Daughter of Mirkwood

Chapter 6

The Expected and Unexpected Alike

Departing Rivendell had been difficult, but Elrohir and Elladan tried to make it as easy as possible for Aeslin and Arwen alike. They were both upbeat and friendly, singing songs and even composing poems on the spot, often with ridiculous results. As a result, the two elf-maids found the journey much more enjoyable than they had expected. Everyone, in fact, was upbeat and cheerful as a result of the twin’s good natures…save for one. Elrond had been right when he pegged Haldir as the dour one, for dour he was setting out from Imladris. He was constantly riding a little ways ahead, and nearly always sparing the more jovial members of the party patronizing looks of varying degrees. Though Aeslin had promised Elrond to give him a chance, she was finding it increasingly hard to do so.

However, none of the others let him dampen their spirits, having travelled with him before, so she resolved not let him get to her either.

The Misty Mountains, however, did have a sobering effect on the elves where Haldir did not, and as the group entered the mountains, even Elrohir’s conviviality was hushed. Everyone who braved the Redhorn Gate feared goblin attack, and the Lorien travelers were no exception. As dusk fell, and the mountains covered the land with their immense shadows, tensions began to rise within the group.

The first night nothing happened, but the second evening, as they neared the eastern edge of the mountains, clouds began to move in, veiling the sunset with their dreary shadow. Everyone was hyper vigilant already, and the gloom created by the onset of the thick, gray clouds did nothing to lessen their anxiety.

But even with every set of eyes on the lookout for danger, it still took them by surprise. The first sign was when Arwen suddenly turned her gaze to the wall of rock looming above her, straining to hear more of what she thought she heard. After a long moment, she gave up, only to hear a panicked shout behind her. She spun just in time to see one of the Lorien elves fall. Aeslin watched in horror as the elf, named Maeron, fell from his horse to lay motionless on the rocky path, an arrow jutting from the base of his neck as his blood began to flow freely.

Then everything turned to chaos.

Arrows flew from every direction towards the group of elves as ear-splitting shrieks echoed between the close walls of the pass. By pure chance, no one else was killed, but Elladan took one of the black shafts to his left shoulder, and one of the other Lorien elves just missed acquiring an arrow wound of his own. The horses were not so lucky. One horse screamed as it was struck by an arrow and threw its rider in fear and panic, causing the others to whinny and balk in distress. Aeslin tried to regain control of her mount, but it suddenly let out a scream of its own and stumbled as three arrows pierced its flesh, nearly crushing her as it fell. As if matters couldn’t get any worse, Goblins were now streaming out of the hills around them. Aeslin heard someone call her name, but couldn’t tell whom, distracted as she was.

The rest of the group had either unsheathed swords or had begun picking off their foes with the bows that had been slung across their backs. Aeslin nearly began to panic, as her bow had been on her saddle, and was now trapped beneath the body of her horse. After a moment of insistent tugging it came free, but the once taut string had snapped, and now hung limp from the elegant ends of her bow. As shouts and shrieks alike added to the din around her, Aeslin anxiously wrenched free the sword she carried at her hip, her eyes darting about her before her gaze landed upon Maeron’s body, and the bow sticking out from underneath it. Almost without thinking, Aeslin sprang forward, her sword once again in its sheath. She only hoped as she did that Maeron’s fall hadn’t damaged the weapon.

Around her, the others had abandoned bows and were engaging with the first wave of goblins, dispatching them with deadly efficiency. Elrohir and Elladan alike had swords in their hands and were using them with practiced ease. Elladan’s face was contorted in pain, but he still fought with the same fluid grace as his uninjured companions as he tried to angle his mount closer to Arwen. Elrohir and the unhorsed Lorien elf struggled to get to Aeslin, but she had already reached Maeron and, after a split second of hesitation, had rolled him over and grabbed the bow, immediately bringing it to bear on a goblin bearing down on her. With a swing, she hit the misshapen creature square in the face, sending it careening in the other direction. Before it even hit the ground she had reached to her quiver and nocked an arrow before letting it fly. Her aim was true and the goblin that met her arrow toppled off its perch before it could send one of its own into the fray. Letting instinct overtake her, she let loose three more arrows, and three more goblins fell before Elrohir made it to her side. Reaching out a hand, he pulled her up behind him before swinging his horse around to face yet another onslaught of goblins.

