The sun slowly rose over the valley of Rivendell, shining down its rays onto the quiet, peaceful settlement. A dazzling line of waterfalls flowed merrily, filling the warm, clean air with melodious song. Birds twittered in the lush green trees growing in the gardens, and slowly, the inhabitants started to rise and go about their daily routines.
All except one. Young Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían, slept on, oblivious to the rise in activity. The little Elfling had spent a long night counting the stars, and so slept next to her wide window, her head nestled in her arms on the windowsill. When Celebrían came in search of her young daughter, it was here that she found her. Celebrían smiled and approached Arwen, gently shaking her awake.
“Good morning, my Evenstar,” she said softly as Arwen opened her eyes and looked up drowsily. “Did you spend all night looking at the stars again?”
“I can’t help it,” Arwen replied, her eyes wide with innocence. “The stars are so pretty.”
Celebrían embraced Arwen, and she smiled happily in return.
“Maybe sometime you and Ada can watch them with me sometime,” she said joyfully, hopping down off the cushioned bench she had spent the night sitting on and racing to her wardrobe to change.
“Perhaps,” Celebrían agreed, an eyebrow raised as she watched her daughter dig out a dress she normally wore when she planned to play outside. “Arwen, aren’t you forgetting something?”
Arwen froze, looking back at her mother, trying to figure out what Celebrían was trying to tell her. The only thing she could think of was play. Her small brow furrowed as she put her dress back in the wardrobe.
“Is something going to happen today?” she asked softly, preparing for the disappointment of the answer yes. She had been looking forward to going out to the waterfalls to catch tadpoles.
“My Undomiel, you know that Thranduil is coming,” Celebrían replied with a smile. “With his wife and son.”
“That’s today?” Arwen frowned. She had completely forgotten. “Oh Ammë, I wanted to go search for tadpoles today.”
“What makes you think Legolas isn’t going to want to go with you?” Celebrían asked.
“He’s too serious,” Arwen replied. “He doesn’t like to play with girls. He’ll want to go with Elladan and Elrohir.”
Arwen turned back to her wardrobe, slightly disgruntled as she pulled out one of her nicer house dresses. Celebrían smiled again, mischievously, and Arwen glanced back at her.
“I suppose you’re right,” Celebrían conceded, turning and walking towards the door. “Legolas might spend his time with the twins.” She pulled open the door, moved to go out into the corridor, then stopped and turned. “But what about Maida?”
Arwen immediately became alert. There was nobody her age to play with in the valley, but by the way Celebrían was speaking, it sounded like one was coming!
“Who’s Maida?” she asked excitedly.
“Thranduil’s young niece,” Celebrían replied. “Perhaps she will be a better companion on your tadpole hunt than serious Legolas.”
Arwen clapped her hands excitedly, running to her mother and throwing her arms around the taller she-Elf’s waist.
“Finally!” she cried. “Someone my own age to play with! I’m so excited, Ammë!”
“I thought you’d be,” Celebrían replied. “Come now. We have to eat breakfast before your new friend arrives.”
* * * * *
Arwen paced impatiently on the veranda, watching the archway through which her new friend would appear. Thranduil and his family were due to arrive any moment, and the household of Rivendell had gathered to greet them. Her father, Elrond, and her twin brothers Elladan and Elrohir were standing at the foot of the staircase leading down into the front courtyard. Celebrían was standing with her, and after a moment she approached her and placed a firm but gentle hand on her shoulder.
“They’ll be here,” she said. “Just have patience.”
Arwen stared up at her mother incredulously. How could she possibly expect her to be patient when such an exciting event was about to occur! She was going to have a friend!
Suddenly, there they were, the small caravan from Mirkwood. First through the archway was King Thranduil, followed closely by his wife and Legolas, his son. Behind them were their escorts, and appearing last was a tiny figure atop the largest horse in the group. Arwen had never seen a horse with such furry feet. The figure was a young girl, almost frail-looking in her size compared to her horse. Her air was a rich strawberry blonde with two locks of snow-white across her brow. She seemed to be searching for someone, and when her gaze rested on Arwen, she smiled brightly. Arwen smiled, too. Clearly, the young Elfling had been as eager to meet a friend as Arwen was.
It didn’t take long at all for the two Elflings to separate themselves from the crowd, the furry-footed horse following them into the relative peace of a grove of trees.
“You must be Maida,” Arwen said excitedly. “I’m Arwen. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Nice to meet you, Arwen,” Maida replied with no less glee. She motioned to the horse. “This is Urubamba. We have the same birthday.”
“Wow, she’s so big!” Arwen said, for now that she could stand next to the horse, she noticed how it towered over them. She only reached up to its broad chest.
