Secrets and Understandings
As she suspected, though the next several months were hard, they passed by quickly. Before she knew it, the time came for Haldir to return from the borders of the wood. It was early evening, and Aeslin was reading in her flet. Her patience was waning though, and every few minutes she would rise, slip outside to see if she could see him ascending the stairs, before scolding herself and going back inside to wait only to repeat the pattern several minutes later.
Eventually, she rose and, upon reaching the edge of her flet and looking toward the City’s entrance, neglected to return inside. Instead, she sat on the bench outside the door, waiting in the dimming light. The lights of Lorien soon lit up the night and Aeslin found her mind wandering.
Movement on the stairs soon caught her attention, and as she stood, the very elf she had been waiting for appeared on the landing. A smile springing to her face, she rushed forward, catching him by surprise. No sooner had she reached his arms than he was enfolding her in his embrace.
The rest of the evening was passed in recounting their time apart. Haldir told of the teasing he had endured, a twinkle in his eye telling her he hadn’t really minded all that much. Apparently Orophin especially was unrelenting, reminding his older brother repeatedly that is was deserved. After all, Haldir had once supposedly given Orophin a hard time after a particularly tender farewell to Lostariel. Aeslin laughed long and hard at that, easily picturing Orophin mimicking Haldir’s grim manner. Haldir had not been quite so amused, but even he had to own that it was funny.
Aeslin’s recounts were not quite as interesting. Very little had really happened since Haldir’s departure. She told him of the satisfied, almost smug look on Galadriel’s face as well as Arwen’s excitement, when they discovered Aeslin and Haldir’s troth. There was not much to say after that, and eventually, Aeslin looked up to see Haldir’s eyes had drifted shut. Content to stay next to him, she laid her head on his shoulder, eventually drifting off herself.
As planned, a couple days after Haldir’s return, they set out for Rivendell. This time both Rumil and Orophin accompanied them. They travelled swiftly, passing quickly over the territories north of Lothlorien. Thankfully, their journey through the Mountains was a great deal less exciting than Aeslin’s previous experience, and neither Goblins nor Orcs appeared to hinder their journey. Before long, they came upon a familiar sight. In the distance stood Imladris, standing amid its protective wreath of cliffs and waterfalls. The entrance was just as she last remembered it, as was the courtyard, complete with some of the dearest of her friends.
There, ready to welcome her back, was Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir. The instant she caught sight of them, a smile bloomed on her face. She was patient, though, and waited until she drew closer to dismount. By this time, Elrohir had come forward, standing at Aeslin’s knee and prepared to help her down. Once her feet touched the ground, she pulled her adoptive brother into a hug.
“I have missed you, brother of my heart.” Elrohir laughed.
“I should hope so, my sweet elfling.” He teased, drawing a laugh from the healer, “It has been entirely too dull here without you.”
“And entirely too noisy! Elrohir only goes about now, lamenting that he has no one to tease!” Elladan had appeared beside them, interjecting loudly, causing them all to burst out laughing.
“Do not fear, Elladan, I have missed you too,” Aeslin laughed as the second brother also welcomed her with a hug. As soon as he released her, they turned back to Elrond, who stood patiently waiting to be remembered, an indulgent smile on his face. As the brothers guided her toward her former mentor, Aeslin was compelled to look over her shoulder, making sure Haldir wasn’t far behind. The three Lorien brothers had dismounted, and were waiting politely for the reunion to run its course. Haldir bore a faint smile on his face, but he still looked wary. Aeslin could tell that he was delighted to see her so happy, but she also had the sense that he was still battling fears that what they had was too good to be true. She gave him reassuring smile of her own before turning to be welcomed by Elrond.
As she stood before her former mentor, Aeslin realized just how much she had missed his reassuring presence. Without a word, Elrond opened his arms to her, an invitation she gladly accepted.
