Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 17

A/N: Once again, on indicating which languages are being spoken:

*means the speaker is speaking in the common tongue.*

"Quotation marks indicate elvish.”

The Price

At the Lady’s request, as the sun set over the mallorn-trees, Aeslin came to join her. Galadriel knew the cost of Haldir’s departure on Aeslin, and was worried for her, especially as the hour of battle grew near. It was that worry, in part, that kept the Lady of Light from watching the Battle from her mirror. But even without it, she could sense the events of Helm’s Deep from afar, just as Aeslin would; only Aeslin would feel it through Haldir.

Few of the elves who now stood within the walls of the fortress had wives waiting for them at home, for indeed, many volunteers had been discouraged from serving because of the cost their death would have on those they left behind. This was not a fight where victory was inevitable. It would demand a great price, something that was well known by those who embarked upon it. Galadriel deeply regretted sending Haldir, but knew that she had little choice, as there were no others who could take his place.

As the two sat in silence, the night deepened. Celeborn joined them at one point, but Aeslin did not even register his approach, caught up as she was in the happenings in Rohan. There was a faint moment of relief when, upon reaching Helm’s Deep, Haldir was greeted by Legolas and Aragorn. That relief was soon gone as, though Haldir’s eyes, she saw the hordes of Saruman’s Orcs approaching the fortress; a great, roiling sea of torches moving ever closer. Faintly she heard the guttural roars of the Uruk Hai, of the orders called and the sound of arrows being pulled and nocked as he did.

The Lord of Lorien looked on, concerned by the distant expressions on the two elven women with him. He was especially concerned for Aeslin, who already grew pale as far off in Helm’s Deep the battle commenced. The room in which she sat was silent, but Aeslin could hear the screams and clashes of battle ringing in her ears. Usually, she was easily able to separate the thoughts and feelings of her husband when they were apart, but her concern was such that she was desperate not to shut him out. So it was that she saw everything through his eyes, a faint haze over her senses all that signaled her distance from being there herself.

The battle continued, with elves falling from crossbow bolts while Uruk’s scaled the Deeping Wall with great black ladders to cut great swaths in the lines stationed there. Around him, elves were felled like sheaves of wheat before the unending hordes that ravaged the ravine. With a physical jolt that startled Celeborn and Galadriel both, Aeslin reacted when Haldir was caught off guard as the Deeping Wall exploded in a great shower of rock and stone, the bodies of elves, men and Orcs alike flying into the hordes than still pressed forward below.

Slowly, Aeslin’s expression shifted from one of detached observer to one of horror and grief. Similarly, Galadriel soon had tears in her eyes as one by one, the elves she had sent to join this battle of men were slain.

Eventually, Aeslin stood, trembling, to stand near the arch that framed the view from the Lady’s flet. Clutching the twining column, she leaned against it for support as she drew in breath after breath of cool night air, while through their bond she watched Haldir struggle to keep the unending lines of Uruk Hai at bay. He was a formidable warrior, there had never been any doubt about that, but there were simply too many foes for the small number that defended the Keep. That he was still alive said something of his skill alone.

Faintly, she could hear voices in the Common tongue and Elvish alike calling for the troops on the wall to fall back to the keep. Aeslin’s gaze was drawn along with Haldir’s to Aragorn as the Ranger called for retreat.

The relief that coursed through Aeslin was cut short, though, when, as he was calling for his own warriors to retreat, Haldir came up against yet another Uruk Hai. Like many of the others before, he cut it down with ease, but a second Uruk caught him off guard, and the Orc’s blade sliced across his left forearm and buried itself in his side. With a cry Aeslin nearly collapsed as pain shot across her own arm and exploded against her ribcage.

Behind her Celeborn jumped to his feet as Galadriel’s eyes shot to the healer.

She felt Haldir stagger as he looked down at his wound in disbelief, feeling his despair and anguish as he caught sight of the mutilated bodies of his fallen companions before a sharp, excruciating flash of pain burst down his back. Aeslin’s eyes widened for a moment as a breathless scream erupted from her lips.

Then she saw no more.

With a sharp breath, Aeslin opened her eyes, blinded for a moment as consciousness burst upon her like a wave over rocks. Her body ached, and her head throbbed, but that didn’t stop her from trying to sit up. Many gentle hands forced her back down, and it took her a moment to stop struggling.

