Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 19

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.”

Wonder, Unease and Uncertainty

The first thing he saw was light, for there was sunlight streaming into the Hall in wondrous profusion. But his eyes were sensitive at first, so it took some time before he adjusted and was able to see more. He lay on his back, looking to the ceiling and the high barrel-vaulted stone architecture. His memory was hazy, but slowly, things were returning to him. Unfortunately, his location was yet to be among the things he recalled.

His surroundings were undoubtedly unfamiliar, and that would’ve normally drawn a frown from him, but he couldn’t bring himself to mind. A great peace lingered over him, something he was unable to explain, not that he really wanted to.

Next, he tried to move. His entire body was stiff, and he was very weak, so he only managed to move his head, giving him leave to look about his surroundings better.

“You should be dead, my friend.” Turning toward the voice, this time Haldir did frown. Aragorn sat nearby, watching him closely while a waft of misty-blue smoke drifted about from the pipe in his hand. More and more was returning to the Marchwarden, and after a moment, he recalled journeying to the fortress of Helm’s Deep. Leaning forward, the Ranger rested his elbows on his knees, watching as everything came back to the elf. In fact, the last thing he remembered was the pain spreading through his body, and the horror of his dead comrades staring up at him as the world tilted beneath him.

“Indeed I should.” His eyes met the blue ones of the Ranger, who easily read the silent question there.

“You gave us quite a scare, but ultimately, you owe your life to her.” As the Ranger rose to his feet, Haldir followed Aragorn’s gaze, shifting to look down beside him.

Curled against his side, her pale head on his shoulder and his hand gripped tightly in her own, lay Aeslin. In sleep she was beautiful as ever, and more at peace than Haldir had seen her in a long time.

Everything else ceased to exist. He traced a finger across her delicate cheekbone, following the contours of her face up to the tip of her pointed ear and back down until he reached her full lips. Under his touch, she began to stir, her lashes quivering against her skin as she woke. It felt like time stood still when her pale blue eyes met his. A faint frown crossed her features before a gentle smile blossomed on her face, illuminating her face with unmatched joy and relief.

“You are awake.” She whispered, pulling herself up so that she could look down on him. He nearly laughed.

“I am not so sure yet. This must be a dream.” She shook her head, leaning down to place a hesitant kiss on his lips.

“I have wondered at that as well, but I have come to believe this is indeed real.”

“Well, I could not think of a better one if it were to be.”

After pulling her down for another kiss, still not quite believing that she was indeed beside him, she helped him to sit. When his muscles protested at the movement and the ache in his back flared, she reluctantly explained the extent of the healing that had been done on him.

“At one point Nestarion was unsure if they would be able to heal your back at all, there was so much damage, and your injuries left untended for so long. As it is, it will still take time to fully heal” Her hands trembled against his back and shoulders, where they lay supporting him as he straightened. He looked over to her, taken aback by the trepidation that still lingered in her features. She still could not reconcile events of the last few days with the fact that he was still with her. “It has been two days since they found you. You were barely alive…” She tried to hide it, but the pain and fear that had nearly consumed her bled into her voice. Reaching over, he lifted her chin so that she met his eyes. Even though the grief he saw there cut deep, he had to know something.

“How is it that we are still here? I died. I know I did. And I felt you following me. How are we here now?” It was something that had troubled him since he woke. Aeslin dropped her gaze, a shaky breath passing her lips.

“None of us are quite sure. When you fell—” her voice broke, but after a moment she regained her composure, “when you fell, part of me died too. Your consciousness drifted so far away that our bond was nearly broken. It nearly killed me too. It did kill me, for an instant. The Lady said that I grew cold and still, as though I too had passed. She thought I had. Then I woke up.” Haldir watched her in morbid fascination as she quietly explained, his mind reeling. “Nestarion thinks that since I survived, and since our bond did not completely shatter, I pulled you back, that my life-force kept you alive even though I could not feel you.” Sadness infused her voice, as did wonder. He could not help but remember, in the split second, before the darkness engulfed him the feel of her following him. However, he still could not understand something.

“But how? How were you spared? I felt you with me…” A faint smile came back to her face. Without a word, she reached over, taking his hand and placing it with care over her belly. He looked from their hands up to her face, where she met his questioning gaze with a timid nod alone.

“A child?” She nodded again.

“Our child,” she whispered back. Haldir would’ve laughed for joy, but he was still too stunned for little more than a faint chuckle as he pulled her into his arms.

Though joy suffused them both, after a moment, Haldir drew away, growing solemn. Aeslin frowned at the sudden change.