“It is good to see you again, child,” he said quietly, his soothing voice just as warm as she remembered. Aeslin pulled back, looking up into his smiling face. His expression changed slightly as he surveyed her features, a questioning look entering his eyes. “There is something changed in you.” After another moment, he looked up, as if remembering Aeslin wasn’t the only new arrival. Stepping to the side, Aeslin also turned to the Lorien elves, her gaze naturally drawn to Haldir.
The three of them stepped forward, Haldir in front, and each gave a short bow of respect to the Master of Rivendell. Elrond welcomed them with an easy smile, though his gaze also lingered on Haldir.
“You are welcome in Imladris, Brothers of Lorien. Come, we shall retire inside.” Still considering Lorien’s Marchwarden, Elrond offered Aeslin his hand, leading them all inside.
Aeslin rose the next morning in the room she had known for more than two centuries while she studied in Rivendell. But the room, while still so familiar, no longer felt quite the same as it once did. It still brought back a great many memories though. Rising, she followed the same routine she had every morning when still living in Imladris, laughing to herself at how easy it was to fall back into habits barely thought of since. Dressing in one of her old gowns, she stepped out into the familiar halls, not realizing she was searching for anything until she found it. The Dining Hall was nowhere near full, early as it was, but Rumil, Elrohir and Elladan had already risen, as had Haldir. None of them noticed her approach until she had nearly reached them.
“Good morning.” She stopped next to Haldir, who rose when he caught sight of her. A tender smile appeared on his face when she met his glance. Without a word, she took a seat next to him, earning a puzzled frown from Elrohir, while Elladan managed to withhold his curiosity a little better. She also noticed that Rumil was hiding a smile of his own, obviously amused that he was privy to something the Rivendell twins did not know. She was enjoying the looks on her adoptive brother’s faces entirely too much to do anything though. She said very little over breakfast, further frustrating the curiosity obviously gnawing at the dark-haired brothers.
After finishing her meal. She demurely asked Elladan if his father was occupied at this hour. She could see that he debated whether or not to tell her without getting answers of his own first.
“No, he should be in his study. Why do you ask?” Deftly deflecting his question with a smile and thanks, she rose from the table, looking to the Lorien elf beside her. Haldir, like his brother, was withholding his amusement, with only his eyes betraying his mirth. Seeing Aeslin rise beside him, he looked up at her questioningly. Nodding slightly, she held out her hand, grinning when he took it.
The instant they left the Hall, she could hear Elrohir begin to question Rumil about what just occurred. She started to laugh when they passed out of hearing range, but not before hearing Rumil flat out deny noticing anything odd, earning a cry of disbelief from Elrohir and Elladan together. Beside her, Haldir also began to laugh, though somewhat more sedately than Aeslin. He stopped mid-step, and in one swift movement turned her so that she ended up within his embrace.
“Good morning,” he said, a smile coming to his lips. She laughed when he then placed a light kiss upon each of her cheeks.
“And to think I ever thought you were dour.” He raised his eyebrows at her statement, an expression of mock seriousness coming to his face. She laughed harder.
“Dour, me? Well, I should think so.” After kissing her soundly, he released her, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. “Shall we off to see Master Elrond, My Lady Aeslin?” he asked, affectionately gazing down at her. Placing her own expression of light solemnity on her features she nodded.
“We shall, My Lord Haldir.”
As they approached Elrond’s study, Aeslin suddenly started to become nervous and beside her a genuinely serious expression overcame her Marchwarden. She was starting to question the wisdom in asking Elrond for his blessing to marry. What if he insisted she needed to include her Father in the decision? The more she thought on it, the more she came to realize that if that were to happen, her choice in life-partner would likely be considered unacceptable. Yes, Haldir was the Marchwarden of The Golden Wood, and a trusted member of the Court of the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien, but he was not exactly of a rank that would be acceptable to her formal and very traditional-minded Father. And he was a Silvan Elf; her Sindaran Father had, to her mind, rather antiquated notions of superiority when it came to Silvan elves. Her grip tightened on Haldir’s sleeve, causing him to look down in concern. She met his look with a small smile, hoping he would buy her feigned confidence. She doubted he believed it, but thankfully he didn’t press her.
