Analsiel slept well that first night in the palace, and it was well that she did, because the day started for Mirkwood’s guests and warriors before dawn. Analsiel was livid at the king’s battle instructions to her.
“No!” She was almost wailing. “You are not going to leave me behind!”
Aragorn looked at her severely. “I am. You know full well that you could not slay a cat in your present condition.”
“But, but…” Analsiel’s hopeless protests died out as Aragorn mounted his horse and rode away. She felt tears rise in her eyes, and wiped them away briskly. She gripped Firnciliath’s hand as the Elf girl rode out with a fierce expression on her face. Astianen smiled at her, and she blushed when she met Firndil’s eyes. To Legolas, she gave an uncommitted smile, felt bad and waved. He waved back. Then she went inside.
The voice came from outside her room. She was brushing out her hair after a bath, but she threw it over her shoulder, hoping it wouldn’t drip down her dress, and opened the door.
The Lady of Mirkwood stood framed in her doorway.
“My lady,” said Analsiel as she curtsied humbly. The Lady raised her up.
“None of that now,” was the Lady’s response. “I thought you might like a tour.”
“Oh,” said Analsiel, slightly surprised. She had wanted something to do, but had not expected this. “Yes, I would.”
“Good. Then dry your hair and I will see in the great hall, where we will start.”
Analsiel’s hair had dripped on to her gown. She braided the offending mess, and changed out of the dress she had been wearing into a soft, dark blue skirt, a white under blouse, and a green tunic that she tied with a long white sash. As she had asked, the clothes in the closet for mortal women had been refilled, and she felt more comfortable in clothes like those she had always worn. Her silver leaf hung down from around her neck, and its weight against her skin was comforting in this strange place where nothing was familiar. Then she went to the hall to meet the Lady.
The Lady’s name was Antafei. She was really as pale as she looked, and her light-blue gown made her whole body look even paler than it really was, but she was kind and clever. The tour was very interesting, but Analsiel was fascinated by their healing room. Here they had scores of healers already preparing for the casualties of this battle. The whole room was steeped in the scents of healing herbs and soap, for every inch was clean. Bright candles glowed in every corner of the room, and there were fine mirrors all about to add to the light. All the healers smiled as Antafei walked by with her guest, and both smiled back. Some even offered to let her do a little of their chore.
“Here, stir this water to the right for as long as it takes you to count to ten…”
“Hang those plants up to dry. They’re very potent when they’re made into a tea…”
“Those are very strong for waking up someone who’s unconscious…”
“Don’t stick your nose into them; they’ll put you to sleep…”
Analsiel was quick to do whatever these kind women asked of her. There were a few men, but mostly they were old Elven women, who thought the little mortal child was sweet. Analsiel for her part suddenly realized that healing was not silly, tedious work, but a true wonder greater than most magics. For what else could bring someone back from near death so easily?
It was a wonderful day, but to her shame, Analsiel tired very quickly. Antafei noticed at once, and showed her back to her room with the promise that they would explore the gardens tomorrow. Analsiel fell asleep as soon as the lady had left the room.
She woke some hours later. It was past dark, and there were faint sound of celebrating coming from the Great Hall. The battle must be over, she thought. And we must have won!
She reached blindly into the closet and pulled out a dress of dark red that had sleeves that fell in triangles from her wrists. The neck was low, but after the Elven gown of last night, it was wonderful. She sat a tiny gold circlet on her hair, and wove a gold ribbon into her braid. Then she picked up her skirts and ran out of the room towards the hall.
There was joyful harp music coming from the hall, and Elves were singing together. She smiled and straightened her dress, then stepped in. King Aragorn was seated beside King Thranduil, and both were dressed in finery. Legolas sat on Thranduil’s other side, and Antafei was on King Aragorn’s other side. All smiled at her when she came in. Nori, seated next to Antafei, waved happily then continued her conversation with the Elf to her left. All was cheery and pleasant in the hall.
“Analsiel!” called Firnciliath, who sat lower down on the table. “Come and sit over here!”
Analsiel smiled and happily obliged her. “Tell me everything,” she laughed over the loud chatter in the hall.
“Well, as you can see, the heroes of the battle are up by King Thranduil. Aragorn killed so many Orcs we could paint Minas Tirith in their blood and even took down a few spiders-“
Here Analsiel interrupted, shocked. “Spiders? What do you mean?”
“Oh,” said Firnciliath, “Mirkwood spiders are some of the most dangerous creatures in Middle earth. They wrap you up in their webs and then usually they eat you, but sometimes they just let you hang there. We lost twelve men to the spiders.” She shuddered at the memory, and a shadow crossed her face.
Analsiel was still confused. “But, they’re just spiders! They couldn’t possibly wrap up a full grown man before you could kill them!”
The shadow left Firnciliath’s face at this remark. “Oh, of course, I forgot to tell you. They are about the size of a horse!”
This banquet went on even longer than the welcoming banquet. Analsiel excused herself about four hours into it, and returned to her room. She had been secretly hoping to see Firndil along the way, but he had stayed at the feast long after she left. So she waited on the terrace for a while, and then went back to her room. She took off the gown and slipped into her nightdress, then picked up a scroll she had by her bed. It was dry and pointless, so she was asleep almost immediately.
In her dream she stood on the edge of a cliff. She was wearing armor, but she had a thick velvet robe around her shoulders that was heavy and hot over the metal armor. Her leaf was lying by her feet and the cord was coiled around itself. Everything was so vivid and real she was sure she must be awake. Then she looked down and saw that the cliff looked out over a sea of black fire, and that she was scant inches from the edge. She didn’t step back though. She felt as if she were completely safe. Then Legolas appeared beside her. She laughed at him, for what was he doing her dream? He laughed too, and then he was gone. Then there was Firndil. He stood beside her, and held her hand. She looked into his eyes unblinkingly until he too melted away. Then Firnciliath stood beside her, only she didn’t look at her. She just stared out over the black fire. Then at last she turned and her eyes were full of tears. Analsiel smiled at her and Firnciliath smiled back, but then she was gone. Then she saw Arwen. The Queen was as beautiful in dreams as she was in real life. She held out her hands to Analsiel, then pushed her away. Her beautiful face became haggard and gaunt and pale. She was thin, so thin and her whole body was hot with fever. She fell to the ground. Analsiel picked up her leaf from the ground and ran to the Queen. But the cord of the leaf was caught on something invisible, and she could not get it free in time. The ground split and Arwen slipped hopelessly into the gorge of black flames. She fell in and was consumed by the darkness that waited for her. Then the fire reached for Analsiel, and she fought. It licked at her hands, and singed away the cord of the leaf before she could jump back. Then the ground opened for her too, and she was falling, falling, falling, until the flames caught up with her…
…Analsiel sat up, panting and covered with sweat. Tears ran down her cheeks, and she shook in every bone. Her hands were clenched, and her blankets strewn all over the bed. She slowly pried open one fist. Her leaf had dug into it so tightly that it was caked with dry blood and bleeding still. But she did notice one thing. The cord it had hung on was gone, and in her hands she held a bundle of black ashes.
And she knew that Arwen was dying.