A/N: One quick note:
*This means the speaker is speaking in the common tongue.*
“Quotation marks indicate elvish.”
Reunions and Interludes
The Border was quiet; almost too quiet. Haldir, however, didn’t complain. The threat of attack was as high as it had ever been thanks to the darkness now spreading from Mordor, so any time when calm reigned over the borders under his watch was a boon to him. Nevertheless, he was uneasy. Aeslin was worried, and wasn’t filling him in completely when he asked. Over the last few weeks, her anxiety had been growing, but having been on the border for the last few months, he hadn’t had a chance to speak with her face to face. They could communicate easily through their bond, but recently she had become reserved in her contact with him, sharing little more than emotions and reassurances that she was, in fact, all right.
All he did know, was that her change in demeanour had come around the same time as the Rivendell brothers came flying into Lorien, bearing news for the Lord and Lady, only to leave again the next day. They had not revealed anything of their purpose to the wardens, as Haldir found out from Orophin. The Marchwarden had been on a different section of the border when they passed through, missing them completely. Whatever news they bore, though, they had passed it along. Almost immediately following the Rivendell Twins’ arrival in the Golden Wood, orders had come from Celeborn alerting them to be extra vigilant, and to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. Combined with Aeslin’s sudden wariness, Haldir suspected that, whatever their message had been, it had everything to do with the darkness spreading around them.
As the bright afternoon shifted into a golden evening, Haldir was summoned by one of his border-guards to the northwest edge of the Wood. Gathering several of his men, they descended from their flets to the forest floor, following the movements of eight intruders entering the domain of the Lady. It was with a note of contempt that he noticed a dwarf among them, but curiosity there was as well, for among their number were four he presumed to be either children or Halflings, as well as an elf.
Swiftly and silently, twenty of his border-guards surrounded them, catching them all off-guard, the dwarf especially, Haldir noted with amusement. In fact, the only one to even respond in a decent amount of time was the elf, having drawn his own bow the instant the border-guards appeared. He was severely outnumbered though.
*The dwarf breathes so loud we could’ve shot him in the dark,* Haldir couldn’t help but say as he approached the apparent leader of the group. The common tongue felt odd on his lips, having had little occasion to use it in a great many years. However, with a traditional elven gesture of respect, the man bowed his head, answering him in perfect elvish.
“Haldir of Lorien. We come here for help. We need your protection.” Haldir frowned, his usually perfect mask of indifference forgotten. He surveyed the group once again, this time taking notice of the elf, as his back was no longer turned to the Marchwarden. He was astonished to meet the calculating gaze of Legolas, brother to his wife. Turning to Rumil, who stood at his side, he nodded. One by one, his men lowered their bows.
*You will come with us.*
By the time they reached the flets and had ferried each of the guests up into the trees, night had fallen. As he dismissed his men, sending them back to their posts, he turned back to the diverse group. It had taken him a moment, but eventually he recognized the man who had asked for his help, sensing the same Dúnedain blood he had seen once in Rivendell. It had been a long time though. Indeed, Aragorn had been a child then. He turned to Legolas first, reverting back to his natural tongue, greeting him formally.
“Welcome, Legolas, son of Thranduil.” Legolas nodded in acceptance.
“Our Fellowship stands in your debt, Haldir of Lorien.” The Marchwarden turned next to the Ranger, who stood a few feet away among the rest of his companions.
“Aragorn of Dúnedain, you are known to us.” A chuckle nearly escaped Haldir at the flicker of surprise that crossed Aragorn’s features. He had not been expecting that. The Ranger did not let it distract him though, bobbing his head in a thanks of his own. Behind him, though, the dwarf spoke, his gruff voice showing naught but annoyance.
*So much for the legendary courtesy of the elves; speak words we can all understand.* Switching back to the common tongue, Haldir made no effort to disguise the disdain in his own voice as he answered.
*We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days.* The dwarf stiffened at the specifically punctuated final two words before making an equally derisive comment of his own.