Aeslin had yet to really tell Haldir exactly who her Father was. It wasn’t something that was advertised at Caras Galadhon, and she suspected Haldir had never really been explicitly told of her lineage. She knew it was wrong, and she knew very well that someday she would have to tell him, if he didn’t find out in the next few days, and that he would not be pleased that she withheld something so important. But she did not want to tell him yet; she didn’t even know how. Besides, her Father had been effectively out of her life now for the better part of four centuries. She had no desire to let him control her. She intended to marry whom she willed, and she had chosen Haldir.
Elrond leaned back in his chair, understanding painting his features. He was silent for a long moment, his face serious as he thought. Aeslin, though keeping calm on the outside, was beginning to panic inside. Similarly, Haldir gave no clue to his thoughts, remaining severe and motionless at her side. Aeslin knew, though, that he was growing concerned, she could feel it.
At first, she had attributed her growing ability to know what he was thinking and feeling to getting to know him better. Now, though, with his face betraying nothing of his inner state of mind, she was beginning to realize it was something deeper than that. She was beginning to understand the long, wordless looks Galadriel and Celeborn shared, and the similar moments with Lostariel and Orophin. Her bond with Haldir was deepening. It was in that moment that she realized she would do whatever was necessary to be with him.
“You are certain, of this, Aeslin? You truly wish to bind yourself to Haldir for the rest of your lives.” His voice was grave; something that Aeslin feared did not bode well.
“I do. I love him, Master Elrond. I have no intention of being parted from him.” There was no doubting the sincerity of her words. Elrond sighed.
“This will not be as easy as you might imagine, Aeslin.” She felt Haldir stiffen beside her as her mentor spoke. “Your Father—”
“My Father has nothing to do with this.”
“He has everything to do with this, Aeslin.” Elrond stood, frustration punctuating his every word. “I can not imagine your Father will be pleased. He very likely expects you to marry much higher than a Marchwarden. As Thranduil’s daughter—”
“—and your ward.” Aeslin met Elrond’s stern gray gaze head on, not willing to budge even an inch. She could feel the effect her Mentor’s words had on Haldir, but she could not stop now. “My Father gave me up to your care. I am your ward now, and that gives you say in whether to accept or reject my choice of whom to marry, not him.” Elrond sighed heavily, taking his seat again. “I have done my research, Master Elrond. We would not have come to you otherwise.” He tented his fingers in front of him, thinking deeply again. Her boldness evaporating with each moment he sat silent, she had finally had enough.
“With or without your blessing, Elrond, I intend to marry whom I will. I will not let my Father dictate my life any longer.” With that, she stood abruptly and all but fled from the room, afraid of what she might do next. Elrond sat, watching her go with a considering look. Haldir on the other hand, had turned to watch her go, deeply concerned by what had just transpired, before turning back to the Master of Rivendell. He fixed the older elf with a severe gaze, one that was eventually returned without hesitation.
“You truly love her, Haldir.” As was his way, Elrond’s words were more statement than query.
“Yes,” came Haldir’s immediate reply. He may have been thrown off-guard by the surprise of Aeslin’s exact lineage, but that didn’t diminish his feelings for her. He knew she was Sindarin, and that there were very few of them, all high nobles, in the Woodland Realm. It still stung a little to know just what she had kept from him in not revealing herself to be Mirkwood’s Princess. But he also remembered very well the evening by the fountain, and the heartbreak that still lingered in Aeslin.
“You did not know she was the daughter of King Thranduil, did you.” Haldir knew he should’ve expected that, like Lady Galadriel, Elrond was incredibly adept at picking up what others were thinking.
“No, I did not. Not entirely. I knew she was of a noble lineage and Sindarin, but little else. I never felt the need to ask her.” He stepped away toward the terrace, looking out at the garden beyond.
“It does not bother you that she kept her heritage from you?” Haldir had to think for a moment. Truthfully, it did on some level, but then, there were things in his past that Haldir had yet to share as well. He understood her reluctance.