“What is it?”

“I put you both in danger.” He found that he couldn’t bring himself to meet her eyes. “I could have refused to leave you. I could have refused to come here, to Rohan.” Aeslin felt tears prickling behind her lids, threatening to form. But she’d had enough of weeping, and firmly pushed them away.

“Yes. You did. You could have. But that is behind us now. I am alive, as is our child; you could even say we owe our lives to this babe. And you are still here, which is more than I ever could’ve hoped a mere two days ago. We have a future. That’s all that matters.” She forced him to meet her eyes, troubled by the despondency she saw there. “Please, do not dwell on this. I cannot bear to lose you again.”

A faint smile came to his face as he drew her close again.

“Of that, I have no intention of allowing.”

Aeslin sighed, content as the anxiety and fear that hounded her began to ebb. Now they could truly begin to heal.

Several days later, Helm’s Deep was emptied. Citizens of Rohan began to make the journey back to their homes, while the King made his own preparations to leave. A substantial number of his people had already departed, and in a short while the rest were to follow him back to Edoras. However, the elves were not to be among them.

*You are welcome to join us, to celebrate with us. We all owe your people our lives,* insisted the King. But the elves too longed to return home.

*As much of an honour as that would be, My Lord, the celebration is yours. Our hearts call us home.* Aeslin had once again been chosen to speak with the King, something that she was content with. *We too must thank you, Théoden King. You have been most gracious. We are grateful for the outcome of this alliance, and we grieve with you at the high cost of victory.*

*Indeed. Any loss is a loss too many. But thanks to you and your healers, Aeslin of Lorien, many lives were spared that would’ve otherwise been lost. It is a miracle, one of many that you seem blessed with.* His glance flicked to Haldir, who stood beside her. Aeslin bowed her head in acknowledgement, a smile coming to her face. As they spoke, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli and Legolas had approached, waiting a short distance away as Aeslin relayed the formal farewell of the departing elves. Catching sight of them, Théoden smiled.

*Farewell, Lady Aeslin. I wish you, and your people, happiness in the days ahead should we ever be free of this darkness.*

*Even night must end, My Lord King. One day we shall be free if it.*

*Let us hope so. Let us hope that we will be here to see that day. Go now, say farewell to your friends. I will hold you up no longer.* With a smile the King turned and retreated. Sketching a faint bow to the Healer and a few short, fond words of farewell, the wizard too departed, leaving Aeslin alone with Haldir, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn.

*So this is goodbye again,* Aeslin said with a resigned sigh. Aragorn shook his head.

*Only until we next meet.* Aeslin stepped forward, embracing her friend.

*I hope that day comes soon,* she replied. Pulling away, she grinned, hesitating for a moment before affectionately tugging a lock of his hair. Laughing softly, he did the same. As she turned to the dwarf, Haldir and Aragorn clapped each other’s shoulder, speaking softly.

“Be well, my friend. May your journey home be swift,” the ranger said earnestly.

“And you, Aragorn. I wish you luck, though you seem to have no short supply of that.” Aragorn laughed as a wry grin played across the Marchwarden’s face.

“No, I think it is you who have all the luck, Haldir. It is not often that anyone comes back from the dead.” It was then that Aragorn turned serious, clasping Haldir’s shoulder in a firm grip, “Do not waste a moment. It is not often that you get another chance.” Haldir’s gaze turned to Aeslin, who was laughing merrily with Gimli and Legolas.

“I do not intend to. I have no intention of endangering them again.” A faint frown played across Aragorn’s face at the elf’s choice of words. A proud smile came to the Marchwarden’s face before he looked back to the Ranger. “Nothing is more important now than my wife and child.” The frown cleared immediately to be replaced by a warm smile, and a fresh clap on the shoulder.

“I am happy for you both.” They turned to see Aeslin watching them with curiosity before turning back to her brother.

The Mirkwood elf pulled his sister into one last embrace. Pulling away, he looked down on her fondly.

“I will miss you, sister. Take care of yourself, and my little niece or nephew.” A mischievous smile came to his lips. Aeslin gave him a playful shove before her smile faded slightly.

“Now that I have seen what you face, I fear for you, brother. Come back from this—whatever it is you strive to accomplish.” Legolas grinned.

“Of course I will. I have made it this far without so much as a scratch, have I not? I will return. I’ll even try and keep these other two safe.” With a small laugh at his attempt at light-heartedness, Aeslin laid a kiss of parting on his cheek.

“Good,” was all she could say. Haldir came to stand beside her, laying a protective hand on her shoulder. Behind them, horses were being led around, several other elves beginning to gather in preparedness to depart.

