Twilight Thunder - Chapter 11

"Master Elrond, your sons have returned."

Elrond was on his feet instantly, brushing past the messenger standing at the doorway to his study and racing through the corridors with undignified speed. At the moment, he couldn't care less what others thought of him acting this way. The only thoughts crossing his mind pertained to Celebrían. He knew Gandalf was following him, for the two of them had been talking before the messenger's arrival, but he did not acknowledge the presence of his old friend.

He burst out the doors and was down the stairs leading to the main courtyard--the place where his wife, daughter, and entourage had stood only weeks before, relaxed and unharmed--just as his sons appeared. Lord Celeborn and several Elves from Lórien rode with them and Glorfindel, and his father-in-law held Celebrían in his arms. As the rescue party gathered, Elrond approached Lord Celeborn, forcing his expression to remain firm and calm despite his inner turmoil. Celebrían's skin was pale white, and her half-closed eyes were blank, void of the warm sparkle he loved so much. Some attempt to treat her wounds had been made, but Elrond could smell the rot coming from the bloodstained bandages around her shoulder. She had been poisoned, and was fading fast.

At some point, Gandalf had come up, and the wise old wizard assessed the situation swiftly.

"Come, my friend," he said. "There is much work to be done."

Lord Celeborn surrendered Celebrían to Elrond, and he immediately turned and headed back inside, realizing dimly that he had spared nothing for his sons or his trusted friend Glorfindel. They simply had to understand that until Celebrían was healed, Elrond could concentrate on nothing else.

Once safe inside his study, Elrond began work on the most serious of Celebrían's wounds. Though attempting to keep himself composed, a few tears still fell unbidden. Gandalf stood with him, prepared to help, and Elrond turned.

"My friend, please check on my sons," he said quietly, his hand trembling as he started untying the bandages around Celebrían's shoulder.

Gandalf nodded and left, and after taking a deep breath, Elrond pulled back the bandages. Never before had he seen a wound so fiercely infected, and he felt a jolt of emotional pain. He knew Celebrían had suffered, for he had felt it, but what he had felt was miniscule compared to the actual source. He had seen a wound like this only once before, and it had ultimately brought about the sufferer's demise.

Elrond steadied himself, and began the slow, tedious process of neutralizing the poison. First, he washed the wound thoroughly with hot water laced with athelas, biting his lip when he realized that the wound extended clear through Celebrían's shoulder. Despite the burning inflammation and feverishness, her skin was clammy and cold, refusing to warm even when touched by water only just cool enough to avoid being scalding. Scrubbing out the infection was a long process, but fear slowly started budding inside him when Celebrían did not respond to the pain undoubtedly being created by his work. Her eyes remained clouded and lifeless, her breathing slow and shallow.

By the time Elrond had finished cleaning the wound, Gandalf and Lord Celeborn had arrived. The wound was bleeding cleanly, the rotting smell gone. He glanced up at them.

"Athelas can only do so much," he said solemnly, starting to pack the wound with a sticky bacteria-killing paste that smelled faintly like rotten eggs. "She has no strength left." He stood and moved to his medicine pantry, pulling out a silver bottle. "She needs miruvor."

Lord Celeborn was grim as he approached to help Elrond lift Celebrían into a sitting position. Celebrían moaned faintly, her head resting limply on her father's shoulder. Bracing her with one arm, Elrond started giving her the precious medicine. To his relief, Celebrían managed to swallow on her own, and almost instantly the miruvor began to take affect. Although it could not completely cure illness and relieve all pain, the miraculous substance began to return strength to his beloved wife as Elrond watched. Slowly, her skin began to warm underneath his touch, and the fever faded slightly. Celebrían slowly blinked, then looked up, meeting Elrond's gaze.

"Elrond?" she whispered, her voice soft.

"Rest, my beloved," Elrond replied gently, setting the silver bottle aside. "You're safe."

For a moment, there was disbelief in her eyes. Elrond took her hand, smiling in relief. Celebrían's grip tightened slightly, but she did not smile back. She was awake, but the sparkle was still absent from her beautiful gray eyes.

"Elrond, it hurts," she whispered. "It burns."

"I know," Elrond replied, glancing at Lord Celeborn and Gandalf before returning his gaze to his wife. "I felt it, too. But the pain will not last forever. You will recover."

A tear escaped the corner of Celebrían's eye, and she gritted her teeth.

