Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 18

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

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

"Quotation marks indicate elvish.”

The Cost

Day turned into night and then into day again, and Aeslin worked tirelessly throughout. Eventually, those around her began to grow concerned. Legolas and Aragorn especially watched her with increasing worry. More than once, Legolas tried to convince her to take some rest, but she always demurred, if she even responded at all. Her strength was beginning to wane, and all could see it. Her pale skin began to take on an unhealthy cast and her eyes grew too bright. Her voice eventually became hoarse from the incantations she was repeating over and over again. The only colour on her anymore was the stain of blood on her hands.

Since the arrival of the elves, the numbers of dying began to shrink, and the ever-increasing number of dead slowed considerably. But there were still far too many that were beyond even the help of the elves. But that did not stop them from trying. Aeslin especially tried to help them, even if it meant only being able to give them comfort alone. She was also the one most affected by those that died under her care. With every new death, her grief became harder to control, and soon, despite her best efforts, every face she looked down on seemed to be Haldir’s.

She felt like she was going mad.

Still, she kept on going, and when she found she had no strength left, she continued on anyway, falling back on the mundane methods of treating patients that Elrond had taught her so long ago.

Despite his best efforts, Legolas had yet to convince her to slow her pace. He could not sway her. Even as he watched her, he began to contemplate physically dragging her away. But another part of him said that to do so would do more harm than good. He could see from the set of her features that looking to her patients was the only thing holding her together right now.

As dawn approached Gimli joined him, and together they could only stand and watch Aeslin’s single-minded drive with concern. Soon after that, Théoden himself came to stand with the pair. The elf and the dwarf exchanged brief glances of curiosity, but paid him little mind. After a while, the King spoke, his gaze on the single elf who still continued making her rounds even as the others had paused to rest.

*She works with the single-minded determination of someone who has nothing left to lose. She has come to be known as the Sad One, for though her face and demeanor are calm and kind, her eyes are always red and her gaze distant, though heartrending to meet.* His voice was quiet and, to Legolas’ surprise, sad. After another moment, Legolas also spoke.

*My sister has always been determined in her doings, but I have never seen her thus.* Théoden did not seem overly surprised by the elf’s admission that Aeslin was family.

*I wondered. She favours you, though fairer still. But mostly I recognize the concern and feeling of helplessness in your eyes. Your pain for her is similar to that which I felt while I watched my sister fade after the death of her husband. Helpless, yes, that is what you feel seeing them like this.* He turned back to Legolas. *The one she loved was among the elves that came to our aid during the battle, wasn’t he?* Legolas barely felt the need to answer, for it almost seemed the King did not need one. But answer he did, not bothering to hide the frustration and grief from his own voice.

*Haldir, the leader among them.* Théoden nodded, remembering the elf clearly. Legolas sighed. *Truthfully, I am surprised she still lives, and I begin to wonder if it would’ve been better for her to have joined him. Her heart is broken, and I fear her spirit as well.* Théoden frowned at Legolas’ blunt but still grieved statement, turning his gaze back to Aeslin, who had risen to fetch fresh towels and another basin of clean water.

*Why would you say that?* Legolas spared the King a glance, and upon seeing a genuine concern, decided to continue.

*With a bond so strong as theirs, that she still breathes is unprecedented in our race. It is a miracle. That being said, I can see it in her eyes that she wishes it were not so, that she had died by the same stroke as everyone expected. That she will live out the rest of her life grieving for him, seeing his last moments as though living it again; it is a pain that will only worsen with time. Eventually she will fade…and die, but not until she has endured a level of agony beyond comprehension.* Théoden sighed heavily as Legolas fell silent.

*I cannot fathom such a life.* Legolas wholeheartedly agreed with the King there. A loud clatter caught their attention. On the far side of the room, Aeslin stood nearly doubled over, looking down at the basin that was now emptying its contents across the floor.

Panic flooding through him, Legolas was at her side in an instant, reaching her as the Lorien healer Nestarion did.

“What is wrong? Aeslin, what happened?” She looked up at him in bewilderment before flexing her hand, wincing as she straightened.

“I do not know. My arm, it just—I do not know.” Placing an arm around her shoulders, Legolas made to lead her away. She wouldn’t let him, though.

“What are you doing?” Legolas frowned when she shot him an outraged look.

“Aeslin, you need to rest. If you want to help these people you need to regain your strength.”

“I am fine,” she snapped, her eyes glinting. On one level, Legolas was pleased; it was more of a reaction than any he had received thus far. On another, he was most certainly not pleased.

