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The secret

By Nuredhel

Romance / Drama

Light subdued

Elrond was standing on the balcony, staring out at the valley. The first green sprouts of spring covered the ground and the sunlight turned the stronghold into a very inviting sight but the lord's face was a bit grim this morning. There was nothing he could do about it, he didn't like the situation even a bit. He sighed and tried to smile at his counsellor who came walking along one of the paved paths, his hands full of parchments ready for signing. Erestor saw him and nodded his head in respect and Elrond nodded back. The crisp morning air usually filled the peredhel with cheer and energy but not this morning, too much was at stake.

He still remembered it, the conversation he had had with his eldest son, the angry words and the resentment Elladan had felt. It was all for a higher cause, they had to remember this. Sacrifices were needed if they were to survive the rising darkness, they all had to do their fair share. Elladan had been fuming with a rather volatile mix of emotions and he had been far from willing, claiming that he already did enough fighting orcs. Elrond knew that his son was right, he really shouldn't have to do this but there was none other who were suitable. Elrond had to sigh thinking about it, the way Elladan's flint grey eyes had been flaming and the stern look upon his handsome face. "I will not do it ada, no way. I am not going to marry some…sinda! And absolutely not the daughter of that insufferably arrogant…piece of wargdung!"

Elrond rubbed his temples, his head ached and he wished that the situation was avoidable but it wasn't. The relationship between Imladris and Lothlorien was good and they cooperated well, but Mirkwood was a different matter. Over the years of the late second age and the early centuries of the third age that realm had started causing problems, and over time they had gotten worse, much worse. Thranduil was extremely suspicious towards anyone who wasn't of his own population and of the noldorin elves in special. Elrond wouldn't say that Thranduil hated them but it was pretty close to it.

Mirkwood had been isolated for centuries and he felt that Thranduil was becoming more and more paranoid, he refused any help and even though there wasn't officially war between that realm and the other elven settlements it wasn't far from it. Elrond could almost be tempted to call it a sort of war, if any elves from the other realms were caught within the borders of Mirkwood they were imprisoned and interrogated and treated in a rather cruel way. Nobody had died but over the years the relationship between the Noldorin and Sindarin and Silvan elves had become very hostile and strained. Elrond was sorry it had come to this, the noldor regarded the sindar of Mirkwood as haughty and aggressive and the silvan as primitive and barbaric. They in turn regarded the noldor as naught but lying manipulative power hungry and greedy relicts of the first age not worthy of any trust.

But finally some sort of peace had been created through a lot of diplomatic work and not a small amount of sweet talk and promises. And to seal the deal so to speak marriages were to be arranged. One of Galadriel and Celeborn's foster sons were being sent to Mirkwood to marry one of Thranduil's daughters and another daughter of the monarch was being sent to Imladris to marry one of Elrond's sons. Elrond shook his head and tried to think straight, he had been offered the elleth at first but he had no intention of ever getting married again, his Celebrian was waiting for him across the sundering sea and he knew he would meet with her again. But his sons were not married and so the duty fell upon Elladan. Who was truly and honestly aghast to say the least, he had almost thrown a tantrum when Elrond told him of the decision and only his great respect for his father had prevented him from doing something truly stupid.

Elladan had been sulking for quite a while and Elrond couldn't say that he blamed his son for it, the eldar usually never married like that, to strengthen political bonds, but this time it had to be done. They were walking along a razors edge when it came to Mirkwood, they needed the support of the king, to know that he would aid them against the rising darkness. The silvan elves were perhaps less wise but they were extremely skilled warriors and there is strength in numbers. Elladan had claimed that Thranduil were trying to insult them, that he regarded them as unworthy and below him and his people and Elrond knew why. Thranduil had always regarded the peredhil as tainted with human weakness and it was not at all unthinkable that he used this as an opportunity to mock them. He had a rather peculiar sense of propriety and Elrond sighed once more. The elleth and her entourage were expected to arrive this morning and he didn't quite know how to greet her. He had accepted this out of a sense of duty and also out of pity, he knew a few things his son didn't.

The elleth destined to be his son's wife wasn't a princess, she was the daughter of Thranduil's concubine and thus not royalty at all and she had been married before. So Elrond did understand that Elladan thought that the king tried to insult them by sending them what some would refer to as a second hand bride. Elrond had learned through careful investigations that the elleth had been married for only two hundred years, she had gotten married off as soon as she had come of age and so she was still very young. Her husband had been the son of one of Thranduil's generals who fought alongside him and his father at the Dagorlad and he had been killed in a freak accident involving a barrel of wine, a carriage and a spooked horse.

