature of your stay here from you, even though I had thought you had some idea. It is now obvious to me that you did not. Arwen told me what she said to you, and much of it is true,” Aeslin tensed, her gaze dropping as the emotions roiling about within her surged. “I have taught you far more than I had ever intended, and have enjoyed doing so. You are more than I could have asked for in a student, and your eagerness has delighted me to no end. That being said, your skills as a healer are complete. There is little more that I can teach you, Aeslin. Your strength and capabilities will grow as time passes, but you have everything you need to do so on your own.” Aeslin looked up at him expectantly, a desperate wish growing in her mind. The expression she met dampened those hopes immediately, for Elrond’s face was sad.
“I have been in correspondence with your father about this for a long while, now. He asks that I continue to board you here, even so far as to take you on as my ward. Should you wish it, I shall do so.” It was too much for the young elf. She tried desperately to withhold the tears that sprang to her eyes, but one glistening drop escaped. Unable to stand her sorrow, Elrond reached out, pulling her into a tight embrace, and she in turn clung to him.
“Why does he not wish me to return? I have done what he asked. I’ve done everything he wanted me to do…” Elrond knew he had no response that would comfort her. She understood the love that one can bear for their family, but she could not understand the extent of a Father’s love for his child, and less still the paralyzing fear that those feelings could create.
“He wishes only for your safety, Aeslin. Nothing less.”
“And what of my happiness?” Her response was so quiet he nearly didn’t hear it. Elrond sighed as she pulled away.
“You can be happy here, Aeslin. You were once. Does the love we bear you mean nothing?” It was said gently, without any trace of accusation. But Aeslin froze, her eyes shut in pain. After a moment, she let out a shaky breath.
“Were it not for the love I have received from everyone here, I would have driven myself mad with longing. As it is, I miss my home. I miss the forest, my father, my brother.” Elrond knew this; he could see the longing in her eyes as she spoke. “Rivendell has become my home away from home, Master Elrond. But it is not the same. It is not Mirkwood.” Elrond could not think of anything he could say to sway her or help her to understand. He sighed again before turning to walk away, only to pause mid-step.
“You could accompany Arwen to Lothlorien,” he saw her start as he turned his gaze back to her, “She told me of her offer, and it still stands. I think it would be good for you to see the Golden Wood; it might ease your heart to be under the cover of the trees again.” With that he turned away, walking slowly to the end of the hall before turning the corner.
Once he was out of sight, she sank down onto one of the benches that lined the hall. Little more than a covered walkway, the latticed walls let in the cool breeze that swept over Rivendell in the evenings. The seasons were beginning to change, something that Aeslin could feel in the very marrow of her bones. Autumn was coming, and anytime now her father would don his crown of red berries and gold leaves and the court would give over to the revelries that came with the change of the seasons. She had never been one for the extensive and riotous celebrations the change of seasons brought—she had generally preferred Mereth Nuin Giliath as it tended to be less riotous than other feasts—but now she found she missed the ecstatic music and the dancing and the carousing that came with the myriad Autumnal Feasts.
“Aeslin…” she was startled out of her memories by a soft, concerned voice. Realizing her face was damp with silent tears, she brushed them hastily away before raising her head. Its owner wasn’t someone she expected to see.
“Legolas—” with a bound, she had leapt from her perch into her brother’s waiting arms, “you’re here! How are you here?” Without compunction, she let her emotions run rampant, all at once smiling and weeping.
“Elrond has been writing to Father to appraise him of your progress, as well as to ask him to clarify his intentions, and if the time was right for you to come home. I am so sorry, Aeslin. If I had known what he was going say I—” Her brother stopped, choking on his own unease. He was obviously not happy with their father’s decision either.
“He doesn’t want me to come home. How could he not want me to come home? I am his daughter! Does he not care for me in the slightest?” Legolas hugged her tighter.
“Of course he does, but he also cares for your safety, dearest one, and you are safe here. But he does miss you, Aeslin, more than you can imagine. I could see it in Father’s eyes as he sent me here.” A faint flicker of hope alighted in Aeslin’s eyes.
“Perhaps then you can convince him to let me come home.” Legolas shut his eyes tightly, wishing he didn’t know better.
“I wish I could, little sister, but Father has made his decision. I wish that I could sway him, but we both know that when his mind is made up he will not relent.” Aeslin’s tears renewed themselves and she pulled away, sinking onto the bench once again. Struggling to clear the tears from her eyes, she gazed up at the stars. She could no longer imagine not being able to look up into their reassuring gleam, though tonight, their pure light did nothing to ease her heart. Legolas sat beside her, not once taking his gaze from her features.