*And you know what this dwarf says to that? Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul!* Haldir’s eyes widened slightly as anger flashed through him, his limited knowledge of the dwarven tongue enough to understand that phrase. Closing his eyes briefly as his objectionable companion spoke, a look of aggravation passed over Aragorn’s features. When the dwarf had finished, Aragorn turned, leveling him with an irritated glare and sharp gesture.
*That was not so courteous.* Haldir allowed his own aggravation to show on his face as he leveled the dwarf and the Ranger with one final glance before continuing on to survey the others. The hobbits looked frightened and exhausted, especially the dark-haired one, who stood away from the others, looking as though he was trying to stay out of sight behind his companions.
As his eyes fell on that last hobbit, Haldir was struck with the presence of a great roiling shadow that encompassed the small figure. All at once a primeval fear overtook him, causing his grip to tighten on the long hilt of his sword; the urge exploded within him to keep this evil away from everything he held dear, to keep it far from Aeslin, so much so that it blocked his reason. Almost without hesitation he spoke, astonished in hindsight that his voice betrayed none of the turmoil in his mind as he spoke, instead remaining calm and measured.
*You bring great evil with you,* his gaze flew back to Aragorn, some of his unease bleeding into his voice, making him sound harsh. *You can go no further.* Turning in a blink, he began to walk away, fighting the urge to run or to throw the hobbit and the evil he carried from the Wood. Almost immediately, Aragorn was close behind him, begging him to stop, to reconsider. In the back of his mind, he could feel Aeslin reacting to his sudden change of emotion, her distress fueling his agitation. Finally, Haldir did stop, turning to face the Ranger. He could not control his distaste anymore, sickened as he was by the darkness carried by the halfling. Aragorn recoiled, visibly flinching at the expression in the Marchwarden’s eyes, but he was not deterred.
“We need your protection. The road is fell!”
“That is not my concern,” Haldir all but hissed back, unmoved by the pleading tone in Aragorn’s voice, “What the Halfling carries is a threat. You will stay here.”
“I wish we may come with you.” The ranger’s soothing tone grew more shadowed with desperation with each new entreaty, though his control was remarkable. But Haldir was not moved, somehow managing to maintain his composure, for the most part.
“That I will not allow. I am charged with the protection of these borders.”
“Please, understand, we need your support!”
“I will not endanger Lorien needlessly.” Aragorn was now visibly struggling to keep his temper in check, but he continued to push the Marchwarden.
“I will not endanger mine own.” It was now that the fear growing in Haldir’s heart came to the fore, startling Aragorn. Legolas also looked up, Haldir’s voice having risen ever so slightly with his last statement. Aragorn passed a brief look to his elven companion before turning back to Haldir, somewhat sobered by the vehement outburst.
“We are on a mission to save yours, ours, all on this Middle Earth.” The earnest expression on the Rangers face gave Haldir cause to pause, turning his gaze from Aragorn. Something of this whole situation made the protective instincts in him flare uncontrollably, making him almost dangerously irrational. They were in genuine need of help, adding to the conflicting storm of his thoughts; obviously none were servants of the enemy. “The road is very dangerous,” the Ranger all but whispered, pleading in his voice.
All will be well, Haldir. Bring them before me, for I desire to meet with them. The Lady’s voice echoed through his mind, her soothing tone a balm to his anxiety, though it was unable to calm him completely. Though every fibre of his being screamed to send them away, Celeborn, and now the Lady, had made it clear to bring any visitors before them. Clenching his jaw, he consciously had to relax his grip on the long hilt of his sword, earning an encouraged glance from Aragorn. After several deep breaths, Haldir raised his gaze to meet the Rangers before stepping to stand before the Fellowship, fixing his stare on the Halfling who carried the threat.
*You will follow me.*
It was directly to the Lord and Lady that the Marchwarden led the Fellowship, taking them through the forest to the heart of Caras Galadhon. He could almost feel the excitement in the Mirkwood elf at his side, every now and then exchanging a brief look of approval with Legolas. That Woodland Prince had never stepped foot below Lorien’s green and golden canopy was abundantly clear. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the Fellowship was similarly struck with admiration and wonder at the sight of the Golden Wood and the marvel that was the City of Trees.