“Aeslin, you are going to kill yourself.” Her eyes flashed again, but only after turning wistful for a split second. Nestarion finally cut it.

“My Lady, you must listen to your brother. Continuing on at this pace is not healthy for you or your child.” Legolas’ gaze flew to the Lorien healer in shock, before swiveling back to Aeslin. She guiltily refused to meet his gaze.

“Is this true?” She nodded, fighting to hold back the tears that sprang to her eyes. Legolas fought to hold back his own growing heartache for her situation. “Aeslin—”

“Stop. I can hear no more,” she keened, drawing worried eyes. One by one her tears began to fall, and she buried her face in Legolas’ chest. Before any of them could say any more, Théoden had stepped forward to join them.

*Let me show you to more private quarters.* A few moments later, the King had conveyed them to his own private lodgings within the Keep, excusing himself soon after. Legolas felt a huge surge of gratitude for the man as he departed, but he wasn’t left to think on it long. Once within the confines of the room, Aeslin’s knees seemed to buckle beneath her. Luckily, Legolas was there to catch her before she fell, sweeping her into his arms and carrying her to the bed.

After laying her down, Nestarion came forward to examine her, but she abjectly refused, trying to rise from the bed at once.

“I told you, I am fine.”

“Aeslin, you are not.” Legolas’ fear was making him angry, sharpening his tone. “You look to be on the verge of death yourself.” Her expression turned sullen, her grief pouring off her in nearly tangible waves as she sank down onto the bed. Almost unnoticed, Nestarion excused himself and ducked from the room.

“Perhaps that would be best,” came her eventual reply, almost too soft to be heard. Legolas felt his chest clench at the despair in her voice, making it hard to breathe. He sank down beside her.

“And what of your child,” he said eventually, not caring any longer to hide the anguish he was beginning to feel. He fixed her with a pleading glance, catching her eye with difficulty. “What of his child? You would become our father for this grief.”

The room was silent for a long time. Neither of them made a sound. Then, a soft, sad sound came from Aeslin, then another. Tears streamed down her face. Without hesitation, Legolas drew her close, letting her sob out her sorrows and her despair within his familiar embrace. For a moment she was almost as a child again, pouring out her heart to the one confidant who had always been there. Legolas continued to hold her, rocking his little sister as he used to when all the problems she had faced he could fix. It broke his heart to admit he could not fix it this time.

It was a long time before she was able to stop, and even then her tears continued unrelenting. It took more time still for her to gather the will to speak.

“It was a mistake to come here. I should’ve listened. I should’ve kept my promise and gone to Rivendell as he wished. He wanted me to be safe, and look at what I have done, what I nearly let myself do.” Legolas just let her speak, not interrupting, knowing in his heart she needed to let this out if she was to have any chance of healing.

“We always thought we’d have so much time, that we would never run out. We spoke of sailing west someday. We spoke of having a family someday. Now…this child will never know its father. He will never know our child. I didn’t even realize to tell him. I always thought he would be there with me.

“It is all so different now, and now I have broken my promise. I should never have come…” she trailed off, repeating those last few words like a mantra.

After another long stretch of silence, she pulled away, looking more like herself than she had since arriving. The anguish and sorrow in her heart was still very much present, but now she wore it with resignation. In her heart she was beginning to understand that she was powerless to do anything to change her situation. She stood, turning to face Legolas, who hadn’t moved.

“I need air, and then, I think, it would be best if I departed.” As much as it pained him to admit it, she was right. She should not have come to Helm’s Deep. The pain was still too near. Without another word, she too left.

Outside, Aragorn was making rounds of his own, tending to the wounded as he was able with his elven-taught knowledge of medicine and healing. He was startled from his ministrations when Aeslin glided from the back of the hall and swiftly made her way outside. Concern flowing through him, he made to follow. As he reached the door, though, he was stopped by a strong grip on his arm.

*Let her alone to grieve, Aragorn. She needs time.* Théoden said quietly, leveling a knowing glance at Aragorn before turning his gaze to follow the pale form making her way through the Keep.

In moments Aeslin had made it to the outer battlements of the Keep, looking over the ravine that housed the fortress. Out in the open, she gasped for air, feeling nearly as though she were drowning.

The expanse before her was little more than a churned up mess, and to one side the pile of Orc corpses continued to grow ever higher. The clean-up in the battle’s aftermath was still ongoing, with huge portions of the battleground still untouched by the swaths of men labouring among the dead. Piles of debris and weapons of all different kinds continued to grow, as did piles of bodies.