Now securely seated behind her adoptive brother, Aeslin now used her newly acquired bow to help keep the oncoming Goblins at bay. The Lorien elf on foot stuck close to Elrohir’s horse, slaying any goblin that got to close. Not far away, Arwen was holding her own while Elladan fought beside her, their horses pressed against one another. Haldir and his brother were just beyond them, struggling to hold back the swarm that threatened to overtake them. As one Goblin leaped from the ledge above them, Aeslin let fly another arrow, catching the goblin an instant before it could bring its sword down on Haldir’s outstretched arm.

The Lorien Elf started for a split-second as the dead goblin all but fell onto his lap, Aeslin’s arrow piercing it clear through the eye. He looked over at her, an expression verging on surprise flitting across his features before giving her a quick nod of thanks and refocusing on the goblins racing towards him.

The skirmish lasted for what seemed like hours to Aeslin, though in reality it only lasted a fraction of that time, and all too soon she was out of arrows. Luckily though, the Goblins were retreating, likely deciding that their losses were too high and that the elves were too much effort.

As the last of their shrieking foes disappeared into the mountain crags around them, the elves were almost stunned by the silence of the mountain pass. The only sounds left were those of skittering rocks and stones dislodged by the goblin’s retreat and anxious horses shifting in the tense aftermath. Around them the corpses of the goblins covered the path and the crags above them. After a moment, Haldir gave quiet orders to retrieve the bags from the two dead horses, for Aeslin’s was dead and Maeron’s had been killed shortly after in its panicked attempt to flee. His brother, having dismounted next to their fallen comrade, looked visibly saddened as he confirmed that Maeron was indeed dead. Behind Elrohir, Aeslin could only look around her in stunned silence, her hands grasping his cloak so tightly her knuckles were white. The gravity and the reality of what just happened was beginning to sink in, and it wasn’t until Elrohir turned in the saddle to steady her that she realized she was trembling so badly she was at risk of falling off the horse.

Arwen looked flushed from exertion, but beside her Elladan was beginning to look ashen, his left arm clutched to his chest. As Elrohir turned to face forward again, he saw his brother’s face and urged his mount forward, starting Aeslin out of her shocked trance. His jaw clenched against the pain, Elladan tried to shrug it off. No matter what either his twin, his sister or his adopted sister said, he insisted they needed to get going.

As Aeslin tried to reason with him, Haldir interrupted, joining in with Elladan’s insistence that they keep moving. Not allowing for argument, Haldir wheeled his mount around and set of down the path, his brother following close behind. After ensuring Aeslin was settled comfortably behind him, her recovered Mirkwood bow in her hand and Maeron’s arrows replenishing her quiver, Elrohir urged his horse ahead, though his concerned gaze stayed on his twin. Elladan, side by side with Arwen, followed close behind the Lorien brothers, each of whom were bearing the cargo the fallen horses no longer could. Behind them, the third Lorien elf mounted his horse, careful not to disturb the body of his comrade where it was already secured on his mount.

It was with haste that the party of elves finished the final portion of their trek through the mountains. Once free of the rocky confines and the treacherous paths, the horses were able to stretch out their legs, rejoicing in the open air around them as they sped across the rolling hills and plains past the foothills of the mountains.

With each passing hour though, Elladan’s wound was obviously causing him more and more pain, and as his strength ebbed, Aeslin became more and more worried. They paused for a short rest on the banks of the Gladden River having ridden day and night since entering the confines of the mountains. After several tense moments of arguing with the Lorien brothers and Elladan, Aeslin finally convinced them to let her treat the wounded Rivendell twin. It was mostly thanks to the final ultimatum that she would not go a mile further until she at least cleaned and partially healed the wound.

The instant the wounded elf left the saddle, it was clear that he could not have gone much further anyway. Arwen was already on the ground, supporting him as she led him to a clear patch of ground away from where the horses were being watered and allowed to graze.