Delivering them to the heart of the Lord and Lady’s flet, Haldir stood discreetly off to the side as they gathered at the base of the stairs. A moment later Celeborn and Galadriel descended, drawing further awe from those looking on.
Most of what passed was a blur for Haldir, troubled as he was by the danger lurking in the dark-haired hobbit’s possession. He could feel Aeslin was close, and he felt her disquiet at his unease. He could tell she longed to speak with him, while he was wishing he could take her as far away from the evil not ten feet from him as he possibly could.
News that Gandalf the Gray had fallen in Moria brought some of Haldir’s attention back to the scene before him, as did the Lady’s words of comfort to the dwarf. Indeed, Haldir thought with worry, love does indeed mingle with grief; something he fervently prayed he would never have to endure. The very idea of something befalling his brothers or their families was troubling, but that something could happen to his Aeslin—his heart verged on shattering at the mere thought of losing her.
As Galadriel fell silent after bidding the Fellowship to rest at ease, Haldir was faced with the task of leading the group back down to the forest floor where, he presumed, space was being prepared for them to take their respite.
Aeslin listened to the exchange from just out of sight of the visitors, unable to see them just as they were unable to see her. She could feel the turmoil gnawing at her husband, but was unable to discern what it was that troubled him. So concerned was she with reaching out to Haldir, that she missed most of the conversation below, her brother’s voice the only thing breaking even momentarily through her distracted state. It was only when Galadriel and Celeborn re-ascended the stairs that she was ultimately broken from her concentration. Galadriel placed a gentle hand on Aeslin’s cheek, smiling sadly. One thing that Aeslin had caught from the meeting was the loss of the wizard Gandalf. She had only met him a handful of times, first when she was small herself in Mirkwood, once in Imladris and later among the trees of Lorien, but she remembered every encounter fondly. She knew, though, that the Lord and Lady had been close to the Wizard.
“I am sorry, My Lady. The loss of Mithrandir is a bitter one.” Galadriel’s face betrayed her sorrow for a moment, her clear blue eyes distant.
“Yes, but what is done is done. Yet, I sense there is still a path laid before Gandalf. Whether he finds his way is still shrouded from me.” Her gaze came back to the healer. “You have your own concerns, Aeslin. Go down to the forest floor, there are those there who need your care.” Nodding in acquiescence, Aeslin watched as the Lord and Lady of Lorien moved off before taking her own leave.
The healer took her time in descending from the Lord and Lady’s flet, pausing by the one she shared with Haldir only to find he hadn’t yet returned. She lingered for a few moments, but when he didn’t appear, she continued on, following the line of elves bringing supplies down to the visitors. The last of them were departing as she came upon the Fellowship, many of whom had wasted no time in settling. For a long time she could do nothing but watch them from afar, cut as she was by their expressions of grief. Around her, a lament to the fallen wizard wove and flowed on the night breeze, nearly bringing tears to her eyes with the grief held therein.
She watched as one of the hobbits stood and attempted to add to the ode in his own humble way, only to sit in despair as his words did nothing to convey what was in his heart. The dwarf had already begun to doze, only to be woken by a sharp swat from the man next to him. After another moment that man stood, moving to join another man who looked devastated as he sat alone. It was then that she caught sight of her brother, returning to his companions with a small ewer of water in his hands. Relief coursed through her and without hesitation she sprang forward, abandoning her silent watch.
Despite his grief, Legolas’ eyes lit up at the sight of her, her name coming to his lips as the ewer fell from his hands, catching the attention of most of the Fellowship as the water therein splashed out in a melodious cascade.
With a gasp she embraced him, her arms wrapped tight about him as she uttered a prayer in thanks. He embraced her back with equal fervor. After a moment she pulled back, her hands still gripping his tunic as if afraid he would disappear should she let go.
“You are safe. You are here. I have been so worried.” Legolas smiled faintly, the sadness never quite gone from his eyes; something Aeslin didn’t fail to notice. “I am so sorry, dear brother. I know you knew him well.”
“I did, and his death could not have come at a worse time. Aeslin, I am so glad to see you.”
“And I you. You are well?” He nodded.
“As well as can be expected. What of you? I have heard nothing of you since you last departed Mirkwood.” Aeslin opened her mouth to answer, but was interrupted.