And still, among all the evidence of death and destruction, there was the odd figure still checking bodies for signs of life, and every now and then they would find it, pulling yet another wounded soldier from the hordes of dead. But Aeslin could not watch them work. In the back of her mind, she knew that somewhere down there was her husband, lying lifeless amid the bodies of other elves, men and orcs.

As her grief threatened to overwhelm her again, she was interrupted by a soft female voice. Spinning around, she was met by a young woman, the King’s niece if she remembered correctly. The young woman watched the elf with a thinly veiled curiosity, obviously second-guessing her choice to speak.

*Are you well, My Lady?* Concern laced her voice, as did the curiosity Aeslin saw in her eyes. Aeslin did not respond right away, and when she did she avoided the question.

*You are Éowyn, kin of the King.* Éowyn nodded, her blue eyes wide. *Your uncle is a good man.* Aeslin turned away, focusing on the horizon and the mountains in the distance. Éowyn did not move, though.

*And you are the elven healer the men speak of, the Sad One.* Aeslin’s eyes closed as a fresh wave of tears threatened to overtake her. She had heard the men whispering about her, calling her by the name Éowyn had mentioned. They had mused long into the night about what could possibly make her so sad. By morning, stories were swirling around the fortress. Until now, Aeslin hadn’t given them much thought.

*I suppose I am.* Éowyn took a hesitant step forward, coming to stand beside the healer. Aeslin looked over to her. *You have a sadness about you, yourself. What grieves you, Shieldmaiden?* An almost fearful look appeared on the young woman’s face before she looked away.

*I love, and yet am unloved.* Aeslin smiled faintly at the candid way she spoke, regardless of any immodesty. Éowyn was not afraid to speak her mind.

*I highly doubt that. You are indeed loved, just not in the way you are looking for. Your uncle and your brother love you. Your people love you. And someday you will find a man to love you the way you seek.* Éowyn turned back to the elf.

*I do not think I am destined for love.*

*Everyone is destined for love. Yet many pass it by, and many forget just how important it is.* The grief Aeslin fought surged forward again, colouring her voice before she pushed it back. Éowyn watched the healer for a long moment, sympathy on her face.

*For a while, I thought perhaps you were the lady Lord Aragorn spoke of, especially after the way he reacted when he saw you. Then I thought perhaps, the other elf, Legolas. But now… he is gone, isn’t he; the one you love. He’s down there, somewhere.* Aeslin was only half listening. Breathing became difficult again, while the ache in her back began to throb, and her vision began to cloud as more tears sprang unbidden to her eyes.

*Yes…* Éowyn barely heard Aeslin’s answer, but she didn’t need it. The change that came over the elf as she spoke of loss was answer enough.

*I lost my parents when I was quite young. I know it cannot compare, but you are not alone.*

*I am. I should not be here.* Éowyn looked startled at the admission, but, having little knowledge of elves, she did not comprehend what Aeslin was saying.

*No. No, do you have any idea how many more would now be dead had you not come? Enough life has been lost already.* A faint smile came to Aeslin’s face.

*That is not exactly what I meant, but you are right, after a fashion. But this, it is bad enough that I see his death, feel it, every moment. Being here makes it all the worse. I should have gone to Rivendell.* The younger woman got the impression that, after the first few words, the elf was no longer speaking to her, but to herself, a conclusion enforced when the elf unconsciously reverted to her mother-tongue “I can’t feel him anymore; there is a great emptiness in my mind and in my heart where he used to be. I have never felt so alone.” Tears were once again streaming down her face as sobs tore at her throat. Éowyn jumped forward as Aeslin began to waiver on her feet, startled when the elf all but collapsed against her, clutching the sleeve of her dress. Looking around, she searched for anyone who could fetch Aragorn or Legolas. But, seeing no one, she just sat there, holding the broken-hearted elf.

Below, Aragorn sat on the stairs to the Great Hall of the Hornburg, smoking while deep in thought. He had seen Aeslin disappear onto the parapets of the fortress, followed a short while later by Éowyn. He hoped that perhaps speaking to another woman would help Aeslin, but he was beginning to wonder if she would ever begin to heal. It was far too early to tell if she would one way or the other, but from what he had seen of the healer so far, he was not hopeful. He took notice of Legolas eventually coming to stand beside him, but reacted very little, with only a quick glance passing between them.