"No," she whispered harshly. "I see her. I hear her." She stiffened. "I can feel her."

"The beast is dead," Lord Celeborn said firmly. "We all saw it burn."

For a long moment, there was silence. Gandalf's brow was furrowed, and the old wizard seemed in deep thought. Elrond glanced at him again, and he approached.

"Look at this, my lords," he said, gently lifting Celebrían's chin to reveal blackened skin Elrond had first assumed was a bruise on her neck. "This is not natural."

Shock appeared on Lord Celeborn's face.

"Lady Faye said. . ." he began, then hesitated. Elrond had never seen the great Elf-lord so upset before. "She said something about the beast trying to turn her."

Gandalf nodded grimly.

"Thuringwethil tried to make Celebrían into a vampire," he said. "But I do not think she succeeded."

He gently brushed the blackened skin of Celebrían's throat with his fingertips, whispering something Elrond could not make out. Suddenly, Celebrían relaxed visibly, and her breathing steadied. The old wizard smiled.

"She is not in danger," Gandalf said reassuringly. "The blackness will fade as she recovers." He stood and retrieved his staff, smiling. "No, my friend, you will not have to worry about bleeding a deer for her supper tonight."

It was a poor joke, but Elrond laughed anyway. Even Lord Celeborn smiled. It was a light moment they all needed. Elrond let Celebrían rest back on the pillows, wrapping her shoulder gently in fresh, clean bandages. There were still far more cuts and bruises to tend, but Elrond's heart was lighter now.

For the first time in weeks, he had found hope.

* * * * *

Arwen rested back on the cushions that had been set on the bench for her. It was actually more of a marble daybed near a beautiful crystal stream in a peaceful garden, but it was comfortable, and she was relieved to be outside. Her arm and legs were not as firmly splinted anymore, and she could move her fingers and toes without feeling too much pain. She was starting to become very anxious and impatient; she wanted to return to Rivendell and see her mother. However, she could not yet stand on her own, let alone ride.

The atmosphere in Caras Galadhon was calm for the first time in weeks, worry and anxiety eased by the news that Celebrían was now safe in Rivendell. Galadriel, most noticeably, had reverted to her former attitude now that the danger was over. The gentle tenderness Arwen had begun to look forward to in her grandmother was gone, replaced by the firm aloofness the Lady of Lórien was famous for. It had been days since they had spoken to one another, and at this point Arwen was becoming very irritated. Luckily for her, Faye was with her, so Arwen had someone to vent her frustrations on.

Four days and nights of dead undisturbed sleep had allowed Faye to heal from the poisoned wound. Although she seemed to have a perpetual tired look in her eyes, Faye was basically herself again, and for that Arwen was both relieved and grateful. At the moment, she had no idea where Faye was, and she wanted someone to talk to. The garden was beautiful, even more so than the ones in Rivendell, but Arwen was alone. Save for the soft calling of the birds and the gentle sound of the stream, everything was quiet. The silence was making her feel lonely.

The instant she thought this, she knew she was no longer alone. Faye had always possessed a talent of appearing just when Arwen needed her, and sure enough, she glanced over her shoulder to see her powerful friend coming towards her, limping slightly as she moved. Faye had once told her that despite her kind's ability to heal, there was always a risk that the process--specifically when mending broken bones--would go awry, leaving the sufferer crippled and helpless. Arwen had noticed the limp not long after Faye's arrival. Her right knee remained slightly swollen, a deep scar marring the skin around it.

"Thuringwethil tried to pull my leg apart," Faye had said in explanation. "She didn't completely succeed. The joint is going to be slightly crooked until the end of my days."

Faye approached the bench, smiling in greeting and sitting down at Arwen's feet. Arwen smiled back, grateful for company. Faye studied her for a moment.

"Do you feel pain, my child?" she asked softly.

"I am well," Arwen replied, then smiled slightly. "You are all the medicine I need."

Faye smiled again, but her smile quickly faded after a moment.

"I am sorry for what happened," she said sadly. "I deserved the injuries I suffered." She pressed a hand over the place where the poisoned wound had once been, wincing slightly. "The Valar have judged me."

Arwen was deeply confused, and now worried. She had believed Faye no longer felt pain from the poison.

"You still suffer?" she asked desperately, sitting up and clutching Faye's shoulder. "You have to tell grandmother Galadriel."

Faye rested a hand over hers, sighing deeply.

