They spent the night on the Flets the Wardens used to guard the borders of Lorien. After the horses were led away to a more secluded area, the Rivendell party was, one by one, lifted to up to the platforms hidden among the branches of the mallorn-trees that inhabited Lorien.
Once settled, the Rivendell Elves began to truly relax. Aeslin, buoyed by her joy at being among so many great trees, checked on Elladan’s bindings, eventually unwrapping them and examining the wound. What little healing she had done promoted the wound to close on its own, so it was well enough to leave unbound. Aeslin was pleased with the results, and told Elladan that, with the natural speed with which Elves healed, he would be hale long before they reached Rivendell.
It was a testament to the effect of the Golden Wood on the Mirkwood elf that her sorrow was far less than it had ever been previously on any mention of Elladan and Elrohir’s imminent departure. She and Arwen well knew that at dawn the brothers would depart so they could make it through the Redhorn Gate before winter reached the mountain pass. Though Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn were their kin as well, the twins were anxious to get home.
The night seemed to pass blessedly slow, allowing the four elves out of Rivendell one last chance to be together before they were separated. Arwen, rather understandably, was quiet and reserved that night, sitting between her brothers as they all reclined with their backs to the massive tree that gave home to the flet. Aeslin sat next to Elrohir, leaning comfortably against him as the night wore on. The four of them talked quietly, undisturbed by the Lorien elves nearby.
By the time dawn came, they had all fallen into an easy sleep, dozing as the sun’s light began to stream through the canopy of leaves leaving dappled patterns on the wooden surface of the flets. Aeslin was the first to open her eyes as the forest awoke around them. Beside her, Elrohir slept peacefully, Arwen’s hand wrapped in his, while she lay curled against Elladan, who in turn had a protective arm around his younger sister. Aeslin extricated her hand from the crook of Elrohir’s arm, careful not to wake him as she separated herself from the siblings. They looked so peaceful that she couldn’t bear to disturb them. With the silent steps of her kind, she paced across the flet and looked out at the Golden Wood, finally stopping to watch the forest around her.
Standing stock-still at the edge of the flet, her eyes followed the shifting and dancing patterns made by the sunlight through the leaves. It was so unlike Mirkwood that she was barely able to compare the two, not that she really felt any desire to do so anyway. She hadn’t been there for more than a few moments when Haldir joined her.
“I trust your night was peaceful.” With a small smile she turned to face him.
“Yes, thank you. It was a well needed respite for us all.” He nodded, satisfied. Taking another few steps forward, he came to stand beside her on the edge of the flet, looking out beyond their perch.
“The Golden Wood calls to you, doesn’t it.” A look of soft satisfaction came over Aeslin’s face as he spoke, confirming Haldir’s suspicions even before she spoke.
“Indeed, it does. It has been almost three centuries since I left Mirkwood. I could feel the emptiness inside me at being parted from my home, but Lorien…” She was at a loss for words. She still missed her home, but Lorien called to her heart in a different way than Mirkwood ever had. “…I don’t know. They are as different as day and night, Lorien and Mirkwood; each beautiful and wondrous in its own way. I can’t even compare them.” It was Haldir’s turn to nod.
“It is indeed beautiful here. There is nothing in Middle Earth to rival it.”
“That is not at all difficult to believe.”
“Nowhere else does the mallorn-tree flourish as it does here,” He sighed wistfully, “save in the Undying Lands.” Aeslin turned to him, feeling the same longing she saw in his eyes; the same longing that every elf in Middle Earth held in their hearts.
“Perhaps that is why this forest calls to us so.” Haldir smiled down at her, a considering look on his face.
“Perhaps. Perhaps you are right.” He shifted next to her, a faint expression of discomfort coming across his features. The Healer looked back out across the Wood, giving him time to formulate whatever it was that he obviously wanted to say.
“I was—wrong, Aeslin of Mirkwood,” Aeslin turned back to him, trying not to feel a hint of satisfaction at the obvious way his conscience was battling his inflated sense of pride, especially as he was visibly troubled and uncomfortable. He paused, struggling to convey what he wanted to. “I judged you harshly once, and have since been shown just how mistaken I was. My—pride impaired my judgment and my courtesy, and for that, I must offer my most sincere apologies. You have always acted with far more grace and sense than I initially presumed you possessed. You also saved my life.” Aeslin held up a hand, pausing his speech. His sincerity could not be questioned, and his eyes pleaded for understanding. She was, however, prepared to give him something more than understanding; forgiveness.
“That you regret your actions is obvious, as is the lesson you have learned. Nothing more needs to be said, My Lord. All is well between us.” Behind them, Elrond’s children were beginning to stir, drawing Aeslin away from their conversation. Upon seeing Elrohir standing and, beside him, Elladan and Arwen stirring, she left Haldir alone at the edge of the flet with a quiet word of thanks.