“When I first came here, I was awestruck at the breadth of sky, the brightness of the Sun, the glow of the Moon, the dancing of the stars. Even the wind and the clouds were wonderful to see, to experience. I wondered how I could’ve lived without seeing it all for all those years, but now—” she turned her gaze to her brother, her pale blue eyes luminous in the moonlight. “I was so young when I came here, so naïve. I’m still young, I know this, but I realize that I miss my home. I miss the forest, Legolas, and the feel of the trees around me. The scent of the air and the sounds of the leaves and the creatures and the trees themselves haunt me.” He reached out, taking hold of her hand.
They were silent for a long while, watching as the night passed around them. The stars wheeled overhead and the Moon traversed her way across the sky. Finally, in the east, the faint glow signaling the approach of dawn began to spread and in the trees around them birds began their morning songs. It was then, as the stars began to fade, that Aeslin spoke, her voice soft and calm, and without trace of sorrow.
“I wish to go with Arwen to Lothlorien.” She felt purged of the heartache that had plagued her for so long, so great was the release of knowing, accepting and choosing what to do with that knowledge. Legolas turned his own blue-eyed gaze to his sister, a faint smile coming to his lips. He could see the change in her demeanor, and feel the relief in her voice. It still grieved him that she would not be coming home with him, but at least she still had a chance to be happy.
It had never occurred to Aeslin to be resentful of her brother. She was far too close to him for that. So, to take advantage of his short time with her, they spent every waking moment together. Periodically, Arwen or one or both of the twins would join them, but mostly they were left to themselves. They spent a great deal of time in the practice field, as it was becoming Aeslin’s habit to do anyway, along with the many paths and gardens that made up Rivendell. Sometimes, under the beech, oak and pine trees that covered the hillside, Aeslin was almost able to imagine that they were back in Mirkwood and could wander among the trees forever. The illusion was always shattered though, and eventually, there was no point in pretending anymore.
Eventually, Legolas had to return home.
The longing in Aeslin’s heart nearly overcame her again that day, but she managed to keep herself under control. Few tears were shed as Aeslin embraced her brother for the last time, unsure how long it would be until she saw him again. Then with little in the way of words or goodbyes, Legolas took his leave, looking back every few moments. The guilt on his face was clear for all to see, but Aeslin couldn’t bring herself to despair her situation anymore; there was nothing she could do about it anyway.
When he was out of sight, the young elf slipped away nearly unnoticed. The discipline she learned on her way to becoming a healer had helped her to keep from creating a scene as Legolas left, but as she rounded the corner that lead to her quarters, she couldn’t hold it back anymore. No matter the peace that she found in accepting her circumstances, watching her brother leave without her hurt, and knowing he was returning to the home she hadn’t seen in nearly two centuries was even worse. With a silent sob, she stumbled into her room and collapsed onto the divan, curling upon herself and letting herself cry out her heartache.
Before Legolas had left, Aeslin announced that she accepted Elrond’s offer to take her on as his ward, and had further stated her desire to go with Arwen to Lothlorien. Legolas, though cautious, had assented on their Father’s behalf, even though he had a feeling Thranduil would not be entirely pleased about his daughter’s journey to Lorien. Elrond was pleased that she was moving on and taking charge of her life, and though he worried for her as well, he was all too pleased to take her into his family. Arwen was positively delighted at the news, especially that she would have a companion in Lothlorien.
It was little under a year after Legolas’s departure that a small party of Elves came to Rivendell. There were four of them, all tall and blonde, dressed in fine cloth of grays and silvery-greens. Aeslin knew none of them, but hazarded a guess that they were of the Galadhrim. Her suspicions turned out to be correct when Elrond and Arwen greeted them upon their arrival. They were well known to Arwen especially, who gave them a warm welcome. Two of the visitors returned the greeting with equal warmth, but the other pair, brothers, as Aeslin later discovered, were decidedly less friendly in their demeanor. In fact, one of them seemed downright cold.
Aeslin had anticipated that, much like when Arwen had made the journey home to Rivendell, it would be Elladan and Elrohir who escorted them to Caras Galadhon. As it was, the brothers would take them as far as the borders of Lothlorien before turning home. A less than pleasant thought to Aeslin as the last week of her stay in Rivendell passed.
The second evening since the Lorien Elves arrived, in particular, caused her perception of them to shift, of one in particular at least. She hadn’t even given much thought to them until that evening. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, and Aeslin was making her way back to the Library with an armful of tomes she had been reading in her spare time. As she passed through one of the inner halls, she was unfortunate enough to come across one of the Lorien Elves. One of the brothers, he was leaning motionless against one of the vine-like columns that separated the hall from the courtyard beyond. She was also unfortunate enough not to notice him, and subsequently to inadvertently run into him as he abruptly moved into her path. His expression as she apologized was less than amused. In fact it was downright haughty.