The marriage had been childless and Elrond had learned that the in laws blamed the elleth for this fact, she had apparently suffered a miscarriage early in the marriage and after that nothing more had happened. Elrond did pity her, it could not be easy and he had heard from good sources that her mother in law almost accused her of having caused her son's death. It was such a sad thing and so Elrond had agreed on the treaty and the whole arrangement, he felt as though he would betray some innocent third part if he didn't agree to it.

Elladan was ordered to stay at home, there would of course be a one year betrothal before the marriage ceremony but that was just to please those who believed that traditions had to be followed and respected. Elrond knew that his son much rather would be out hunting orcs but if he allowed him to leave he wouldn't return for several months at least and the healer knew that his son would need some time to get to know this elleth and perhaps calm down a little. Elrond knew that his son actually hated Thranduil and for good reasons, many of Elladan's friends had been captured by the silvan elves of Mirkwood and the reports of both beatings, sexual assault and torture were long and grim reading.

Elrond feared that Elladan would vent his anger on this elleth, treat her in a cruel way even. He just hoped that he would be positively surprised and that Elladan would prove himself to be better than that. Elrond hadn't raised his sons to become the type of ellyn who would abuse a female, even if she in their eyes were one of their enemies.

He had thought of choosing Elrohir, he was a much more gentle natured ellon and very patient, he would always try to see a situation from more than just one side and he had an open mind and a very unselfish heart but Elrond had very early on realized that Elrohir never would marry an elleth. All his lovers had been male and so Elladan was the only choice left.

Elrond had put on some rather nice looking robes and he had made sure that everybody was to treat the young elleth with respect and gentleness. He had a suspicion as to what type of personality she had. His informants had told him that she was being treated as though she was worthless even by her own father and the healer hoped that Imladris would offer her a new start and perhaps a much better life.

One of Elrond's guards came riding down the main road, he stopped his horse after having crossed the bridge and dismounted. " The group is here in twenty minutes."

Elrond gestured towards the servants. "Go get Elladan and my counsellor and the others I have asked to come greet her. Is it a large group?"

The rider shook his head, he looked shocked. " No, it is her, a servant, two pack horses and there were four warriors escorting her. They left as soon as we met them, couldn't get away fast enough or so it seemed."

Elrond felt that he got tense, just a servant?! Morgoth's breath, and only two pack horses? The king had sent his own daughter off as a pauper, how could anyone do that to their own flesh and blood? The small courtyard was filling up with elves, some because they had to be there but others because they wanted to see this sindarin bride. Elrond had no idea of what to expect, he had heard naught of how the elleth looked and he feared that she would be like her father. Elladan would most certainly start off on the wrong foot if that was the case. His son arrived and he looked like a thundercloud, eyes blazing and teeth clenched so hard his jaw was trembling. He was very handsome and had taken great care with his appearance but everybody could see that he was angry and not at all happy. Elrohir had arrived too, he stood in the background and looked at his brother with both pity and an expression of worry. He shared his father's worries.

The riders came into view, the guards in front and two females behind them. They both rode rather plain looking palfreys and wore clothes that were dirty and even torn. They looked tired and when they got closer Elrond felt that his heart dropped in his chest. One of the riders was an adeneth, obviously the elleth's personal servant and she was well above her youth to say the least, she looked gentle and kind and Elrond sensed that this human sincerely cared about the elleth. He looked at the elleth and sighed, at least she didn't look like her father. Elladan was staring, his eyes rather cold and hard but there was something akin to shock to be seen in his gaze. The riders stopped their steeds and the two females remained on their horses and Elrond saw that the elleth kept her eyes fixed on the palfrey's neck, she was pale and he saw her hands shiver.

Elrond put on his most gentle smile and went over to his future daughter in law, she was frighteningly thin and her auburn hair had no shine to it. The eyes were jade green and very large and they were filled with fear, her lower lip trembled and she appeared to the close to passing out. He threw a confused glance at the servant who bowed her head. "My lord, we have ridden for four days, without sleep nor decent rest. The guards her father sent with us wanted the mission to be over with so they could return home fast and so they kept pushing on. My lady is not used to riding, it has been hard on her."

Elrond swore to himself, he had never heard of such thoughtless neglect ever. He reached out and touched her hand. " I am Elrond of Imladris, welcome to our home Asya."