After another moment, she had regained her bearings enough to look around her. Galadriel leaned over her, grief and fear prominent in her normally serene gaze. That alone nearly caused Aeslin to panic. Never before had she seen anything approximating that expression shining out through the Lady’s eyes. Beside her, Celeborn also knelt beside Aeslin’s prone form, an equally fearful look in his eyes. On her other side was an elf she recognized as Nestarion, one of the other prominent healers of Lorien. Confusion bloomed within her.

“What is happening? What is going on?” Galadriel stroked Aeslin’s white-blonde hair, murmuring soothing sounds before she answered.

“We thought you had left us. We thought we had lost you.” The Lady’s voice was thick with emotion. Aeslin stared at her in bewilderment. After a moment they helped her to sit. Weakened as she was, Celeborn allowed her to lean against him, his arms cradling her as if she were a child.

“What do you remember?” came Celeborn’s quiet voice, the concern therein mirroring that in his eyes. Aeslin thought for a moment before it all came back to her in a flash of vivid, nauseating clarity. Slamming her lids shut, she struggled to hold the sights and sounds at bay. Only when she recalled the blade sinking into her husband’s flesh did her eyes burst open, a hoarse cry escaping her lips as her body seized, her anguish cutting at her like a lash. Collapsing against Celeborn, a great sob tore at her throat.

“He can’t be—It cannot be true.” She gasped, as she struggled to breathe. Galadriel’s eyes closed in pain while Celeborn averted his eyes, unable to bear the devastation on Aeslin’s face as she clung to him, heaving sobs bursting from her slender frame.

After a few moments her sobs began to quiet, and she pulled away from the Lord of Lorien. Struggling to stand, her legs refused to support her, and she fell to her knees, her hands braced out in front of her. Galadriel was at her side in an instant, her hands coming to rest on Aeslin’s shoulders as the trembling elf fell silent.

“Come, Aeslin. Let Nestarion examine you.” With eyes that saw very little of what was in front of her, Aeslin let the Lady guide her to the settee nearby, where she made no attempt to fend off the examination carried out by her fellow Lorien healer. After several long, tense minutes, Nestarion straightened, looking down at the almost comatose elf in front of him

“She is in perfect health. It is a miracle you are still here, Aeslin. When I arrived, you were as still and cold as death; no longer breathing, barely alive. And from what I know, with a bond so deep as the one you shared with—you should have died as well.” Aeslin barely registered that he spoke, consumed as she was with grief at Haldir’s passing. “I would not be surprised, though, if your child is the reason for that. Indeed, for its sake, it is lucky you still live.”

All eyes flew to the older healer, Aeslin’s most keenly. Those few simple words pulled her from her stupor, bewilderment and disbelief flooding into its place.

“What did you say?” Celeborn was the first to speak, for Aeslin had lost all use of her voice. Nestarion frowned, looking first to Celeborn then back to Aeslin.

“You did not know? Yes, she carries a child, and I think that may have kept her from sharing in the Marchwarden’s fate.” Aeslin could not believe what she heard. But, when she placed her hands on her belly she could feel the faint flicker of life there, and in place of her usually flat stomach there was instead a gentle curve beginning to grow. A child—his child. How could she not have realized? Fresh tears sprung to her eyes, but they did not fall, nor did the all-encompassing anguish consume her again. She looked up after a moment, meeting the gazes of the Lord and Lady of Lorien, disbelief still clear on her face. Galadriel’s grief shone all the more clear in her blue eyes. Gliding over to sit next to the healer, the Lady wrapped an arm around Aeslin’s shoulders.

“Aeslin, had we known—” Aeslin finally managed to find her voice, cutting Galadriel off.

“But you did not. Even I did not. I feel it would have changed very little. It was his duty to go, and there was no one else. I do not think anything would’ve changed.” Aeslin’s voice was shockingly devoid of emotion as she spoke; distant, and thoughtful. She stood, walking over to the spot where she had been the instant she had felt Haldir’s death. Celeborn and Galadriel watched her in concern, their guilt and grief shared at the unexpected turn of events. Behind them, Nestarion shifted.