“I will hold you to that, brother,” Haldir added, a faint smile on his face. Legolas made a formal gesture of farewell to the Marchwarden, holding his gaze.

“Do not worry, brother. You will see me again,” the Mirkwood Prince rejoined. A confident look in his eye, Legolas took hold of the reins of Aeslin’s horse. After she mounted, Legolas handed the reins to Haldir, hesitating for a moment.

“I told you to take care of her once, and you nearly let her down,” he said, his voice low and grave. He held out the reins, the expression in his blue eyes intense, verging on threatening. Haldir reached out, taking the smooth leather bands from the Mirkwood elf’s hand.

“I will not do so again. That I swear.” With a curt nod, Legolas stood back, the severe expression melting away before Aeslin could catch sight of it.

Sobered, Haldir looked up to his wife. Aeslin sat upon her horse, watching him with a gentle smile.

“Are you ready to return home, my Aeslin.” Her smile widening, she nodded. With a deep breath, Haldir exchanged one last look with Legolas before mounting behind Aeslin, allowing her to guide the horse down the ramp, followed shortly by the healers, the remaining elven warriors and the reverently handled dead as they began their trek home.

Lorien was reached in what seemed to be very little time. As the column of elves crossed the border, each and every one of them felt their minds eased even as they passed under the first green and gold bowers. Aeslin too felt relief and peace flow through her as she breathed in the scent of the Woods. So much had changed since she had departed Lorien, and all for the better; something she never would’ve dreamed as she began her venture to the Fortress of Rohan.

Beside her, Haldir also was pleased to be back, though he was much more sober than Aeslin and some of the others. Behind them, several of the elves had begun to sing, delighted to be home, yet lamenting that so many would never see home again. It weighed heavily on his heart. It was a level of guilt he had never experienced before; a weight on his chest that he couldn’t alleviate. He had seen battle before, and he had lost those under his command before, but not like this. Helm’s Deep had been a massacre. Plus, he had risked the life of his wife and unborn child. That he and Aeslin had been ignorant of their babe was of little consolation to him. And now, he could no longer feel her the way he had before. He could sense her presence, yes, but little else. It was disconcerting and distressing, something that he was sure she felt too. He had no idea how to mend what had been broken.

Perhaps the Lady would know what to do.

The Lady Galadriel had little to say, though her joy at the return of her people was clearly evident on her face, as was her sorrow at the great number of absent faces. Celeborn also shared in her conflicting feelings.

Unfortunately, the Lady also had little to say to Haldir’s concern over his damaged link to Aeslin. As her piercing eyes roamed over to him, he heard her voice inside his head, and felt her joy at his safe return. Time is what you need now. Time and healing. After that she was silent.

A short while later, the healers and remaining warriors from Rivendell and Mirkwood expressed their anxiousness to set forth for their own homes. On an impulse, Haldir turned to Aeslin.

“Perhaps we should go to Rivendell.” She met his earnest gaze with bewilderment, but something in his eyes gave her pause. That she couldn’t feel his thoughts was a persistent source of unease to her, and the idea of going to Rivendell was a tempting one. Perhaps it was what they needed.

“Yes, that might be best, so long as you stay beside me.” Haldir smiled, placing a kiss on her brow. A short while later, they were continuing on, along with the remaining Mirkwood and Rivendell elves.

As Lorien faded into the distance behind them, Aeslin felt a tightness grow in her chest. Away from the peace that suffused the Golden Wood, her anxieties once again pressed on her mind, and Haldir was oblivious. That was what worried her most. She missed the intimacy of the connection they had, she felt empty without it.

As they reached the road that led to the Old Ford and on to Mirkwood, Haldir, Aeslin and the handful of Rivendell elves departed from a significant proportion of their party who then turned east to the Woodland realm of her birth, carrying with them a message to her father that she, and her brother, were both unharmed. The rest of them turned west and continued on to Rivendell. The High Pass was crossed with surprising ease, and before they knew it, they were approaching Rivendell.

Evening had already descended when Elrond’s domain finally came into sight, lit up like a beacon in the night, welcoming them home. As she anticipated, Elrond was already waiting as they entered Rivendell, though the anxious expression he wore was not at all expected.

Before she could even think of dismounting, Haldir was already at her side, waiting to lift her down. Once on the ground, she fixed him with a stern look before pulling away from the circle of his arms.

“I’m not going to break, Haldir. You are still healing yourself. You shouldn’t—” A slightly bashful look came over his face.