Aeslin didn’t waste any time reaching his side, helping him remove the cloak and layers of light armour that blocked her access to the wound. She was hesitant to remove the arrow without getting a good look at the entry point. Slowly, layers of fabric and leather were peeled away to reveal an angry mess of blood and flesh that stemmed from the black shaft in Elladan’s shoulder. By the time Aeslin could examine him properly, Elladan’s face was covered in a sheen of sweat, with strands of dark hair plastered to his fevered flesh.

“You should have let me tend this a long time ago, Elladan,” she muttered under her breath, shooting him a small glance before motioning Elrohir forward. Arwen sat beside Aeslin, gripping Elladan’s hand. Turning to the other elf-maid, Aeslin gave orders to retrieve her bag, giving direction to find specific items within it. Without hesitation, Arwen did as she was asked, nearly running into Haldir in the process. The Marchwarden watched in silence, looking, on occasion, like he was about to say something, only to reconsider.

When Arwen returned to Aeslin’s side, she held the bag in hand and, without hesitation, began searching for the poultice and bandages she was charged to find. Already the young healer had washed a great deal of the blood from the wound, but there was still the matter of the arrow. Having examined it, it became clear that the arrow, though it had been worked deeper still by the fight and the ride, just needed to be removed; that nothing too serious would happen once it was pulled out. He had lost a lot of blood though, and during the fighting a large portion of the shaft had been snapped off, leaving little to hold onto; probably why he hadn’t just pulled it out on his own.

“Elrohir,” the elf already knelt at his brother’s side, waiting for Aeslin to call on him, “I need you to hold him, I cannot have him thrashing around.” He nodded, grabbing a hold of his twin’s shoulders. Taking a deep breath, Aeslin closed her eyes for a moment, making sure her thoughts were clear, before taking a firm hold on remaining piece of the goblin’s arrow. She turned her gaze to Elladan’s pain-filled one. “Are you prepared?” She didn’t tell him to relax, or that it would hurt, because he knew that already. Nevertheless, he gave a curt nod in reply, leaning back and taking a few bracing breaths of his own as he tried to relax. Then Aeslin pulled the arrow free.

A strangled cry came from Elladan’s lips as the arrowhead was pulled from his shoulder. From the corner of her eye, Aeslin saw Elrohir flinch in sympathy, but she pushed ahead. Laying the broken shaft aside, she proceeded to wash and cleanse the wound before applying the poultice Arwen had ready and waiting at her side. Then, laying her hands over the gaping wound, she began to whisper the healing incantations Elrond had taught her, encouraging the flesh and muscle to knit and heal. After a few long moments she fell silent. Thanks to the battle and the hard ride thus far, plus the added exertion of the healing, she was beginning to tire. But because of her training and her own stubbornness and pride, she allowed no outward signs of her fatigue to show other than a faint tremor in her hands she couldn’t control. Even Arwen, who was watching her intently, wasn’t even sure she had seen it before Aeslin resumed her work. When she was finished the worst of the wound was healed, but the flesh was still split open since they simply didn’t have the time for her to heal it fully. Applying more of the poultice, Aeslin efficiently bound the wound.

Leaning back, Aeslin left Elrohir and Arwen to help Elladan back into his garments, taking special care to avoid the partially healed wound. It was then that Aeslin let herself relax. Her hands were covered in Elladan’s blood, and the tremor that Arwen had dismissed was more prominent than before, though now it was enhanced by the sudden lack of adrenaline in her system. Fighting to regain the calm she’d had mere moments earlier, she stood and walked carefully to the river, not quite trusting her legs to get her there. But get her to the bank they did, and she sank down to the edge to rinse to blood from her hands.

The water was cold, but it was a bracing cold and it helped to clear her mind of the fear that threatened to move in. Elladan had been lucky; had the arrow gone any deeper, or any lower—but she would not let herself think of that, and pushed that thought away. Once the water that passed over her hands ran clear, she tried to stand, only this time her legs did not cooperate. Her vision wavered as she let her eyes wander the bank opposite where she sat, a flutter of frustration and anxiety in her stomach.