“Excuse me, My Lord, My Lady, but I must depart. The others are already gathering to leave.” Celeborn nodded his assent as Aeslin’s gaze rose to watch Nestarion leave the room. An instant later she was on her way toward the door as well. Galadriel shot to her feet and Celeborn stepped forward to catch her arm.

“I must join them. Rohan will need all the healers they can get,” she said absently as he pulled her to a halt. Celeborn’s response was incredulous as much as it was troubled.

“Aeslin, you can not still possibly still think of accompanying them, not after what you have just been through.” The Healer spun to meet Celeborn’s gaze, her eyes bright and forceful.

“There is nothing wrong with me that would prevent me from lending my skill, and I can help. This will help, and it is my duty. I must continue on, and my calling is all I know. Let me at least do that if I am not permitted to join my love.” As she fell silent, a shadow of her grief had returned to her voice. After a moment’s thought, Celeborn released her. Stepping forward, Galadriel cupped Aeslin’s cheek with her slender hand. Her great wisdom once again shone forth from her clear blue eyes, mixing with the sorrow that remained.

“Go child. Find your own healing in the healing of others.” Nodding once, Aeslin pulled away, leaving the Lord and Lady to their thoughts and sorrows.

Amid the now ruinous expanse of the Deeping Wall, the aftermath of the battle was devastating to behold. From far beyond the wall itself, the carcasses of Uruk-hai, horses and men littered the now ruined landscape. Within the walls, the picture was much the same, only there were bodies heaped upon bodies, still lying where they fell among their fellows, whether friend or foe.

It was here that Gimli sat, contentedly smoking on his pipe, while around him work was getting under way to clear the carnage and salvage what may. What few elves remained gathered the arrows and bows of their fellows while the men, and some women, of Rohan were clearing away the dead and scavenging salvageable weapons of their own. Already, men were retreating to the armoury, carrying great armloads of spears and swords and axes, while others began piling the corpses of the Orcs beyond the wall.

It was amid this burgeoning bustle that Legolas came down from the Keep to find the dwarf. Seeing him smoking atop the corpse of an Uruk, his arm draped over his axe, was almost comical, if it weren’t for the fact that that very axe was buried in the skull of that very Orc. Coming to stand before his companion, Legolas paused examining the fine craftsmanship of his bow for emphasis as Gimli looked up from his musings.

*Final count…forty-two.* Gimli nodded, looking mildly impressed beneath his bushy mess of red hair.

*Forty-two, eh? Not bad for a pointy-eared Elvish Princeling.* Legolas frowned, suddenly suspicious of the dwarf’s playfully patronizing tone, *I myself am sitting pretty on forty-three.* He nodded in an obviously self-satisfied way, gloating to himself. An almost wicked idea springing to mind, Legolas drew an arrow and in a flash planted it in the Orc’s side—right between his obnoxious friend’s legs, coming dangerously close to a very sensitive area. Gimli’s dumbfounded gaze shot to the elf, as if saying ‘what on earth did you do that for?’ Legolas just leaned back, his own pleased smile coming to his face.

*Forty-three.* The dwarf was not amused.

*He was already dead.*

*He was twitching.* The elf gestured absently to the Uruk-hai upon which Gimli still sat. The dwarf responded with a disparaging glare before retorting.

*He was twitching because he’s got my axe embedded in his nervous system!* As he spoke, for emphasis, he took a hold of his axe, the gesture causing the Orc to jerk and jolt in a decidedly macabre fashion.

The absurdity of it was enough to cause them both to laugh.

It was in the midst of that laughter that Aragorn joined them, looking decidedly less jovial. One look at their friend’s face had an immediate sobering effect on the pair. After the battle ended, the ranger had set to work immediately, using his knowledge of healing to help treat the hundreds of wounded men and elves that now lay in the halls of the keep. He looked exhausted and entirely too careworn. In sympathy, Legolas laid his hand on the man’s shoulder, trying to demonstrate some measure of reassurance.

*How goes it?* Gimli asked, his voice taking on a hushed, almost gentle quality. Aragorn shook his head.

*Not well. There are far too many wounded to cope with. Many will not last much longer,* the ranger said reluctantly. There was a tone of despair in his voice. Legolas closed his eyes for a moment, pushing back the sorrow at the huge numbers of the dead already.