The elleth almost squeaked when he spoke to her, her eyes were so dark and Elrond knew she had been pushed far beyond the limits of her endurance. "I…I am honored to be here"

The voice was so low only Elrond heard her, she reminded him of a wounded deer, trapped in front of the hunters. Elrond gestured for Elladan to come forth and he obeyed, he stared at the elleth with something akin to both disbelief and growing pity and Elrond was relieved that he didn't see any hate in his son's eyes, at least not for the moment.

Elladan swallowed and lifted a hand, offering to help her off the horse, she was nothing like he had imagined and he was a bit confused. Was this really a daughter of Thranduil? It was hard to believe since she had naught of his colors or features and only the pale skin told of Sindar blood. The auburn hair and green eyes were a very silvan trait and she appeared to be short in stature and rather petite. She closed her eyes for a second and took his hand, swung herself slowly out of the saddle and Elladan didn't fail to notice that even the saddle was a cheap one. Thranduil had obviously not wanted to send them anything of value. He felt angry but hid the feeling, this elleth looked like a frightened child and he was both relieved and disappointed. He had somewhat hoped that she would be like her father, an image of him, someone Elladan could use to claim his vengeance on behalf of his brethren. And he was relieved that she wasn't at all like that, because he knew that that type of behavior would be way below him, it just felt tempting knowing what his fellow warriors had suffered.

She got down onto the ground and immediately she collapsed, Elladan grasped her with a gasp and Elrond rushed forth, he helped his son holding her upright. The servant came to their aid and she looked very concerned. " My lords, I fear she has saddle sores and she hasn't eaten in days."

Elrond didn't try to stop himself from cursing this time. " Alright then, to the healing ward with her, not the best way to enter her new home but it is needed. May I ask you your name?"

He stared at the adeneth who smiled, there was such warmth in her eyes. " I am known as Ghirda my lord, I have been Asya's chambermaid for three decades."

Elrond sighed. "Good, a servant will show you to the rooms we have prepared for you and the lady, you may see to it that your belongings are taken care of, then you can join us in the healing ward."

Ghirda smiled and Elrond felt that this adeneth was a person he would really truly like. Elladan was pale. " She is skin and bone ada, look!"

He had pulled down the dirty tunic and exposed a bony shoulder, the skin was grey with grime and Elrond started to believe that this elleth had been treated like a slave by her own family. His chest burned with rage, but there was nothing he could do about it, except trying to ensure that this poor elf faced a better future than what she would have found among her kin.

The elleth was indeed short, she only reached Elladan's chest and she was slender and yet rather curvy compared with other ellith. But she was as Elladan had mentioned very skinny and weak. Elladan lifted her and she groaned and closed her eyes, it was obvious that she found that humiliating. Elrond tried to give her a supportive smile, he saw that the crowd looked stunned and he heard the whispers, there was no doubt that the anger many felt towards the king of the woodland realms would only increase after this.

Some servants removed the things the pack horses carried and Ghirda remained there to see that everything was put in its right place. Elladan and Elrond rushed towards the healing ward with haste and Elrohir followed them, Erestor was also running along, he looked very shocked. Elrond shouted for his assistants to gather and he saw that Asya trembled like a leaf in a storm, she looked absolutely terrified and he did understand that this could be just too much for the poor soul. He made Elladan drop her onto a bench very gently and she just sat there, eyes closed and breathing very shallowly and fast. Elrond still had problems believing what he had seen, and he just felt that this elleth had suffered a lot. She was probably just as opposed to this whole marriage mess as Elladan and probably even more so. She had been married, if she had loved her husband then the idea of marrying someone else had to be terrible. It was after all almost unheard of that elves remarried but Thranduil had always had his own way of dealing with things and he had never had much respect for the ancient laws and customs.

Elrond sat down in front of her, he had asked one of the assistants for hot water and a cup and he planned on making her drink a tea with sedating effect. "How do you feel dear?"

She didn't dare to look at him, it was rather obvious that the sound of a friendly voice was simply too much for her. "I…I…"

Elrond sighed and looked at Elladan, his son was pale and looked as if he was in shock still. Elrond hid a grimace and got up, he got a cup from the assistant and made some tea, added some of his special herbs and then he handed it to her. "Here, drink, this will make you feel better."

She stared at the cup with suspicion, perhaps she thought they would poison her? But she didn't hesitate, she just drank it all even though it tasted vile, it didn't seem as though she cared whether she lived or died and that was very disturbing in deed.

The tea started working almost immediately, she was tired and her stomach empty and her eyes rolled up and she just collapsed and Elrond wished he could have explained this to her before he drugged her but he knew that she needed treatment and it would be too traumatic if she was awake, at least when she was this timid and shy.

