The Tap that Shatters the Mountain
“Barrels.” Legolas nodded, his eyes twinkling at the incredulity in her voice. Aeslin wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not. Off to the side Haldir stifled a smile of amusement. He was sitting on the other side of the room, allowing the siblings some time together. “They escaped Mirkwood in barrels.”
“They had a hobbit with them, Baggins, I believe his name was, who evaded capture when we found them in the forest. He managed to sneak away the keys from the Guard on watch and broke the dwarves out.” Aeslin couldn’t help but laugh.
“I imagine Father was less than amused. He must have been livid.” Legolas shrugged.
“At first, I suppose you could say he was; more bitter, really. Actually, I heard from Mithrandir later on that he ultimately found the whole episode rather amusing when he learned the particulars. Father even extended him welcome when the Halfling passed through Mirkwood with Gandalf on the journey west. Elf-friend, I think Father even named him. It sounds like the hobbit was of some help to Father before the Great Battle.” Aeslin’s mouth parted in bewilderment.
“I’m not sure I believe that, for I can barely imagine Father being amused, but very well. What happened to the dwarves after they escaped the cellars? I imagine they eventually washed ashore on the banks of the river.” Legolas did not miss the faint cynicism in her voice, though for the moment he chose to ignore it.
“And from there to Laketown, though not before an orc pack set upon them on the river.” Aeslin paled at her brother’s words.
“An orc pack, here in Mirkwood? How is that possible?”
“It seems they were hunting Thorin and his company, to keep them from reaching the Lonely Mountain.”
“It is hard to comprehend, I must admit. And Father—” He was shaking his head before she even finished her question.
“Tauriel, some of the other Rangers and I were following the dwarves. Had we not, we might not even have realized Bolg, spawn of Azog and his minions were within our borders. We captured one, who we—questioned,” Aeslin couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at that. If she were to hazard a guess by her brother’s tone alone, it had not gone well. But then her brow furrowed as what he said sunk in.
“You did not recapture the dwarves?” He shook his head.
“I was more concerned at that point about the orc pack running through our lands. Something was terribly wrong, Aeslin, and I was only then beginning to truly see it. The spiders were one thing, but orcs? We brought our prisoner back to Father. I could feel that there was something bigger stirring than a company of obstinate dwarves.”
“What did you learn?” Legolas’ eyes darkened at the question, his expression guarded and thoughtful.
“He spoke in riddles, of the flames of war and his master serving the One,” Aeslin felt her blood run cold at her brother’s words. Across the room Haldir straightened in his chair, his own expression thoughtful, though his eyes flashed in concern.
“What else?” There had to be more, though the healer wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it. But Legolas sighed heavily, his brow furrowed with remembered frustration.
“We learned nothing else from the orc; Father killed him as the filth laughed.” Aeslin’s jaw dropped in disbelief.
“Why? Why would he do that, it makes no sense.” Legolas raised his eyes to hers, his pale gaze troubled.
“He said there was nothing more the orc could tell him, then he ordered the borders closed and the watch doubled, forbidding entry—or exit.” There was something in his tone that felt like a stone in Aeslin’s gut.
“I followed Tauriel.”
“She disobeyed Father?” Aeslin was stunned. Tauriel was barely older than Aeslin, and had practically worshiped their Father when last Aeslin had seen her. He had taken her into his court and under his protection upon the death of her parents, placing her in the guard when her skills as a huntress became known. A shadow of sorrow passed over Legolas’ face, but in an instant it was hidden from her. “That does not sound like the Tauriel I knew,” Aeslin finished, a trace of incredulity in her tone. She could barely wrap her head around the thought of the Silvan huntress doing something so reckless.
“I do not think she was the Tauriel you knew any longer. She rose quickly within the Guard, becoming a Captain at an unprecedented young age.” That did not surprise Aeslin; Tauriel had always been incredibly driven, and had lived for the hunt. “But she grew discontent with Father, especially as she came to realize just how unconcerned he was becoming with events beyond our borders. She was not content to hide in the forests of our lands while darkness grew unchecked. She spoke often of rooting out the spiders from their nests in the Dark Fortress, but when she finally brought it up with Father…” Aeslin could imagine what their father had said as Legolas trailed off; he had been far more concerned with the safety of his realm alone for as long as she had memory, but she had heard that his isolationist mindset had only deepened in the years since she had left Mirkwood.
Mention of Dol Guldur brought an involuntary shudder, and Aeslin had to fight away a flicker of fear at mention of the ruins there; she knew what had lingered in the shadows of that accursed place. She remembered the feeling of dread that had prickled within her when she had glimpsed the dark mountain from the sunlit heights of Cerin Amroth. And she remembered too well the horrors Elrond and Galadriel had told her of when her mentor had appeared at the borders of Lorien with the Lady nearly drained of her power and dangerously weak. Beside her Legolas continued, barely noticing the way his sister paled. He was lost in memory, speaking almost without thought.