“I know. But I should think I am allowed to be attentive, all things considered.”

“Why do I get the feeling you are going to drive me mad?” It took a great deal of effort to keep her voice even semi-serious, something that caused her husband to smirk. Shaking her head, Aeslin pulled away and turned toward her former teacher and adoptive father. He was already finishing welcoming the healers and warriors from Imladris by the time she made her way toward him. The anxious expression still on his face, he held out his arms to her as the other elves slowly dispersed from the courtyard. The hug he enclosed her in was tighter than she remembered; a testament to his fear for her, she realized achingly, and his relief.

“You do not know how pleased I am to see you, daughter of my heart. I feared the worst. For a short time I was sure the worst had come to pass.” As she pulled back from his welcoming embrace, the Lord of Rivendell took his former student’s face in his hands, examining her features with obvious concern. “Something has happened. Something has changed in you.” Aeslin wasn’t sure whether to frown or smile as Elrond dropped his hands to take hers.

“Several thing have indeed happened, My Lord Elrond. Some good, while others were decidedly not.” It was Haldir who answered, a faint smile on his lips despite his serious tone. Aeslin did not think it was possible, but Elrond’s frown deepened

“Tell me everything.” As she opened her mouth to speak, a shout came from the other end of the courtyard, causing the three of them to start. Elrohir was rushing toward them across the courtyard, followed shortly after by Elladan. Before Aeslin could brace herself, Elrohir had swept her up in a great hug, spinning her around while words of thanks poured from his lips.

“You cannot possibly know how happy and relieved we are to see you, little sister.” Elladan said as Elrohir set her down. Aeslin nearly laughed at the decidedly displeased expression that crossed Haldir’s face as Elrohir had swept her up. The brother too, noticed the look he was receiving and became slightly wary.

“Why do you look at me so, Marchwarden?” Now they all looked at the Lorien elf, who still wore a concerned look on his face. Reaching over, Aeslin took one of his hands, giving him a reassuring smile.

“It has been a—dramatic past few days. I think we are both a little strained.” This time, frowns nearly identical to their father’s appeared on the brother’s faces. Haldir and Aeslin shared a long look, each trying to communicate the way they used to, but settling for reading each other’s expressions instead; something Elrond seemed to pick up on. Nevertheless, he kept it to himself, allowing Aeslin to speak.

“Victory at Helm’s Deep had a cost, and not just in lives lost. It changed lives as well, including ours. Haldir was injured…in truth, he died.” She nearly wasn’t able to speak those final words. Expressions of alarm and confusion erupted on the faces of her Rivendell family, and with a sense of near urgency, Aeslin and Haldir were all but dragged to Elrond’s study, where they were forced to recount the whole story.

Haldir told of the battle itself, and Aeslin followed his telling with her own. Both of them hesitated relating the moment that nearly took both their lives, but after some hesitation, Aeslin recounted it as quickly as she could as she remembered it better. After that, she told of her time at the Fortress and the finding of Haldir, barely alive, among the dead. Elrond interrupted here, the healer in him especially interested in the parts that followed, asking Aeslin question after question of the process the healers went through to heal the Marchwarden. Here, Haldir was silent, for he remembered nothing between his fall and when he awoke in the Great Hall of the Hornburg. There was, however, one thing that the couple left out, unsure how to broach the subject. Soon enough, though, Elrond made the revelation inevitable.

“One thing I still do not understand is how you survived your husband’s death. Your explanation that you pulled him back is logical considering the strength of your connection, but I have never heard of a bond like yours allowing one of you to live through the death of the other in the first place.” Aeslin and Haldir exchanged another long look, ending with Haldir giving her a small nod of concession; something that, for a second time, did not pass Elrond’s notice. Eventually, Aeslin looked back to her mentor.

“I did not pass on when he did because I still had reason to survive,” she paused, hesitating at the shifting expressions on her adoptive family’s faces. “I carry a child, and I suspect that, for that reason, I endured the shock of Haldir’s passing.” The three Rivendell elves looked at her in silence for a moment. Elrohir was the first to break out into a smile.

“Our sweet elfling, a mother?” he said, wonder the only expression on his face. Beside him, Elladan laughed, congratulations coming first from him. Aeslin smiled along with them, accepting their best wishes and teasing with a gentle patience. Haldir, however was focused on the thoughtful expression that Lord Elrond wore.

“You look troubled, My Lord Elrond.” The others fell silent as the Marchwarden spoke. Elrond glanced up, his gaze passing first from Haldir to Aeslin, and then to his sons.