Slowly everyone awoke, and after the border guards shared their morning meal with the Rivendell elves, Elladan and Elrohir were ready to depart. After being lowered to the ground, the brothers embraced their sister, taking several long moments to bid each other farewell. As their horses were brought round, the brothers took time to thank the Lorien elves, and to give their condolences for the loss of their kinsman. Finally they made their way round to Aeslin. Elladan’s farewell was brief, a short embrace and a fond farewell. Elrohir, though, took a little longer. In all the long years Aeslin had been in Rivendell, they had become very close. The hug he gave her was longer than his brother’s, and she left a tender kiss upon his cheek.
“You will be well here, sweet elfling?” Aeslin couldn’t help but laugh. It was baffling to her that once she would’ve taken the affectionate term as insult, but now she realized she was going to miss it.
“I will be well, dear brother.” Elrohir grinned at the returned term of endearment, pulling her into one last embrace. He then pulled away, and, after one last farewell embrace for Arwen, joined Elladan on horseback. With a wave and a shout, the brothers departed Lorien, disappearing through the trees. Aeslin had come to stand beside Arwen, taking her hand, as the brothers mounted their horses. After they had gone from their sight, the older elf gave the younger’s a squeeze, but did not let go. Letting her brothers go was hard for Arwen, something Aeslin intimately understood.
It wasn’t long after Elladan and Elrohir left that the rest of the little party set out from Rivendell continued deeper into The Forest of Lorien. Aeslin, sharing a mount with Arwen now, couldn’t help but be surprised the closer to the heart of the forest they got. The young elf expected that the deeper into the wood they ventured, the darker it would become; that’s what her experience had prepared her for. But her experience failed her in Lorien, and she was almost overcome with delight when it did. If anything, the depths of Lorien grew brighter, the beauty of the forest enhanced by the rays of sunlight that shone through the canopy. It overwhelmed the young elf so that as they drew near their final destination, the Forests of Mirkwood were nearly forgotten.
They came to the top of a rise where they could look out from among the trees over the treetops below. Haldir and his brother Rumil stopped here; exchanging brief looks of satisfaction as they looked out over the green-gold foliage before them. Aeslin and Arwen came up beside the brothers a moment later.
“Caras Galadhon. Our destination.” Haldir’s voice was laden with reverence as he shifted his gaze to the two elf-maids next to him. Arwen, her spirits having lifted as the day wore on, smiled as they caught their first glimpse of the Elven city through the trees. Aeslin was speechless at the sight of the City of Trees. It stood high on a hill above the trees surrounding it, looking for all like a mountain of golden foliage. With a smile, the Lorien elves led the way, Arwen and Aeslin following close behind.
The City was more beautiful than Aeslin could’ve imagined. The trees were home to dozens of flets, homes, halls and balconies, all linked by an intricate and varied array of stairways and bridges. The very architecture looked to be a part of the forest, gleaming white and silver lattices with weaving and flowing tree and vine motifs providing the very structure of the city. Statues, lawns and meandering pathways covered the forest floor with niches and beautiful groves dotting the landscape. Fountains let loose singing spurts of clear, cool water and flowers bloomed in profusion, filling the air with their sweet scent. And all around them the massive trunks of the golden mallorn-trees formed the base and the foundation for the wonders of Caras Galadhon.
Leaving their horses in the care of several waiting Lorien Elves, Arwen and Aeslin followed Haldir and Rumil into the city toward the home of the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien. They were interrupted when a voice came from amid the trees. The faces of the two Lorien brothers lit up when a third brother, Orophin, joined them. Clasping the hands of his brothers, he welcomed them back in turn before focusing his attention on Arwen. They were obviously acquainted already, for Arwen greeted him warmly before introducing him to Aeslin. She liked him immediately, for he greeted her in a friendly, welcoming manner; it was very different from her first encounter with his brother.
Turning back to his brothers, Orophin clasped Haldir’s shoulder.
“The Lady is waiting for you. She and Lord Celeborn are anxious to see their Granddaughter.” Nodding, the Marchwarden took the lead, taking them through the winding paths and up silver gabled stairs. Eventually they passed through a complex and intricately decorated antechamber that wove over and around them in fantastic illuminated lace-work patterns before entering another part of the hall; a large, simply decorated, open flet, cradled in the branches of its host tree. At one end was an arch, adorned with more intertwining tree motifs, guarding a staircase of stone, both surrounded and framed by golden leaves. They paused at the base of the stairs, with Haldir and his brothers standing just off to the side.