“Do you not pay attention as you walk, elfling?” It had been a long time since she’d been annoyed when attention was called to her age. Then again, the only one to really do so anymore was Elrohir, and that was only ever with affection. This elf said it with outright disdain. He looked her over with a critical eye, his eyes resting on the texts in her arms. Ignoring his rudeness, Aeslin tried to be as civil as possible, though this elf’s attitude was verging on offensive.
“I am afraid in the dim light I did not see you, My Lord, but I will endeavor to pay closer attention in the future.” With a tiny nod of respect, she tried to slip past him, but before she could, he reached out and lifted the topmost text from her arms. Withholding the urge to groan in frustration, she fixed her expression of calm on her face, watching him flip through the pages of the book of songs Erestor had recommended she read. After a moment, she drew breath to ask him to return it, but he spoke before the words came out of her mouth.
“Have young elves nothing better to do than read poetry? I was under the impression that to study here was a serious matter. I cannot see how frivolity of this kind can serve to teach you much of anything.”
“You do not see the worth of songs, then?” She knew the instant the words came out of her mouth that he was going to find them impetuous, but it had been a trying few weeks, and Aeslin’s patience was wearing to the point where she did not care. His expression tightened to one of annoyance that nearly matched the way Aeslin was beginning to feel. She continued before he could rebuke her remark.
“I have long since completed my studies, and have even expanded them to include more subtle parts of our culture. That book was lent to me from Master Erestor himself. Besides, when one has studied for as long as I have, I think they would rather deserve to read what they wish. Indeed, fully-trained Healers have a great deal of freedom in Imladris.” Abruptly shifting her load, she reached out and snatched the book out of his hands, placing it back onto her pile. With another curt nod, she deftly stepped around him, walking briskly to the Library, feeling his darkened gaze follow her until she rounded the next turn.
She didn’t stop until she reached the candlelit confines of the Library. She dropped the books on the table with more force than she had intended, but she needed some sort of outlet for the irritation the Lorien Elf had sparked in her.
“Is something troubling you, Aeslin?” The elf-maid nearly jumped out of her skin when Elrond emerged from behind one of the bookcases, his voice tinged in amusement. Her pride still smarting, Aeslin inhaled deeply, and when she spoke, her own voice held none of the amusement Elrond’s did.
“Indeed, someone has.” Elrond chuckled softly, but waited for Aeslin to elaborate. “One of the Lorien Elves. He stepped into my path, had the nerve to criticize my studies and the audacity to call me ‘elfling’” She all but spat out the last word. Elrond answered her with a soothing tone, hiding his amusement now.
“Elrohir calls you elfling still, does he not?”
“He has my permission, and he uses it with fondness. This one definitely did not. I know not everyone respects youth, but he looked down on me with contempt purely because of my age.” Elrond nodded in understanding, his expression taking on a slightly more sober cast.
“I suspect it was Haldir, the Marchwarden of Lorien, that you encountered, then.”
“I do not know. He did not exactly offer his name, and we were never introduced.” Elrond nodded.
“I imagine it was. Haldir has a certain intolerance for weakness, I’m afraid.” Aeslin’s gaze shot to her mentor, her eyes blazing with ire.
“I am young, not weak.” Elrond held out his hands in peace, his tone once again soothing in attempt to placate her.
“I know that, my dear Aeslin. Unfortunately, for him, youth and weakness are synonymous. He also has a habit of being rather too dour for his own good.” His last comment earned a smile, and he could see the tension in her slender frame relax.
“Do not judge him too harshly, Aeslin. He has a good heart, and will guard you well on your journey to Lothlorien.” Eventually she sighed.
“I will try not to, Master Elrond. But I cannot promise it will be easy.” He laughed.
Four days later, they set out on their journey to Lothlorien. In the early morning light, Arwen and Aeslin said their goodbyes to Elrond and the other elves of Rivendell. Though both had departed from their homes before, Arwen by far had the most experience, and managed her feelings much better than Aeslin did, not that leaving her family was easy by any stretch of the imagination. Aeslin had a harder time of it. She had a great many fond memories of her time in Rivendell, and her new family had become very dear to her indeed. So it was that when Elrond gave her a farewell embrace, she very nearly didn’t let go. Fear had once again crept into the pit of her stomach, and her mentor and his home were safe havens for the young elf.
Elrond laid a kiss of parting on her head, wishing her a fond farewell, and Aeslin struggled to hold back her emotions yet again. Then, mounting the horse Elladan held for her, Aeslin said goodbye to Rivendell, and the group set out on their way.