Ghirda came into the room followed by a servant and Elrond nodded at the adeneth. " Were you her servant before her husband died?"

Ghirda shook her head. " No my lords, I was assigned to her three years after Galaron died, I guess they wanted someone to look after her, a suicide wouldn't look very good."

Elrond felt the elleth's pulse, it was uneven and weak. " She tried to kill herself?!"

Ghirda nodded. " Yes, she refused to eat, they forced food into her."

Elladan looked terrified and Ghirda sighed. " The poor thing, she has never had anything of her own, never had friends or even allies. The only one who has treated her with kindness is the queen believe it or not."

Elrond got the assistants help with removing the muddy boots. " Oh gods, she needs a bath, badly. And she stinks. The queen? I would have anticipated jealousy? Wasn't Asya's mother the kings concubine?"

Ghirda had sat down next to her lady, she held the unconscious elleth's hand. " Yes, a very beautiful silvan or so I have heard. The queen was glad the king got a concubine, it meant that she no longer had to suffer his advances that often. After all, she had given him six children and she was tired."

Elrond just mumbled. " I have heard rumors about what kind of activities he prefers, no wonder the queen was relieved if they are true."

Ghirda smiled, a sad smile. " Oh they are true my lord, the queen was very sad when Asya's mother died, the king got even more suspicious and strict after that and he has treated Asya as a mongrel ever since."

Elrond shook his head in disbelief and turned to Elladan. " You may leave now, you should not see her like this."

Elladan just made a grimace and left the room, Elrond and the assistants removed the dirty clothes and the healer was aghast. She had saddle sores alright, huge ones. And she was so warm there was no doubt about the fact that she had a fever. Elrond had a portable tub brought into the room and they filled it with warm water. Elrond stroked her waist long hair, it appeared to be less straight than usual elven hair but it was brittle and filled with dust and he had never seen any elf in such a state of dishevelment. He sighed. " Ghirda, tell me, she is educated I trust?"

Ghirda snorted. " Hardly my lord, she does know how to read and write but that is because of the queen, she taught her that when Asya was a child. She has received none official education except the art of being invisible. She is a true master at not being noticed, it was safer that way."

Elrond growled and saw that the poor elleth has some strange scars across her back, had she been whipped?!

Ghirda saw what he was looking at. " Oh, those. Her husband caused those she told me, when he caught her reading. She had found a secret passage down to the library and he didn't like the idea of having a smart wife."

Elrond rolled his eyes. "Was her husband an idiot?!"

Ghirda just shrugged and helped the healer lift the elleth into the tub very carefully. " No, a tyrant, and a terrible person. She on the other hand would do anything for him, anything for a kind word, for some respect or even a hint of love."

Elrond gestured for two of the assistants to come aid him, she was very skinny but if she managed to eat well she would be normal again rather soon, it was her mental state that worried him the most. "Poor soul, it must have been hell."

Ghirda nodded. " Yes, and she was convinced that she would just switch one hell for another, she has naught but fear for you noldorin elves. It is sad but true."

Elrond felt tears burning in his eyes, how could they possibly make things better for this unfortunate soul, he could sense that she probably never had experienced real love or affection at all. " Were all of the kings family hostile towards her or just the king himself?"

Ghirda was scrubbing Asya's feet very carefully. "Well, if being ignored is a sign of hostility then they were hostile, most of them barely knew her name but his youngest son Legolas is a good lad, he was rather friendly towards her, too bad they barely ever meet."

Elrond made a grimace, he had heard so too, that Legolas was very different from his father in almost every way. "So the rest of her siblings didn't care about her?"

Ghirda sighed and dropped the cloth she had been using, she looked tired. " They barely knew she exist. She wasn't allowed near the higher levels of the palace, she had to stay down in the basements and it got worse after she lost her husband. She has been treated like a fly floating in someone's soup. The king was thrilled by the idea of getting rid of her, she was a nuisance."

Elrond could barely believe what he heard, he would never have treated a child of his own loins like that, illegitimate or not. He and the others worked rather hard to remove the grime and muck and after half an hour of scrubbing she was clean, her hair was combed through and the assistants stared at the elleth with teary eyes. She was a sorry sight and Elrond wished that he could have strangled her father.

Ghirda helped them lifting her out of the tub and they put ointment onto her sores and bandaged her before they got her into a warm night gown. Elrond turned to Ghirda. " How did she feel about being sent here?"

Ghirda made a nasty grimace, she petted Asya on her pale hand. "She was terrified, and in denial too. She wasn't warned, they just came to us and told her she was to be married to some noldorin elf and that she had to leave the next day."