“She’s from my Ada’s stock,” Maida replied. “She’s the only one of her family broke to ride. The rest are work horses. They pull the ploughs in the fields.”
Arwen led Maida to the stables, showing her where she could put Urubamba. The horse seemed relieved for the chance to rest, and immediately curled up on the soft bedding once it had been relieved of Maida’s saddle and bridle. Maida hugged her horse, then followed Arwen back up to the house.
“I’m going to go search for tadpoles,” Arwen said. “Want to come with me?”
“Oh, I do! I do!” Maida replied, smiling widely. “And maybe we’ll find some snakes and spiders, too!”
Arwen wasn’t too thrilled about spiders, but she loved Maida’s eagerness nevertheless. She led her around the crowd, checking to make sure she wasn’t being missed before grabbing Maida’s hand and skipping down a leaf-strewn path that led to the base of one of the waterfalls. The pool was fairly shadow, perfect for swimming and tadpole-catching. It wasn’t that far from the house, basically within earshot, so Arwen was not afraid of getting in trouble for not hearing her mother or father call for her. Maida was looking at the trees and flowers, and when they arrived at the pool, Arwen eagerly pointed out the beautiful clump of rose bushes growing by the bank.
“I wish flowers like that grew at home,” Maida said. “All we have are green bushes and tree. . .”
She trailed off, her eyes opening in shock. Arwen followed her line of sight, and cried out when she saw the thick trail of blood leading from the water to the rose bushes.
“Something’s hurt!” Maida cried. “Oh Arwen, do you think it’s still hiding in the roses?”
“We’d better get help,” Arwen decided, turning and calling back towards the house. “Ada! Ammë! Come quick!”
She would have shouted some more, but suddenly a low, threatening growl sounded. Arwen and Maida gasped and turned about, searching for the animal, but they saw nothing. Then, Arwen heard the rose bushes rustling, and she turned towards them.
“Something’s there,” she whispered.
Suddenly, with frightening speed, a creature bounded out of the bushes with a roar that rattled Arwen’s teeth. Maida screamed and stumbled into the pool, but before Arwen could flee, the creature had her pinned underneath it. For a moment, terror overwhelmed Arwen, but then she looked up at her attacker, stared into rich golden-colored eyes, and all at once felt the creature’s deep internal turmoil. The angle of the sun blocked most of its features, but by the fact that hands held her to the ground instead of paws, Arwen knew her attacker was not an animal.
All of the sudden, her attacker let out a low groan of pain and collapsed, falling off of her and coming to a rest on a clearly broken arm. Arwen sat up, feeling the soreness in her shoulders and back from the force of the impact, and gazed at the unconscious creature. It was a human woman, clothed in a blood-soaked, dirty brown sleeveless dress. Long matted hair so dirty the original color was indiscernible framed a gaunt, sunken face. The skin was pale white, the skin on the feet and the palms of the hands heavily calloused. Maida struggled out of the pool and rushed to Arwen, grasping her in a tight embrace.
“Did she hurt you?” Maida asked, looking down at the woman.
“No,” Arwen replied softly.
Suddenly, Lord Elrond appeared, his face flushed from running. He took one look at the unconscious woman, then lifted Arwen into his arms. Thranduil appeared a second later and picked up Maida, ignoring the fact that the Elfling was wet.
“What happened?” Elrond demanded.
“She attacked us!” Maida cried, pointing at the woman. “She was hiding in the rose bushes where we couldn’t see her.” She sniffled, trying to hold back a snob. “She’s a monster. She had pointy teeth!”
Arwen had never seen pointy teeth, but from the safety of her father’s arms, she tried to spot them. The woman’s mouth was open slightly, but there was no sign of pointy teeth. By then, several others had arrived, including Glorfindel, one of Elrond’s advisors. Glorfindel approached the woman, checking for a pulse. After a moment, he looked up.
“She’s dead,” he informed.
Arwen gasped quietly, the buried her head in her father’s strong shoulder. Elrond tightened his grip, sighing deeply.
“Take it away,” he finally said, then turned and started walking back to the house.
“Who was she, Ada?” Arwen asked.
“I don’t know,” Elrond replied. “I don’t think she was hostile, though. You probably startled her.” He paused. “Did she hurt you?”
“No,” Arwen replied, though she could still feel the soreness acutely. She looked back at Maida, who was trembling in silent tears. “Now Maida won’t want to be my friend anymore.”
“She can’t blame you, Arwen,” Elrond said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Arwen sighed. This was not how she had wanted to spend the first day with her new friend, but she knew her father was right. Maida couldn’t blame her. The woman had come out of nowhere, and now that she was dead, she couldn’t hurt anyone else. Clearly, Maida was far more frightened over the attack than Arwen, and she hadn’t even been the one attacked!
What had Maida seen that Arwen hadn’t?