“Could you give us a moment?” The pair rose without question, though many lingered in their eyes as they bowed themselves out of the study. When they had left, Master Elrond leaned back, tenting his long fingers before him.

“Your bond has been damaged, hasn’t it?” Aeslin dropped her eyes, afraid of what might show there, whether it be grief or humiliation or helplessness. Haldir glanced to her, his face distinctly troubled in the absence of his carefully constructed mask.

“Yes,” the Lorien elf finally whispered. “I can no longer feel her thoughts, or speak to her without words. There is something missing, and it pains us.”

“I can feel his presence, nothing more. He is there, but I cannot touch him.” While Haldir’s voice had been quiet, Aeslin’s was nearly inaudible. Elrond sighed, obviously troubled. His student looked up, a hopeful light coming to her eyes. “Do you know what to do, Master Elrond? Do you know how to fix this?” The Lord of Imladris sighed, standing and beginning to pace. Aeslin and Haldir were soon on their feet as well, turning to follow his movements.

“I am not sure. When Celebrian returned after her ordeal, after I healed her, our bond was never the same. It was as strong as it had been before, but I could not reach her. I attributed the change to the trauma she endured. I can only imagine the same applies to you.” The light growing in Aeslin’s face dimmed.

“So you do not know,” again, her voice was quiet, only this time it was filled with pain. Elrond shook his head, his voice sober and sad in the wake of his painful memories.

“Not definitively. But then, I did not have time to work out a means to heal the gap growing between us. She sailed across the sea shortly after—” He took a long while to continue, sinking deep into thought again. “Give it time. Even if your bond was only half so strong as the one I shared with my wife—which, given what has transpired I do not doubt its strength—it will heal if you give it time.” Haldir frowned.

“That is all you can offer?” Aeslin shot him a concerned glance at the cynical tone present in her husband’s voice. Elrond held up a hand in peace.

“As your wife said earlier, Haldir of Lorien, the last several days have been uncommonly eventful and undoubtedly traumatic to you both, physically and mentally. You were mortally wounded, and witness to the murder of many under your command. Aeslin withstood the shock of your death, faced the rest of time without you at her side and, I imagine, knowing my pupil, nearly killed herself trying to heal as many as she could in effort to forget her own pain. And, in addition to all that, your bond was nearly torn asunder.

“None of that is something anyone can recover from in a matter of hours or even days or weeks. It could be years, at least.” The Marchwarden was about to protest, but Elrond cut him off before he could say anything else. “What I suggest is that you both retire. I doubt either of you have had any true rest since this all began, nor, I think, have you even been allowed even a few moments alone in each other’s company. I suspect that would be a good first step on your road to recovering what you have lost.” Without so much as another word, he dismissed them with a gesture, his disquiet and agitation visible in his every movement.

Recognizing his need for privacy, Aeslin and Haldir wasted no time in slipping from the room. Once outside, Haldir released a frustrated sigh, causing Aeslin to pause.

“I’m not sure that was necessary. He’s trying to help us, Haldir.”

“It certainly wasn’t much, was it?” Aeslin was taken aback by the harsh tone he used, something he had never done with her before. After a moment, she started walking again, though Haldir’s pace was almost difficult for her to keep up with.

“You do not need to speak like that with me. We are both disheartened by this, my love. You do not suffer alone.” Her sorrow had seeped into her voice, even as she fought to remain calm. This time it was Haldir who paused, turning to look at Aeslin, who was forced to stop suddenly. He refused to meet her gaze, but Aeslin knew from the set of his shoulders alone that he was mortified that she had called him on his behaviour. She stepped forward, laying her hands on his shoulders. “I do not need to see your mind to know this pains you, my love. It pains me also.” Still, he did not meet her gaze, though his hand came around to grasp hers.

“This is all my fault.” She nearly didn’t hear him speak, so quiet was he, “I have caused you nothing but pain.” Aeslin was affronted by his sudden despondency. With a sigh, she leaned her forehead against his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut.

“Haldir—you know that is not true. You have brought me so many things more wonderful than pain. Please, do not fall into this trap of hopelessness. We will get through this, for, sure as the sun, we will endure this.” Finally, he turned to her, meeting her gaze as she pulled away.

“I am a fool, Aeslin.” Looking at him with a faint expression of exasperation, she pulled his face down to lay a quick kiss on his lips. When she spoke, her tone held nothing but warmth and affection.

“If that is the case, then you are my fool, and I shall love you anyway.” Then, with a faint smile and a more cheerful sparkle in her eyes, she continued on down the hall, her husband following close behind.

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