“Aeslin?” Their attention was caught with the approach of one of the men, an expression of bewilderment on his vaguely familiar features. Around his neck was the Evenstar, a clue to his identity alone as Aeslin had never seen the sister of her heart without it. But it was his eyes that triggered her memory more than anything. She pulled away from her brother, looking to the man in consideration as she approached him. When she finally stood before him, she smiled, reaching up to gently tug a strand of hair that hung next to his face.
“Estel? I must admit I am surprised you remember me,” Aeslin said with a smile. Aragorn laughed quietly in disbelief, taking her hands in his after mimicking her movement, giving a lock of her own hair a gentle tug.
“I could not forget one such as you. It has been too long,” he answered with genuine gladness. Aeslin laughed herself.
“Indeed, you certainly have grown since I last saw you.” Legolas came to stand beside them, a look of curiosity on his face as their companions looked on.
“You know each other.” Aeslin turned to Legolas, a smile still on her face.
“Yes, I met Aragorn in Rivendell, many, many years ago, my dear brother, when he was still a small child.” She turned back to the Ranger, registering with amusement the look of astonishment on his face when she named Legolas kin. “I became very fond of you.”
“You are his sister?” Aragorn asked.
“Indeed,” the Mirkwood Prince said wryly. With a smile of pride Legolas wrapped an arm around Aeslin’s shoulders.
“I have known you how long before learning this?” Aragorn grinned impishly, causing Aeslin to roll her eyes. Before they could continue with their reunion, though, they were interrupted.
*Who is this?* The second man had approached while the three had been speaking. Turning, Aragorn switched to the common tongue, proceeding to introduce his companions before returning to Aeslin.
*This is Aeslin of,* he paused for a moment, looking to her quizzically. She picked up where he left off.
*Of Lorien,* he continued with an abashed smile. *I have known her for a very long time, as she was once a student of Lord Elrond in Rivendell.*
*And she is my little sister,* finished Legolas with a hint of teasing in his voice. Aeslin sighed, mock exasperation colouring the sound.
*Really?* Came the keen voice of the youngest of the hobbits, all of whom had come to gather around them.
*Who knew our elvish princeling had a sister,* came the gruff voice of the dwarf. Aeslin nearly frowned, but she sensed nothing but camaraderie in his voice. Legolas frowned, aiming a light swat at the dwarf’s shoulder. Aeslin laughed quietly as she surveyed the faces looking to her in curiosity.
*Yes, and who knew—* her voice trailed off and her smile faded as her eyes fell upon the dark-haired Hobbit lingering behind the rest. Without thinking, she began to retreat closer to Legolas, pressing against him as she flinched away from the great well of darkness that began to pervade her senses. She had known of the Fellowship’s task, so she had known what was carried in their midst, but nothing could have prepared her for what she felt in the presence of the One Ring. The others, Legolas especially, looked to her in concern, her brother tightening his hold on her as she began to tremble. Frodo met her gaze, knowing instinctively exactly what brought about the change in her.
“Never have I felt such evil; not in Mirkwood, nor the mountains, nor anywhere I have ever been.” Her voice was breathless, and her already pale skin grew paler still as her very strength seemed sapped from her body. Alarm coursed through Legolas, but in an instant she had returned to normal, though she was much more reserved than she had been only a few moments before. Breaking her gaze from the dark-haired hobbit, she looked up reassuringly to her brother, before surveying the rest of the Fellowship again. It was then that she noticed evidence of injury on some of them.