"I sinned against them, Arwen," she admitted. "The eagle, our trusted friend, came to me again, and I cursed the Valar for doing this to us. I cursed them for not warning us of the danger." She released her grip, bowing her head. "But they did warn us. We both heard twilight thunder. I knew the danger, and I ignored it."

Arwen gasped. Old tales of ancestors angering the Valar had awed her in her childhood, but never would she have believed she'd be witnessing their wrath. To outside eyes, Faye was completely healed, but inside she burned. If not for her arm, she would have embraced Faye, but she clutched her as firmly as she could with the uninjured arm.

"You have redeemed yourself, you must have," she said desperately. "You saved Naneth! You killed Thuringwethil!"

Arwen had hoped to cheer Faye slightly, but instead--to her absolute shock and horror--Faye dropped her head onto her hands and began to sob. Arwen was at a loss, unable to think of anything that she could do to help. She had seen Faye cry a few times, but never with the helplessness that wracked her now. She was a powerful woman, one of the most feared of legendary creatures, swifter than a horse and stronger than a bear, and yet she was reduced to tears at Arwen's feet. Arwen silently cursed her broken arm. She wanted so much to hold Faye.

"Faye, do you remember that picnic we had with Naneth?" she asked desperately. "The one after you told me the story about Naret-aluan?"

Faye stopped sobbing, glancing up at her.

"Yes," she said hoarsely. "But I do not think your memories are as fond as mine."

"Why don't you tell me what you remember?" Arwen suggested. "Maybe you can change my memories."

Faye smiled through her tears, and Arwen smiled back. Thinking of the past usually cheered Faye up, and this time was no exception.

"We walked up to a little glade near the falls," Faye began. "Celebrían was setting up the picnic, and I was foolish enough to turn my attention from you to help her. You, my child, discovered a hive on a low branch of a nearby tree, and you thought it was a beehive. You tried to retrieve a comb of honey, and it was then that I saw you reaching for it. Before Celebrían and I could stop you, the hive dropped to the ground, and a cloud of angry hornets surrounded us."

Arwen laughed. She had not known back then that the hive was a home to a nest of hornets, for she had badly wanted some honey to go with the biscuits they had brought. She had been too young to know the difference between the two types of hives, and poor Faye had paid the highest price for her mistake.

"You pushed Naneth and me into the water," Arwen said dreamily. "The hornets started attacking you instead." Arwen chuckled, and although Faye scowled, there was mirth in her eyes. "You jumped right underneath the falls and let the water beat the hornets away." Now Arwen laughed. "Your skin was as red as a ripe tomato."

"You didn't look any better," Faye replied, raising an eyebrow. "And neither did Celebrían." She sat up, wiping the dampness of her tears away with the back of her hand. It didn't do much to clean her face, for as Arwen had long since learned, when Faye cried, she shed tears of blood. "Luckily, your brothers heard you crying and came to help us."

"I didn't think the pain was very funny back then," Arwen said. "I still don't. I haven't gone near a hive since."

"But you still like honey."

"When I can get it safely out of a jar."

Faye laughed. Arwen smiled, resting back against the cushions. For a while, there was peaceful silence between them, and Faye moved to the stream to wash her face. Wiping the water from her face, Faye glanced upward, and Arwen followed her gaze. The sky was a pristine cobalt blue, the weather pleasantly warm. Arwen closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet air.

"So different from Rivendell," Faye said softly. "Do you prefer it here, my child?"

"Lórien is beautiful, but I will always prefer home," Arwen replied. "Rivendell is. . .warmer. More friendly."

"Happier?" Faye offered.

Arwen nodded. Faye smiled and returned to the bench, her gaze resting momentarily on her splinted legs before meeting her eyes. Arwen grasped her hand.

"I'll heal soon," Arwen said. "And once I'm well, we'll return to Rivendell."

"Return home," Faye agreed, turning away. "To Celebrían."

Nothing more was spoken between them, and Arwen turned her gaze to the stream. After a while, she became drowsy, and did not know at what point Faye left her. The next thing she comprehended was hearing one of Galadriel's maids call her name.

"Awaken, Lady Arwen," the maid said. "It's almost time for the evening meal."

A guard had also arrived, and Arwen did not protest when he lifted her and carried her back inside. In due time, she would walk again, and the instant she could she would be on her way back home.

Back to her mother.

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