“Yes, but also no,” he finally answered. “The hurt she feels at her Father’s actions runs deep, My Lord Elrond. I do not begrudge her wishing to be free of him. I know how easy it is to want to be free of the past.” Elrond nodded, knowing exactly what Haldir meant, his eyes once again on the door Aeslin had disappeared through.
“Her Father is deeply faithful to tradition and many of our oldest ways. He is not so giving in his attachments or his displays of love as others of our race. His pairing with Lasbereth may not have been a true love match, but they were married for a very long time and he did care for her deeply. Her loss changed him more than even he realizes. He has lost touch with many of his more tender emotions. That being said, he loves his only daughter deeply.” He turned his gaze back to Haldir. “You know what grows in Mirkwood, the darkness that spreads within it, the evil that now runs rampant through Thranduil’s realm.” Haldir did indeed, knowing the concern it caused his Lord and Lady. Elrond nodded, knowing that the Marchwarden was very much aware of the growing shadows in the east.
“He fears for her safety. He needed to get her away from it. He is tied to that forest; the darkness is having an effect even on him, changing him, and I think he knows it. Thranduil had no intention of risking her life by allowing her to stay in Mirkwood. Loving her as you do, could you say you would not do the same?” Elrond had a point. Haldir knew Mirkwood was her home and, through their growing bond, he could feel the longing to return in her heart. But the evil in Mirkwood made him nervous; he was beginning to understand why Thranduil made the choice he had. He sighed, letting his mask of indifference slip. Elrond was right; this was becoming more complicated than he had anticipated. The Lord of Imladris rose, coming to stand at his side.
“I may regret this, but there is no denying the bond between you, Haldir. I recognize in you the love that I shared with my wife. You have my blessing to marry the daughter of my heart.” Haldir looked over to the older elf, not bothering to hide the astonishment that grew in him. “But be forewarned. There is a good chance that Thranduil will be far from pleased when he finds out, but I, for one, have no intention of standing in your way.” He smiled, clapping Haldir on the shoulder.
“Take care of her, Haldir. Do not let what happened to Celebrian happen to her. Never let her go, not unless you plan to follow.” Grief clouded Elrond’s features, reminding the Marchwarden all too well the pain the past held. Gripping the older elf’s shoulder in return, Haldir nodded before leaving the study himself.
It was on one of the Lower Terraces, below the main houses of Rivendell, that Aeslin finally stopped. Unable to go any further, she hugged one of the columns, looking out over the vista that had become so familiar after so many years. Fighting to hold back frustrated tears, she tried to calm herself, but the fear in her heart was too strong. She feared that Elrond would be forced to consult her father, and she knew in her heart that her father would not approve. Still, her resolve to marry Haldir remained firm.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of determined little feet. Hastily wiping her eyes, she turned, only to be met with the concerned gaze of a small child. Confused, she watched him for a moment, and he watched her back. Finally he took a few steps forward, until he stood in front of her, gazing up at her.
“Who are you?” His earnest blue eyes met hers with an unabashed curiosity. She smiled, taken in by his honest child’s face.
“I am Aeslin, I used to live here.” He nodded solemnly, satisfied for the time being. “Who are you?”
“I’m Estel.” He said matter-of-factly. It was then that she noticed he was not an elf-child. Her curiosity piqued, she lowered herself to his level, kneeling beside him.
“And do you live here, Estel?” He nodded enthusiastically.
“How old are you?” He thought very hard for a moment, his endearing little face all scrunched up, before holding up three fingers. “Three? Indeed. Are you here with your mother, or your father?” He held up his finger to his lips, shushing very loudly.
“I’m hiding from Mama.”
“Oh, I see. Are you supposed to be hiding?” A guilty look came over his face.
“No.” Aeslin tried to hide her smile.
“Tsk, tsk, little Estel. You shouldn’t be hiding from your mama. She’s probably wondering where you are. Shall I take you back to her?” He nodded, the solemn expression returning to his face. “Where is she?” A frightened look came over his face then, and without a word he climbed onto her lap, nestling against her, his little hand wrapping around a lock of her pale hair.