Elrond gasped. "The next day?! Valar, didn't she get more time to prepare?"

Ghirda shook her head. "No my lord, she was almost thrown out, I bet her father thought good riddance when he saw her leave."

Elrond swallowed hard. "Did Thranduil hate his own daughter?"

Ghirda nodded. " Oh yes my lord, he hated her for looking like her mother, I have a suspicion that he really loved Asya's mother and when she died, well, he sort of slipped into the madness zone mentally speaking. He hated being reminded of what he had and lost, nobody was to even mention Asya to him and she has met him on perhaps a handful of occasions."

Elrond made the assistants get a stretcher and they carefully carried the unconscious elleth to her rooms. " Eru's mercy what a mess. What do you know of her previous marriage?"

Ghirda seemed to shrink a bit in front of him, she appeared to be a very strong and outspoken person and Elrond felt that he already respected her. There was strength in those blue eyes and a tenderness he felt was genuine. "Very little my lord, she refused to speak of it. But I have of course heard a lot of rumors and I have no idea of whether or not they hold any truth or if they are just lies."

They walked with speed towards the building where Asya was to stay until her wedding. " Tell me what you know."

Ghirda took a deep breath. " Oh gods, where do I start. Well, for starters, her in laws hate her and they would probably wish she was dead, that she is being sent off to be remarried is a kick in the face for them I am sure. They would have loved it if the king had thrown her in the dungeons or let the orcs get her."

Elrond was puzzled. "Why? Why hate her?"

Ghirda helped open the door to the rooms, they had gotten a rather large apartment filled with light and warm colors and it was a very lovely place and rather luxurious. The adeneth made sure that Asya was placed comfortably upon the bed before she answered the question. " Her husband's parents had already lost two children, one son in battle and a daughter in childbirth. Their remaining son was their pride and joy, their little gem and he was spoiled beyond imagination. And they put their trust and hope in him, wanted him to give them grandchildren and secure the family line. When she failed to give him children, well, they started to hate her."

Elrond frowned. " I have heard that she suffered a miscarriage? That is highly unusual for an elleth, an elven body shouldn't have any flaws."

He knew that Elladan wanted children, he adored elflings and wanted a huge family and the knowledge that Asya hadn't managed to give her previous husband children was one of the main reasons why he was so against this union. Elrond found it very strange indeed, when an elleth lost a pregnancy it was usually due to some accident, like a fall or a violent shock.

Ghirda sighed. " I wasn't even born when that happened, it was centuries before my time but she has refused to speak of it, I think it is way too painful for her. She didn't get pregnant again so I guess she got injured by it."

Elrond stared at the adeneth. "Do you know anything about the circumstances? If she got injured I may be able to help her?"

Ghirda shrugged. " According to the servants I have spoken with she collapsed very suddenly, screaming in agony and bleeding like a stuck pig. She almost died, had to stay bedridden for almost half a year."

Elrond just stared in disbelief. " Half a year?! From a miscarriage? Was she far along?"

Ghirda shook her head. "From what I have heard she wasn't even showing yet."

Elrond was shocked. " And she got so sick?"

Elrond turned around, he felt a creeping suspicion and he got a foul taste in his mouth. " Did she have any enemies?"

Ghirda looked confused. " What do you mean? Of course she had enemies, heck, everybody was her enemy. If the queen hadn't interfered she would have been left to bleed out I am sure."

Elrond was ashen grey. "The reason I ask is that such illness could be the result of poisoning."

Ghirda gasped and put her hands in front of her mouth. " Oh Eru have mercy, of course. That makes sense."

Elrond just growled. " But she is safe here, she will never be abused again and I am sure that we can give her a new start in life."

Ghirda sighed. " If you manage that then may the Valar bless you all, but she is a very damaged elleth my lord, there is darkness in her soul and right now she is teetering on the very edge between insanity and sanity."

Elrond sighed and petted the elleth's hair, she was a pitiful sight and he prayed that she would find the courage to emerge as the bright light he was sure she had been born to be. " I know Ghirda, now, I will go speak with my son and I will leave one of my assistants here. If there is anything you wish for or want to ask me about do not hesitate to send for me."

Ghirda just bowed. " My lord is too kind, I was being told that the lord of Imladris is a good person and I am very glad to see for myself that this is true."

Elrond actually blushed, he nodded and left the room and Ghirda sat down and stared at her lady with sad eyes. " Oh dear friend, I pray Eru finally has decided to give you a brighter future, I know you think you have risen from the ashes and into the fire, I know you will emerge with the glory and might of a phoenix"

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