Thanks to her extensive knowledge of healer’s lore, Aeslin soon carved out a place for herself as a prominent healer in Caras Galadhon. Many came to her for healing and advice, and she gave it without compunction. She grew into herself in Lorien, and her strength and power grew with her until she came to be nearly as renowned as Lord Elrond within the City of Trees. She was granted her own private flet near The Lord and Lady of Lorien’s, and periodically Arwen would come to stay with her.
Her friendship with her mentor’s daughter never waned, though the healer never again accompanied Arwen to Cerin Amroth after that first occasion. She had no desire to remind herself of what she couldn’t have by gazing at Mirkwood from afar. Still, she often wandered under the cover of the trees with her friend, rejoicing that she was not alone. Even after realizing how close she was to home, she did not grow discontented. The Golden Wood saw to that. She was happy among the mallorn-trees, and it felt like home in a way Rivendell never quite had. In many ways even, she barely missed Imladris; it was only the people within it she yearned to see again.
It was long time before she saw Haldir or his brothers again, and when she eventually did, meetings were few and far between, with little time for conversation. Over time, though, she had come to know Orophin’s wife, Lostariel. Often the two of them would sit together, reading and talking. Periodically Rumil’s wife, Melima, and their young son Veryan, would accompany Lostariel, but more often than not it was just the two of them, especially when Orophin was on rotation at the borders of Lorien.
It was late in the day, and Aeslin was walking alone through the gardens on the northern side of the City, taking advantage of the solitude to gather a few samples of medicinal herbs for her flet. The Forest was quiet around her, the only sounds being that of the wind through the leaves and the whispers of forest. It was peaceful and relaxing among the pungent plant-life around her. It wasn’t until the sun began to set that she felt any inclination to return to her quarters, and even then, the coolness of the night was pleasant.
Satisfied with her gathering of plant materials, she soon made her way back to the centre of the city, only to be delayed by a sudden flux of elves streaming down the main path through the city. Among them was Lostariel, her face pinched with concern. Aeslin’s curiosity eventually got the better of her, and she followed the crowd to the City’s entrance.
As it was, it was lucky that she had done so. Coming through the gate was a sizable group of Lorien’s border guards, several of them wounded. Her healer’s instincts coming to the fore, Aeslin rushed forward, coming to rest beside the nearest of the wounded. He was young, and badly hurt with a deep gash across his temple and a gaping, ragged slash on his leg. Around her were cries of concern, fear and anger. From the far side of the court, she could hear Celeborn arriving, demanding to know what was happening. Aeslin however, was already moving from elf to elf, assessing injuries and beginning to direct the other healers that were appearing. One by one, injuries were tended to. Thankfully, most weren’t terribly severe; the only exceptions were the young elf Aeslin had looked at first and another, older elf with a deep sword-slash across his belly.
It was to this elf that Aeslin was tending. Though she was one of the younger healers within Caras Galadhon, her extensive training under Elrond and her own natural talent made her one of the strongest healers around. So it was that the most seriously wounded elf fell under her care. She was in the process of directing his transport to her flet when Haldir came to stand beside her, Rumil and Orophin both close behind. A moment later Lostariel joined them as well, briefly embracing Orophin in relief.
“What happened here?” Aeslin turned her pale eyes to the Marchwarden, taking in his anxious features in a single glance.
“A large party of Orcs out of Moria threatened to breach our borders. For that travesty, they now lay dead, but not before causing the injury you see here.” He looked down at the elf now being lifted from the ground. Rumil and Orophin jumped forward to help, each taking hold to carry the wounded elf from the City’s entrance. Haldir’s face was troubled. Aeslin reached out, laying a gentle hand on his arm before following her patient.
It didn’t take long to reach her flet, and Aeslin went straight to work, removing the elf’s jerkin and tunic with Orophin and Lostariel’s help. It took all her training to keep herself from shaking in fear as she surveyed the wound. Never had she seen an injury quite so severe, and never before had she doubted her ability to heal it. Haldir and Rumil stood off to the side, trying to stay out of the way. When Aeslin turned away to gather her supplies, the Marchwarden went to her side, speaking in a soft voice.