“I don’t know,” came his muffled reply. Aeslin withheld a soft laugh, wrapping the little boy in an embrace.
“We shall have to find her then.” Almost as if on cue, one voice and then another floated over the breeze, coming from the path leading to the terrace. After a moment, Elladan appeared around the bend, relief alighting on his face when he saw the boy.
“Gilraen,” he called over his shoulder, before coming forward to kneel next to Aeslin. Hesitantly, Estel lifted his face from Aeslin’s arms, looking guiltily at dark-haired elf.
“I’m sorry,” came his small muffled voice. Elladan laughed.
“You gave your mother quite a scare, little one.” He looked up as a woman came around the bend, her face pale with worry.
“Estel. There you are.” Twisting around in Aeslin’s arms, the little boy was off like an arrow when he caught sight of his mother. Laughing, Aeslin let him go, taking Elladan’s proffered hand as he helped her to her feet. After a moment of gently scolding her young son and holding him close, Gilraen also stood, Estel held safe in her arms. Elladan gestured to the woman, who, as Aeslin saw immediately, was not an elf either.
“Aeslin, this is Gilraen. She is a guest of Father’s here in Rivendell, and obviously you have met her son, Estel.” Aeslin bowed her head gently, acknowledging the introduction. He then gestured to Aeslin, but before he could say anything, she stepped forward herself.
“I am Aeslin of Lorien, I was a student of Master Elrond’s, some years ago.” She saw Elladan frown a little as she spoke out of the corner of her eye. Gilraen smiled in greeting, returning Aeslin’s nod, unaware of anything out of sorts before politely excusing herself and returning to the main house. As soon as she was out of earshot, Elladan turned to her, the frown more prominent. Aeslin returned his gaze without flinching.
“Yes, of Lorien, Elladan, for I no longer intend to return to Mirkwood,” she said firmly. His frown deepened.
“Does My father know about this? Does yours?”
“Master Elrond does, but my Father does not.” She left the terrace and began walking back up the path. Not quite finished, Elladan followed, falling into step beside her.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with a certain Lorien Marchwarden, does it?” A small, pleased smile came to Aeslin’s face, but she shook her head.
“As much as I came to love Rivendell, I have come to feel more at home in Lorien over the course of sixty years than I ever did over the centuries I lived here.”
“But the Marchwarden doesn’t hurt.” There was a mischievous undercurrent in his serious tone. Aeslin couldn’t help but give an exasperated laugh.
“No, it doesn’t hurt,” she capitulated. After a while, Elladan finally smiled.
“I am happy for you, Aeslin. Truly I am, but I cannot help but wonder at the wisdom of your decision.” She frowned as he spoke, stopping in the middle of the path. Elladan paused also, focusing on Aeslin.
“What could you possibly mean by that?” she asked, genuinely confused at his meaning. His eyes bored into hers.
“You are certain of your feelings?
“And you are certain he returns those feelings.”
“Of course.” She didn’t hesitate to answer, easing some of the worry Elladan felt. “I feel it in my heart. I know he returns my love. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me, and I can feel it in him when we are apart.” She trailed off, her eyes out of focus for a moment. Elladan watched her, struck by the admission she had just given him.
“Your bond is strong then, dear Aeslin, and I think you will be very happy,” he finally admitted, unable to ignore the evidence standing before him. Her face lighting up, she gave him a quick hug of thanks. Then, excusing herself, she left him there to think.
She had barely made it back to the main building when she was reunited with Haldir. He had been waiting for her at the head of the path, leaning against the arch separating the indoors from the out. He waited until she reached him before moving, his face serious. She knew what was coming. Taking her hands, he led her to a nearby bench, lowering himself onto it. Sitting beside him, she watched, silent, and waited for him to speak.
“Why did you not tell me?” She took a deep breath, not taking her eyes from their entwined fingers.
“I do not rightly know. I suppose part of me was afraid what admitting my parentage would mean for us,” she answered quietly after a moment. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to stay calm. She felt his hand brush her cheek.