“Did you see which way she went?” the elf finally asked, his voice overwrought with worry. Aragorn nodded, knowing exactly whom Legolas was speaking of.

“Up on the wall.” He half expected Legolas to follow her, but after a moment Legolas took a seat beside the Ranger. “Éowyn is with her.”

“Good. I am loath to leave her alone, but…” He trailed off, drawing Aragorn’s gaze. He had never known his friend to be lost for words. Legolas looked tired and haggard with worry, something else unheard of in the elf. Concern lined Aragorn’s face as he examined his friend’s face.

“She is not doing well, I take it.” Legolas let loose a heavy sigh, shaking his head.

“No. Our kind is not meant to withstand this kind of loss. I have heard of, and seen, my kind succumb to broken hearts not even half so devastating. It is destroying her, slowly. This place is not helping.”

“Will she leave then?” Legolas nodded.

“She will go to Rivendell; she was supposed to go to Rivendell. He never wanted her to come here.” Aragorn hesitated to voice his next question, afraid of Legolas’ reaction, but he could not figure out the answer on his own.

“Why is she still alive? You said it yourself; a grief so strong as hers should have killed her.” Legolas looked to his friend, and Aragorn saw a flicker of lingering astonishment written there amid his deepening sorrow; he knew how his sister endured.

But before Legolas could answer, the sound of shouts came from beyond the Keep. Frowning, the man and the elf stood, looking in the direction of the Deeping Wall. Aragorn looked to Legolas, whose hearing was far keener that his.

*What do they say?* Legolas’ frown deepened.

*They call for you, and for a healer,* the elf said after a moment. Confused and concerned, Aragorn turned and bounded down the steps, Legolas close on his heels.

Coming out on the interior field of the fortress, they looked up to the wall, where several men were scattered along it. One of them caught sight of him and shouted down in excitement.

*My Lord Aragorn, we found one alive! There is one alive up here.* Astonished he climbed the steps in moments, scrambling over the bodies of orcs yet to be cleared. The wall was not much better as it had been all but inaccessible until now. As he got closer, a faint hope began to stir in the Ranger, and when he caught a glimpse of scarlet among the men gathered around, his heart nearly skipped a beat.

*Out of the way. Move!* He all but shouted, falling to his knees beside the prone body.

It was déjà vu, only different. Once again, he found himself looking down at the still face of the Marchwarden of Lorien, but as he looked closer, he could see faint movement underneath the closed eyelids, while the elf’s chest rose and fell unevenly.

*He is barely alive. He needs one of the Elven healers, and fast.* His voice rose again, the tone of command jolting the men around him into action. Turning, he searched for his companion, knowing very well that he had followed at least partway. Sure enough, Legolas was still on the ground, looking up at Aragorn.

*Legolas, get Aeslin. She’s on the Wall over the causeway. Hurry!* Not even pausing to question his friend’s order, Legolas spun and disappeared back up the stairs into the Keep.

It was several minutes before Aeslin had calmed enough to pull away from Éowyn. Mortified at her utter lack of control in front of a stranger—and a human stranger, at that—Aeslin stood, hastily brushing away her tears.

*I am sorry. You have your own cares, you do not need to be burdened with mine, Shieldmaiden,* Aeslin said, careful to keep her voice even. Slowly, Éowyn got to her feet behind the elf, who, once again, was looking out over the ravine to the horizon.

*My Lady, I—* Éowyn paused when a look of discomfort bloomed on Aeslin’s face before she gasped in pain, clutching at her ribs. *My Lady!*

Almost as if on cue, Legolas appeared on the parapet a little ways down and, on hearing Éowyn’s panic, rushed forward.

*What has happening?* Legolas had no answer for the Shieldmaiden, but grabbed Aeslin, supporting her as her legs threatened to give out again. As the pain dimmed, and Aeslin’s face cleared, Legolas was the first to speak.

*Sister, you are needed on the wall.* Aeslin looked up at her brother, her eyes revealing just how drained she was. She shook her head, slowly.

*I cannot do it anymore. I have nothing left.* Legolas pulled her into a tight embrace.

*I know you are tired, but they found another soldier alive.*

*You can help save one more life. I know you can.* Éowyn appeared beside the siblings, an encouraging yet hopeful look on her face. Aeslin met her eyes, eventually sighing, leaning against her brother for one final moment before pulling away.