“Can you heal him?” Her face was grave as she met his gaze. Taking a deep breath, lest her voice should betray the depth of her anxiety, she looked over her shoulder at the wounded elf before turning back to Haldir.
“He is very badly wounded.” Despite her efforts, her tone said it all. He nodded in solemn understanding, not saying another word as Aeslin turned to begin her ministrations.
A while later Aeslin sat outside on the edge of her flet, gazing down at the view below her. Lines of small candles made a beautiful river of light through the main avenues of the dark city while mournful songs drifted on the night air. She felt tired and worn, sorrow bleeding through her calm demeanor. No matter what she had tried, the elf under her care, named Haerion as she discovered, had bled out under her hands. The moment he passed, she had nearly collapsed, the shock of his death nearly overwhelming her. With a small cry, her legs had buckled beneath her, and she would’ve fallen had it not been for Orophin rushing forward to support her. Never before had she lost one of her patients. The feeling was unlike anything she had ever known. Guilt plagued her, tormenting her. In her mind’s eye she could still see his face, cold and frozen in death, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. She had tried so hard to save him.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, but eventually the threads of song quieted and the candles became fewer and farther between. As the last few candles disappeared into the night, Haldir joined her. Startled, she looked up as he settled beside her, looking down upon the last few flickering lights as she had. When he didn’t say anything, she turned her gaze back to the forest floor, now bathed only in the light from the moon and the faint glow that came from the flets across the city.
“I am sorry.” Aeslin was the first to break the silence, her voice soft and full of sorrow. Haldir looked over in surprise. “I could not save him. I tried but I could not.” Since the moment she lost Haerion, she had not shed a single tear. The shock had been too great. Now, the guilt she felt overwhelmed her, causing her tears to come forth, spilling onto her cheeks, leaving their glistening tracks behind them. Impulsively, Haldir raised his hand, brushing them away, his fingers lingering on her skin for a moment before he withdrew, embarrassed by the liberty he had just taken. Aeslin looked over to him, surprise joining the sadness that graced her features. When Haldir finally spoke, his voice was gentle.
“It was not your doing that he passed.” Her eyes closed in pain, trying to believe what he said. “You did everything you could. There isn’t a healer in Caras Galadhon who could have done more.” The tears once again began to flow. He watched her for a moment more.
“It is always difficult, losing one you are responsible for. The pain cuts deep. It is something you carry for the rest of your life.” It was then she heard the pain in his voice, causing her to feel guiltier still. Haerion had been one of Haldir’s men, and it had barely occurred to her that he would be feeling the elf’s loss as well.
“Did he have any family?” Haldir sighed.
“He did, a wife. Sanya.” Aeslin turned to the Marchwarden, a frown forming on her face at the tone of his voice. Haldir looked down at the forest floor again, his eyes unfocused. “She passed shortly after he did.” Aeslin’s breath hitched.
“What?” He turned to her.
“Their bond was strong, linking their lives together so fully, that she felt his death as her own.” Aeslin felt her chest constrict, drawing breath with difficulty. She got to her feet, turning from the edge of the flet. Haldir watched, startled at her sudden movement.
“So, I cost his wife her life as well.” She was barely able to choke out the words. Standing himself, he was at her side in an instant, turning her to face him.
“No.” She stared at him wide-eyed, grief dominating her features. “No, it was not your doing. The Orcs that did this are to blame.” The anger in his voice startled her out of her panic, allowing her to regain control of herself. Pulling away, she sat on the bench next to the door of her quarters. After a moment he sat beside her, his voice far more gentle than a moment earlier.