From the top of the stair came a soft glow, and as Aeslin and her companions turned to look, two figures were descending toward them. On the right was Lord Celeborn, tall and clothed in blue and silver, his face stern but still kind. On his left was Galadriel. Aeslin could not look away from the Lady of Light, transfixed by not only her beauty, but from the power and the wisdom that created a bright aura that surrounded her. Her name was apt, for a soft golden light seemed to emanate from her form; such was the effect of her presence. The room seemed to glow as they reached the bottom of the stairs, imbuing each of them with warmth and a radiance of their own. Arwen especially, glowed with happiness, moving forward into the open embrace of her grandmother.
“Welcome home, youngest child of mine daughter. You have been missed.” She pulled back to smile down at Arwen, the love in her gaze apparent for all to see. Celeborn was next to embrace their granddaughter, relating his joy at her safe arrival. Galadriel, meanwhile, turned to Aeslin, her piercing blue eyes almost unnerving but for the joy in them.
“Welcome, Aeslin, daughter of Mirkwood. You are very welcome here.” It took a moment for the young elf to find her voice, still awed as she was by the presence of two such powerful beings as The Lord and Lady of Lorien. She dropped low in a curtsey, lowering her eyes in respect.
“My Lady,” was all she could manage. She was brought to her feet when the Lady herself stepped forward, raising Aeslin’s face to hers with her long, slender fingers.
“There is no need for any of that. My daughter’s children love you as a sister, and I am sure we shall come to love you as well. You are family here, and you will find the peace you seek.” Galadriel’s face was lit with a luminous smile. She then turned to Haldir and his brothers.
“Again you deserve our most grateful thanks, Haldir and Rumil. Our Granddaughter is returned safe to us thanks to you,” Her eyes turned back to Aeslin for a moment, sparkling with mirth, “and our new guest, it seems.” The brothers bowed in reverence, and it was Haldir who answered her.
“Indeed, My Lady. Lady Aeslin’s skill proved invaluable on our journey. Your Grandson Elladan even now owes his life to this healer—as do I.” Galadriel smiled again, a curious expression darting over her features.
“It seems you have earned the respect of our Marchwarden, my young healer. No easy task, as it were.” A tone akin to teasing made its way into the Lady’s voice, causing a faint flush to rise to Haldir’s cheeks. Aeslin couldn’t help but smile. Galadriel turned back to her husband, who still stood with his Granddaughter’s arm threaded through his own. Letting go of Arwen, he held out a hand for his wife, who took it gladly.
“Come, I’m sure there is much for you to tell us.” Celeborn said, looking down at Arwen, who still wore a wide smile on her face. As the couple began to climb the stairs, Arwen turned to look at Aeslin, waiting for the younger elf to follow. After a moment of hesitation, the Mirkwood elf joined her friend and followed the Lord and Lady up the staircase.
The meal they all shared was a pleasant affair. After being permitted to clean themselves up a bit, and to change out of their riding garments, Arwen and Aeslin joined Celeborn and Galadriel in their own private dining room. There was a great deal of laughter, and Aeslin found she warmed to the Master and Mistress of the Golden Wood very quickly. They asked with genuine interest about her studies and her time at Imladris, while Arwen added comments of her own when appropriate. Haldir, his brothers and his brothers’ wives also joined them after a while, turning the conversation to tell of the journey from Rivendell.
Both Galadriel and Celeborn’s faces grew serious as their wardens told of the Ambush in the mountains. They were saddened by tell of Maeron’s passing, and grave when they heard of Elladan’s injury. It was then that Celeborn turned to Aeslin.
“It was then that you treated him?” He was watching her appraisingly as he spoke, not shifting his gaze while she spoke.
“No, My Lord, it was only when we reached the Gladden River that I was permitted to see to his injury.” Celeborn nodded, understanding in his eyes at what she didn’t say.
“You were not pleased by this.” Aeslin took a deep breath.
“No, I was not. Elladan was lucky, the arrow did not pierce as deep as it could have, nor was it in danger of damaging his heart or his lungs. But I did not know that until I examined him. Had it been worse, I might not have been able to help him.” Aeslin felt compelled to lower her gaze, unable to meet Celeborn’s knowing look. She hadn’t truly allowed herself to think about the what-ifs since she had sat by the river that day. Her voice failed her, and she was loath to betray any weakness to those around her.
When she had fallen silent, Celeborn had turned to Haldir.
“Is this true?” Haldir straightened.
“Yes, Milord. The Goblins had retreated, but there was no doubt that they would return. It was not safe in the pass, and we needed to get out of the shadow of the mountains as quickly as possible. It was only when we paused at the river that the Lady Aeslin could tend to Elladan.” A small smile came to Galadriel’s face, drawing a frown from Celeborn when he noticed.
“I feel there is more there than you are telling us, Haldir.” The Marchwarden tensed at his Mistress’s observation. He spared a look at Aeslin, who still kept her gaze fixed on the table before her.