*What of my kin? Are any of them trained as healers?* he asked after a moment. Aragorn sighed heavily.

*There are very few of them left, Legolas. The elves took hard losses in this fight, and what few are left are helping as best they can.* A sudden, sick feeling bloomed in the pit of Legolas’ stomach.

*What of Haldir?* Was all he could manage to say as fear suddenly clenched around his heart. Aragorn frowned, looking at his friend in faint confusion before answering, his voice filled with sorrow.

*He fell, Legolas, during the retreat.* Legolas felt like he had been kicked in the chest, and for a moment, Aragorn was afraid his friend’s legs were going to give out on him. The elf managed to stay on his feet, but his hand was now fisted in Aragorn’s tunic, hanging for dear life.

*Legolas? My friend, what is it?* A hint of panic made its way into Aragorn’s voice, while beside them, Gimli sprang to his feet, concern written all over his features. The elf was only able to whisper a single word.

“Aeslin…” The man and the dwarf exchanged a bewildered look before focusing their attention back on Legolas.

*Aeslin? Your sister? Legolas, what is going on?* Aragorn asked, his voice strained with bewilderment and worry. After a long moment, Legolas managed to fight back the grief that threatened to strangle him, finally drawing up his gaze to meet Aragorn’s.

*Haldir was husband to my sister.* When a mix of sympathy and confusion was the only response he got, Legolas realized with pain that his companions did not understand the devastating implications of the Marchwarden’s death. *Often, when we elves fall in love, a bond is created that will literally bind our lives together. We feel the emotions, the thoughts and even the pain of our partner. Sometimes the bond is so strong, and spouses joined together so completely, that they will feel the death of the other as their own.* An expression of grief sprang to Aragorn’s face as what Legolas said sunk in. Legolas nodded as he saw comprehension in his friend’s’ eyes. Somehow, he managed to choke out a few last words before his grief took hold.

*Aeslin and Haldir had such a bond. If Haldir is dead, then so is my sister.*

Of course, Aeslin was not dead, and indeed, was at that very moment approaching the fortress of Helm’s Deep with a collection of some of the best healers Middle Earth had to offer, as well as wagons of foodstuffs and supplies to relieve the people of Rohan. As the elves approached, they watched on in horror and despair at the activity progressing in the surround. Men and horses laboured to drag the carcasses of the Uruks to a steadily growing pile of corpses away from the main walls while others wove in and among the dead, searching for friends, wounded, weapons and who knew what else.

However affected the healers were by the carnage, they kept it to themselves, their faces betraying nothing as they made straight for the main causeway. As they approached the ruined gate, they were met with little opposition or even questioning.

*What business have you here?* one of the guards shouted down at them from above. Realizing that she was one of the few of their number who spoke the common tongue with great fluency, and the leader of their group, Aeslin maneuvered her mount to the front of their modest group, looking up to the guard.

*We have business with Théoden, your king.* The guard frowned for a moment before passing along an order for the men barring the entrance to let them through into the Hornburg. A quick shout to open the gate was quickly hushed as the guard reminded one of his fellows that there was no longer a gate to open. Exchanging an expression almost akin to amusement with one of her fellows, Aeslin lead the way into the fortress. Along their route, she heard voices shouting ahead to call for the King. So it was that by the time they reached the centre-most court of the Keep, the King of Rohan was already making his way down the steps to meet them.

His weary face showed nothing short of complete bewilderment as Aeslin and her company of healers dismounted before him. Nodding her head in deference, Aeslin waited politely for him to speak first, which he did in his own good time.

*What is this?* was all he could manage to say, *more elves?* Not entirely sure what he meant by the comment, Aeslin ignored it.

*We have come by way of the Golden Wood, and the Lord and Lady therein, to offer what we can in assistance here, in the aftermath of this conflict. Among us are some of the best and most skilled healers the elven kingdoms have to offer. It is our wish to see that no more lives are lost that could be saved. There has been enough death already.* She fought to keep the tremor from her voice as she spoke. On the journey across the plains of Rohan she had struggled to bury the regret and grief that threatened to consume her, and divorce her healer’s mind from the devastation and sorrow that otherwise dominated her thoughts. It had taken time, but eventually she had succeeded, almost wholly separating herself from her conscious mind, leaving only the healer behind and hiding the devastated, grieving wife from all who looked on.