“You still have much to learn, my young healer. You cannot carry all the woes of this world on your shoulders. It would destroy you.” She barely even registered it when he referred to her as young, exhausted as she was. But his words struck a chord within her, calming her. Without thinking, she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Surprised, Haldir looked down at her white-blonde head, but made no move to stop her.
Eventually her breathing slowed as an exhausted sleep overtook her, but still Haldir didn’t move for fear of waking her. An unexpected urge to protect her, to watch over her had taken hold. So he just sat next to her, watching the night pass around them.
It was the first touch of sunlight that woke Aeslin the next morning. Blinking against the sudden brightness, it took her a moment to recall where she was. Straightening, she remembered the day previous, and the heartache that still lingered within her; thankfully, the sorrow that had nearly consumed her the night before didn’t seem quite so unrelenting in the morning light.
It was then that Haldir stirred beside her.
Surprised that he had stayed with her, as if guarding her as she slept, Aeslin felt a tenderness wake in her that she had never encountered before. He still slept, a peacefulness infusing his features that brought a smile to her face. Driven by a sudden curiosity, she reached out, tracing her fingers over his jaw line. His skin was soft and warm. Letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, her eyes travelled over his face, examining his features. That he was handsome went without saying, for elves were naturally the fairest of beings. His hair was a pale gold, though nowhere as pale as hers, and his features were strong, almost severely so. His blue eyes added to his serious bearing when they were open, but she remembered they were also capable of great tenderness as well.
As if feeling her eyes on him, Haldir stirred again, this time breaking free of his slumber. Immediately, Aeslin withdrew her hand, backing away slightly as he woke. Blinking for a moment in the bright sun, as she had, he turned to face her, his expression unreadable. Aeslin looked on, a faint curiosity blooming on her features. Until now, though she had come to count him as a friend, he had always remained proud, distant and detached, even in his kindness. But he had stayed with her.
The same thought seemed to occur to him, and for the briefest of moments a flicker of embarrassment came over his features before his usual proud expression was fixed in place. Without a word, he stood, and made to leave, stopping only once to give her a curt nod of regard before disappearing down the flight of stairs that attached her flet to the rest. Stunned, Aeslin could only sit next to his recently vacated seat for a long while.
That night, she joined Arwen and Galadriel after the evening meal in Galadriel’s private sitting room. Celeborn had gone out to the border to see what damage had been done, and to consult with the remaining border-guards. Aeslin had already received condolences for the loss of her patient, and had been assured that his death was not her doing. The oppressive ache was still raw, but she was coping, and the kind words of those around her further soothed the sense of guilt churning within her. But, despite all that, she was also concerned by Haldir’s sudden change of attitude toward her.
Before this last meeting, they had always parted on good terms, or so she thought. Now, he would not even meet her eye. She had seen him at midday before he left with Celeborn, returning to join the border-guards. He did not spare her a single glance, pointedly ignoring her. She thought about this at great length as she sat with Galadriel and Arwen, holding a book she was trying to read.
“I have never known you to read slowly, Aeslin, and you have been staring at that same page for a long time.” Aeslin blinked, as if woken from a doze by Arwen’s wondering tone. Lifting her gaze to the two elves across from her, she searched for a plausible explanation, but nothing came.
“I suppose I am distracted.” Arwen seemed satisfied with her answer, likely attributing Aeslin’s distraction to the past day’s events. In a way she would be right. Galadriel, however, did not look convinced. She didn’t say a word, though, not for a long time.
The evening wore on, and having been called on her inattention. Aeslin set her book aside, and turned to gazing out at the lights of Caras Galadhon instead.
“He is grateful,” Aeslin turned abruptly as Galadriel spoke, her clear eyes boring into the healer’s, “even though you could not save Haerion.” Arwen looked on, unsure whom Galadriel spoke of. Aeslin, however, knew exactly what the Lady meant, and she didn’t look convinced.
“He would not even look at me. That does not seem like gratitude.” The Lady of Light smiled faintly.