“She was right, Aeslin. Father would never have let orcs cross our borders and live in the past, yet he allowed them to do so. It troubled her greatly that Father had no care for what happened beyond the borders of our lands, beyond the forest. I had become complacent,” his voice shifted, a flicker of shame coming to light in his eyes, “content to ignore the sickness festering within our lands, too wary of our father’s wrath to question him where I should have. Father sent me out to bring her back. I had tried to convince her to return, but instead she convinced me to go with her; she helped me see what I had been blind to for so many years.” Aeslin had laid a comforting hand on his arm as he spoke, watching him intently. His gaze focused, and after a moment his eyes met hers.
“She reminded me that, though Father would have it otherwise, we are still a part of this world, that evil shall grow unchecked if we choose to ignore it. That to do nothing would allow the darkness to win.”
“You fell in love with her, didn’t you.” He must have expected her to realize it eventually for he did not react, though the flicker of sorrow returned to his eyes. The conclusion had been growing within her for a long time, even before she had left Mirkwood, but the cast his features took as he spoke of Tauriel waking him from his blindness toward the growing shadows of the Greenwood confirmed it in her eyes. Slowly he nodded. Aeslin leaned against him, letting her head rest against his shoulder. She could sense that there was only sorrow at the end of this story, but she needed to hear it through.
“And her feelings for you?” Legolas sighed heavily at the question. Aeslin already knew the answer.
“She knew—I could see it in her eyes—but she did not return my affections.”
“Legolas, I am sorry.” She lifted her head, watching him with sympathy. A faint fear kindled in her belly. He reached over the cover the hand she had wrapped around his bicep with his own.
“I am well enough, sister,” he finally murmured, having seemingly read her thoughts. She impishly huffed a little at the way he could still do that, even after all this time. The effect was as she had hoped; a faint smile came to his face, his expression clearing a little. He knew what she feared; elves loved deeply, far deeper than any of the other races as she understood it. If his feelings for Tauriel were strong enough, they could destroy him. It was uncommon with unbonded love, as Legolas’ was, although that it was unrequited could also prove dangerous…it still worried her.
“So you hunted the orcs on your own?” she finally asked, returning them to the story he had been telling her. He cleared his throat slightly, straightening a little where he sat. Aeslin stayed where she was, though, leaning against him with her arms tucked in the crook of his elbow.
“We followed them to Laketown, where we found them attacking the four dwarves who remained there. We engaged them ourselves, driving them off. I followed Bolg until he rejoined the rest of his pack before turning back.” Again Aeslin frowned.
“Where was Tauriel, she did not follow with you?” Legolas hesitated, his gaze flicking to Aeslin for a split second.
“She stayed with the dwarves who remained in Laketown.” Aeslin’s frown deepened, but before she could question him further, he continued, “one had been hit by a morgul arrow, and was dying of the poison. She stayed to help, saving him with athelas.” The healer in Aeslin approved, knowing well the power of the bright little plant.
“Then the Dragon came,” he said quietly. The breath halted in Aeslin’s chest, and if her blood had run cold before, it all but froze in her veins now. She jerked away, her eyes wide as they met his with shock and horror.
“You were in Esgaroth when Smaug the Destroyer woke?” Legolas looked to her cautiously. There were the beginnings of angry tears in her eyes. The fear and anguish on her face as she comprehended just how perilously close to dragon-fire her brother had been was nearly painful for Legolas to witness.
“Not exactly. I had been following Azog’s spawn. I was away from The town when the Dragon emerged from the mountain.” Recalled horror of his own darkened his features as he spoke then, describing the devastation that had followed in the dragon’s wake and mixed feelings of relief and fear that followed the fire-drake’s slaying at the hands of the bowman, now King Bard of Dale. Aeslin was entranced by his story. He told her how he and Tauriel had been about to return to Mirkwood when they received word that Tauriel was banished for disobeying Thranduil. She easily read between the lines here; he had disobeyed their father then, and had refused to leave the Silvan huntress.
She wasn’t prepared for what he told her next. He then told her about his concern about where Bolg’s orcs had originated and his journey to Gundabad with Tauriel. He was particularly grim when he related their discovery of an immense army massing to march on the Lonely Mountain, and how, upon their return to Dale, their father had wished to leave the dwarves and men to the mercy of that second army, sick as he was by the carnage wrought by the first.
Aeslin hadn’t even realized she was trembling as Legolas spoke of visiting the orc country, only when his arm pulled from hers to wrap around her, tucking her close, did she realized how mention of the orc lands was affecting her.
“Naneth was killed there, wasn’t she,” Aeslin murmured, the fear and sadness in her voice reminding Legolas of when she had been little more than a child, learning that their mother was never to return to Mirkwood. He pulled her closer still, his head dipping to rest on the crown of her head. Through their bond Haldir poured comfort. She nearly smiled with affection at his restraint in not rushing to her side. As much as she loved that he desired to comfort her when her very heart ached, in that moment she needed her brother; she needed to share comfort with her only sibling, and she loved that Haldir recognized this. She could feel Legolas’ pain at thought of their mother just as she knew he could feel hers.
“Yes, dear one. She was.”