The King looked on in amazement, obviously not expecting anything in the way of further support beyond the troops of elves that had arrived the evening prior. After a moment of surveying the newcomers in stunned silence, he nodded.

*Yes, any assistance you are willing to render would indeed be a boon to us. Please, this way.* He called over one of his men and gave instruction to lead the healers to the Hall were the wounded were being tended. *Anything you require is yours. You need only ask.* With a gracious smile Aeslin thanked him, and, having little to do with elves until very recently, Rohan’s King thought nothing of the detached and almost distant look that spread across her features.

As the elves began to climb the stairs, a shout came from behind, causing all, including Aeslin, to turn toward the source. Bounding up the causeway was Aragorn, looking tired and harried and astonished all at once, lending him a near deranged air. Relief flickered in Aeslin, but her reaction was limited by the extent she had buried any emotion. He stopped in front of her, breathing heavily as he stared at her in astonishment. All around them onlookers watched with curiosity.

“We thought— Aeslin? We were sure—” No matter what he tried to say, he could not manage to form the words. Aeslin smiled faintly, reaching out to touch his cheek.

“I am glad you are safe, Estel.” Aragorn frowned, struck by the feeling that something was off. Having not expected to see her at all, he didn’t know what he would’ve expected, but this was not it. Nearly all trace of the Aeslin he knew was gone. Only a sad distance was visible in her formerly expressive eyes. His own grief and guilt came to the fore as he looked at her.

“Aeslin, I am so sorry—” Was all he finally managed to say before she stopped him.

“What is done is done. Nothing can change what has happened.” Before he could react further, Aeslin’s gaze was pulled away. The other healers had moved on, leaving Aeslin and Aragorn alone on the stairs when Legolas came flying around the corner, freezing as he caught sight of his sister standing on the stair. A flicker of genuine emotion appeared in her eyes when Aeslin caught sight of her brother, something Aragorn almost missed. In a flash Legolas was at her side, staring at her with the same wonder and bewilderment Aragorn had.

“How is this possible? Aeslin, I cannot believe this. I thought I would never see you again.” He took her face in his hands, marveling that she was, in fact, standing before him. “My heart bleeds for you, my sister, truly—” But before he could say or do anything else, she pushed him away as her grief began to surface, startling the two companions with its intensity before she pressed her lids shut, shielding the extent of her devastation from them as she sought to rein her emotions in.

“Do not, please. Let me grieve in my own way. And leave me be.” Without another word, she turned and followed her companions up the stairs into the heart of the Hornburg. If the companions had been astounded before, it was nothing compared to the bewilderment they knew now.

Without hesitation they followed.

Aeslin threw herself into her work, moving from soldier to soldier. She assumed command early on, being one of the few elves trained in more menial means of tending to patients. As she entered the Main Hall after her reunion with Aragorn and Legolas, and had caught sight of just how many wounded there were, she immediately recalled the healers to her side.

“We cannot treat them as we would on any other occasion.” She paused as the others began to protest, silencing them with a hard look. “We will kill ourselves to try. Use your skills to heal injuries that threaten to take lives, little more. Many wounds will heal themselves in time with proper care. Cleanse wounds, set or stitch them if need be and bind them. We must conserve our strength,” she emphasized. Not one of the healers dared disagree, for in her vehemence the nobility inherent in her blood shone through, earning deference to her authority. After a moment Nestarion, one of the senior of the healers present, came to stand at Aeslin’s side.

“Lady Aeslin is right. Heal only so far as necessary to preserve life, then move on. There are indeed too many to heal purely through our traditional means.” He glanced at Aeslin for a moment, almost seeking her approval. “There are simply too few of us.” A few of the healers grumbled, but, nevertheless, they all followed Aeslin’s lead, and sought out the most desperate cases first. After watching them disperse, Aeslin herself turned to begin her work. She took little notice of Aragorn and Legolas continuing to watch her, hovering nearby like shadows, that was, until she reached one patient in particular.