*You have seen battle, recently.* Though still tremulous, Aeslin’s voice had adopted the tone she used when her Healer’s instincts took over. Before any could answer she continued, gesturing around her. *Please, sit, and let me look to your wounds.*
With an efficiency bred out of centuries of practice, she quickly dealt with the thankfully minor wounds that had befallen the members of the Fellowship while in Moria. The three other hobbits had only a few cuts and bruises between them, while Gimli was practically unscathed but for a fragment of shrapnel that had flown deep into his forearm; something she extracted easily, receiving an almost bashful declaration of gratitude from the recalcitrant dwarf. Legolas was also essentially unharmed while Aragorn and Boromir had their own fair share of scrapes and cuts, the latter also having a nasty gash on the back of his head from being thrown into an outcropping of stone. Frodo was the last she tended to, drawing the anxious gazes of those who knew her already. She hesitated a moment before tending the bruised and even cracked ribs he sustained when a cave troll had tried to impale him. The only other pause in her ministrations came when she discovered the wound he sustained on Amon Sûl. The wound baffled her, but Frodo seemed unaffected, covering the scar quickly before explaining what Elrond had told him as he was recovering in Rivendell. Sensing his hesitation in regard to the wound, Aeslin left it alone, though the healer in her was curious to examine it further.
As she worked, the entirety of their tale had been related to her by Merry and Pippin, earning suitable gasps and other responses at all the right times while the others supplied missed details here and there.
By the time she was done, the Fellowship was far better off than when they arrived. Aeslin’s gentle hands and quiet laugh put them all at ease, bringing a measure of cheer back into their hearts. Though their sorrow was not forgotten in the slightest, the sting had been dulled enough that they were able to stem the flow of their grief, giving them a chance at rest. When she was finished she stood, pleasantly tired from her exertions.
After bidding them a good night, she turned to leave them, pausing only to embrace her brother.
“Thank you, Aeslin. Your presence has been naught but a boon to us.” The sorrow had begun to creep back into her brother’s eyes. She laid a kiss on his cheek.
“I tended to their wounds, that was all.” He shook his head, looking down on her face with a deep look of consideration.
“No, you did far more than that. They will all rest soundly tonight because of you. You helped with the wounds in our hearts as well.”
“Just as I have said,” she reiterated. With a final goodnight, she departed, leaving the Fellowship to their respite.
While Aeslin soothed the ragged psyches of the Fellowship, Haldir had wandered Caras Galadhon. Periodically he would make his way past the Fellowship’s clearing, reassuring himself that Aeslin was indeed all right, but mostly he took the opportunity to be alone with his thoughts.
It was late when he returned to their flet, but he still made it back before Aeslin. Soon enough though, she returned to find him standing in their bedchamber, looking out on the Wood with only the moonlight to illuminate him. He stood deep in thought, his arms crossed in front of him. Making her way about the room, she lit the candles, and soon the chamber was bathed in a warm glow. It was then that she came to stand behind her husband, placing her hands on his shoulders and laying her head against his back.
“What troubles you?” The sounds of the Wood below them were the only things that punctuated the quiet around them.
“I am not entirely sure, but you have felt the darkness that now rests in the bounds of our realm.” Aeslin was concerned by the trepidation in Haldir’s voice.
“I have. The hobbit called Frodo carries the Ring of Power. I have not felt its like in all my life, short as it has been this far.” Haldir took a deep breath, one of his hands lifting to cover hers where it rested on his upper arm.
“Neither have I. It troubles me greatly, Aeslin. The instant I felt it, I wanted nothing more than to take you and flee; to take you far from the threat carried by the Halfling. Never have I felt so strongly about protecting that which I love.” The healer closed her eyes briefly before gently tugging him around to face her.
“You do not need to fear for me, my love. Soon enough this bane will be gone from our lands, and you will have little more to fear from it.” Haldir frowned, refusing to meet her eyes.
“Yes, it will be gone, but then the danger of it falling into the hands of its master will grow.” Aeslin reached up, forcing him to look at her.
“We have no control over that.” She smiled faintly. “You cannot carry all the woes of this world on your shoulders. It would destroy you. You told me that once, and now I tell you. I can feel your worry, Haldir. Please don’t let it overcome you.” She leaned into him, laying her head against his chest, listening to his reassuring heartbeat. He wrapped his arms around her, enclosing her against him.
“I cannot help but worry, Aeslin. This darkness that grows in Middle Earth can only lead to more shadow. I worry what it will mean for our race.” She pulled back, reaching up to run her fingers through his hair before pulling him down for a kiss.
“Forget all that. Be here, with me. No good will come of dwelling on what cannot be changed. We are under the protection of the Lady. Nothing will reach us here.”
“I am no longer wholly convinced of that.”