“It took some convincing from Lady Aeslin for me to concede to linger at the river.” Now Celeborn’s expression took on a cast of curiosity, while his wife looked on the verge of laughing. Haldir knew he had little choice but to continue. “Aeslin dismounted from behind Elrohir and demanded I permit her to tend to Elladan. I was anxious to reach our Wood, but she was—persistent.” He shot the young healer another look. This time she looked up, meeting his gaze. She was puzzled by the unreadable expression therein, and quickly lowered her eyes again. Haldir turned back to Celeborn, who still watched him with growing amusement.
“How so?” the Lord of Lorien asked. Haldir sighed, and, for a long moment, hesitated to continue. Arwen very nearly told the rest for him, but Celeborn shot her a lightly warning glance before subtly urging Haldir to continue. Satisfied, Arwen relaxed into her chair. She enjoyed this part of the story. Indeed, she was rather proud of her adopted sister.
“When I insisted we continue on, she grabbed my reins and refused to let go or to continue another mile until I relented. When I hesitated she threatened to remedy my stubbornness by forcing me. In addition, she not only still had Maeron’s bow across her back, but her damaged Mirkwood bow in her hand, both of which, I must admit, she is quite skilled, so I was loath to doubt her word.” Celeborn began to laugh as Haldir finished, the others at the table joining in with laughter of their own, drawing a deep flush to Aeslin’s cheeks. Galadriel smiled widely at Haldir’s admission of Aeslin’s tenacity, looking to the embarrassed healer.
Do not be ashamed, sweet Aeslin, came Galadriel’s voice in her head, for you have proven the strength of your spirit by your actions. Startled, Aeslin raised her head to look at the Lady to be met with a kind smile.
But I was afraid, nothing more, she answered back, somehow knowing the Lady would hear. She felt the warm, soothing presence of Galadriel wash over her.
There can be no bravery without fear, and no strength without weakness to overcome, was the reply. Aeslin held Galadriel’s gaze with little desire to look away, unsure exactly what had just occurred, but her spirits felt lifted. Eventually the Lady shifted her gaze, turning her attention elsewhere. Aeslin continued to think on what she said for a long time after that.
Aeslin settled in Lorien quite easily, for being within the confines of the forest was enough to make her feel at home. Arwen was also very much at home in Lothlorien and introduced Aeslin to the forest with great enthusiasm. Over the next several years she grew to love Caras Galadhon almost as much as her childhood home of Mirkwood. Arwen showed her the City along with other sights of Lorien. Together, they climbed to the top of the hill upon which Cerin Amroth was located. High upon the white flet that rested in the tallest tree there, Aeslin and Arwen sat for a long time, surveying the Wood of Lothlorien together.
“This is my favourite place in Lorien, for it gives me the chance to think, and to see the beauty of the forest around me. There is not quite a view like it anywhere in Middle Earth that I have seen.” Aeslin smiled at Arwen’s admission, understanding why she loved it so. Below them stretched the golden-green foliage, undulating like a great shimmering sea above the forest. Aeslin had never seen the sea, but she could scarcely imagine it being more beautiful. In the distance they could almost make out the Anduin and Silverlode rivers cutting through the forest, and beyond that—
“What is that over there? On the horizon?” Arwen followed her companion’s gaze to the east, where a great dark smudge covered the juncture between earth and sky. Her face fell a little before she turned back to Aeslin, whose eyes were still fixed on the horizon.
“That is the Southernmost part of Mirkwood.” Surprise registered briefly on Aeslin’s features, but she kept her composure. They sat in silence for a while, Aeslin never taking her eyes off the distant forest, and Arwen rarely taking her eyes from Aeslin.
“It is so close, and yet I am still so far from it. I begin to wonder if I shall ever see my home again.” Arwen wrapped her arm around the younger elf, her lovely face still cast with concern.
“I am sure that you will see it again someday. Your father—”
“—does not want me to return to Mirkwood.” Aeslin’s expression was distant, hiding her reactions from Arwen.
“Aeslin, you know that’s not true. He fears for you. He has already lost his wife; he does not want to lose you.” Aeslin gave a bitter smile.
“There is much I don’t know, Arwen,” Aeslin said softly, her words sad and final. The older elf stood suddenly, pulling Aeslin up with her and taking her to the easternmost edge of the flet.
“I may not know everything, or even the things you know, Aeslin. But this I do know.” She turned and pointed toward Mirkwood. “You see that Mountain? I have heard both my father and my grandfather speak of a darkness growing there; a shadow that poisons Mirkwood. Evil festers there, and your father is hard pressed to keep his people safe nearly a hundred leagues away. I do not think you would recognize Mirkwood were you to return.” Aeslin’s gaze finally turned from her home to face Arwen. Grief was written in her eyes, but she remained collected.
“Nevertheless, Mirkwood is still my home.” Arwen closed her eyes, defeated.
A short while later, they departed Cerin Amroth.