Having already tended to several men, Aeslin came upon a youth who had been part of the battle. Seeing the boy lying so still and pallid among so many men nearly broke through her carefully constructed mental walls. Seeing the change on her face, Aragorn was soon at her side.

“Are you all right?” After a moment she nodded, but she turned her gaze to Aragorn before looking back down to the boy. Sitting at the foot of his cot was a young woman, her hand resting on the boy’s calf as she slumped against the cot, lost to the sleep of the utterly worn-out. Exhaustion and grief was written all over her face and body, and her other arm was caught in a crude sling. Aragorn and Aeslin’s approach did not wake her. Aeslin barely even noticed her, focused as she was on the boy.

“He’s a child. How… it’s unfathomable,” Aeslin whispered. Aragorn laid a hand on her shoulder.

“The King was desperate, Aeslin. There were too few soldiers. Even with all those capable of bearing arms, and the elves…” He trailed off upon seeing despair blooming in her eyes. However, her expression quickly cleared.

“I may need your help, Estel.” As she knelt beside the boy, and placed her hand on his heated brow, he stirred. Opening his eyes, she was hard pressed not to react to the fear and pain therein. With a gentle smile, she brushed back a strand of the boy’s blonde hair, fighting to keep her true reaction hidden. He was badly wounded. A crossbow bolt had buried itself deep into his shoulder, shattering the bone and effectively severing his arm. Already, the healers of Rohan had removed the arm, being unable to even conceive of saving it. As it was, his chances did not look good.

*What is your name,* she found herself asking. Aragorn knelt across from her, drawing the boy’s fevered gaze. Recognition flickered in brown and blue eyes alike.

*Haleth,* whispered the boy, still watching Aragorn.

*Son of Hama. I remember.* Aragorn said with a kind smile of his own. With the boy focusing on Aragorn, Aeslin began her work trying to fix what she could of young Haleth’s shoulder. At the foot of the cot, the woman stirred, her warm brown eyes clouded with worry and fear. She didn’t say a word at the ranger and the elf sitting at Haleth’s side, her gaze reserved for the boy alone, as if willing him to live would be enough to make it so.

*I’m sorry, My Lord,* the boy said, his shaking voice little more than a pained whimper. Aragorn shook his head, taking the boy’s remaining hand in his own.

*Don’t be, Haleth. You were brave, and you are strong.* Despite a valiant effort, Haleth’s chin began to quiver.

*I’m going to die, aren’t I.* Aeslin was forced to pause at the desperate hopelessness in the voice of one so young. Aragorn shot her a quick look before turning his attention back to the boy. The woman was unable to withhold a moan at his words, fighting the fear Aeslin could see in her eyes.

*No, Haleth. You said the men did not think any of us would live through the night, and yet here you are. You will make it through this night, and through many that follow. Do you remember what I told you?* Weakly, Haleth nodded, wincing as Aeslin touched as particularly sensitive spot before letting out a hollow cry when she extracted a festering splinter of bone. Aragorn reached out, turning the boy’s face to meet his eyes. *Do you remember?*

*You said there is always hope.* Aragorn nodded.

*Indeed. There is.* He looked over to Aeslin again, who had begun weaving and whispering incantations of healing over the mess that remained of Haleth’s shoulder. Never was Aeslin’s grief more apparent when she was concentrating on her work, nor was she more focused. Save for the motion of her lips and to odd shifting of her hands, she did not move a muscle as she used her gifts of healing.

A short while later she stopped, breaking from the trance she sank into when plying her craft. Then, quickly and efficiently, she bound the wound, which already looked a great deal better than when she had knelt down at Haleth’s side. By this time, Haleth had fallen into an easy sleep, his fever having broken as Aeslin removed trace of infection and pulled him out of danger. The woman and Aragorn both looked up at her expectantly.

*He will live,* she said quietly, answering the unanswered question in their eyes. The Ranger let out a deep sigh of relief while silent tears began streaming down the young woman’s cheeks, her chestnut eyes saying more than words of thanks and gratitude ever could. Aeslin rose, ready to move on to the next patient. Aragorn, though, did not move from where he sat.

“I will stay with him, for a time.” Sparing him a faint smile, Aeslin laid her hand on his shoulder for a moment before turning aside.

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