A shadow came up beside her, and before she could turn to see whom it belonged to, Haldir came to kneel beside her. He handed her a flask of water, which she gratefully accepted.

“Are you well, Healer?” She turned to meet his clear blue gaze, confused for a moment until she realized the haze over her vision was the result of unshed tears. As one escaped onto her cheek, she turned away, hastily brushing it aside with her fingertips.

“Yes, I am well enough.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “I am tired, nothing more.” Beside her the Marchwarden nodded.

“Unless I am mistaken, you have never seen battle before.” It was not a question, but Aeslin nodded in assent anyway. “You acquitted yourself well. Many hesitate and panic when they first encounter the threat of death in that manner.” A faint grin alighted on his features, drawing Aeslin’s gaze, “You are also well trained with a bow.” Aeslin let out a faint laugh.

“Yes. I was born in Mirkwood; my brother insisted he train me when I was very young.”

“He taught you well. You very likely saved my life with that arrow, and I thank you for it.”

“You are very welcome. But I could not in my right mind let you die.” Once again she turned her gaze to meet his, this time holding it. It was the first time she had truly talked with the Lorien elf, and it surprised her. When his haughtiness and pride weren’t interfering, he was far more genuinely kind than she had originally perceived.

Behind them Elladan was being helped to his feet, lightly scolding his siblings for smothering him. Aeslin and Haldir both turned to watch as the wounded elf insisted he could handle himself, while allowing Arwen to adjust the sling holding his left arm. Haldir laughed quietly, causing Aeslin to look back to him in surprise. She had never heard him laugh before. It was a rather pleasant laugh, one that made her own heart feel lighter.

“I see he is recovering already,” he stood, looking down on her as he extended his hand, “you have done well, Healer.” Accepting his hand, the Lorien elf helped Aeslin to her feet, steadying her as, in her exhausted state, she slipped a little on the slick stones beneath her feet. She was very aware of the hand he placed on the small of her back and the other that firmly held her own.

The others were beginning to mount as he led her back to the horse she was sharing with Elrohir. Giving her a small smile, Haldir made his way to his own dappled mount after kindly helping her up behind her adopted brother. The Rivendell elf watched him with a small frown for a moment, before turning to make sure Aeslin was settled. It was then that he noticed the tired cast to her expression, but also the faint smile that rested on her lips.

“Are you alright, elfling?” He said it in his usual teasing way, but Aeslin could discern the concern underneath. Hugging his waist as he urged their horse forward, she leaned her head against his back.

“Yes, Elrohir. I’m fine.”

With a brusque command from Haldir at the head of their troupe, they were off, flying over the plains to Lorien.

Dusk was falling when the group of elves reached the Woods of Lothlorien several days later. As night spread over the land, the elves pushed further into the Forest before Haldir abruptly halted them. In moments there were several more Lorien elves descending from the trees to join them on the ground. Haldir exchanged a few brief words with one of his fellow wardens before signalling the other riders to follow him.

He led them a little further into the forest, eventually dismounting. The others followed his example, Aeslin slipping down easily so that Elrohir could dismount as well.

It felt good to be under the cover of trees again. In much the same way she had the first time she ventured into the open air when leaving Mirkwood, Aeslin paused, filling her lungs with the air and scent of the forest around her. Lorien was very different than Mirkwood, the air was lighter and sweeter for one, the trees not nearly so gnarled or wild, but in many ways it was the same. To feel the trees around her and to hear the sounds of the forest was a like a balm on her soul, just as Elrond thought it might. There was so much life here. Immediately she was glad to have come. Reaching a hand out to touch the great tree beside her, she smiled as the tree seemed to come alive under her fingers, pulsing with life along with everything else around her. Closing her eyes for a moment she took another deep breath before turning back to the group.

She was startled to see several of her party watching her with bemused interest. Arwen stepped forward to take the young elf’s hand, a smile adorning her luminous face.

“You look happier already, Aeslin.” Aeslin didn’t hesitate to smile in return.

“I missed the forest so much, Arwen. I—” Yet she couldn’t put what she wanted to say into words. Nevertheless, Arwen seemed to understand.

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