*Lead the way.*

With haste, they made their way to the interior field. But as Aeslin reached the ruined ground below the battlements, she stumbled as pain once again flared through her back and side, nearly falling had it not been for Legolas. All around them men were continuing to haul away the dead, and as Aeslin straightened, her eyes became fixed on the cold faces and unseeing eyes of the dead elves lying in wait for their return home at the base of the wall. Legolas shook her gently, trying to break her gaze.

*They are beyond your help.* Struggling to regain her composure, she looked up toward the top of the wall, following it to the stairs. Setting her jaw, she stepped over the bodies in her path, struggling to ignore the faces that looked up at her. Eventually she reached the stairs and climbed them, relying heavily on the enhanced balance of her race to reach the top without falling.

Upon reaching the battlement, she caught sight of Aragorn a few feet away and approached. It was then that the same flash of scarlet that caught the Ranger’s attention caught hers. Time seemed to stand still while the air became heavy. She heard voices around her but nothing broke through the realization that came upon her in that moment. As she surged forward, she barely allowed herself a hope. Aragorn looked up as she approached, and before he could say anything, she had pushed him aside, taking the Marchwarden’s face in her hands.

“Haldir,” she whispered as she looked down on the face of her husband.

He was alive. That was all that rang through her thoughts the instant she saw Aragorn kneeling at his side. He was alive. As she laid her hands against his skin, she could feel the life still in his body, no matter that it was dangerously faint. He was very badly wounded. But, he was alive.

Moments after she arrived at his side, Nestarion and another healer, Castiel, reached the wall, both as astounded as the rest. However, they mastered their surprise quickly and set about tending to their new patient.

“He’s barely alive.”

“I cannot feel him. How is that so?” she whispered to herself, searching for any hint of their bond. She didn’t seem to hear the Lorien healer as he lowered himself beside her, taking stock of Haldir’s condition himself.

“Aeslin.” Her gaze jerked to him as he laid a hand on her arm, “Aeslin, you need to move so we can tend him.” As Nestarion spoke, Aeslin’s eyes flashed in momentary fury, startling the healer, but it was gone in an instant.

“I can help, Nestarion. Am I not a healer myself?” After a moment, the healer nodded.

“Indeed you are, Aeslin. We will need your skill. But we need to get him into the Hall.” Nestarion turned to Aragorn, who then turned to the men still standing around them. But as they made to move the Marchwarden, Aeslin let out a hoarse cry, drawing all attention to her. In an instant Legolas and the healers understood.

“You still feel his pain? You have this whole time?” Comprehension and horror dawned on Aeslin’s face.

“I did not know. I can’t feel him through our bond. I thought it was lingering pain from when he…” Her gaze fell back to Haldir. “We need to hurry.”

It took a long time to get Haldir back to the Hall, and before they even got there, Aeslin had all but fallen unconscious from the transference of Haldir’s pain. That did not stop her from trying to reach his side once they had laid him on an empty pallet. Finally Legolas had to hold her back. Nestarion stood, coming over to where the siblings waited anxiously.

“Let me near him.” As she spoke, Aeslin’s voice seemed both desperate and threatening, causing Nestarion to hesitate.

“Aeslin, I can’t let you do that.”

“Why not.” Anger surfaced in her eyes, and Legolas watched the exchange warily, hoping the Lorien healer was careful with his next few words.

“His wounds will be difficult to heal. His arm and his side will be simple enough, but the wound on his back… several of the ribs are cracked, at least one is shattered. Plus all the flesh and muscle surrounding are severely damaged. It will take time, and likely to be painful to him.”

“If it is to be so difficult, why would my help be unnecessary?”

“Not unnecessary, but potentially detrimental. It’s your bond, Aeslin. You are too closely linked. Any pain he feels, you feel. We cannot risk anything happening to you.” Bewilderment spread over her features, as her eyes slid to where Haldir lay. Seeing that she didn’t understand his line of thinking, Nestarion continued, his voice gentler than it had been before.

“You may be all that’s keeping him alive. We need you to focus on keeping him here. He’s very far away. You will need to bring him back from whatever darkness he has fallen into when we are finished healing his body.” As the healer spoke, the anger in Aeslin bled away, leaving only anguish and concern in its wake. Mutely, she nodded. As soon as Legolas released her arm though, she slipped past them, positioning herself at her husband’s head.

She sat there, silent, her eyes roaming over his still features as her fingers brushed his hair back from his face. After a moment she looked up, meeting the gaze of those around her.

“Very well, but I stay here.” Nodding in understanding, Nestarion turned to Castiel and the other healers that had wandered over as they spoke.

“Then we shall begin.”

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