“I am not sure I need to hear anymore, brother,” she said, her voice shaky. She had heard of the Battle from the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood themselves, and Legolas knew this. There were few in Middle Earth who did not know of the outcome. Somehow the Elves, men of Esgaroth and the Dwarves had rallied to fight side by side to defeat the armies of Orcs arrayed against them. Though, as the Lady had pointed out, had it not been for Gwaihir and his army of Great Eagles, the battle might very well have been lost. It had been a near victory, and dearly won. Thorin Oakenshield himself had been killed, as had his two nephews, effectively erasing his line. It had fallen to his cousin Dain to take up the Throne as King under the Mountain.
Aeslin obviously knew that her brother had survived, as had their Father, though she shuddered to think on it further. She knew how to fight—every Mirkwood elf was taught the skills of killing and battle—but she did not relish in it as many of her kind did. She was a healer; death caused nothing but pain to her heart.
Beside her, Legolas nodded sedately, but as she turned to look up at his face, she noticed with a start that the sorrow she had seen flickers of before now shadowed his features. At first she had believed the glimpses of such sorrow came from his unreturned feelings for Tauriel…but now? Dread once again clenched around her heart. Something more had happened during the battle, something that still weighed heavily on her brother’s heart.
“Legolas, what have I not heard?” He looked to her again, obviously unsure how to say what he wished.
“The battle cost Tauriel her life,” he finally said, his voice nearly emotionless in his effort to control his emotions. Aeslin’s hands flew to her mouth as tears sprang to her eyes. She had not known the Silvan elf so well as he had, but Aeslin had still counted her as a friend in a place where she’d had very few real friends. She wanted to ask how it happened, but she could not find the words. Legolas nevertheless saw the question in her eyes.
“She did not die in battle, though she died of it,” he sighed at the pained confusion in her eyes. It was obviously immensely painful for him to remember.
“I told you that she had stayed with the dwarves in Esgaroth, healing one of them?” Aeslin nodded mutely, entranced with morose curiosity. “It was because of that dwarf that she left the court against Father’s orders.” Aeslin frowned in bewilderment, a small sound of disbelief escaping her. She had never quite understood the depth of the animosity between her race and that of the dwarves, and perhaps she was simply too young to understand, but nonetheless she couldn’t fathom why Tauriel would do such a thing. Legolas nodded, understanding her confusion.
“His name was Kili, and he was the younger nephew of Thorin Oakenshield. She had fallen in love with him, Aeslin.” The dread that had been pooling in her chest intensified.
“She fell in love with a dwarf?” Legolas nodded. It did not spark the reaction she might have anticipated; she didn’t feel repugnance or distress, only sorrow.
“She even challenged Father because of him.” Shock once again bloomed in Aeslin as he told her of the conversation between Tauriel and Thranduil about the impending ambush on Ravenhill. He said it was because of her stance and Legolas’ support that Thranduil had remained in the battle. But more than shock, she found herself thinking on the Silvan huntress’ words and actions with a sense of admiration, Aeslin realized with a small amount of pleasure. She couldn’t help but feel immensely satisfied that Tauriel had stood up to the King of Mirkwood where many had quailed before him. Legolas went on to tell of how together they had gone to Ravenhill to warn the dwarves, and had found themselves locked in battle with the orcs of Gundabad.
But then her brother faltered. She knew what was coming next in his tale.
Stumbling over his words as Aeslin had never heard happen before, he told her how Tauriel had given everything she had to fighting Azog’s spawn, only to witness Bolg’s slaying of Kili, In her grief, he said, she had flung herself at the orc, pushing him from the cliff-face they had battled upon. The plummet didn’t kill the orc, so it had fallen to Legolas to end Bolg; something he glossed over. She could tell from his voice that he still felt it was too little, to late.
“It took everything out of her,” he said quietly, sorrow colouring his voice now more than ever. Tears were once again glistening on Aeslin’s cheeks. “The viciousness of her fight against Bolg, the fall…the death of her dwarf…you will find that many here in Mirkwood believe she succumbed to the injuries she sustained during the battle, that our race’s resilience wasn’t enough to overcome her fall or the brutal fighting she endured.”
“But you do not believe that.” From his description of her fight with Bolg, the Lorien healer could easily see Tauriel having suffered any one of dozens of injuries that alone would have been potentially mortal to the Silvan huntress, especially a fall from such a height as Legolas estimated. But Aeslin’s feelings told her otherwise. Legolas shook his head in response to her knowing statement.
“No. I heard her speaking to Father; she did truly love the dwarf, and I believe he did her; even Father recognized that, something I never would have imagined. I believe she would have been accepted back had she wished, that Father might have rescinded her banishment, but she was too broken; her spirit had shattered, Aeslin, as had her trust in her King and her country. Just as she lost faith in our home, I could not come back to Mirkwood then, either, so I took her with me when I left Ravenhill. She told me everything, dear sister, of her love, her pain, her sorrow. She didn’t just mourn for her dwarf, but for the world, for our world, and the darkness that grows unchecked within it. Her love for the dwarf…his cruel death? It was the final tap against the rock-face that shatters the mountain.”
“One morning I went to wake her to continue our journey, and she did not stir. She had departed our world.” For the first time in all of her memory, Aeslin watched with grief as a tear escaped down her brother’s stoic face.
There was nothing Aeslin could say.
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