“Haldir has never been one to flaunt his feelings, he keeps them hidden, afraid that they could become a weakness. He respects your strength, and your determination to heal Haerion, even when it became clear he was lost.” Aeslin stood pacing slowly over to look absently out into the deepening night, thinking on what Galadriel had said. After a moment, Aeslin smiled in a rather self-deprecating way.
“I am not even sure why this bothers me so,” she said quietly to herself. “I have little need of his approval, and yet…” her features took on look of deep thought, “…I find I desire it greatly. Why is that?” She turned back to Galadriel, her final question aimed at the older elf. She was answered with a knowing smile.
“That is something you must discover for yourself, little one.” Aeslin sighed in frustration, sitting back down again. Arwen looked at Galadriel, a questioning look on her face. The knowing smile still gracing her features, older elf shared a glance with her granddaughter before turning her attention back to the embroidery in her hands.
After that day, Aeslin wouldn’t see Haldir again for a time, but she found her thoughts turning to him repeatedly. It was now his face that haunted her, the stony, emotionless expression he’d had the last time she had seen him. It was so very different from the tender look in his eyes the night before, or the smile she had earned from him on her first morning in Lorien.
A little over a week after Haerion’s death Aeslin found Orophin taking respite in one of the more secluded groves of Caras Galadhon. She came upon him completely by chance. He didn’t notice her at first, and Aeslin was hesitant to disturb him, no matter her curiosity about his brother. He looked deep in thought, and more sedate than she’d ever seen him before. She was just about to move on when he caught sight of her, his expression brightening considerably.
“Lady Aeslin, it is a bright day indeed to see you here.” Aeslin couldn’t help but smile at his upbeat manner.
“Orophin, you flatter me too much, but it is good to see you.”
“I trust you are well?” She could tell from the searching look in his eyes that he was not just asking an idle question. She smiled faintly.
“Well enough. What of you? You knew Haerion, you knew his wife. This cannot be an easy time for you.” The sadness she had seen moments earlier returned as he lowered his eyes, obviously still caught within a net of grief.
“Yes, I knew them both. I was honoured to call them friends.”
“I am sorry for your loss, Orophin. Truly, I am.” He smiled at her sincerity, grateful for her understanding. Walking forward, he took her hand, placing a gentle kiss upon it.
“You are a gift, surely, Lady Aeslin. Your kindness is outshone only by your skill and your beauty.” She smiled, flattered by his words.
“And you are far too kind to me, Orophin.”
“If my brother would only admit to what I already know, he would claim you before anyone else has a chance.” Shock coursed through Aeslin, wiping the smile from her face.
“I beg your pardon? What do you mean by that?” Orophin smiled, taking Aeslin’s hands gently in his own, keeping her in front of him.
“I believe my brother is falling in love with you, my lovely Aeslin, he is just too stubborn to see it.” Aeslin couldn’t help but scoff at his assertion, but a flush rose to her cheeks anyway.
“He is not in love with me. He can’t even look at me.” Orophin laughed.
“Yes, he denies it; that much is true. Haldir has hidden his feelings away for so long that he is convinced he doesn’t really feel anything anymore. You make him uneasy, Lady Healer, you and your quiet ways, your stubborn streak, all of it. He has come to care for you a great deal, and it’s something he’s not used to.” His words scared her a little, her unease apparent on her face.
“I do not mean to do so.”
“I know,” he assured her, “truly. I think that is what bothers him most. You have no idea of the effect you have on him. Trust me when I say this, Aeslin. I know my brother, and I know what it is to fall in love. When I met my Lostariel, my world changed.” She pulled her hands from his, backing away slowly. A curious expression came over Orophin’s face as he watched her turn to leave.
“You are falling in love with him too, aren’t you.” She spun around to face him, her eyes wide and alarmed. When she didn’t answer, he laughed softly. “No, I think you are in love already.” By now her bewilderment was getting the better of her. Without even saying goodbye she turned and fled, not stopping until she reached her flet, and even then she kept going.