“It would not mean anything. It would not diminish my love for you, Aeslin.” She leaned into his touch.
“I am just so sick of the control he has over me, even from such a distance and after so much time. First he sent me away, and then he prevented me from going home. I don’t know what I would do if he forbade me from being with you.” He smiled faintly before responding.
“Your father can forbid all he wants, but that will not stop me from taking you as my wife. I can no longer stand to be parted from you.” She shifted forward, letting him wrap his arms around her as she leaned against him. “Besides, Lord Elrond has given us his blessing.” She looked up at him, not quite believing what he said.
“Truly?” He nodded, leaning down to lay a gentle kiss on her smiling lips.
“He told me never to let you go,” he said quietly, a sorrowful cast to his features. Aeslin noticed this, feeling his sadness in her own heart.
“What is it?” she asked softly. He shook his head, but Aeslin persisted.
“What is troubling you?” Eventually he sighed, taking a moment before speaking.
“It is just something that was brought up when Elrond and I spoke, about trying to forget the pain of the past.” She waited patiently for him to continue, knowing he would tell her when he was ready. After a moment he inhaled deeply.
“I thought I was in love once, a very long time ago. She was older than I, and I was very young still, but I was dazzled by her beauty and the kindness she showed me. I know now that it was not meant to be, that it was not a true bond of love but youthful infatuation only, but then I was so certain. It cut deeply when she turned me down, especially when I saw the compassion and understanding in her eyes. She thought nothing of my foolishness but empathy. I have no words for the humiliation that burned in me.” He took another deep breath, lost in memory. “I came to realize when she chose another just how foolish I had been, that my youth and my folly had jumped at the opportunity to find something I wanted dearly. It was then that I learned to bury my feelings, to not allow anyone too close to my heart. I tried to forget.” Aeslin felt his pain and his humiliation as deeply as if it were her own. Releasing a pent up breath, she leaned against him again, feeling his heartbeat beneath her cheek.
“Who was she?” Little more than a whisper, it nevertheless brought Haldir back to the present.
“The daughter of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel; Celebrian.” Aeslin frowned; she knew that name. She looked up at him again.
“Elrond’s wife?” He nodded, staunchly refusing to meet her gaze.
“Yes. I resented him for a long time, for he had her love. Visiting Imladris still brings back the memory of that pain, for this place still bears her shadow and the memory of her presence. Over time I came to realize that what they shared was so very different from what I thought I felt, especially upon seeing his grief at being parted after she sailed to the Undying Lands; I realized how stupid I had been. I realize it now more than ever.” He all but spat out the last words, startling the elf-maid in his arms. Astonished, Aeslin reached up, turning his face to hers.
“Do not say that.”
“But it is true. I understand it more everyday just what was at risk. Had I not grown careless with the defenses I had built within myself since her rejection, you never would have found your way into my heart, Aeslin. I would’ve missed this; I would’ve lost you without ever knowing you.” Aeslin fought back the tears his pain drew from her. She pulled him closer, until their foreheads touched.
“That is a what-if. Do not dwell on it, Haldir, Please. Regardless of the past, we found each other, and I know I have no intention of ever letting you go.” For the first time in a very long time, Haldir let his emotions get the better of him, burying his face into her shoulder as he began to tremble, tears threatening to fall. She wrapped her arms around him, clinging to him even as he clung to her. Even as she urged him not to dwell on the past, she came to realize just how true his words were. Lostariel had called him the Warden with the Heart of Stone, and Aeslin hadn’t truly believed it until now. In sharing his deepest hurt, he had finally truly opened his heart to her, just as she had let him into her heart by the fountain in Lorien, and she saw the scars left there.
After a while he pulled away, sighing deeply as he hastily rubbed his face. Smiling a little, Aeslin reached over to brush away a strand of his golden hair that had fallen out of place. He turned his eyes to hers, a lingering sadness and fear in their blue depths.
“I could not bear to lose you,” he murmured. She leaned forward, kissing him fiercely.
“You don’t have to.”